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Is getting a PhD worth the stress?


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9 replies to this topic

#1 roxyshoe

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 05:54 AM

So I have been in an utter state of confusion concerning my future. In the past week I have oscillated between going into clinical psych, as was my original plan, to going into optometry to literature to german to chinese medicine! It has suddenely hit me how delicate my decision is, and how little time I have to decide what to apply to (at least for next year). I am back to thinking phd in psych is the most logical route for me to go. But I am so so afraid of it.

I hear horror stories, basically. I am afraid I will have a nervous breakdown and have no life for seven years, finally graduate without much prospect of getting a good job, etc. I haven't just "heard" of such stories...but witnessed them first-hand. Granted, it is with a Social Psych PhD student and not a Clinical Psych one, which I most likely want to pursue...but ugh! Clinical is even more crazy competitive than social!!!!

I do have mixed feelings on spending so much time doing research. I have already done lots of research in undergrad and feel frustrated and burdened by it often. It just seems so stressful yet so incubated in a tiny, often obsolete academic bubble. You can put a year into a project and it never gets published, and even when it does, no one really cares, etc. Plus, I am strongly considering going into private practice after obtaining my PhD, and I hear this is a "shameful" quality for students not in a Psy.D or counseling program. Plus there are a ton of annual fees to the APA and all that? It seems like this stuff is a scam unless you are really okay with being completely broke and overwhelmed for a long time.

I hope I am wrong though. I just honestly don't know what to do with my life, it seems like EVERY degree and EVERY profession has con's which far outweight the pro's these days. I probably will take a year off, but I still want to apply to a few top choice psych programs just in case.

So, basically, what are your thoughts on all of this....is getting a phd really worth the stress?
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#2 just-me

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 01:44 PM

I heard the same thing and share the same sentiments as you. I was planning to apply for Clinical Psych, specializing in Neuropsych, but now I'm not so sure. I also had about a year and a half experience in Psych research and I didn't love it. I feel that getting a Phd is worth the stress if you really love research. Since I don't, I am contemplating exploring another career option. I wish I could be of more help, but I am on the same boat as you.

Sometimes I wish I majored in engineering because life would have been easier. I am interested in cognitive neuroscienc and I feel that having an understanding of engineering would be beneficial. Plus, engineers makes a lot of money! I'm not driven by avarice, but I hate being dirt poor with only a BS in Psychology.
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#3 Mr. Tea

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 02:08 PM

I think you have been selectively exposed to PhD horror stories, but your concerns don't strike me as representative of the typical grad school experience.

First, when you are determining which route you should take, you need to think about your long-term career goals. What do you want to wake up every morning and do for the rest of your life? Graduate school is a means to an end, not the end itself. If you think that you can succeed as a professional in the field after grad school, then you can succeed in grad school.

Managing your time in grad school is a challenge because your work is more ambiguous than it is as an undergraduate and there is always something that you could be doing. Some people choose to lock themselves away from everyone else and work 24/7. Many others have a happy and successful career as a graduate student working hard and playing hard. Read The Anticreativity Letters by Richard Nisbett for an idea about how not to do grad school (it dispels some myths about what grad school is supposed to be like) here http://www-personal..../anticreat.pdf.

With regard to the comment about going into clinical practice rather than academia following PhD - let me reframe this issue. I am under the impression that many people who go into applied psychology fields have little interest in research, which is a shame - not because everyone should go into academia, but because in order to effectively apply psychology, you need to understand research methods. You need to understand how to make sure that the methods of treatment that you are using or trying to create are effective. I am unfamiliar with how PsyD programs operate, so I won't knock them; however, you will learn research methods in a PhD program. Furthermore, if you ever want to work at a university then there are options to do that while maintaining a private clinical practice (many of the professors in my Master's program did that).

In summary, getting a PhD in psychology is stressful - so are many other things in life that you have to work hard for (e.g., engineering programs, to play off of the first responder). For most things worth pursuing in life, you can adopt the sports motto "No pain, no gain." You just have to decide if the thing that you want to work hard for is a career as a psychologist. Then you can decide which means (PhD program, PsyD program) will best equip you to achieve your goals for that career.
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#4 neuropsych76

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 02:14 PM

So I have been in an utter state of confusion concerning my future. In the past week I have oscillated between going into clinical psych, as was my original plan, to going into optometry to literature to german to chinese medicine! It has suddenely hit me how delicate my decision is, and how little time I have to decide what to apply to (at least for next year). I am back to thinking phd in psych is the most logical route for me to go. But I am so so afraid of it.

I hear horror stories, basically. I am afraid I will have a nervous breakdown and have no life for seven years, finally graduate without much prospect of getting a good job, etc. I haven't just "heard" of such stories...but witnessed them first-hand. Granted, it is with a Social Psych PhD student and not a Clinical Psych one, which I most likely want to pursue...but ugh! Clinical is even more crazy competitive than social!!!!

I do have mixed feelings on spending so much time doing research. I have already done lots of research in undergrad and feel frustrated and burdened by it often. It just seems so stressful yet so incubated in a tiny, often obsolete academic bubble. You can put a year into a project and it never gets published, and even when it does, no one really cares, etc. Plus, I am strongly considering going into private practice after obtaining my PhD, and I hear this is a "shameful" quality for students not in a Psy.D or counseling program. Plus there are a ton of annual fees to the APA and all that? It seems like this stuff is a scam unless you are really okay with being completely broke and overwhelmed for a long time.

