I'm currently beginning my 2nd semester of a dual Msc/PhD in Physics in the top university of my home country, but lately I've been struggling with self-doubt and uncertainty about the job prospects and whether research is actually for me. Lately I don't feel the motivation to wake up early and work in my research 24 hours/day, and I know that if I keep like this I'll end up as a mediocre graduate student, so I've been really considering if research life is for me.
Since I was in high school wanted to do my undergraduate studies in high energy physics, but since the option wasn't available in my city and I didn't have the money to move to another place (student loans don't exist in my country) I enrolled in engineering physics at my state university. Being one of the top 5 students, I was invited to due a joint Bsc/MEng degree abroad in France, so I accepted since I was excited to try new things and get the chance to live in Europe for two years. I sucessfully completed my Master's courses abroad, came back to finish my Bsc, and graduated with the highest possible honors while publishing 3 scientific papers on the run (6.5 years). Therefore, doing a PhD in Physics seemed like the natural continuation of my career, and everyone was expecting me to go and become a renowned scientist in my discipline one day. I even got full support on recommendation letters to apply for studying abroad again.
While I got accepted to several joint Msc/PhD programs abroad (I discarded the US since I didn't have the money to pay for the GRE examinations at the time), due to delays from my university I wasn't able to apply for funding on time, thus instead of waiting another year I decided to enroll in one of the top programs in my country.
The doubts begin
However, over time I got more and more afraid of the potential job prospects of a career in Physics, after witnessing the vast amount talented PhD students and the lack of tenure positions (especially after the science budget took some cuts). I have met many PhD graduates who are still struggling to find a job in their late 30's, and even in an extreme case one who's literally homeless even after doing two post-docs abroad. Moreover, PhD graduates who go into the industry, at least in physics, had little to no advantage over those who have a Master's degree or a PhD in Engineering (in my country a PhD is rarely needed in the industry unless it's for the areas of Chemistry, Medicine, or Biology).
I do love Physics and do enjoy research, and I like to challenge myself with new ideas and engage in intellectual discussions with people here. Moreover, compared to entry-level jobs which are +60 hours/week here (which pay roughly the same as my scholarship), grad school is very flexible and allows me to take some time for my hobbies. Nevertheless, when I think that I'll finish my PhD when I'm 30 years old, plus 2-4 years of post-docs if I'm lucky, I'm afraid that if I don't manage to land an academic position I'll basically be applying for an entry-level job in the industry in my mid 30's, when I could apply now for an entry-level job (I've received several offers due to my MEng) and in 5 years move over the ladder or even find a job abroad back in Europe or the US. I'm not sure if my love for Physics is so strong as to sacrifice my 20's and early 30's in a career where there's no guarantee of success.
Could you give me your advice or opinions? It would be nice also to hear opinions of PhD students in Latin American countries.
My backup plan if I continue on my PhD would be to develop skills in Machine Learning and Data Science and eventually have my own startup by the time I finish my PhD, but again I won't be working on the field I originally aimed for, so I don't know if it would be worth it. My true vision for a PhD is to have the chance to work in the academia.