The Pros and Cons of Being a PhD Student

Honest post alert.  There are some great things about doing a humanities PhD, but it’s not all eureka moments in the archives.  Some things about it are a bit rubbish.

Pro: You get to organise your own time.
This applies more if you’re a full-time student and you’re sufficiently funded that you don’t have to work.  As someone who is emphatically **not **a morning person, I love having the flexibility to start and finish working and take breaks when I want to.  I like working from home, though sometime it’s nice to work somewhere else for a change of scene, and I can choose when to do that.

**Pro: It’s enjoyable.
**I love doing research and writing.  I love spending my time doing a ‘job’ that I’m actually interested in - finding out about people’s lives, reading a lot and about things that fascinate me, and doing a kind of writing that might be reasonably deemed ‘creative’.

**Con: It doesn’t last forever.
**I sometimes forget to ‘enjoy the moment’ when I’m privileged enough to be funded for doing the type of work mentioned above.  What with the competitive nature and insecurity of jobs in HE, and what I perceive to be a lack of inspiring jobs in the world outside HE (tip: if you ever want to make yourself sad, look for qualitative-research-based jobs online), I’m worried that this is as good as it’s going to get, and I’m never going to spend my time doing fulfilling work that suits my temperament ever again after this.  Careers advice seems very based on the idea that you will get the kind job you want.  Nobody says ‘it’s possible that you’ll languish on the dole for years’ or tells you how to cope with that.

Pro: You get to go to interesting conferences and meet interesting people.
If I decide academia just isn’t going to happen for me, one of the things I’ll miss the most is definitely conferences - I might have to sneak into them anyway.  It’s like a workout for the mind!  I find other people’s research really interesting and inspiring.  Sometimes you can even get funding to go to conferences, so you get to see another place for free!

**Con: Good luck finding somewhere to live.
**Maybe it’s just Colchester, but I’ve been trying to get somewhere to rent for 2 ½ years.  TWO AND A HALF YEARS.  Letting agents are so busy/rude that they don’t return your phone calls, and when you do miraculously get a viewing, the place often gets snapped up before you even cross the threshold.  As for buying, funded PhD students can’t get mortgages because their income is non-taxable, and besides, you might have to go through the whole thing again if you have to move for a job after graduation.  When I made the move from underemployment to postgraduate study, I thought ‘I’ll be able to move out now!’  Nope.

**Pro: You get lots of training opportunities.
**Well, you do at Essex, anyway.  Like many undergraduates, I didn’t really bother with careers events and the like.  Now I’m older, I’m like ‘SIGN ME UP!’

**Con: Nobody knows quite what it is that you do, or how it’s useful.
**Yes, I do spend a large proportion of the day reading.  No, I don’t have a boss, just a supervisor I see once a month.  No, I don’t know what I want to do afterwards.  Of course my research is important, it’s contributing to human knowledge and posing questions about nature/nurture.  No, I’m not due to finish for at least another year and a half.

**Pro: Nobody knows quite what it is that you do, or how it’s useful.
**All the more reason to portray youself as some kind of mysterious intellectual wizard when in reality you just sit at home in a hoodie drinking energy drinks and analysing data.

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About Alice Violett

Reader of books, editor of web content, haver of PhD

Colchester, UK