I hope I am wrong though. I just honestly don't know what to do with my life, it seems like EVERY degree and EVERY profession has con's which far outweight the pro's these days. I probably will take a year off, but I still want to apply to a few top choice psych programs just in case.

So, basically, what are your thoughts on all of this....is getting a phd really worth the stress?


Well first off, I think taking a year off to collect your thoughts and decide what exactly you want to do would be very beneficial since you seem to be bouncing around so much.

You are right in some spots though. Clinical psych is SUPER competitive and the job prospects are just so-so. Funded programs have admission rates around 5% and if you don't get into a funded program, you may have 200k plus in debt. That said if you really love what your doing then it is worth it. I'm getting a PhD in cognitive neuroscience and even though its my first year, I love it. It is stressful and I know it will only be more stressful but I love learning and doing research in my area. To me, the fun outweighs the stress.

I would suggest looking into masters in counseling. If you only want to do private practice and are not so excited about research that may be the way to go. You can still practice psychotherapy and some are arguing that masters are the better route since they are less competitive and insurance companies do not want to pay extra for PhD's since the research suggests that psychotherapy outcome is the same for masters and PhD level providers.


Good luck!
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#5 theregalrenegade

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 02:18 PM

I say don't do it unless you LOVE it. No matter what happens in grad school, my research, my relationships, etc...I still LOVE academics and I get excited knowing I get to do what I really want to be doing every day. There will always be periods of self-doubt, hard times, and stress, but deep down this is who I am what I enjoy. And if it never makes me any real money, oh well. You only live once.
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#6 cogneuroforfun

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 03:07 PM

In the past week I have oscillated between going into clinical psych, as was my original plan, to going into optometry to literature to german to chinese medicine!


This is why you should not apply for a PhD, in any field. It is worth the stress if you know what you're getting into and you want to do it. It sounds like you have a lot of interests, but are not anywhere near ready to lock yourself down into one of them for 5-7 years of study + a lifetime career after that. Take some time off, get a mindless job if you can't find anything super interesting, and keep exploring your interests!
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#7 runonsentence

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 04:51 PM

I also felt overwhelmed and burnt out at the end of undergrad, and unsure of what I wanted to do or whether I wanted to do the PhD. I took two years off and it was the best decision I made, in terms of my academic career. (Also, the more I talk to colleagues who have gone straight through, the more I hear them tell me they wish they'd at least taken a year off before starting their graduate degrees.)

You cannot [successfully] apply this year if you're feeling this unsure and uncertain. Take time to explore your interests. Read. Attend a conference. Take a class as a non-degree student.
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#8 Mr. Tea

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 05:02 PM

I'll add my support for what a number of other people are saying - if you have non-PhD experiences that can help solidify your long-term desires, do that instead of applying. If you are changing your mind frequently about what you want to do, then as another responder said, that may be a good sign that you should not go for PhD programs at this point in time. People are generally supportive of it when you take time to figure out exactly what you want to do.
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#9 Arcadian

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Posted 29 August 2011 - 08:10 PM

I heard the same thing and share the same sentiments as you. I was planning to apply for Clinical Psych, specializing in Neuropsych, but now I'm not so sure. I also had about a year and a half experience in Psych research and I didn't love it. I feel that getting a Phd is worth the stress if you really love research. Since I don't, I am contemplating exploring another career option. I wish I could be of more help, but I am on the same boat as you.

Sometimes I wish I majored in engineering because life would have been easier. I am interested in cognitive neuroscienc and I feel that having an understanding of engineering would be beneficial. Plus, engineers makes a lot of money! I'm not driven by avarice, but I hate being dirt poor with only a BS in Psychology.


Haha, um, no. I majored in engineering my first two years, and life sucked. (I mean, I'm an optimistic person, so I was okay, but relatively it sucked.) I've been much happier ever since I changed to psychology. You seem to think that a bigger "payoff" in the end is worth it, but not if you don't enjoy your work. I'd much rather spend 5-10 years not making much money but doing research than I would just graduating college and going to work for some corporation. And I've heard of many people who "bit the bullet" and finished their engineering degrees just because they would make more money, and they are not happy with their lives.

Besides, there is a fundamental difference between science and engineering. If you want to study basic questions about the nature of reality, you should be a scientist. If you want to apply what scientists have already discovered to specific technologies and problems, then you should be an engineer. That's like, the first question you should ask yourself before you even begin to consider graduate school.

To the point of the topic: it depends on how good you are at coping with stress. Sometimes you have to just sit back, take a deep breath, and realize that in the grand scheme of things, your problems aren't that serious. Then you move on with your life, taking it one step at a time.

Edited by Arcadian, 29 August 2011 - 08:13 PM.

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#10 honkycat1

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Posted 03 September 2011 - 12:55 AM

from your post, I would definitely encourage taking a year off. I think the people that do the best in grad school, are people that have a passion and the drive to do whatever it is they intend to do in grad school. Be it mastering an applied field, or diving into the world of science and research. So those that are not sure, I would take the year off.
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