Disturbing the Universe

David L Clements, science and science fiction

Why you shouldn’t do a PhD


Excellent post by a friend on why not to do a PhD:

Dear Brilliant Students: Please Consider not Doing a PhD

Liv says a lot of good things here so that even if you do still want to do a PhD after reading this, you will be going into the process with eyes more open than I did.


Author: davecl

Astronomy, science, science fiction

9 thoughts on “Why you shouldn’t do a PhD

  1. Reblogged this on To the left of centre and commented:
    This is a little like a double reblog. This post links to another that argues that brilliants students should seriously consider not doing a PhD. Personally, my experiences are not as extreme as illustrated in this post, but I think there is quite a lot of merit in what this post is saying. It does seem that we do need to think long and hard about our PhD programmes and how we treat PhD students. I would go further and suggest that we need to consider the full academic career structure. It seems, to me at least, that the pressure at all stages is increasing and that the aspects of an academic career that made it attractive are being eroded to the point where I’m not sure that I would recommend an academic careers to others.

    • I certainly agree with what you’re saying here. The lack of career structure in academia is a long running issue and one that essentially nobody with a permanent post has any interest in fixing – other than remembering the pain you went through and not wishing it on others.

      • The really horrible thing is that the UK academic career structure is better than some other places – that’s why there are so many German academics in the UK (actually, their presence is one of the things I think that has kept down the conditions in the UK because without this source of good people for whom the UK looked better than what was on offer at home, UK academic recruitment would have crashed years ago and the Universities would have had to improve things).

  2. It’s a really useful piece, as is the discussion in the comments that follow. Coming from someone who’s procrastinating, sorry, in the middle of writing my PhD proposal, it’s an eye opener.

    • Liv comes from the biomedical world which, from what I’ve heard from a variety of sources, is one of the most abusive towards its graduate students, but the issues raised apply, to a greater or lesser extent, to all fields. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

      I’ve said for a long time to people that they should only consider doing a PhD if they can’t think of existing without one.

      I’m now in charge of PhD applications in my research group, and have PhD students of my own, which makes me a little schizophrenic on this.

  3. I’m also from the biomedical world and finished my thesis last year (yay!). I cannot agree with this article. Maybe Live is from the USA where things are a more competitive in general, but I cannot see why this should break someone. Yes, it’s hard work and may get really frustrating at times, but it can also be very rewarding. Maybe it’s because I did a 2-year research master before starting my PhD work that I was better prepared than most.

    • Liv’s PhD was in the UK, but the usual route here does not involve a 2 year Masters before that. In fact, what you did sounds more like a US PhD, which I’ve always felt prepares students better but, with the 2 year, taught, masters period before thesis work starts, takes longer and costs more.

      • Maybe that’s one of the reasons mine wasn’t as bad as Live’s. I did a (self-funded part-time) MSc by research for two years before my PhD. One of my non-supervisor lecturers joked with me when I submitted my MSc thesis “Are you sure you haven’t just handed in a PhD thesis?”. What I’d done should actually have been an MPhil, but that’s water under the bridge really. THe introduction of the MRes has been a positive move, but there is the funding problem, for MScs and MAs in the UK as well.

  4. I have been doing a PhD in Finland for the past 7 years. My experience has been nothing but disappointing. First, the project I came here to work on did not work despite my best efforts and to make the matter worse, my supervisor went on a two year leave. I had to work on completely random projects to get the required number of articles for my thesis. Somehow, I connected all the projects, wrote up the thesis and have now run into another problem. I can’t find a postdoc. position because my research interests are different from what I have wasted my time working on. So, it now seems after I get my phd I’ll have to go back to the uni and really study for something else, something which gives a job. I do not wish anyone to go through this…

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