The end of the year signifies many things. Chief among them is the holidays and the hope for a better year ahead, especially now with the COVID-19 pandemic still continuing across the world. But this time of year is also the academic application season, and many of those applications will be masters students looking to apply to PhD programmes across the UK and the world. Applying for a PhD can be daunting exercise, so before you hit send on those applications, take a minute to read about what transitioning to a PhD means and whether it is ultimately for you.
You’ll Spend a Lot More Time on Your Own
The first thing you need to know is that the PhD is often a solitary exercise. You’ll spend countless hours reading, researching, and writing on your own. While there are ways to mitigate this, and you should take advantage of them whenever possible, it is important to recognize that at the end of the day, a PhD is something you will largely complete by yourself. In the UK, it is rare to take courses attached to your PhD programme (coursework is almost always part of US PhDs though); instead, you’ll jump right into research. This can make it more difficult to build a PhD community, but I’d advise you to build relationships with your cohort right from the beginning, as these are the people you are going through this process together.
It’s Time to Take it Up a Notch
Any Master’s degree can be a challenging experience, so it’s important to take time to congratulate yourself on completing one. You’ve done excellent work! However, a PhD is on another level, and it’s vital to recognise that. You’ll be producing a wholly original piece of work born out of years of researching and writing. You’ll be making substantive intellectual arguments on a level you haven’t before, and that requires a level of dedication and sophistication that can be hard to build without diligence and practice. Your supervisor and those around you are there to help guide and mentor you, but they can only take you so far. You’ll need to create new conceptual peaks if you are to climb the PhD mountain. But the good news is that you can do this and you’re not alone. You have the skills and the talent to succeed. You need to remember that every single day.
The Academic Job Market is Tough – And That will Continue for Some Time
If you’ve even remotely considered a PhD, someone has probably told you the academic job market is in free fall. And they’re right, especially now with the COVID-19 pandemic impacting higher education budgets across the globe. If you are contemplating a PhD, you need to acknowledge this reality; you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t. However, unlike what some other folks might say, you don’t need to pursue an academic career if you don’t want to. So if you are planning to do a PhD and then enter a different industry, then by all means, disregard this point. But if you are planning to strive for academia, you need to know it’s a tough job market out there and that it might not work out, no matter how skilled, talented, or smart you are. Finding an academic posting is mostly about luck and timing. Even the smartest people might not be in the right place at the right time. It’s essential to understand this and prepare yourself mentally for this reality. Additionally, you should prepare the ground for different types of careers with this in mind. PhDs have a lot to offer the world – and if you don’t identify that yourself, no one else will.