Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Deciding to go for a PhD shortly after graduation

Deciding between PhD and other options feels like the most important decision of your life. And it is. This period could be very stressful and unproductive and making this decision may take very long. In this post I have discussed some factors that I, as a recent college graduate, considered while making this decision.

There are several factors you need to consider before making this decision. Financial stability is the most important of these. You have to consider that you will be earning very little for a very long time. You will not have enough money to buy or do things that your classmates from college who have taken high paying jobs buy or do. This problem is compounded if you want to support your family. However, there is a difference between 'needs' and 'wants'. You may want several luxuries but you don't need them to live a comfortable life. You have to decide whether just satisfying your needs is enough for you. If it is, then do not worry. The pay in a PhD is sufficient for almost everyone's needs. Supporting a family could be difficult. Everyone wants to see their family being provided the best of everything. But you have to consider that getting older will increase your responsibilities and you may never have time and opportunity to start a PhD again.

Another factor is the time commitment. In EE-CS (and other engineering fields) a PhD takes an average of 6 years to complete. You have to consider whether you can live on a small pay for a very long time. However, while considering this, you also have to realise that you will be doing the thing you love in a university environment all this while. Sure, there are things that you will have to do in a PhD that many people hate (taking classes, teaching assistantships, writing papers etc.) but which job doesn't have such things?

Thoughts about whether you have the aptitude for a PhD may also cause stress. My display name, Imposter Syndrome, is a term which may describe your feelings. I am starting my PhD in Fall 2015 and feel that I may not be qualified enough to make this journey. But this is a very common phenomenon. I believe that if you think you will be happier doing research as a PhD student, then nothing else should stop you. Life is long and should be full of adventures. And what is PhD if not just another adventure.

An important thing you have to keep in mind is that you are not alone in this. Many of your classmates are in the same dilemma. Some of them may seem very decisive and may appear to have no problem in deciding where they want to go next. But this confidence is generally just superficial. Most of the others are also as indecisive as you are. There may be some who are so sure about going for a PhD that they never even considered other options. However, the number of such people is very small. So, talk to your friends. Talk about your apprehensions and fears. Hear out theirs. You may find some factors to consider that you have never thought about. Talk to your seniors and try to find out what were their reasons for joining a PhD programme.

I hope that through this blog I have been able to assuage some of your doubts. Good luck and cheers.

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