Postgraduate Study: Pros & Cons

Like anything, there are two sides to postgraduate study. It can be extremely rewarding and exciting, and it can, at times, be frustrating and tiring. Since a PhD is a 3-4 year commitent, it's important to talk to friends and other WIGS members about their experience of postgraduate study to get an idea of the work involved, and whether it sounds like the sort of thing you'd like to do. A fixed timetable, self-discipline and motivation are key. Here are some brief 'pros and cons' as an introduction.

Pros

  • Conference attendance is a significant part of postgraduate life and the more you engage with your subject, the more you will come into contact with other researchers. This often proves to be the fun side of your toil, as you present your ideas to other interested parties. You may have the opportunity to travel to conferences around the world (for which funding is frequently available).
  • You may well have the opportunity to teach during your PhD course. Teaching can be extremely rewrding and it can also provide a useful source of income, particularly if you are having to fund yourself.
  • Studying at postgraduate level enables you to work on your own project with researchers at the cutting edge of their field.
  • By the end of the three or four years of study you may have had your work published. You will also have produced an original piece of research and may have the opportunity for it to be published as a book!

Cons

  • A PhD is an expensive commitment and competition for funding is fierce. You may well have to at least part-fund yourself.
  • Competition for part-time work such as teaching may be tough.
  • Competition for academic jobs is extremely fierce. If f you are considering a career in academia, you cannot expect to walk into a steady academic job on graduating. In the vast majority of cases, post-doctoral students can expect a period of 3-4 years wandering from one (poorly-paid) fixed-term post to the next.
  • Writing a Ph.D can be a lonely experience and is very different from undergraduate work. Most German departments have only a handful of postgraduate students and many will not live in the city where the institution is situated.
  • Make sure you pick a topic that is going to retain your interest for four years!