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XanthusARES

Cost of a PhD

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A lot of the focus on this board is on people who are applying. While we have a stable of active current students, I would guess that the majority of readership is driven by applicants. Which is great, but sometimes I feel like this can be a disservice to future students. We talk in generic terms of the difficulties of PhD life, but I'm not always positive we do a good enough job at really explaining how stressful it can be.

Before I continue, let me tell you that getting a PhD can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life. For a lot of us, coming home at night we feel a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment unmatched by anything in the corporate world. That feeling you get starting a research project, I can't even explain it.

However, programs are not all sunrise coffee mornings at the pier. They are a ton of work and a ton of stress that you don't necessarily control. We do all applicants a huge disservice to not warn them about the potential costs of a program. You will be discouraged. You can feel lonely. At times it will feel like there is no going forward. Importantly for some of you there isn't and you'll leave your program. That is not a failure. That is gaining a deeper understanding of what you want in life and making choices that put you first. For others you'll finish and be Dr. Bigshot and that's great. Unfortunately stress doesn't leave once you get a position. There is no shame in deciding that a PhD is not right for you. Don't let family pressure or social expectations force you down a path that isn't right for you. Get as informed as possible before you apply and do your best to know what you're getting yourself into. Be prepared for one of the most exciting and stressful times of your life.

I saw this article online today and I thought that it was worth sharing with everyone here, not only applicants, but current students as well. For those of you feeling discouraged, please remember that you are not alone. Those of you facing depression, please seek help. It's nothing to be embarrassed about. If I can take a moment here of full disclosure, for a long time I fought depression. I was scared to talk to anyone about it because I thought that it was something that I could just overcome myself. I was wrong. Counselling and medication helped me to become the man that I am today. My program and the stress associated with it have, at times, made my depression worse. Having a safety net of family and counselors I can talk to has been so much more valuable than I can ever say.

One final point, most universities have some form of counselling services on campus. I cannot urge you strongly enough to seek these out if you need them. Most schools offer this free of charge, take advantage of that. Just having someone to talk to can really help with the stress. Doing this and, as I've stated time and time again on this site, celebrating every win, EVERY SINGLE WIN, will ensure that you get through your program as the best possible you.
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