completing your PhD when you have kids

Should I do a PhD? 5 Reasons for and Against

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(Last updated on: 10/08/2021)

After three solid years of hard work, and I mean solid (social life, what’s that?!) I have submitted my PhD thesis and am awaiting my viva. It’s been a hell of a journey that is certainly not for the faint-hearted, but at the same time I have got a lot out of it. Whether you are considering doing a PhD as part of organisational learning, because you want to extend your student years or because you are passionate about your subject, it is important that you consider the reasons for and against before committing to a project that’s not like anything you’ve known before! So, on reflection of the past three years of blood, sweat and tears, here is my advice to you;

PhD thesis

5 Reasons to do a PhD

Increased employment prospects

Ok, so this does depend on your line of work. There are many jobs that will require you to have a doctorate; for example, many medical professions or jobs that involve a significant amount of research. I started my teaching career as a College Lecturer but quickly became disillusioned with the mind-numbing administration and lack of intellectually stimulating tasks. When looking for positions that I might have been better suited for however, such as working in international development or as a University Lecturer, I quickly came across a qualification road block: I needed a PhD.

It demonstrates determination

I couldn’t find any specific statistics, but I can assure you that a bulk load of people who start a PhD never complete it. Remember when you were at university writing that 4000 word essay that you were so sick of that you couldn’t bear to write another word? Remember the tedious reading that you dreaded doing on a Sunday evening? Or the criticisms from your lecturer that you simply didn’t agree with? Well, take those emotions and multiple them by 100. Completing a PhD demonstrates that you can stick with your project, through the good and the bad. It shows that you are motivated, independent, and strong-willed. Nobody forces you to get up at 7am on a Monday morning, and perhaps this should be another reason ‘for’ – it’s YOUR determination and motivation that gets you through the project, nobody else!

It makes you think differently

Doing a PhD makes you curious and inquisitive. You’ll look at the bigger picture, whilst questioning the specific details. Take my recent post, for example, on religion when travelling– have you ever wondered why Jesus is depicted as a white man even though people who live in Israel have tanned skin? Doing a PhD will encourage you to consider the best approach to the little things in life- ‘will this experiment yield the most reliable data?’ quickly turns into ‘will I be subjected to less passive smoking if I sit to the left or the right of that smoking couple in the restaurant’? Pre-PhD you might have thought going to Haiti to volunteer your time as a relief worker was a good, altruistic thing to do. But now your philosophical brain makes you wonder why people define it as volunteering when it is actually a form of tourism. Are the two concepts of altruism and hedonism not contradictory? Does the perception of volunteer tourism derive from a method of deduction or induction?  

Should I do a PhD? 5 Reasons for and Against

It allows you to express your passion

I think I enjoyed writing my PhD thesis more than my taught undergraduate and post-graduate studies because of the freedom that I had. I choose to investigate TEFL tourism because this is something that I felt passionate about when experiencing it first-hand. Whilst of course there were some elements of my research that I was more passionate about than others, I was given the freedom to take my work in the direction that I wanted, rather than being dictated to through module descriptors and assignment briefs.

 It allows you to create an academic identity

Whether you aspire to be an academic or not, doing a PhD provides you with a unique identity. Now that I am starting to publish papers based on my PhD research (my work was recently published in the top journal for tourism research – whoop whoop!), I hope that I will establish my research identity as the researcher who introduced the concept of TEFL tourism. Whether I decide to continue with research in this field or whether my work takes me off in a different direction, I will always have these publications and this research to my name.

5 Reasons not to do a PhD

Whilst doing a PhD can be a great thing and it can take you to many places, it isn’t all roses either. I have reflected on my own PhD experience and why maybe I should NOT have done a PhD in this video below….

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It takes over your life

My advice is that if you’re going to start a PhD, make sure you haven’t got any other major life plans on the horizon – because it will take over! You can read about this in my recent post, 10 reasons your PhD will take over your life. Having children, a social life or a demanding job will inevitably extend the amount of time it takes you to finish your PhD. Whilst some people can cope with this, many people can’t – so make sure that it is the right decision for you!

