Written by Joanna Hughes

From 'why do dogs wag their tails?' to 'have I been ghosted?' people ask Google millions of questions every day. In its The Autocomplete Questions column, The Guardian attempts to tackle some of them. One of the latest topics getting its due is 'should I do a PhD?' Here’s a closer look at what Guardian Higher Education Network editor Rachel Hall has to say about it.

The Fast Track Fallacy                                                   

Hall suggests that, thanks to pop culture representations like Friends’ Ross Geller, the PhD has been glamorized in the public eye. After all, while Professor Geller may have celebrated getting tenure at the young age of 30-ish, this accomplishment comes much later -- if at all -- for many of his real-world science PhD peers.

She explains, “The problem with the academic dream is that the pipeline is broken. Employing lots of PhD students is a great deal for universities – they are a source of inexpensive academic labor for research and teaching. But it’s not such a great deal for the students themselves. The oversupply of PhDs perpetuates the illusion that there are a lot of academic jobs around. There are not – and competition for the few that there are is fierce.”

Because of this, academic positions can be stressful. In fact, according to the Royal Society of the Wellcome Trust, mental health conditions are common in research, afflicting four out of 10 academics.

So Why Do It?
This does not mean that Hall categorically advises against the PhD path. “Being an academic can be one of the world’s best jobs,” she says. “You might get to push the boundaries of knowledge in an area you’re passionate about, work in international teams comprising the world’s greatest minds, and produce work with visible social impact – whether that’s through lecturing students or seeing your research inform policy,” Hall continues.

And then there’s the fact that for an increasing number of PhDs, academia is not the end game, but rather high-level jobs in a range of other industries.

The takeaway, according to Hall? There’s no clear-cut answer when it comes to the question of whether or not to do a PhD. Rather, thoroughly evaluating your options and understanding your reasons is the key to making the right decision.

Learn more about studying a PhD.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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