Category Archives: Career in academia; is it for you?

The curious life of an academic…


Working as an academic; is it for you?

A career in academia is not the right choice for everyone. Applying for a PhD is something you have to think about carefully to see if it is right for you. I will try to answer the age old philosophical question of: what does a PhD student actually do?

Well, the most crucial aspect of a PhD is research. Most of your time as a PhD student will be spent laboriously in the lab with a cup of coffee (*other hot beverages are available) slaving over SPSS until nightfall.  I hope this doesn’t sound too disheartening, but a PhD is 99% research related. The most influential person in regards to your project, ideas and making sure you are on track is YOU. PhD’s are for those that are truly dedicated and self-motivated in achieving what needs to be done to get the project finished. This doesn’t always work right the first time, so you need to be patient and diligent in order to keep things moving. Plus this will prevent you from hating your PhD.

But in order to know whether a PhD is right for you, you have to weigh up whether a career in academia is something that you’re suited to.  Most academics fill their time with a combination of research, teaching and admin things, like marking. Academics tend to going to conferences; apply for funding, network and work alongside fellow researchers. As you could imagine, these duties are all quite time intensive. So, if a life in academia is really for you make sure you are passionate about your research, fanatical about organisation, like networking and are flexible with working hours. As an academic the days will start early with meetings and end late with readings (so make sure you keep up with the literature within your field).

What does life look like after a PhD?

After a PhD most students take up a Postdoctoral (Postdoc) position within a university which is 9/10 times research based. Then, after Postdoc training a lectureship is usually the next step.

Ok so still unsure if a life in academia is right for you? Take my 2 minute quiz – it’s just like the ones we used to obsess about in the 00s in Shout and Kerrang magazine!!! It won’t tell you who your dream celeb date is, but will give you some things to think about to see if you’re suited to a life in academia.

-Dr. Double D


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Is a PhD for you??

Is a PhD for you??

As I’m sure you all know the pressure is on for students and young people to gain higher and higher qualifications if they are to have any hope of getting a job. All of which means that many people end up applying for postgraduate education because they feel like they have to, rather than because they actually want to.

Doing PhD takes a lot of hard graft (more like a 50-60 hour week than a 38!) and the only way you’re going to be able to keep motivated and see it through, is if you actually enjoy the subject and the work.     i.e. you’ll need to be a little less like this:

and a little more like this:

Ask yourself:

Why do I want a PhD? Reasons such as: you want to put ‘Dr’ in front of your name, you’re worried about getting a job, or you simply don’t want to leave the University bubble, are not going to keep you motivated through a 3-5 year program of 40+ hours a week.

Do I love my subject enough to be essentially married to it for at least 3 years?

…Nuff said.

Is the right one out there?You need to make sure that the PhD’s you apply for are going keep you engaged for the 3-5 years it’s going to take. And this doesn’t just apply to the PhD itself; it’s something you should be considering when you think about WHERE you want to study and WHO you want to study with. Doing a PhD should be fun and rewarding (at least sometimes!) but having to work with a supervisor you don’t get along with, or getting stuck living somewhere you hate will be extremely de-motivating in the long run.

You don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you feel so trapped  you have to throw away your beloved companion cube… err I mean beloved thesis!

How good are my lab/stats/research skills? PhD’s involve a lot of independent work and its pretty safe to say that your supervisor is not going to be impressed if they have to walk you through every step of your data analysis, or spend time teaching you the most basic lab skills.

Try to make sure you’re going to be able to keep up with the demands of the project. For example, if this PhD is going to require a lot of programming skills but you know zilch about programming, then maybe consider trying for a different PhD or taking some courses before you start.

How good are your time management skills REALLY? As well all this research and lab work I’ve been banging on about, most PhD students also have a myriad of other tasks to do at the same time, such as: teaching, helping their supervisor with other projects, scheduling collaborations with the rest of the lab or other labs, taking extra classes/seminars, trying to get published, attending conferences etc. Being able to prioritise and plan your time effectively is absolutely essential for a PhD, especially if you want to find time to sleep and have some time to yourself as well.

Having said all that, this post isn’t intended to discourage you from following your PhD dreams but rather to encourage you to really think about what you really want from a PhD and whether it is indeed the right path for you. The most important thing is that you love and enjoy what you do, whatever that may be.

^^^^^- THIS is how awesome your PhD should be for you (well sometimes…   …occasionally at least).

Some other helpful links on this topic:

– Dr L


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