Very OT: Do a PhD or not?

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  • Very OT: Do a PhD or not?
  • chrispy
    Member

    Hi all,

    Does anyone here have any experience of doing a PhD (biosciences) and if so, would you say that doing one is a good or terrible idea?

    Just for a bit of background, I went to uni as a mature student to study pharmacy, which I am currently doing my pre-reg year for. I got bitten by the research bug whilst completing my dissertation and am really keen to go back and do a PhD in a related field. After the pre-reg of course! I turned 30 this year so feel like maybe I’m a little old to be starting a PhD. Am I right in thinking that being a qualified pharmacist could help with future career options after the PhD, be that in industry or academia.
    Any tips or advice would be great. Thanks!

    Premier Icon glenh
    Subscriber

    A friend of mine went back to do a PhD after his pharmacy pre-reg and never looked back (now an academic). I guess he felt his talents could be better used outside a shop environment 😉

    Personally, I’m currently hating my PhD, but I’m trying to do corrections while working full time and looking after a baby.

    p.s. plenty of PhD students are your age or older (including me). Probably an advantage in my experience.

    rwc03
    Member

    Depends on the PhD, try and find out as much as possible about the research and your potential supervisor, their students will likely be very honest! Also, consider if it’s worth it in the industry you’ll likely end up in (It sounds like it would be). I’m in bio-med engineering and I believe now a Master’s would have suited me better.

    I can’t wait to finish mine, currently writing up and just beginning to not regret doing it again.

    I would say the majority of people in my office are your age, 30 definitely isn’t too old to start a PhD.

    Premier Icon Garry_Lager
    Subscriber

    You’re not too old. Can’t immediately see how a pharmacist qualification would add much to post PhD career options, but it would have enormous value as a fall-back position if things don’t work out [does the certification have a lifetime?]

    I run a chemistry research group and have graduated 20+ PhD students – so obv I see the PhD as a ticket to awesome-ness. Key to exploiting this epic path is to work in a competitive research group – you really need to take good advice here from your mentors. It’s not uncommon for me to hear really good undergrad students suggest very pedestrian groups as possible destinations for PhD work. It’s hard to know what good science is when you’re at this stage.

    chewkw
    Member

    Yes, in biosciences or science.

    Age 30 is not a problem and you should graduate approximately at age 34. Then you should become a big cheese if you get the right experience in future.

    The opportunity is vast if you do not restrict yourself just to UK … as there are countries that will hire you to create vast array of biological weapons. 😈

    No, in social sciences. You will earn peanuts and beg for a living on the street. You may even have to sell your body for pleasure to make ends meet. 😆

    vickypea
    Member

    I did a PhD in biochemistry in my mid twenties. I decided to do it as I was really interested in the research work I was doing in the lab I was working in, and was lucky to be working in a well-funded lab with a great superviser. Ultimately I moved away from academic research a few years later, but I really enjoyed doing my PhD. Although not essential for the job I’ve been doing for the last 12 years, it was a recommended qualification so it did help me with my career.

    Premier Icon RichBowman
    Subscriber

    Do it (assuming you want to stay in Research). You’ll have much more available further down the line career-wise with the PhD.

    I didn’t, and am now I’m in admin (actually Research Manager for a London Uni, so am still contributing in a tangible way) – drop me a line of you’d like a chat about anything that I may be of use .

    Rich

    bajsyckel
    Member

    I can’t really help with the bioscience side of things (seems others can though), but my thoughts RE the OP would be (1) being into the research is the most important justification for doing one. Given the situation you describe it definitely sounds like something worth exploring. (2) doing a PhD solely for career reasons appears increasingly dubious (and likely to get worse across academia/ industry IMO). (3) 30 is definitely not too old. There are lots of things that contribute to the feel of a research group and the age of its members is probably not the most significant factor. (4) it could be a good or a terrible idea, perhaps both (IME), and you may never know until you’ve finished.

