Should I do a PhD? 5 Reasons for and Against


After three solid years of hard work, and I mean solid-social life, what’s that?!, I have submitted my PhD thesis and am awaiting my viva. It’s been a hell of a journey that is certainly not for the faint hearted, but at the same time I have got a lot out of it. Whether you are considering doing a PhD as part of organisational learning, because you want to extend your student years or because you are passionate about your subject, it is important that you considering the reasons for and against before committing to a project that’s not like anything you’ve known before! So, on reflection of the past three years of blood, sweat and tears, here is my advice to you;

PhD thesis

5 Reasons to do a PhD

Increased employment prospects

Ok this this does depend on your line of work. There are many jobs that will require you to have a doctorate, for example many medical professions or jobs that involve a significant amount of research. I started my teaching career as a College Lecturer but quickly became disillusioned with the mind-numbing administration and lack of intellectually stimulating tasks. When looking for positions that I might have been better suited for however, such as working in international development or as a University Lecturer, I quickly came across a qualification road block: I needed a PhD.

It demonstrates determination

I couldn’t find any specific statistics, but I can assure you that a bulk load of people who start a PhD never complete it. Remember when you were at university writing that 4000 word essay that you were so sick of that you couldn’t bear to write another word? Remember the tedious reading that you dreaded doing on a Sunday evening? Or the criticisms from your Lecturer that you simply didn’t agree with? Well take those emotions and multiple them by 100. Completing a PhD demonstrates that you can stick with your project, through the good and the bad. It shows that you are motivated, independent and strong-willed. Nobody forces you to get up at 7am on a Monday morning (perhaps this should be another reason ‘for’), it’s your determination and motivation that gets you through the project, nobody else!

It makes you think differently

Doing a PhD makes you curious and inquisitive. You’ll look at the bigger picture, whilst questioning the specific details. Take my recent post, for example, on religion when travelling– have you ever wondered why Jesus is depicted as a white man even though people who live in Israel have tanned skin? Doing a PhD will encourage you to consider the best approach to the little things in life- ‘will this experiment yield the most reliable data?’ quickly turns into ‘will I be subjected to less passive smoking if I sit to the left or the right of that smoking couple in the restaurant’? Pre-PhD you might have thought going to Haiti to volunteer your time as a relief worker was a good, altruistic thing to do. But now your philosophical brain makes you wonder why people define it as volunteering when it is a form of tourism? Are the two concepts of altruism and hedonism not contradictory? Does the perception of volunteer tourism derive from a method of deduction or induction?  

It allows you to express your passion

I think I enjoyed writing my PhD thesis more than my taught undergraduate and post-graduate studies because of the freedom that I had. I choose to investigate TEFL tourism because this is something that I felt passionate about when experiencing it first-hand. Whilst of course there were some elements of my research that I was more passionate about than others, I was given the freedom to take my work in the direction that I wanted, rather than being dictated to through module descriptors and assignment briefs.

 It allows you to create an academic identity

Whether you aspire to be an academic or not, doing a PhD provides you with a unique identity. Now that I am starting to publish papers based on my PhD research (my work was recently published in the top journal for tourism research-whoop whoop!), I hope that I will establish my research identity as the researcher who introduced the concept of TEFL tourism. Whether I decide to continue with research in this field or whether my work takes me off in a different direction, I will always have these publications and research to my name.

5 Reasons not to do a PhD

It takes over your life

My advice is that if you’re going to start a PhD make sure you haven’t got any other major life plans on the horizon, because it will take over (see my recent post 10 reasons your PhD will take over your life). Having children, a social life or a demanding job will inevitably extend the amount of time it takes you to finish. Whilst some people can cope with this, many people can’t- so make sure that it is the right decision for you!

You have to be prepared to present your research in front of ‘professionals’

The majority of universities will expect you to present your research at conferences and events. Despite having taught for years prior to commencing my PhD research, this is something I found challenging. The people watching and commenting on your work have been researching longer than you, have read more papers than you and probably speak in more academic jargon than you do. For me, this was daunting. You might also be expected to take part in events such as a 3 minute thesis competition which can be nerve-wracking and intimidating (see my top tips for how to win the competition here!).

Don’t expect to get rich quick

You might be paying for your PhD, you could be studying on a scholarship, have been funded by your employer or taken out a student loan, but none of these are going to give you much money while studying. You can, however, speculate to accumulate, which is exactly what I did. Despite being riddled with debt when I started my research (and having to pay for it myself), I decided that it was worth going on cheaper holidays for a couple of years and buying a two bedroom house instead of three, because studying for my doctorate would allow me eventually to secure a higher paying job.

You may want to kill yourself, at one point or another

A colleague once said to be ‘if you haven’t wanted to kill yourself then you haven’t done a proper PhD’. Whilst I found this rather pessimistic at the time, there may be some truth to what he said. Doing a PhD is mentally challenging. Not only because the work you have to do is obviously at a very high standard, but also because of the kickbacks you will have along the way. You spend your first year writing your literature review. You then put that aside, write your methodology, collect your data, analyse your data. A year has passed and you open up the literature review file again to realise that what you initially wrote is no longer relevant or just rubbish. What were you thinking? Cue 90% re-write. You also have the feedback from your supervisors, some can be very encouraging (and remember that some supervisors are more supportive than others), but there will be an inevitable amount of (hopefully constructive) criticism. This can be hard to take, especially when you’ve worked so hard to produce the work.

You’ll be lonely

I am a quite an independent person and have always been very self-motivating, but even I have felt that the PhD experience has been incredibly lonely. I went to a PhD symposium half way through my studies and I met another student of a similar age to me studying a similar topic. Honestly, I felt like a zoo animal who had been let out of solitary confinement into the cage with the rest of their breed! You’ll need a supportive network around you when doing your PhD and my husband has been great, but he doesn’t understand when I get excited about a new paper that was published in my field or when I complain that NVIVO doesn’t capture the webpage in the same layout. I have no idea how many times I’ve woken up in the night or stood in the shower having mental conversations with myself about how to organise a particular section of my results or how to word my next paragraph. Because your work is so individual to you, by the end not even your supervisors will be on your wavelength entirely!

So those are my reasons for and against committing to a PhD. Are you thinking about doing one? Or maybe you’ve already dived in head-first? I’d love to know your plans and how you’re getting on, feel free to leave your comments below!