Should You Do A PhD? Here’s When A PhD Is Worth It

To PhD or not to PhD? Let’s find out what it entails and if it’s worth doing one.

There are tons of reasons to study (and not study) a PhD. A lot of it is down to your personal goals, career aspirations, passion for the subject and where you are in your career.

You may have heard of all the wonderful things academics gain after completing a PhD, such as a published piece of work, the “Dr†title and the general satisfaction of having attained one. But PHD student stress is a whole new level, so you may be a little daunted at the prospect of applying.

Today we’re going to discuss what a PhD is, if you get paid to do a PhD, if it’s worth studying a PhD, the benefits, drawbacks and how to attain a PhD.

What is a PhD?

A PhD, AKA a ‘Doctor of Philosophy’ or ‘Doctorate’, is the highest level of degree you can attain as a student. You may also see it depicted as a ‘DPhil’ or EngD (an Engineering Doctorate).

Studying a PhD degree involves a huge degree of independent study as it’s heavily research-led. It involves conducting original research in your chosen field and contributing to the world of academics, by publishing your very own thesis.

Are you a doctor if you study a PhD?

A “Doctor’ doesn’t refer to a doctor you find in a hospital, oh no. In the academic world it simply means someone who has studied the highest level of degree, a doctoral degree, at a university.

Do you get paid to do a PhD?

Yes. You get paid to pursue a PhD provided your subject is accepted by the institution. The typical salary is around £25,000 and up and depends on the faculty. Some universities even offer free accommodation, which is usually common among medical students.

While many PhDs are funded, it doesn’t always mean it’s free. In fact, it does cost to study one.

How much is it to study a PhD in the UK?

According to Discover PhDs, the cost of a PhD can be divided into three key areas

  • Tuition fees

  • Living expenses

  • Research expenditures.

The combined cost of these vary on what you’re studying, where you’re studying and the university’s fees (which can vary across the country). You’re looking at around £20,000 per year for UK students and can increase to over £40,000 per year for international students.

It is possible to study part-time to spread the cost. While this helps with the workload, you need to keep in mind that you may be paying the same amount at the end.

Overtime period fees

The institution will agree when you enrol in your PhD study; a time frame in which to complete it. This can usually take somewhere between 3-5 years, or 6-7 for part-time study.

Most institutions will charge an overtime registration fee if you fail to complete it on time. The fee varies between university and it’s always worth checking before you enrol.

Why do a PhD

While a PhD may sound financially demanding and the studies are super tough, there are plenty of reasons why it’s worth doing if you’re able to do so:

You can make a contribution to your chosen field

People who pursue a PhD usually want to work in academics and become experts in their field. You can make important discoveries, contribute valuable information that could lead to more discoveries, and most importantly, conduct your very own research.

You can satisfy your curiosity and long-term career goals

A PhD may be part of your study goals. But for those who want to stay in the academic world, then a PhD is necessary to teach undergrads.

And if that’s not your goal, then the skills you gain in a PhD are highly transferable to a variety of industries.

You want the challenge

A PhD is certainly a challenge and some people thrive off this. PhDs are mostly student-led, meaning there isn’t a set “structure†to your course.

You enjoy your area of study

There’s no better feeling than having a genuine passion for your industry. By undertaking a PhD you can explore this further, especially as contact hours are fairly minimal compared to other degrees.

When to not do a PhD

Maybe you think a PhD is the way to go, but that’s not necessarily the case. Here’s when a PhD isn’t the right path for you to take.

To ‘become a doctor’

While this is a serious commitment for a name change, years of research and financial investment aren’t worth the title of doctor if your heart isn’t in it. Ask yourself what having the Dr title will actually do for you.

If your heart isn’t set on working in academics, the prefix won’t really make people glance over twice.

You want to stay at uni

Sorry to break it to you, but a PhD is no different from a full-time job. Some would argue it’s far worse. It’s a sure fire way to lead to academic burnout too.