    Premier Icon johnikgriff
    Subscriber

    My wife has a PhD in some biology sciences thing. She is doing fantastic, infact I was able to “retire” at 40 to help with the children (ride my bike more) 🙂

    Premier Icon tonyg2003
    Subscriber

    If you want to stay in academic research, progress and be interested/directing what you do then a PhD is pretty much essential. Although as everyone will tell you (everyone has a different view of theirs) the experience is highly variable in terms of supervision/research/publications. Also look to a PhD with the best supervisor/institution you can find and with a supervisor you can get on with. This will give best opportunity to get a good post-doc, if you go down that route. Absolutely find an area that you are extremely interested in – it’s the next 3-5yrs of your life.

    Also be aware that the majority of PhD’s don’t stay in academic science after qualifying. I post-doc’d for 7yrs before moving to industry. Personally I find the combination of science and business to be the most interesting for me and hence I’m probably better at it than straight academic research.

    jamiep
    Member

    Do one if you want to be an academic or if you want a career that a PhD will benefit from. Else it a very expensive way to spend 3-4 years; paying fees and not earning

    I used to be an academic, now (aged 39) in an analyst/statistical job in something totally unrelated but using the generic transferable skills. If I did it over I would stop at Masters but I did want a career as an academic at the time

    chewkw
    Member

    Career as an academic is slightly better than jumping off the tower bridge but by not much.

    😆

    Premier Icon tonyg2003
    Subscriber

    Doing a PhD isn’t a fabulous financial decision but not a terrible one. If you want a biosciences higher academic career it requires a PhD not a Msc.

    Personally I’m a science geek and didn’t regret doing my PhD for a moment.

    jonm81
    Member

    There are only two reasons to do a phd. First, you want to be called Doctor and second you are really, really, really interested in the subject. Do not do it if you think it will get you a better job or more money. It wont!

    My wife is a pharmsist and her starting wage was alot more than I am currently earning 5 years after finishing an engineering based phd. Also dont think it will take 3 years. The vast majority take a minimum of 3.5 – 4 years.

    Ultimately only you can decide but ensure you are doing it for the right reasons or you are likely not to finish. I hated the last 18 months of mine but looking back now there is a certain sense of accomplishment.

    Whatever you decide, good luck.

    chewkw
    Member

    jonm81 – Member

    engineering based phd.

    There. Your mistake.

    You should have better prospects outside of EU/UK.

    My friend has a PhD in Engineering but now he is almost begging for a living …

    🙂

    jonm81
    Member

    Yeah, it sucks that phds arent really recognised outside of academia in the uk. I am now back at university part time doing a second masters so I can move into the oil and gas industry. The only engineering sector which pays in the uk!

    Premier Icon Shackleton
    Subscriber

    1. 30 isn’t too old, and maturity to see the task through is a definite advantage. I wish some of the PhD students I deal with were more mature.

    2. Make sure it is really what you want to do, particularly in biosciences, as it can be a 7 day a week, 18+ hours a day poorly paid job. I spent 2 months working every day of the week putting in 80+ hours per week at one point, was in pretty much every weekend for at least a couple of hours each day it and a 50-60 hour week in the lab wasn’t unusual. Reading, planning, etc. was on top of that.

    3. When it isn’t working it can be the worst feeling in the world because, regardless of common sense or what other say, it is your project and feels like your fault. You need to be able to get through that.

    4. Make sure that if you want to stay in academia you go to the best lab you can, make sure that they publish lots of high quality papers, and make sure you get on as many of them as possible.

    5. Be prepared to move location to do a PhD.

    These last 2 points are less important if you only want one as an extra degree to get into a company, but if that is the case then I wouldn’t bother unless you want to be in the R&D department.

    I really enjoyed mine but it was hard work. I’m still in academia and as I’m finding out it only gets harder as you move up the PhD/Postdoc/PI ladder.

    Where are you currently and how fixed are you?

