10 things I wish I’d known before deciding to do a PhD

A PhD can be one of the most rewarding career paths for talented young individuals, but there are a lot of factors to consider when making your decision. Here is a list of 10 things I wish I had known or given more thought to when deciding to do a PhD:

  1. You’ll be poor

Whilst your friends are off making money and climbing the graduate career ladder you’ll most likely be stuck on 15 k a year (tax free). One thing I’ve already heard countless times is that “there is no money in science” 

  1. Choose the right project

A PhD isn’t like an undergraduate degree. You could very well end up doing the same thing for 3 to 4 years, so you need to make sure you enjoy it otherwise it will drive you nuts

  1. Look around and don’t settle for the first thing that comes your way

Many people will take the first thing that comes their way but there might be something way better around the corner. Take your time and look around, if you start looking early there is no rush. Worst case, take a year out like I did

  1. There’s always a get out clause

I had this irrational fear that once I start I’d be stuck for another 4 years. That isn’t the case, many people leave PhD’s within the first year or even after.

  1. It’s hard

This may sound obvious but it will probably be the hardest thing you’ll ever do

  1. Make the most of all the opportunities

Since you’re still a student you can do all the student things and more. Go to courses, teach, learn a language, demonstrate labs and learn at every opportunity you get

  1. You’ll have to manage your own work

For some reason this wasn’t immediately obvious to me. There is no one telling you how much you need to work, it’s entirely up to you. Of course, you’ll have a supervisor to guide you but that could be quite a superficial role depending on the subject you’re studying and your supervisor

  1. You can feel isolated

Again, this one may be subject specific but it can get lonely and I’ve met people that go entire days without speaking to another soul

  1. It’s nothing like work

There are no set hours, you could work 7 days a week and no one will bat an eye. At a normal workplace things get done, academia can be an annoying inefficient cycle of bureaucracy and it could take months for something to be fixed or changed

  1. Pick the right supervisor

Finally, and probably the most important piece of advice. Academics can be D****. You don’t want a supervisor you don’t get on with, that could end up being a nightmare. Ask around and find out what they’re like to work for before you join. As their group. Ask other in the department. It’s something I completely overlooked and probably would have chosen a different supervisor had I known the reputation of mine beforehand

 

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