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Career (PhD) Vs Family (Parents): What should be priority?

  1. Jul 20, 2015 #1
    Hi all,
    I am a mechanical engineer 26 yrs old from India. I am thinking to go for a PhD (in US, maybe) but there seems to be a problem!
    By the time I get started with it I will be 27yrs. And on top of that I will have to be away from my parents for ~6yrs. My parents would do well without me financially but it's just that I think ~6yrs would be too long for them to bear without me (although they've agreed to stay without me). But they are planning for my marriage (this happens in India, of course) and say that I should get married by 28. I am planning to return back to India after my PhD. Also I am the only son to take care of them. So my questions are:
    1. How will getting married in between my PhD affect my life and my work? Will it then become more difficult to complete my PhD?
    2. I feel guilty sometimes that I am choosing career over taking care of my parents when they're old. Being in India and as the only son, it is expected of me to take care of my parents...and I want to do that too. But I also want to go for PhD. What to choose? How to choose? I'm confused!

    In short I am confused whether to move and pursue PhD or stay in my current job and take care of my parents, get married, have kids etc.

    I will be happy to get any help/guideline.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 20, 2015 #2


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    I'm afraid this is a really personal decision, and everyone will make a different decision, depending on their own personal priorities. Further, there are cultural norms at play here that make any non-Indian members of PF pretty unqualified to respond.

    I'm going to respond anyway. :wink:

    1. Could you do a PhD closer to home? I've plenty of colleagues who did their PhD's in India who have done quite well for themselves. (FWIW, they've all handled the work/family balance differently) Especially if you're planning to return to India after your PhD.
    2. The US PhD is pretty long. PhDs almost anywhere else take less time.
    3. If your parents say they'll be OK, they probably will be.
    4. RE marriage and work - again, it's such a personal thing, but plenty of people are married during their PhD. It's not too unusual.
  4. Jul 29, 2015 #3


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    An Indian friend of mine just finished her PhD and has gone back to India to get married. She didn't want to do it until after her PhD, her family were fine with that and now it's done she's looking forward to being introduced to someone to marry. Are your family quite forceful on this? Do they not understand that you want to do this and that it will be better for you (and your family) in the long run?

    I've known one or two people who have done a PhD whilst married, it's difficult. I can only speak from a UK perspective as that's where I'm doing my PhD but the advice is probably true for the States. A big consideration is how much time you will actually have with your family. My schedule is all over the place, some days I'll be out of the lab by 4 and others I'll be working til late into the night. Often this is difficult to plan in advance as the results from one day's work will change how long I'll be working the next day. I have a girlfriend who is completely understanding of this so it's not much of a problem that I'm randomly not around for days. That isn't true of everyone though. I'm also lucky that my girlfriend is very supportive given the amount of stress a PhD gives you. There have been many times where I've sat around the dinner table looking off into the distance, virtually ignoring her, because I'm so worried about how my work is going.

    Another big issue is finance. PhDs aren't paid well in the UK and I don't think they are in the US either. A quick google shows they earn on average $25K in STEM fields. I guess it depends where you live but that doesn't sound like a lot of money (though it is more than a UK stipend pays). Most PhDs I know learn to get by with being poor but it would be difficult if you're planning on supporting your family too or will need your wife to support you.

    What do your parents say? Getting a PhD will help you and your family in the long run, they may prefer you to do that for this reason. Also do you not have aunts, cousins etcetera that will be around for your family?
  5. Aug 1, 2015 #4
  6. Aug 2, 2015 #5


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  7. Aug 2, 2015 #6
    Thanks :)
  8. Aug 6, 2015 #7


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    I am quiet confused...maybe because I don't understand where's the clash between those 2... I am also studying away from home, I have leaved my family and pursue my own life in another country. Of course I visit them when I get the chance to, or we talk almost every day online...
    Taking care of them would only be an issue if they had some health problems... In that case, I'm sorry but I wouldn't even think about phd or whatever...

    About marriage: I don't get it either :smile: first someone fixes his life and makes himself able to survive, and then he/she gets married ... I mean with your career being to "starters" now, how are you supposed to get married and/or have a family of your own?
  9. Sep 2, 2015 #8
    You need to put in mind that PhD is very stressful, and having someone beside you might help. Your friends won't understand, as they will have their own problems as PhD students/candidates or otherwise. I was not married during my PhD, but my married friends had less freedom to stay late. But All of them finished before or with me. I guess the quality time they spent with their families compensated for working less hours, especially those working hours where probably more productive because they were less stressful than they would have been without families. For your parents, if you are talking about leaving them for few years with visits once a while and return to them after you finish, then I think that is something you and your parents can sacrifice for the long-term benefits to have a better job and salary in the future. But the real problem is when you finish and being tempted to stay, then this is the real struggle.
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