You Think You Want to Earn a PhD?
An image of the regalia worn by earned doctorates.

You may be nearing the end of your undergraduate career and think that you want to earn your PhD (or Ph.D.) in the same or a related discipline.  But, probably admittedly, you have no idea what to expect.  Let me help with the concept of understanding what it is that you’re about to undertake.

Congratulations!

First, it’s a great decision!  We will always need young adults who possess sharp intellects and who can advance a discipline.  Second, if you’ve chosen the right school for you, you’ll probably find lots of other people, from all over the world, who have the same hopes and desires that you do.  There will never be another time in your life quite like graduate school. Finally, you will have earned the right to wear the very cool regalia.

Not ‘Undergraduate, Part II’

When earning your PhD, you will engage in an educational experience unlike any other of which you have been a part.  However, this is as dramatically different from your undergraduate work as college was from high school and maybe more so.

A PhD program–a good program–is intended to take you to your intellectual limits.  Probably for the first time in your life, you will truly learn your intellectual capacity.  What you must accept is that this process is not for people who easily give up when challenges become intellectually strenuous.

A doctoral program will also be humbling.  Unless you’re in the top percentile of everything you have ever done, you will perform poorly on some assessment–especially at first until you learn to study better.  Further, loners do not survive; you will need a group.  Humility arrives because you will need people who can explain things or with whom you will debate concepts.  A third aspect in which you will need humility is because, at some point, tempers will probably fly and you will need to apologize.

Life Will Change as a PhD Student

If you go to graduate school and are not in a relationship and have no kids, grad school will seem more like a complete life reboot.  Most likely, you will move away from your family and will be expending effort to make new friends.  While your other friends are pursuing new careers, you will be earning small stipends or going further in debt (depending on the field of the program).  I remember hearing how loneliness caused difficulty from my single friends who had relocated.  You can make new friends but it’s hard.

Should you choose to attend graduate school and are in a relationship, then you have two scenarios:  your significant other relocated or they didn’t.  If they didn’t relocate then I’m going to say that your chances of finishing are significantly lower at that institution. If they did relocate, then your world will seem more anchored and graduate education will be just an aspect of your world.

On the other hand, for those who have a family (a subset of the ‘significant other’ scenario), graduate school can be treated as “a job” and I think your odds of finishing are probably much higher. (I have no statistical evidence to support this.) This is especially true if  there are no significant concerns over expenses and your other has an income.  I would expect this because of time management skills that you as a husband/wife/significant other and/or parent have had to learn already.  Graduate school compounds some issues such as the time you need to spend with family. However, your family helps with the ability to choose priorities.

To Be Continued,

I already filled your mind with lots of things to think upon.  But wait, there’s way more to consider.  Visit the first part of this series of thoughts: “Consider These Things Before Choosing Graduate School“.

Best,

Jon

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You Think You Want to Earn a PhD?
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