I made the move from the world of work into a PhD. I tend not to think of myself as a ‘student’ and think of my PhD as a full time job. There are obvious differences between PhD life and work life (at the end of every month I get a stark reminder in my bank account that I am not working anymore) but also lots of similarities. Lots of people consider leaving work to start a PhD but how easy is it and how similar are the two?
I found the transition fairly straightforward, although it did take me a few months to completely settle. I am glad I made the move and so far I have really enjoyed my PhD. My workplace was extremely busy and organised and I found academic life to be a lot quieter and a little more….haphazard (in some respects). There are a whole range of ‘transferable skills’ that can be taken from the workplace straight into a PhD. Presenting & organisational techniques I learnt whilst working, alongside many other attributes from the world of work have supplemented and enhanced my PhD over the past two years. On a day to day basis, what about the similarities and differences between The Real World and PhD life?
Mostly I find myself working 9-5 although sometimes I do work the odd evening and weekend (no different to when I was in The Real World). I have goals, targets and deadlines to meet. I am responsible for the work I am carrying out, I need to make sure everything is organised and conducted properly. I do get stressed about how much work I have to do. I worry about how well I have completed tasks and about what other people think about my work.
Being a PhD student gives you the freedom to explore, to make mistakes and learn freely, that time wasn’t available when I was working. In my PhD project, I am the boss, I own it and it is up to me what happens to it. I can plan my work and get on with it without being dragged into meetings and moved projects because the company plan has changed. One negative difference I find is the solitude of a PhD, although I work in a lab full of people I am working alone on my project and sometimes that can make me feel incredibly lonely. There are no rewards (not really, until you finish). No matter how much work you do, you will never get a pay rise, the best you can do is get the satisfaction of getting a paper published, getting your name on a patent and/or giving yourself a big pat on the back.
They both have problems and they both have good points, good days and bad days. If you want to leave work to escape pressure, I am not sure that starting a PhD is the answer. If you are incredibly passionate about a particular subject, can work without instant gratification, can work well on your own and are sure the move is right for you, then go for it!