Tag Archives: PhD

To PhD or not to PhD, that is the question


So I feel like I’ve gone through a break-up lately, but it’s not with a man. And before anyone gets any ideas of me going all Anika Moa, I’m afraid it’s not nearly that salacious.

Oh no, my latest break-up was with an idea, an idea of myself, an idea of my future, and it is proving to be just as bewildering to me as those of the love-life variety.

I’ve been contemplating my future a lot this year. An auntie who I was very close to died in June, after battling cancer for a long time. During the last months and weeks of her decline, I started to feel a need to create a plan for myself that would enable me to live a meaningful life, to contribute something of value, and to create a legacy.

It was while searching for this I fell in love – with the idea of doing a PhD.

A PhD was something I had always toyed with. I completed my Masters of Arts in English about three years ago and would often mention, in throwaway fashion, doing a PhD as a possibility. But it wasn’t until this year that I actually started to really seriously consider it.

Or at least I thought I had seriously considered it. I chose the school I wanted to apply to, I organised letters of recommendation, I enquired about funding options. All was going swimmingly, and I sent away my Statement of Purpose to the professor who was my contact at my program of choice, and I received some less-than-positive feedback about my statement and it’s lack of purpose.

In fact, the feedback was not that bad. It was just suggesting that I needed to be more specific about what it was that I wanted to study. But it threw me into a tailspin, because I suddenly realised that I didn’t know what I wanted to study.

I really had no idea. There were various things I was interested in. But beyond a brief (but probably not brief enough) passionate interest in the Twilight series, I realised I hadn’t even really read anything that had piqued my interest in the years since completing my Masters.

I wasn’t overly committed to the idea of being a lecturer, and while writing my Statement of Purpose, within one day I felt myself sinking back into the habits I had while doing my Masters – shutting myself away to write because the deadline was now fast approaching after procrastinating for as long as possible, and eating – eating anything and everything – because I had to get it written, and somehow, emotional eater that I am, it seemed that eating would help.

It was these things starting to pile up in my mind that finally made me start to interrogate my decision to do a PhD, and it was clarified by reading two articles by an English professor writing on the Chronicle of Higher Education website, where his advice for potential Humanities PhD students was, in a nutshell, ‘just say no’.

This article,


and its follow-up,


helped me to work through the reasons why I wanted to do a PhD and why I shouldn’t. It was He’s Just Not That Into You for graduate school.

I think, for me, the appeal of a PhD was the validation, the sense of purpose and the specific plan it offered. It was something defined in a future that was otherwise unknown.

A PhD is something I still attach value to, and if I was independently wealthy, it’s something I would definitely consider doing, but that’s not my reality.

Some people have suggested still applying, keeping my options open. While I haven’t made any hard and fast decisions, I think it would be difficult to turn the opportunity down, if I was lucky enough to get a fully funded offer overseas, which is what I was aiming for.

To me, it seems akin to staying in a relationship that I’m not that committed to, just to see if he’ll ask me to marry me so that… I get some validation, an ego boost, have a plan B if nothing better comes along?

It reminds me of Sex and the City, when Carrie ends up saying yes to Aidan’s proposal, even though she knows it’s not right. Miranda says to Carrie ‘I’m gonna ask you an unpleasant question now – why did you ever say yes?’ Carrie replies, ‘If a man you love kneels in street and offers you a ring, you say yes. It’s what you do.’

If you get a fully funded offer in a respected English PhD program, you say yes. It’s what you do.


So now it’s back to the drawing board as far as the future goes, which is scary, not least because of how quickly things change.

Two weeks ago I was in love with a PhD, and now I’ve fallen out of love. Much like I have done in past relationships, I end up looking for answers – why, if it is such an obviously bad option now, was I so in love with it a mere few weeks ago? How can something so wrong have seemed so right?

All I can think is that, like those relationships, I guess that’s because at the time it was right. But that time has passed.


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