The cost of a PhD
Posted October 21, 2011on:
When I first started telling people I was thinking of doing a PhD, I got mixed responses. Lots of encouragement but also quite a lot of warnings. I remember one friend in particular, who had done a PhD years earlier in a different field, telling me to be really, really sure I wanted it because it was going to be the hardest thing I’d ever done. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe her, but despite all the warnings, I vastly underestimated how hard it would be. Not academically. I knew, and still know in my saner moments, that I’m intellectually up to the task. It’s all the other stuff.
It’s five years since I started on this path and I’m not done yet. Here’s what it’s already cost me:
I eat badly when I’m stressed and when I’m working to a deadline. For most of the last five years, it’s been one or other or both of those. Consequently, I now weigh four stone more than I did when I started. Spending days tied to a desk, staring at a computer, also means that I am even more unfit that when I began.
Also my teeth are in really bad condition because I haven’t been able to afford the dental treatment I’ve needed. I’ve been to an emergency dentist a couple of times, but that’s it. I don’t qualify for any of the categories that would entitle me to free treatment and for at least half the time, I’ve lived in places where it’s been virtually impossible to find an NHS dentist.
For the first two years of the PhD, I was unhappy. That was because I was living overseas and was homesick.
For the last three years, due to a combination of factors all connected in some way to the PhD, I have been depressed. I’m taking medication and I’ve had counselling, which all helps. But still, I would say that this is a direct consequence of being a PhD student. The loneliness, the fear, the burden of a long-term deadline – every PhD student goes through this, even if they don’t have all the other stuff I’ve had to deal with.
To be fair, this has been minimal. I began the PhD with no money and I am ending it with no debt. People have been generous and funding has always appeared when I have most needed it. Mostly, I have learned not to worry about money, but there have been a few occasions when I’ve not known how I was going to pay bills.
I have lost friends over the last five years. I have been a very bad friend to a number of people in that time. I’ve had to prioritise work over people in a way that I wish I hadn’t. It’s hard for people to get what it’s like being a PhD student and it’s frustrating to have to keep trying to explain. Sometimes it’s easier just to let the friendship drift.
If I had known five years ago what it was going to cost me, I would never have begun. As it is, I don’t know whether I will finish.