The Atlantic has a great article that explores the uncomfortable, but in our opinion necessary, topic of Ph.D. student burnout. It touches on mental illness and the cultures of negativity that politics that seem to flourish in many departments.
If you weren’t aware, over 50% of Ph.D. students never complete their dissertations. To reduce your chances of burning out, we recommend you do the following now:
1. Be sure you really want the Ph.D. Do you understand the rigors of the process as well as the job prospects in your field, etc? If you’re pursuing the Ph.D. to please someone other than yourself, your chances of success will be greatly reduced.
2. Research each program. Does it have entry barriers, exit barriers or both? What type of jobs await its graduates? Do you feel comfortable you understand the program’s focus and politics? What is the mood of the current Ph.D. students? (Make sure you get contacts of some of the drop outs.)
3. A good advisor makes all the difference! The commonality we continue to see with successful Ph.D. students is, you guessed it, a good advisor. Are they interested in helping you? Are they OK if you don’t become a perfect carbon copy of themselves? Don’t expect to be babied, but find out if they at least sprinkle some encouragement with their criticisms?
If you’re kicking around the idea of a Ph.D. please do yourself a huge favor and take a few minutes to read the article linked near the top of this post and do your due diligence on your motives and options. Just because over 50% of Ph.D. students fail to finish their program doesn’t mean your odds for failure have to be over 50% as well.