You have to be prepared to present your research in front of ‘professionals’

The majority of universities will expect you to present your research at conferences and events. Despite having taught for years prior to commencing my PhD research, this is something I found challenging. The people watching and commenting on your work have been researching longer than you, have read more papers than you and probably speak in more academic jargon than you do. For me, this was daunting. You might also be expected to take part in events such as a 3 minute thesis competition which can be nerve-wracking and intimidating (see my top tips for how to win the competition here!).

Don’t expect to get rich quick

You might be paying for your PhD, you could be studying on a scholarship, have been funded by your employer or taken out a student loan, but none of these are going to give you much money while studying. You can, however, speculate to accumulate, which is exactly what I did. Despite being riddled with debt when I started my research (and having to pay for it myself), I decided that it was worth going on cheaper holidays for a couple of years and buying a two-bedroom house instead of three, because studying for my doctorate would allow me eventually to secure a higher paying job.

You may want to kill yourself, at one point or another

A colleague once said to be ‘if you haven’t wanted to kill yourself then you haven’t done a proper PhD’. Whilst I found this rather pessimistic at the time, there may be some truth to what he said. Doing a PhD is mentally challenging. Not only because the work you have to do is obviously at a very high standard, but also because of the kickbacks you will have along the way. You’ll spend the first year writing your literature review. Then, you put that aside, write your methodology, collect your data, analyse your data. A year has passed and you open up the literature review file again to realise that what you initially wrote is no longer relevant or just rubbish. What were you thinking? Cue 90% re-write. You also have feedback from your supervisors, some of which can be very encouraging – remember that some supervisors are more supportive than others. However, there will be an inevitable amount of (hopefully constructive) criticism. This can be hard to take, especially when you’ve worked so hard to produce the work.

You’ll be lonely

I am a quite an independent person and have always been very self-motivating, but even I have felt that the PhD experience has been incredibly lonely. I went to a PhD symposium half way through my studies and I met another student of a similar age to me studying a similar topic. Honestly, I felt like a zoo animal who had been let out of solitary confinement into the cage with the rest of their breed! You’ll need a supportive network around you when doing your PhD. My husband has been great, but he doesn’t understand when I get excited about a new paper that was published in my field or when I complain that NVIVO doesn’t capture the webpage in the same layout. I have no idea how many times I’ve woken up in the night or stood in the shower having mental conversations with myself about how to organise a particular section of my results or how to word my next paragraph. Because your work is so individual to you, by the end not even your supervisors will be on your wavelength entirely!

So those are my reasons for and against committing to a PhD. Are you thinking about doing one? Or maybe you’ve already dived in head-first? I’d love to know your plans and how you’re getting on, so feel free to leave your comments below!

Further reading

31 Comments
  1. Kadii

    I really appreciate this post. I am one class away from completing my MBA. And it is my educational goal to earn a Ph.D. I love research and I am passionate about consumer market trends and how it drives the consumer packaged goods industry. I waited two years after my undergrad degree to start a masters program. Now I’m just starting to consider what schools and when I’d like to start my ph.d program.

    Reply
    • Hayley

      I’m glad you found the post useful! Sounds like you have it all planned out-best of luck!!!

      Reply
    • Aishwarya vaidya

      Hi. Thanks a lot for this information. Actually, I am planning to do Phd in Tourism from UK. I am currently based in India. I want to go in Tourism research and policy making and also have passion towards teaching. Could you please help me with the best universities to consider in UK for Msc and later Phd in Tourism?
      Thanks in advance 🙂

      Reply
  2. Heather

    I have debated with this as well, but have to say that I don’t think it increases job prospects — it simply seems overqualified for most roles (and managers overlook you), and it truly is hard enough to find a job out there. Although I love the writing and research, I value quality of life more at the moment.

    Reply
    • Hayley

      It really depends on the job, but yes for many jobs you’re right!

      Reply
  3. ChelseaMamma

    My friend has just completed hers and although she is super proud of her achievements, it really affected family life for some time

    Reply
    • Hayley

      I can imagine, that’s exactly why I’m starting my family now that it’s complete!

