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I'm in the second year of a master's program and I'm considering taking a year off before doing a PhD. I am excited to do a PhD and have some idea of what I want to research, but I am not sure if jumping right into it would be beneficial. The main reason is, simply, I've been in school my whole life and have felt pretty burnt out at times in the master's. I'm not sure I could start the coursework/proposal/thesis process all over again right after finishing my master's. The second reason is I'm switching to a new discipline (but still in the social sciences) and feel that a year of independent reading to acclimatize myself to the discipline would be beneficial, without the pressure of constant deadlines and assignments.

Are these justifiable reasons for taking the year off, or should I just jump into the PhD? I'd hopefully be working full time, working on applications for universities and scholarships, and reading lots. I'm also a bit concerned with funding - would scholarship committees be more skeptical of applicants who take a year off before the PhD?

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    I personally took 2 years off before starting PhD. Got married and travelled extensively during the period. Didn't regret my decision! – yoyostein Oct 4 '15 at 0:52
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    These are completely valid and justifiable reasons - and if you're here posing this question, then yes it is completely applicable and I think you should take a year off. Get some rest, but not for too long, remember to keep up motivation for self-guided learning, have fun. Whatever you do make sure you make the most of it. – Lamar Latrell Oct 4 '15 at 3:48
  • Yeah this sounds completely reasonable. Also, a well-posed question. Nice one! – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 4 '15 at 12:10
  • Am finishing my masters this December but following your reasons, i personally have to take a year off . I am behind you. Its reasonable am sure – Joseph B Oct 25 '15 at 13:24
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I would definitely advise taking a year off if you indeed feel as you've described. Burnouts are common and costly, and you might want to prevent one at all costs. There is nothing wrong with taking a break. Even though in academia it's sort of subliminally assumed that you're going to sacrifice your life, sanity and your unborn children to research, there really is nothing bad to say "hey, I need some time to myself." And no one is going to care, least of all admissions committees. You can even turn this break to your advantage by doing some volunteer work, or part-time research work. Seriously.

Personally, I spent 5 years doing undergrad in psych, then 2 years doing a Master's and by the time I finished my first year of PhD in clinical psychology I was so burned out after 8 years of post-secondary education and 5 years of constant academic research that I crashed & burned and dropped out of the PhD. Periods of rest are conducive to general sanity. Best of luck.

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Your situation mirrored mine - got to the end of the Masters, but felt tired and did not feel comfortable to dive straight into the PhD. I was able to get into and complete the PhD without any problems at all.

There is no harm in taking a bit of time off, in fact, doing so, could be beneficial, particular with (as you stated):

hopefully be working full time, working on applications for universities and scholarships, and reading lots.

If possible, perhaps try and have a paper or three published in this time - based on your reading. Make contact with Academics within the fields of interest (without pestering them, of course).

In any case, the time that you take to do pre-reading etc would work in your favour, as you would potentially have a greater conceptual understanding of the research you plan to pursue. This would likely help in your applications, as well as help focus your thesis proposal (as I found when I took a year off between Masters and PhD).

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I was at the opposite end of this paradigm myself. Last year I graduated with a Master's degree, and jumped straight into a PhD. This was at the advice of my personal tutor/Master's supervisor who said that if I took a break then I would forget a lot as that with a subject such as mine (mathematics) it's much easier to forget a lot of it in such a short amount of time than other subjects. I was also adamant at the time that further study is what I wanted and I was preoccupied with that rather than applying for graduate jobs.

However, his advice ended up not being beneficial to my specific situation, because I went into a PhD straight afterwards, in a slightly different area to what I had been accustomed to before, and 8 months after starting my supervisor and I were getting worried about my slow progress and so I decided to go for good. It also didn't help that I was feeling burned out during the last couple of years of my undergraduate course and that in itself may have indicated that doing something other than academia for a while would have been a good idea. I then took a 5-month pause before starting a teacher training course.

So, I think a break is a great idea as it'll allow you to broaden your horizons. Ignore anyone who says having a break can be disadvantageous, because a PhD is more about contributing to and learning new knowledge than remembering what you know already. It's much better to admit you need a break for the time being for your own good, than pressurising yourself into further study just to keep the study cycle going.

Best of luck!

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