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The Worst Reasons to Do a PhD!

There are many great reasons to do a PhD, and a doctorate can open up a world of possibilities once you have graduated. But, some people do a PhD for the wrong reasons, and this can leave them in a sticky situation when the going gets tough.

So, with that in mind, here are a few reasons NOT to do a PhD.

#1 Just to ‘become a Doctor’

Sure, it’s nice to be able to put ‘Dr’ on your driving license, bank card, Twitter bio, etc. But it’s definitely not worth going through a PhD just to get that prefix at the beginning of your name. Most people won’t notice. Of the ones that do, any worth their salt will judge you based on your actual achievements, not on a mere title.

Plus, the ‘Doctor’ title isn’t necessarily as remarkable as you might think: did you know that when a surgeon becomes a senior consultant they actually go back to the title of Mr / Ms? This certainly doesn’t mean their colleagues respect them any less.

Plus, putting ‘Doctor’ on things isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The next time there is a medical emergency at 10,000 feet, you really don’t want a confused steward to seek you out after seeing your title on the passenger list.

#2 Because you want to stay at uni / avoid getting a job

If you don’t know what job you want now, you won’t necessarily know after a doctoral degree either.

I have known people who have struggled through two years of doctoral research only to decide that their actual career path of choice has no requirement for a PhD. At that point they were left in the distressing predicament of deciding between their two options: leave immediately, throwing away two years of pain filled research, or persevere through two more awful years just in case having a PhD might come in handy one day.

And, FYI, doing a PhD isn’t just simply a case of staying at university.

#3 Because you’ve watched too much Big Bang Theory

Yes, ‘Doctor Sheldon Cooper’ is hilarious and, yes, at least one of the BBT cast does actually have a PhD. But let me tell you, most scientists don’t sit around in an open plan living area playing games and having amusing romantic and / or social mishaps. We’re still waiting for the special ‘real-life’ episode where Sheldon has to spend an extra day in the lab because his experiments all failed and he spent most of the weekend marking undergraduate papers.

Knowing your own interests and passions is really valuable for your job search, but it doesn’t mean you are limited to doing what other people around you (or on your television) do.

#4 Because you think it’s the only way to get into academia / research

If you want a lecturing post at a university, you probably will need to have a PhD. But there’s more to academia than lecturing and more to research than academia.

There are plenty of exciting roles for aspiring scholars and scientists in teaching, research administration, public engagement and science communications, research technicians etc. The majority of these don’t actually require a PhD.

#5 Because you want to become a rapper

Dr Dre and Professor Green don’t actually have PhDs.

#6 Because you don’t know what to do with your life

As a PhD student myself, I have met a number of people who have decided to do a PhD because they were unsure what they wanted to do after they finished their first degree. If you have obtained a great qualification from a good university, take your time to decide what you want to do.

Just because you are a high achieving student, doesn’t mean a PhD is for you, or that you should immediately know what you want to do. Have a break, take a gap year, work in an institution where you can see what academia or research is really like. If you know you want to study a particular subject in more detail, but you don’t know if a PhD is right for you, a Masters degree might be the next logical step for you.

#7 To extend your visa

To put it bluntly, it's probably easier to seek a graduate-level job, get married, or both.

#8 Because your parents want you to

This is always one of the worst reasons for choosing a career path as it seldom ends happily. A PhD, or any career choice, should be exactly that, a choice. The odds of you enjoying something for three or four years, when you weren’t the one who decided to do it in the first place, are very slim.

In conclusion, a PhD can be a wonderful experience, but only if you actually want to experience it. We have plenty of other advice on how to decide whether a PhD is for you, from doing a Masters first to what to expect from a PhD.

Editor's note: A version of this blog was first published on 14/01/20. We've checked and updated it for current readers.

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