    Premier Icon marko75
    Subscriber

    Phds are good but you have to realise that its gets shit and lonely very quickly! But its doable – and worth it IMHO.

    The most important thing to remember about a PhD is the supervisor – not the place, money, topic or equipment (although they all help). If you have a good supervisor then the PhD is easy – especially if the supervisor is well respected in the community.

    I was very lucky, my PhD was supervised by a very clever man who taught me a lot and is in the top 10 in the world. This helped me a lot with continuing a career since graduating – the adage ‘its not what you know but the people’….

    good luck!

    finbar
    Member

    I really enjoyed mine but it was hard work. I’m still in academia and as I’m finding out it only gets harder as you move up the PhD/Postdoc/PI ladder.

    It got too hard for me; after a one year postdoc I really struggled to find a way stay in academia (despite publishing fairly – if not spectacularly – extensively). It can be a ludicrously narrow field depending on your area of research. I’ll shortly be starting a job in government policy instead.

    I don’t regret it for a second though. But it’s done literally nothing for my earning potential.

    I really enjoyed my PhD. But then I spent my time wamdering around hay meadows in the Pennines not much in a lab. Foot and mouth was a pisser though! Did post doc work after and didnt enjoy that much. Now a teacher, was it worth it? For me at the time yes and it was finacially neutral although I suppose I could have been earning. If you want to do it do it but make sure its a good research group.

    DavidM
    Member

    Well this is quite an interesting read. I am a pharmacy student and I’m doing my masters research in Vienna at the minute. Pre reg next year is the plan but after that I am not no sure. I am really enjoying the research here, plus the Alps are just down the road.

    If anyone knows anything about how funding of overseas PhD’s work it would be great if you could shed a little light. The professor in charge of the research group has said that he would not be able to get the normal Austrian government funding if I was to work there, so I am not sure were it would come from.

    GregMay
    Member

    I have one, would I go back and do it again,…. no Not a chance in hell.

    Should you do it… read all the other threads on it over the past few years. You need to really, really, REALLY want to get through it. Or you won’t.

    It’s a big choice.

    Dr. Greg

    juan
    Member

    I have done one in comp chem. If you really want to know what it’s like have a look at the PhD comics they are just so true. Now I work in a job that has nothing to do with my PhD. But i’ll do it again in a heart beat

    AndyMain
    Member

    I did a PhD (physics/engineering). I would say do it if you enjoy it. It is hard work and the job you get out of it doesn’t pay more.

    My wife is a pharmacist (in community). The state of the industry is that her pay level is pretty much now back down to the level when she graduated some 12 years ago. There are more pharmacy graduates every year as well as pharmacists from abroad. It is pretty bleak.

    If you enjoy the research, do it. 🙂

    MrNice
    Member

    If you want to work in academic research you need one (unless you aim to be some sort of assistant forever).

    If you think you’ll be in industry then it *might* help career progression, depending on what you’re doing. Don’t assume you’ll automatically get paid shedloads more because you have letters in front of your name. You do a PhD because you really want to spend another 3-4 years learning an enormous amount about an incredibly specific subject.

    I’m very glad I did mine but when I finished I went into a graduate entry level job in industry and it’s quite possible I’d have seen the same career progression without the additional qualification. You need to figure out what you want from it and financial impact. For me, 3 years of MRC funding meant I could maintain a basic lifestyle without building up much more debt. Not sure I’d have done it if I didn’t get that funding, despite how much I enjoyed pushing my intellectual limits a bit.

    Edit: should have signed that Dr Nice 😉

    ianpv
    Member

    I loved doing my PhD – I was really interested in the subject and you have a fair bit of freedom (depending on the supervisor) to follow your nose.

    I’m still an academic, doing alright (permanent position, Russell group uni), but I look back on the PhD as the most obviously enjoyable bit of my career, even though my stipend was £6K (it was last century…). Second all the above comments about picking the right supervisor, but would also say institution is really important, too.

