Was It Worth It to Finish Your PhD? And Should I Finish Mine?

By |2023-12-09T16:32:34+00:00December 9th, 2023|Uncategorized|0 Comments

When a PhD researcher asked me during a coaching call whether it had been worth it to finish my PhD in difficult circumstances my answer could have been both yes and no.

I could hear the debate in my mind, which wasn’t really about my own PhD, but about hers, which she too was trying to finish in difficult circumstances:

It may not be worth it, was a thought I had. When you’re facing something big (she was facing something big) you realise that the PhD isn’t that important. It doesn’t really matter whether you finish the project or not; the title mostly only matters within the narrow confines of academia. In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter!

It may not be worth it, was a thought I had. More than two thirds of PhDs go on to find employment outside of academia anyway, and you may not need the title. And of the third that stay, most everyone seems to be stretched to the max, running around trying to get published and tick all the boxes. Although many academics love (parts of) their work, and many can’t see themselves doing anything else, so many are at maximum capacity, which is not necessarily a place you want to be.

It may not be worth it, I might have said. Quitting your PhD may be a wise decision, a courageous decision, and a decision that may work out in your favour in many ways.

But in the end my answer, the personal answer she asked for is unambiguous: it has been more than worth it to finish my PhD, and I can say that to be true even if it wouldn’t have helped me in doing the work I am doing with academics now (which it rather obviously does!).

It has been worth it for me, because it gave me a sense of achievement during a difficult time. I honestly didn’t think it was possible to finish, but I did it, and now it’s done! Finishing the thesis reminded me that I was capable and also that my work over the years had been valuable – even if only to me.

It has been worth it to celebrate the achievement, to not only start but to finish the project and to do so publicly. I could even argue it was worth it just to strut down the aisle at the Covento di San Domenico wearing a robe and hat and kitten heels, with a massive smile on my face, and drink prosecco with my pals afterwards to celebrate the occasion! Maybe that day alone made it worth it.

Fundamentally it was worth it for the simple reason that deep down I had a genuine desire to finish it. I wanted to see the project completed, that’s what it comes down to. I wanted to complete the thoughts I had started thinking and had mulled over for years; to complete the sentences, the arguments, the chapters. There is power in completion, and in this case, completion was for me. It was stimulating, it was exhausting, it was worth it.

When you look at the figures, they suggest that finishing a PhD is definitely worth it: one study shows that 85% of PhDs said that obtaining a PhD had had a positive influence on their career. People with PhDs tend to have the highest rates of employment of any of the professional categories. They earn more than others too. Now, although this is useful information in the sense that it is always good to know that finishing your PhD won’t harm and may enhance your career prospects, these figures say little beyond that blanket statement.

You are the only one who knows what is right for you, and if you would ask me for advice this is what I’d say:

You are capable of finishing your PhD if you desire to do so.

You do not have to finish: quitting your PhD can be a powerful move.

Do not take on academia’s perspective on ‘failure’: it is (they are) misguided.

Finishing your PhD can be an exhilarating experience (especially once it is done!)

What do you think: Is it worth it to finish your PhD?

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