I have a friend who is unable to find a job in the industry. He's a fresh university graduate. He's now applying for a PhD position because he's found a supervisor. I have every reason to suspect that he wouldn't enjoy the degree because:

  • He's very good at memorizing text-books and past-exams, but never able to come up with a solution independently.
  • He doesn't enjoy reading unless it's required for exams.
  • He plays and socializes a lot.
  • He came up with this idea after failing some job interviews.

I think he just wants to go back to university because job interviews are tough.

  • 77
    Why do you need to persuade anyone about anything? You may give your honest advice once or twice and then your friend has the right to decide to follow it or not. It is his life, not yours.
    – Alexandros
    Commented Dec 5, 2015 at 9:11
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    "He plays and social a lot" Well, there's nothing wrong with this: being a PhD student is not like being a solitary monk. He will learn to redistribute his social activities to avoid interference with his work. Commented Dec 5, 2015 at 9:22
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    These are just your condescending opinions. He might be better at being a graduate student than you realize. At any rate, it's not your decision.
    – Zarrax
    Commented Dec 5, 2015 at 18:08
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    It's sad that someone comes here concerned about a friend falling into the miserable pitfall everyone on this site knows to be common in academia, and the most common responses are "you don't know your friend we've never met" and "stop trying to do what you feel will help that person." Do so many academics really think that, instead of objectively describing the challenges ahead to the friend so a more informed decision can be made, someone in the OP's situation should stay silent and let the cards fall where they may?
    – user4512
    Commented Dec 5, 2015 at 18:40
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    @ChrisWhite My response would be that it is also common in academia for people to have a higher opinion of themselves and a lower opinion of others than the evidence warrants. I would also point out that stating such opinions would likely generate hostility but are unlikely to change his friend's mind. There's no reason to do this. I had people state such opinions to me back in the day. The sole result was my hating them. Today I'm a tenured professor at university you probably would consider to be respectable.
    – Zarrax
    Commented Dec 5, 2015 at 19:58

7 Answers 7


How about introducing your friend to PhD comics. At least someone who has read those and still goes for a PhD cannot say they haven't be warned.

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    Reading PhD as an undergrad made me get so cynical about academia that I almost turned away from the possibility of entering it even though I hadn't identified a single other career path I was interested in. I actually had to decide to stop reading the comic lest I run away from the one thing I kind of wanted to do. If that's any indication, then this is an excellent strategy indeed! Commented Dec 6, 2015 at 2:17
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    I do not understand whether this answer is a provocative joke (I hope so) or not. PhD comics is exactly what a PhD is NOT (and must not be) about (that is in fact the purpose of the comics).
    – gented
    Commented Dec 6, 2015 at 19:50
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    @GennaroTedesco You must have been unusually lucky. PhD comics are funny because they are so accurate a lot of the time. Most people won't meet ALL the problems the characters do, and most are exaggerated, but the majority ring true for the collective experiences of myself and others I have known.
    – Jessica B
    Commented Dec 6, 2015 at 22:12
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    Most of the issues depicted in the comics apply to any (high level) working area, in research as well as in industry as well as elsewhere. Doing a PhD is pretty tough because doing research is tough, not because of the reasons portrayed in the strips, which, as said, apply pretty much everywhere. Addressing those to a PhD underestimates and moves away what the real difficulties may be.
    – gented
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 1:46
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    An important difference between the comics and the actual hardships is that the comics are funny.
    – j0equ1nn
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 18:28

I have every reason to suspect that he wouldn't enjoy the degree because:...

All the points you listed must be your personal opinions about Mr. X unless you are really Mr. X. If you are not, I suggest strongly against persuading someone against their plan to do a PhD if you only think why he is doing so.


I think improving your chances of finding a job you want is one of the primary reasons people pursue academic degrees, so there's nothing strange there. If you think he's completely clueless and will be utterly unprepared for the challenges of a PhD, you can try to educate him so he can make better informed decisions. It might be appropriate to suggest considering master's degrees first to try out graduate studies, depending on the kind of PhD programs he's thinking about.

(It was unclear from the question if he found a supervisor who is willing to take him already, or just someone interested in working with--I assumed the latter.)


