Here’s what it’s actually like to do a PhD

‘Do you do anything but reading?’

It's not like we have deadlines, essays and exams to write, so technically we don't just read all the time. Doctoral students do not need to study for any of these and yet we are still called ‘students’, but trust me: the struggle is real. We read, we research, we try to find answers to question and connect the dots.

Doing a PhD is like detective work – you try to prove something which is right or wrong (depending on who you talk to).

Fancy some mid-term holidays in Hawaii or, a more budget friendly, Bristol? Doctoral work is a great way to travel, under the guise of 'research'. I would say it is pretty good working as a doctoral researcher for it does not demand a fixed schedule and you get to work whenever and wherever you want.

What also makes a PhD extremely lucrative for most people and drives them through years of research is that you get to be called “doctor”. Most PhD students after completing their PhDs will make a bank and doctor's appointment just to say they've lost their cards, slyly adding: "actually the title's Dr."

Not all Doctors are boring!

It gets even better if you have a studentship, like many PhD Students where you actually get paid to study. You can then become whatever you want: a lecturer, researcher, consultant, or even pursue other non-academic fields.

As a doctoral researcher, you will realise that you start writing texts a little differently. It's not just following what other people have said, but writing your own conclusions.

One of the worst things people say is:

“Oh, I don’t need a PhD, I'll just start my own business”.

What they don't realise is that PhD life can be just as similar. It's not all reading and books.

Researchers strive for pushing the limits of knowledge one step at a time.

In fact, the most essential roles in our society, in my opinion, are of doctors, teachers and researchers – doctors save lives, teachers help develop people and researchers expand knowledge.

However, nothing comes without negatives and pursuing doctoral research takes at least three years of your life where you will be focusing on just one particular and very specific theme – so you better love what you are researching!

In the course of your research, you will see most of your friends getting promoted at their 9-5 job, while you keep digging and exploring. It can be difficult to see little progress, especially when everyone around you in growing in big city jobs and getting married (a scary thought!).

Sometimes (and this gets more common as the years progress) you find yourself getting some ground-breaking ideas just while you are in the shower, about to go to sleep or even hanging out with your girlfriend ( just hopefully not in the middle of sex). Even without a specific schedule, your research becomes a part of your daily life.

Despite all this, you have to to find a good work-life balance as many schools provide paid opportunities for research scholars willing to engage in teaching, marking and other school activities normally assigned to staff and sometimes it only helps the research if you focus on something else for a while.

To be honest, if you have a particular passion for discovering and learning new things every day and you don’t mind all the time, dedication, and a little bit of sweat that it takes to achieve the highest academic degree, the odds are that you are going to do great in a doctoral degree. Just be sure you are also good at time management – you don’t want to find yourself writing 50 pages two days before your first year review!

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University of St Andrews life after phd postgrad