10 Questions to Ask Yourself before Deciding to Get a PhD
Before deciding to embark on another 5-10 years of education, know the facts about getting a PhD (see my previous blog on myths of getting a PhD). If you’re still confident a PhD is the right path for you, ask yourself the following:
1. Can I afford it?
If you are considering student loans, mean graduate debt was $14,479 according to the Survey of Earned Doctorates (NSF, 2012). Also take into account the cost it takes to apply to multiple PhD programs. Can you afford moving to another region of the country? All these things add up before the first day of classes.
In addition to thinking about out-of-pocket expenses, consider the opportunity cost of getting a PhD. Think of both time and money. Figuring your opportunity cost will help answer the question, “Is it worth it?” To know how much money you will make after graduation, you will need to ask yourself the next question below.
3. To what industry do I want to enter as a career?
This question will better target what kind of salary you are likely to make in the future. There are plenty of people with master’s degrees who rake in $90k+ a year. How did they do it? They went into industries that pay well. The degree you hold is not the only factor in how much money you will make.
4. Is it impossible to get my dream job without a PhD?
If the answer is yes, then you need to get a PhD. Be realistic about the type of job that you are likely to get upon graduation, as well. When choosing programs, ask what type of jobs people get when they graduate.
5. Am I willing to be poor for the time being?
Just like with any stage of student life, you are going to be living off rice and beans, ramen noodles, and hot pockets for a while. Just know that it’s only a phase, and you will not live like this forever.
6. Am I willing to be a workhorse for 5-10 years?
Be prepared to work extremely long, hard hours. At times you may feel like your professors are exploiting you for your hard work. Know that it’s all part of the game. If you want to succeed, you have to demonstrate that you’re capable of going extraordinary lengths for the love of your field.
7. Am I willing to sacrifice time spent with my family and friends?
This is a tough one, but working long, hard hours means that you are going to have less time to yourself, let alone anyone else who cares about you. If you have a family, they need to be prepared for your crazy work hours.
8. Do I want to learn new ways of thinking about the world?
If you think that grad school is an extension of undergrad, you are dead wrong. Getting a PhD = research. Research involves inventing new ideas and perfecting methods to test those ideas. Gone are the days when your professors tell you how it is and all you have to do is regurgitate it for the exam. You will need to come up with novel ways of solving problems and prove the importance of your ideas.
9. Can I deal with setbacks when they happen?
If you can’t handle deviations to your plans, you are going to struggle mightily in a doctoral program. It’s not a question of if setbacks will happen. It’s a question of can you deal with them accordingly? Are you going to pick up your toys and go home, or are you going to get in there and prove yourself?
10. Am I obsessed with my field of study?
You will be eating and breathing your chosen field of study for the entirety of your doctoral program. If you aren’t sure you really love studying and learning about X, then run away fast! If your family and friends can’t get you to shut up about X, then you will be in good company in a doctoral program.