Hey everyone,

Before starting a PhD it's vital that you know yourself well.

Here are 7 questions you should ask to figure out if the PhD is right for you

@OpenAcademics @AcademicChatter


@TheStrugglingScientists This (knowing yourself well enough to enter PhD studies) is by definition almost impossible. Except, everybody starting a PhD thinks they are smarter than that and they already got all the right answers in the pocket - because these are smart folks - or so they think (no irony). How naive it almost always turns out to be!

In my experience, the thing is that, the vast majority of PhD students recruit from the material coming straight from BSc./MSc. graduation and among those typically those who are running on an “autopilot” and lack a strong direction - they are good in the craft of learning (in contrast to being good in some serious craft) and that is what makes them top of their class and therefore their autopilot heuristics steer them to more of “learning” - after all it worked fine so far, so what can go wrong? These people are primarily good in the art of “learning stuff” and only secondarily become passionate for the topic they chose to learn. This future leads to all sorts of dead ends and a few narrow paths towards a successful academic career. When not academic career (and statistics tells us only a minority gets there), there are all sorts of identity crises and disillusions in that future. So I think the main question in that list should be this: after spending 4-6 years on a meager salary and oftentimes abusive working conditions are you ready to start from zero back in “the industry”? If the answer is yes, thumbs up. Most of the time it’s not so. Typically the person starting an academic career entering PhD studies deludes themselves that they will make it, while the stats tell a different story.

And then there is a small group of people who enter PhD later in their years after already an established career in some craft. Those know better what they are doing, but are by no means immune to delusions of the above type.

Perhaps the best advice to get on this topic is contained in an old book by P.J. Feibelman: A PhD Is Not Enough!: A Guide to Survival in Science from 1993 and still very valid (!) amazon.com/PhD-Not-Enough-Surv Peruse at your own risk and peril.

@FailForward I understand where you are coming from and I agree to an extent.

While I think it is hard to know yourself well enough to decide whether the PhD is right for you I think by asking yourself specific questions it can help provide some clarity.

While it probably won’t be enough to dissuade someone who is hellbent on doing a PhD it may temper some of the unrealistic expectations PhD applicants have going into a PhD.

Ultimately the delta between what was expected of the PhD and the reality of it is a big contributor to the misery PhD students feel. If we can help make that delta smaller it might go a long way towards helping some PhD students.


@TheStrugglingScientists I agree on all your points. On the other hand, however exploitative/skewed (pick your adverb) the system is, it works. It produces new knowledge, it advances humankind, technology, in short, it creates progress. So much is certain. That it also involves more or less precarious life for PhD students (depending on the particular region), is a different thing. But I agree, trying to help to mitigate the damage “the system” does to many starting scientists is a good and worthy mission. Good luck there!

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