Am I compatible with a PhD?

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Hello,

I am looking for advice regarding the choice of doing or not doing a PhD after my Master's degree (graduation in Sept. 25). Every answer is appreciated.

To summarise, I'm in my early thirties and graduating in computational neurosciences, a fancy program name for a degree focused on engineering techniques applied to the mammal brain. I'm considering going to work in the industry (or hospitals) or pursuing a PhD and staying in academia. The choice is made harder due to several factors listed after this. Since I have no idea on the reality of pursuing a PhD, I'm going to list what I think about it, and you are welcome to contribute, comment on what I got right or shatter my ideas.

The pros:
  1. I enjoy academia. I don't care about building stuff, I like the theoretical side. Also, I immensely enjoyed my experience teaching a few undergraduate classes and could definitely imagine myself as teaching beside doing research.
  2. I don't need much money. In my country, the average PhD pay could permit me to live a life of luxury compared to my standards. While I could be paid close to three times more in the industry, I don't need it.
  3. I love studying. I suppose that a PhD is a combination of studying new subjects and trying to improve on them, instead of having a set of fixed tasks like one would in the industry.
  4. I dislike the industry and want to avoid as much as possible. Granted, I did not work for every single company in the country, but I could gather enough evidence to conclude that I would probably not enjoy doing this. The pressure to deliver products as fast as possible, the corporate environment, the bureaucratic hell of middle and upper management...
The cons:
  1. I have no one to ask. For reasons I don't want to talk about, I'm not familiar with anyone at my school, be it students, TA or teachers, so I have no one to ask about their experience doing a PhD.
  2. Health issues. I got burnt-out a few years ago, but fortunately, I managed to stop before it was too late and I could somewhat recover. However, this affected my ability to concentrate. Before, I could focus for several hours straight, pull all nighters and so on. I can't do that anymore, and working ten hours a day is not feasible.
  3. I have a life besides my studies. I have several hobbies that I'm passionate about and that I don't want to sacrifice.
  4. I don't want to slave away. My life does not revolve around working in a lab.
  5. I don't have (yet) a very specific subject or question to build a thesis around.

Ideally, I see doing a PhD as working about a subject I'm passionate about, akin to working a 9-5 job with a small salary. I had one person telling me that a PhD is a 24/7 job, and read online that some candidates don't work as much and have plenty of time to live their life.

You can't decide for me, of course. What you might do instead, is telling me if I am compatible with a PhD or if I got it completely wrong.
 
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In my experience, it's not so much a question of compatibility. You have to very specifically *want* to do a PhD to be successful at it. If you're coming to the end of an MSc and you should either be excited about a specific project or field, or at least actively exploring different options. If instead you're avoiding "industry" because you're not sure you're going to be happy there, there's a good chance that the PhD is going to be a tough slog for you.

It's also important to keep in mind that just because you do a PhD, doesn't meant that you'll end up in academia. Broadly speaking, there are an order of magnitude more PhDs trained than there are academic positions. That means it's more probable than not that you'll end up leaving academia at some point anyway.

It almost sounds to me like you really just need to find something that you're happy doing. That could be a PhD, but it doesn't have to be. If you really enjoy teaching, what about that? You mentioned healthcare. That requires a lot of specific training, (and if long hours are off the table maybe it's not a great match for you.) Or what about working for a non-profit organization? Regulatory or government work? Bureaucracy and politics are just about everywhere I'm afraid, but when you find a good fit, you'll be in a much better position to navigate them.
 
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  • #3
usernamerequired said:
I have no one to ask. For reasons I don't want to talk about, I'm not familiar with anyone at my school, be it students, TA or teachers
Your PhD application(s) will likely require Letters of Recommendation, no? Who are you planning on asking for those?
 
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  • #4
usernamerequired said:
4. I dislike the industry and want to avoid as much as possible. Granted, I did not work for every single company in the country, but I could gather enough evidence to conclude that I would probably not enjoy doing this. The pressure to deliver products as fast as possible, the corporate environment, the bureaucratic hell of middle and upper management...
While not relevant to getting the PhD necessarily, working in academia also involves interacting with immense bureaucracies. At a research-focused institution, the push will be for as much grant money as soon as possible. That along with publishing will be your deliverable "product." So I'd be careful to apply the same critical evaluation of academia as industry.
 
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  • #5
usernamerequired said:
working ten hours a day is not feasible.
In the developed countries, this will be a problem. While one does not need to do this every day, one does need to do this. This is especially true for experimenters.

Your profile says "Zimbabwe". Zimbabwe's GDP per capita has fallen steadily since it was Southern Rhodesia, it had three decades of dictatorshiip, a coup, and loss of its national currency through hyperinflation. I would make no plans assuming that tomorrow would be like today.
 
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Thank you for your contributions.

Vanadium 50 said:
In the developed countries, this will be a problem. While one does not need to do this every day, one does need to do this. This is especially true for experimenters.
And it's the critical point for me. I understand that there are days where pulling more hours is necessary but if this is expected everyday, then it's not for me. The period when I got burnt out was traumatising, I don't ever want this to happen again, especially not for a simple job. I'm in Europe by the way.

Choppy said:
If you're coming to the end of an MSc and you should either be excited about a specific project or field, or at least actively exploring different options. If instead you're avoiding "industry" because you're not sure you're going to be happy there, there's a good chance that the PhD is going to be a tough slog for you.
I'm not avoiding industry at all cost, yet on the other hand, I don't have an uncontrollable need to do a PhD. There are subjects that I sincerely enjoy working on and I could see myself doing everyday. My question is "how can I know if that's enough to go down this path?".

berkeman said:
Your PhD application(s) will likely require Letters of Recommendation, no? Who are you planning on asking for those?
The only time when I have contact with anyone will be for mandatory projects, coming next year. I would ask the professors following me. I know it's not much, it's all I've got.
 
  • #7
usernamerequired said:
I'm not avoiding industry at all cost, yet on the other hand, I don't have an uncontrollable need to do a PhD. There are subjects that I sincerely enjoy working on and I could see myself doing everyday. My question is "how can I know if that's enough to go down this path?".
<<Emphasis added.>> You just answered your own question. The PhD research in and of itself needs to provide satisfaction and value to you, because the PhD research is not necessarily a means to an end. It might launch a long-term career, but it might not. This is in stark contrast to obtaining an MD, e.g. (with the usual disclaimer about outliers). So if you have no passion, calling, or compelling reason for PhD research, you do not have enough to sustain yourself down the path all the way through to the end. And your characterization of a PhD program as "a simple job" confirms that you do not have the requisite passion, calling, or compelling reason.
 
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  • #8
This seems like a statement of negatives: I don't want to do this, I don't want to do that. The positives - I want to do this - seem much weaker. I don't see this as a path to success. "I'll get a PhD. I guess." seldom works out.
 
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Vanadium 50 said:
This seems like a statement of negatives: I don't want to do this, I don't want to do that. The positives - I want to do this - seem much weaker. I don't see this as a path to success. "I'll get a PhD. I guess." seldom works out.
Yeah, we get this approach frequently here. "I'm pursuing theoretical research because I suck in the lab." "I'm majoring in physics because I don't like chemistry." ...
 
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  • #10
Thank you. Unless I have an epiphany after the master's thesis, I'll find another path.
 

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