      Reply
  4. Rachel

    Ive often debated doing a PHD but the cost of it really does put me off x

    Reply
    • Hayley

      It’s cheaper than a degree which is surprising though!!

      Reply
  5. wha2wear

    I’m doing a PhD at the moment and I really understand what you mean. However, I think that the facts that it makes you think differently and express your passions are priceless. Also, even if it takes lots of time, it’s not time wasted, I think it’s a great investment… well, I’m very lucky on that because I’m working as an RA at the same time I get my PhD 🙂 x

    Reply
    • Hayley

      I absolutely agree, good luck with your studies!!

      Reply
      • wha2wear

        thank you and happy Christmas! x

        Reply
  6. renxkyoko

    I instead graduated with 2 college degrees, Cell and Molecular Biology, and Forensics Biology. It is Forensics that I love, but job prospects are so limited ( there’s only one in every city, sometimes none at all ). I work in the Quality Control dep’t at a dairy company, ( to keep food safe for consumers )….. I could have studied further on my degree, but I opted to have 2 instead. It is easier to find a job with these two degrees, but you’re right, sometimes a company wouldn’t give the job because he/she is ” overqualified”….. it happened to me.

    Reply
  7. Erica Price

    My Dad thought about doing one as a mature student, but decided against it. He wasn’t interested in the career aspect, but he’d have been interested for personal development. I think though he decided he didn’t need to do a formal Phd to persue his interests.

    Reply
  8. MW

    Great to read about a traveller also pursuing Academia. I’ve been debating whether to pursue my Masters or not, and sacrificing travel has been my biggest worry – but clearly you haven’t had to do that!

    Reply
    • Hayley

      I would definitely recommend it, you can make it work if you want to!

      Reply
  9. sociolinguini

    How did you choose where to do your PhD? Any advice for the proposal writing? 🙂

    Reply
    • Hayley

      I chose based on existing contacts at the university and employment prospects, which worked as I now work there! I would seek advice from your potential supervisor to find out what they’re looking for in the proposal as it differs in different places.

      Reply
  10. Victoria

    I’d like to chat to you somehow privately on this topic, if I may, please.

    Reply
    • Hayley

      Sure, feel free to e-mail me

      Reply
  11. Kiya

    I started my PhD program last month and feeling absolutely lost at the moment, my academic advisor is a bit distant as well. I’m so scared of wasting time (the worst would be to look back in a year or so and realize you haven’t done anything) but I’m not completely sure what to begin with. A month was spent adjusting to new lab and finishing up with my social life (used to be involved in many student activities). Thank you for your article! This gives me hope I’ll eventually figure it out.

    Reply
    • Hayley

      It’s early days- have faith! There are pros and cons but you know deep down if it’s the right thing for you! Good luck!

      Reply
  12. Whitney

    This was such a great read! Informative, honest, and to the point :).

    I will be starting my Ph.D. program August 19th, and the tips provided will definitely be used in the near future.

    Good luck to everyone!

    Reply
    • Hayley

      Good luck with it and enjoy!

      Reply
  13. Researchersjob

    Thank you for this detailed study. As I got the idea from this is that doing higher study is really important to boost up our knowledge-based and also it automatically boast our carrier on another height.

    Reply
  14. Aishwarya vaidya

    Hi. Thanks a lot for this information. Actually, I am planning to do Phd in Tourism from UK. I am currently based in India. I want to go in Tourism research and policy making and also have passion towards teaching. Could you please help me with the best universities to consider in UK for Msc and later Phd in Tourism?
    Thanks in advance

    Reply
    • Dr Hayley Stainton

      I suggest you take a look at this years university rankings and for potential supervisors who align with your interests.

      Reply
  15. Cathy

    Hi Hayley, I really enjoy reading your post. Thanks so much for a very insightful article. I am thinking of doing a PHD in Tourism this year, however, I still want to keep my full time job. I am single and haven’t had kids. I am quite introverts and also don’t mind much having no social life. What are your thoughts on doing PHD while working full-time? Do you think it is manageable?

    Reply
    • Dr Hayley Stainton

      Hi Cathy, it’s possible but you need to be motivated and prepared to give up evenings and weekends!

      Reply

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