    I’m afraid I cannot agree that it sucks that PhD’s are not “recognised” as some think they should be outside of academia.
    Working in industry (big pharma) we have a mix of PhD’s and BSc’s/MSc’s. To be honest after a few years working there is little to tell between most of them.
    Ok, I work in a very regulated area in Biopharm not R&D where it might make more difference, but otherwise within my role and environment a PhD does not mean that you are more skilled i’m afraid. Had I done a PhD after my masters I doubt very much that it would have improved my abilities in the role I now perform.
    Sorry but within regulatory environments it takes a specific mindset that doesn’t really seem to suit the more free floating mindset of a PhD.

    Just my 2p, but the days of a PhD meaning a fast track to Management and above seem to finally (thankfully) be going.
    Ability is Ability irrelevant of spending 4/5 years working on one project.

    chewkw
    Member

    grahamt1980 – Member

    Ability is Ability irrelevant of spending 4/5 years working on one project.

    ^^^ This one. True, true … 😆

    Premier Icon jambalaya
    Subscriber

    I did an MSc but stopped short of staying on for a doctorate and to be honest I’ve always regretted it. A PhD is still widely recognised as a mark of excellence, something which does stand out in an increasingly uniform world. 30 is definitely not “too old” to be starting one.

    chewkw
    Member

    jambalaya – Member
    A PhD is still widely recognised as a mark of excellence, something which does stand out in an increasingly uniform world.

    No, it does not.

    A person with experience but only got a BSc who can perform the same job or as well as a PhD stands out more.

    🙄

    Having re-read my last post, the one thing I didn’t put was if you have a subject you really enjoy and are massively interested in then go for it.
    Just don’t be surprised when it doesn’t automatically open doors into industry.
    In academia it seems incredibly hard to get anywhere without one. But then it seems pretty challenging anyway and no real job security.

    jonm81
    Member

    I’m afraid I cannot agree that it sucks that PhD’s are not “recognised” as some think they should be outside of academia.

    I agree that work experience will be just as valuable. Having a phd should definately not mean a fastrack to promotion.

    When I say that they are not recognised outside of academia I mean that employers dont count them as experience of working even though they require exactly the same skills and work ethics (managing time, budgets and deliverables, individual and group working etc).

    ie. When you have a phd you *may* find yourself in the position where you are over qualified for graduate positions but cannot get direct entry into companies because they dont recognise a phd as work experience and so may find it very hard to get a job. This is what sucks.

    thecaptain
    Member

    If you are desperate to do research, by all means go ahead. Don’t ever forget that there are far more wannabe researchers than jobs, which means it can be very hard to get a decent job at the end of it. And yes, your age is a factor, as there will be people 10y younger with as good a CV. All the blether about the country needing more scientists is just hot air, BTW.

    It can be a nice lifestyle if you love following your own ideas and goals, and don’t have too much in the way of material demands (like a wife and kids to support). A lot of people fall by the wayside, some of them are very talented, just unlucky.

    I have a PhD in Pharmacy.
    I did it after 3 years working in the pharma industry and was made redundant and wasnt sure what to do.
    For me, it was like having a really interesting job for three years. I was lucky enough to do it ‘in industry’ with fantastic resources.
    Once back in the world of proper work, I have found that certain posts need a PhD as a pre-requisite, especially in my current company which is American. If I didnt have the PhD, I wouldnt have this job. I don’t necessarily agree that if I didn’t have the PhD I wouldnt be capable, but that’s the way it is.
    Some other companies I have worked at don’t recognise PhDs at all and you come in on the same starting salary and grade as a new graduate. As far as they’re concerned both are ‘fresh from uni’.
    I have never regretted my PhD but I feel that I was very lucky to have a great subject, great supervisors and sufficient resources. Choose carefully as you don’t always get this.

    vickypea
    Member

    Thecaptain: This country does need more scientists, but unfortunately it doesn’t realise that because it doesn’t value them much.

