It was a dark and stormy night in Norfolk. Five third year PhD students from universities across the UK sat exchanging the highs, lows, and the woes of the later stages of their projects. I, person number six, didn’t have much to say on the matter. I was only just writing my applications to start!
We all met during our Master’s. Unlike my friends, I did not apply for any PhDs straight away, despite being certain I wanted to do one. This was for two reasons:
- I was a bit tired of applying for larger student overdrafts and fancied earning some money.
- Having originally wanted to be a vet and then realising, in my late teens, that wasn’t what I wanted to do at all, I thought time in industry would help me make an informed choice on whether to PhD or not to PhD.
I absolutely do not regret choosing to work first; I got some valuable experience, and time doing really interesting stuff. I was a news journalist for a local newspaper, which meant I got to spend some time back home in Guernsey. Furthermore, I spent almost three years as Data and Information Officer at the Mammal Society. This is a small UK charity focussing on research and conservation of mammals in Britain.
The trade-off of working was that my friends were now nearing their thesis hand-ins, soon to receive that much coveted title of Doctor. They would then head for the workplace in their late twenties. Whereas I, at 28, was preparing to abandon working life to reclaim the more dubious title of Student until the age of 32.
Some would roll their eyes; 32 is not old. But as I perused findaphd.com, there was something disconcerting about knowing that those five friends would all have been Doctors for 4 years by the time I finish. There were also old school friends to think about, all of whom have been working for years. When I’m taking a photo with my thesis in hand, they’ll likely have similar photos but with house keys!
The Internal Dilemma
However, the question “should I leave the comfort of a full time job to be a student again?” I knew the answer was YES. I still wanted to do a PhD. The jobs that most appealed to me would require one. And yes, I‘d be disappointed if I never did it after wanting to for years.
But four years of being a Student when my friends of similar ages would all be working felt scary. My September birthday never helps with these things either, finding myself always one age ahead without any time passing. Those August babies don’t know how good they’ve got it.
I found myself lying in bed, doing ‘age maths’.
“I’ll have just turned 32 when I hand in, if I do a placement, which I’d like to do, that’s closer to 33. Will I have a job straight away? I wonder what X, Y and Z will be doing with their lives when they’re 32.”
Fighting a Quarter Life Crisis
Of course, this is all just pre-commitment jitters, but I don’t think I’m the only one who has had these thought processes. So, if you’re reading this and considering a PhD, I will tell you what I told myself at this point.
If you know a PhD is what you want to do, then don’t worry about the nerves, or your age, or what anyone else is doing with their lives. It’s what you’re doing with yours that matters. Just write the application, hit send, and see where it takes you.
Don’t worry about the age you’ll be when you finish, don’t even worry about the age you’ll be when you start. (I’ll tell you, as I told myself, you need to actually be offered a PhD to accept before you need to worry about it!). Just take each little chunk of the process at a time and see which step it takes you to next.
As I write, it’s been just over two months since I started my PhD at York, and I am loving it. The time I’ve spent working in between degrees has set me up well for managing my time. When I sit down at my desk to get stuck into another day of PhD studying, I know there’s no job I’d rather be doing.