A PhD can ruin your life.


A PhD can ruin your life.

It is the ultimate academic accomplishment: a PhD. Those who earn this most estimable qualification can style themselves with the august title ‘Doctor’. Alternatively these people can append the sonorous letters PhD to their names. A PhD is a world expert on a topic. This is held up as the highest acolade.
A PhD really can be a career enhancer. For those who seek to work in academe is has long been sine qua non. Someone who completes a 100 000 word thesis and successfully defends it before a board is worthy of deep respect. This article does not disparage PhDs as such. Yet it is true that embarking on a PhD can often harm a person.
Research shows that more more education someone completes the more money she shall earn. This is true up to and including a Master’s degree. But doing a PhD actually reduces a person’s earning power. That does not mean that being awarded a PhD is in itself a bad thing. The mighty dollar is not the only indication of success. Scholarly minded persons usually do not prioritise money. Money does not guarantee contentment. Nor it is always a measure of accomplishment. An academically inclined person may well be somewhat contemptuous of king cash and seek to achieve something worthier than mere material wealth.
For some people doing a PhD is an excuse for not doing anything at all. I have known people to take almost 30 years on such a qualification. A PhD is written on a very narrow subject – often an arcane one. It takes something close to OCDC to be that entrhalled by such a tiny topic.
Let’s call him Friar Tuck. He has been supposedly working on a doctorate for a quarter of a century. This seems much more admirable than being unemployed. In fact this gentleman of leisure does precious little. But by saying he is working on a D.Phil he can avoid facing up to the painful reality.
A doctorate takes a minimum of three years. They can stretch to 4 or 5. Anything longer than that and the candidate is surely faffing around. Perhaps it is a means of postponing the dreaded day when he or she has to get a job.
Honestly, how long does it take to compose a 100 000 word thesis? I know research must be done and there are copious footnotes but more than 3 years is surely excessive. I speak as someone who has never tried so perhaps I am pig ignorant.
There are plenty of people who fail to complete doctorates. They have then wasted a few years and a staggering sum of money. One such person lamented to me how a PhD had been held out to him as the greatest thing he could aim for.
Why do ever more people start out doing a PhD? It is partly because of qualification inflation. As O levels were turned into GCSEs there was dumbing down. GCSEs have been devalued almost annually for over 30 years. Likewise A levels. The same goes for Bachelor’s degrees. This even applies to Master’s degrees. Therefore people felt compelled to distinguish themselves by earning a qualification that seemed not to have become declasse. Moreover, it was the gold standard. This degree made someone stand out in a crowd of candidates. People will coo over a PhD no matter which subject it is in. Furthermore, it does not matter to some if the said PhD is awarded by the most worthless university.
In some American universities there have been PhD programmes for decades. These programmes involve special lectures and educational visits to certain cities. A woman I knew who had completed a PhD in Religious Studies was brought to Rome as part of such a programme. Surely this defeats the whole purpose of it being an independent study. No doubt in those universities with PhD programmes there is an element of independent study but it should not just be an element. It ought to be the whole thing.
PhDs are worth doing for those who wish to pursue an academic career. These degrees are noble and deserving of esteem. This article sounds a note of caution. Those who will profit from such a degree are rare birds indeed. Starting a PhD or even being awarded one will not necessarily improve your life. It could wreck it.

About Calers

Born Belfast 1971. I read history at Edinburgh. I did a Master's at UCL. I have semi-libertarian right wing opinions. I am married with a daughter and a son. I am allergic to cats. I am the falling hope of the not so stern and somewhat bending Tories. I am a legal beagle rather than and eagle. Big up the Commonwealth of Nations.

4 responses »

  1. I could not get a job with my MSc degree for >2 years so I decided to do a PhD. All postgrad degrees come with funding/living allowances. After 3 project changes, because I have a sloppy/uninvolved supervisor, I am in my 7th year. I worked hard, I wasn’t faffing around. And I am not scared to get a job. Losing/changing 3 projects and 7 years of my life is devastating. Plus chances of getting a job after PhD isn’t great either.

  2. Meh, proof. Where and what did the author(s) do their PhD in? But most importantly why did they do a PhD? I read the article and it just conjures hypothetical could of scenarios. My PhD is funded, so far 😉 and I’m doing it because I wanted to, not to earn someone’s admiration or funky title.

    • I have never embarked on a PhD. I said it CAN ruin your life. It does not have to. In fact in most cases it is beneficial. But for a minority of those who start doctorates it is disastrous.

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