    chrispy
    Member

    Wow, thanks for the replies.
    There have been some very interesting points raised. It still sounds like a PhD could very well be for me and it’s nice to hear that 30 isn’t too old.
    I studied pharmacy in Cardiff, and ideally I would like to do my PhD there too. The points about having a decent supervisor are familiar to me, but I guess it is hard to know until you are actually working for them.
    I’m thinking that I should strike whilst the iron is hot as I have made some good connections in the university that should hopefully help with references etc.
    On a separate tangent, I know that a PhD will take up a lot of hours in the week, but do you find that you have more control over what hours you work than say a 9 – 5 type job. I have no problem working late in the night / weekends if it means that I could pop out for a ride more easily during the day etc.

    I’m glad that overall, the replies seem broadly positive.

    rwc03
    Member

    One of the best bits about my PhD, completely flexible as long as I produce results and turn up for the undergraduates. Often took a weekday off in the summer to go riding, not so much this time of year as it’s the busiest period.

    Will depend on the supervisor and type of PhD i.e. Heavily academic to heavily industry based.

    Tom_W1987
    Member

    That depends what kind of experiments you’re carrying out.

    If you’re experiment involves cell culturing, you will have no control whatsoever over when you come and go – your working times will revolve around the experiment. I knew a few postdocs who used to leave at 1am on occasions because of this.

    chewkw
    Member

    chrispy – Member

    I’m glad that overall, the replies seem broadly positive

    Positive and reality can be two different things. The latter hurts …

    Once you have decided then just go for it and do not regret whatever happens as life is too short for regrets.

    Premier Icon Garry_Lager
    Subscriber

    On a separate tangent, I know that a PhD will take up a lot of hours in the week, but do you find that you have more control over what hours you work than say a 9 – 5 type job. I have no problem working late in the night / weekends if it means that I could pop out for a ride more easily during the day etc.

    Hours and attitudes to them will depend a bit on the discipline, some areas of the chemical / life sciences are v labour intensive and people log brutal hours in the lab. Others by nature don’t require as much grunt work to frame the scientific enquiry.

    As said, it’s a results-driven business. Like any work place, establish yourself, produce results and you get a lot of flexibility. That flexibility would not extend to taking time off to go mountain biking in any lab I’ve ever worked in, but like I say the disciplines vary. A good PI recognises results and people who work smart, and won’t be impressed with ‘face time’ – people who stick around the lab all hours but don’t actually get much work done.

    rephlexer
    Member

    I’m a postdoc working in the college of life sci at dundee uni

    it’s a very well resourced/regarded institute but it’s clear that life science in academia is pretty much a ponzi scheme for the gilded few and students/postdocs are cheap meat to be fed into the machine. There’s alot of flexibility but you’re basically free to work as not hard as you like and see where it get’s you – experiments usually turn out to be ten times harder than you think and producing useful/valuable data will more often bore you to the point of insanity.

    If you can see a route out the other side then by all means crack on but be warned it will be a slog and you need a sort of perverse bloody minded mentality to see it through. It’s almost like a game to see how much of your life it can take off you and still not finish you off.

    All of the above is much more manageable if you are in a good group/institute. Start high you’ve a better chance to do ok, start in a cesspit and you’ll get dragged down by all the bullshit.

    honestly the whole academic merrygoround is a crapshoot and so far removed from normal ‘professional’ job structures that it might as well be on another planet.

    sorry to be on the bummer tip – I like science and hearing good science talks but doing the work is often tedium defined.

    Premier Icon SaxonRider
    Subscriber

    Humanities PhD here, which I completed at the age of 36, having taken a few years out between my masters and PhD. I loved it, and although the academic world can be extremely unreliable in career terms, I wouldn’t do anything differently if I had to go through it all again.

    When you said

    I got bitten by the research bug whilst completing my dissertation and am really keen to go back and do a PhD

    you used the magic words. That is precisely the right reason to do a PhD.

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