So you’ve worked in community or hospital pharmacy (or both) and fancy a bit of a change. How about a PhD to add to your list of achievements? Why not? Hmm, maybe consider the pros and cons below…
Pro: You set your own working hours
Great! You’ve worked 9-6 five days a week in a job where you can’t even leave your place of work during your shift. It doesn’t leave much time for the practicalities like doctor/dentist appointments. Or a lunch break where you get to sit down uninterrupted for more than 10 minutes. With a PhD if you can pop out when you like, turn up when you like and go home when you like. Awesome!
Con: You set your own working hours
The onus is entirely on you to manage your time. Which means if you spend too much time during the day on Daily Mail/BBC News/Guardian/Facebook/Twitter/Mr Dispenser’s blog/*insert procrastination website of choice* you will go home feeling incredibly guilty so you feel you have to compensate for time lost by doing work in your supposed ‘free’ time. And then feel guilty if you don’t. Which turns into a continuous cycle of guilt that you can’t get out of. Which will eventually drive you mad.
Pro: Your PhD may make a difference
You could discover that gene that is responsible for a type of cancer. Or you could implement an intervention that improves patient adherence to their medication. Or find that pharmacoepidemiological link between a common drug and a common condition or side effect. Something you work on during your PhD could potentially save lives or change pharmacy practice in the future. Plus you get the pleasure of calling yourself Dr.
Con: Your PhD may make a difference…but you couldn’t care less
Your thesis instead can just become a means to an end to get the PhD out of your life. It’s very easy to become disillusioned with your research when you suffer setback after setback, whether it be lab equipment on the blink, agonizingly slow recruitment of patients or the long, ridiculous process of ethical approval just to be allowed to have a chat with some pharmacists. Because when you reach the end of three funded years without having submitted you don’t care about your results and just want the thing out of your life so you can get a proper job and start earning actual money.
Pro: You get to work closely with lecturers you admired (or were scared of) during your undergrad
I returned to my alma mater to do my PhD in the same department that I did my undergrad pharmacy degree. My supervisors are well respected in their field so I know the skills and knowledge that are rubbing off on me will be invaluable to me. And they really aren’t that scary. Plus you get to call them by their first names.
Con: You get to work a bit too closely with former lecturers
When both your supervisors are pharmacists they can be a bit matter of fact about health issues. Being quizzed by one of them about my bowel movements when I was ill last year was quite possibly the most cringeworthy meeting I’ve ever had to sit through. Maybe this is too much information in itself. Aaanyway…
Pro: You get paid quite generously for demonstrating the modules you hated
Taking undergraduate tutorials in the dispensing and OTC practice modules for the past 3 years makes me forever grateful that I have that stage of my pharmacy education long behind me. You’d almost feel sorry for the poor wee lambs. And breathe a sigh of relief that it’s not you in their place.
Con: You may get paid generously but the marking is mind numbing…zzzzz
Whether it’s marking the same extemp product 20-30 times for nearly four hours straight or the 35+ tutorials and homeworks every week, being a demonstrator can try the patience of a saint. And I’m no saint.
Pro: Your PhD can open the door to alternative career paths
Industry, teaching, further research, back to community or hospital. The world is your oyster!
Con: Your PhD can open the door but might not be enough to let you in
Like any area, academia is a competitive, fickle and slightly ruthless place. You must be prepared to dedicate a large proportion of your life to your job in order to make progress up the ranks. I did this in first year and by the end of second year I was burnt out with a very negative view of everything academia is about. Don’t make the same mistake. Work life balance is something that must not be taken for granted.
Pro: You get student discount again
Speaks for itself!
Con: You are a student again in your mid to late twenties
While the friends you went to school with are growing up, getting married, buying houses and being sensible and settling down in general, you’re static or going backwards. Still renting, still single, still living in a student area, stuck in a general rut. (This is just me being bitter though, several of my PhD friends are married and/or own their own home).
So have a good long think before you jump feet first into academia. Might be worth dipping a toe in with a diploma or masters first to get a taste of things to come.
Disclaimer: This was written by a very disillusioned PhD student who really doesn’t like their PhD. It is not intended in any way to be representative of all PhDs. Other (far more positive) PhD views are available. I think.