Ph.D.s are really tough. You live below poverty, for about 5 years (although you probably have stable housing and pay so it could be worse). Your workload will fluctuate well above the coveted 40 hours a week and may eat up weekends and holidays if your research gets out of hand, either because the project is behind or because you are behind. Unless you plan to become a professor your career would have been better off if you were working, even in science fields. You go to a school in a random location then do a string of post-docs in random locations. The two body problem happens because your career path has become inflexible. You feel bad about quitting early, which there's a good chance you'll do because 5 years is a long time for anyone.

Those are some of the better reasons not to pursue a Ph.D. The reasons you gave are useless and condescending - no wonder your friend is ignoring you - and I actually disagree with your central point that pursuing a Ph.D. is a bad alternative to not finding a job.

I would even surmise your friend is better prepared for it than you might think because he is not approaching it from the standpoint of having glorified it through all of undergraduate. Perhaps he'll leave for a job in just a year or two. In which case he had a roof over his head (you know, literally) for two years, and good for him.

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    Side comment: apparently graduate students overestimate the incomes of the poor. The U.S. poverty line for a single person is $11,700. At least the graduate salaries on this list are way above that. While SOME place may pay close to the poverty limit, many pay double that or more.
    – user11599
    Commented Dec 6, 2015 at 7:19
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    @user11599 hmm thought I've seen stats on that, maybe they're just bad stats / rumors.
    – user18072
    Commented Dec 6, 2015 at 7:23
  • Mind you, I didn't say graduate programs pay well compared to what many of those students would earn if they got a job... :)
    – user11599
    Commented Dec 6, 2015 at 8:55
  • @user11599 - The official poverty limits in the U.S. are out of touch with reality. Commented Dec 6, 2015 at 19:44
  • this is really good answer @djechlin I dont understand why is not top answer, (putting overexaggerated phdcomics as advise vs this )I would also add to your last paragraph, that if he/she found a good advisor, PhD would be a lot more easier!!!
    – SSimon
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 5:49

Don't persuade him. Being a PhD is better than being unemployed. And although you seem to despise your friend, the supervisor has another opinion of him.

  • 3
    In one sense doing a PhD is not better than being unemployed, because if you are unemployed then you are free to seek employment. I don't know why you think the OP despises their friend. It sounds to me like they are looking out for their friend. Doing a PhD is emotionally demanding, and many people go into graduate study because it feels like the easy option at the time when it isn't really likely to benefit them.
    – Jessica B
    Commented Dec 5, 2015 at 20:08
  • @JessicaB you are certainly free to seek employment while pursuing a Ph.D.
    – user18072
    Commented Dec 6, 2015 at 0:42
  • @djechlin Yes and no. If you are unfunded then you can stop when you like, but doing unfunded study is a very poor substitute for getting a job. Stopping on a funded PhD because you never really cared about it to start with would be... impolite. And might need explaining to a potential employer. Also, job hunting requires time, at least at the start when there are lots of positions you haven't yet applied for. Or time unemployed can be used to get work experience.
    – Jessica B
    Commented Dec 6, 2015 at 7:45
  • @JessicaB regarding unfunded, yeah you didn't say that and I can't at all say that's better. I think I agree on the impolity but there is a starker reality that unemployment is bad. Depending on the person's background that might mean literal homelessness and it is devastating on one's esteem, and past the 6 month mark infinitely harder to explain than an aborted Ph.D. Yes, job hunting requires time, I personally believe it is manageable even with a large workload - people in industry go through the exact same thing. People with terrible workloads in industry search the hardest.
    – user18072
    Commented Dec 6, 2015 at 7:48

If you haven't already it might be interesting to show your friend this discussion, for the sake of enriching the conversation. But often the only thing to dissuade someone from pursuing a PhD for the wrong reasons is the pursuit of the PhD.


Some people are late bloomers. If his Prof decided to give him a studentship, and he passed the entry requirements, your friend has the right to try. You can state your qualms to him, but the decision is his. Don't nag.

Once his mind is made up, respect the decision, and support him unconditionally, if you are really a friend. His future not your judgement to make. And, who knows, you may end up being surprised.

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