To make things even worse, your area of study may not even require a doctorate. So all those years of study and stress may become futile.

You think it’s the only way to work in the academic field

To lecture at a university yes, you may need a PhD. But if you want to teach at primary, secondary or even college level, then a PhD isn’t always necessary.

Plus, there are tons of roles you can apply for in academics if teaching isn’t your thing. Such as a research assistant, research administrator, or even a technician.

Because you have no idea what to do

To be successful in a PhD, you absolutely must know what you want to do.

Just because you landed 1sts and are academically bright, it doesn’t mean a PhD will grant you any favours. Have a break, work for a bit and figure out if research is actually something you see yourself being passionate about.

If you’re an undergraduate already thinking far ahead, why not consider studying a master’s instead?

Because you feel pressure from family and friends

We get how this can be very challenging and it can feel like there’s no way out. Being made to do something takes all the joy out of it and will lessen your chances of success.

While a PhD can be very rewarding, the decision must come from you and you alone.

Is a PhD worth it?

A PhD is absolutely worth it if you want to make a difference, contribute to your field of study, gain tons of hard and soft transferable skills, and ultimately become an expert in what you do best.

By working on something you love that’s totally dictated by your area of expertise is a dream. Yes, you have a tutor to guide you and you’ll need to go through a bit if a process to get things agreed upon, but in the end, it’s totally worth the hard work.

The only time it’s really not worth doing is if your field doesn’t require a PhD, you don’t want to teach at university-level or you simply have no idea what you’d want to research.

How to get a PhD

Every university has their own entry requirements for a PhD, but typically, you must have an undergraduate and master’s degree (unless you’re pursuing an MRes).

If you’ve decided you’re interested in pursuing a PhD and you’re all psyched up and ready to go, there are a few ways to go about obtaining one:

Apply for a PhD by thesis

This is the most common route to getting a PhD.

Your thesis (think dissertation x1000) will be anywhere between 50,000-100,000 words. It varies between the universities and the type of PhD you study.

It involves getting support from a supervisor who’ll you need to negotiate with via a research proposal. Once the thesis is complete, you’ll need to ‘defend’ it in front of a university panel via a process known as a viva voce.

Study an integrated PhD

An integrated PhD is a “New Route PhD†which involves studying an MRes (a one year research-based masters degree), before progressing on to the three-year PhD. It’s offered by many universities across the country and is great for those who need that extra year to solidify their research skills.

You’ll be exposed to a ton of different research methods, practical knowledge and subject-specific methodologies you’ll need in your PhD.

Professional Doctorates

PhDs are typically research-led by the student, but a Professional Doctorate has a taught element to it which is typically studies by engineering and healthcare students.

This isn’t a route to take if you want to work in academics, however, your research is expected to contribute to theory and professional practice. Projects often revolve around a real-life issue that affects your employer.

PhD by publication

If you have a minimum of five to eight published pieces of work, they may be submitted together with a body of work as ample research towards a PhD. This route is often taken by mid-career academics that haven’t had the opportunity to undertake a standard Doctorate degree. It makes it great for those who’ve left study for a while to work in the professional field.

You’re more likely to be accepted into this type of PhD if you’re already a graduate of the same institution, while others will only limit this to their existing academic staff.

Honorary doctorate degrees

An honorary degree is a type of academic degree where the university will waive all of the usual requirements. It’s also known as honoris causa ( Latin for “for the sake of the honour”) or ad honorem (Latin for “to the honour”). It may be awarded to someone who has no prior connection with the academic institution or no previous postsecondary education.

It’s only possible to attain one if you’re classed as an “outstanding individual who has excelled in their fieldâ€. Celebrities like Peter Kay and Liam Fray are two of many who’ve gained Honorary Doctorate status.

Think you’ll apply for a PhD? We hope this has given you a well-rounded view of whether you should study a PhD, steer clear of them for now and consider one after a few years out of study.