Is the life of a PhD easy?

Of course, it’s different for everyone and specific to each individual. Below is my take on it. The TL:DR version: emotionally devastating, otherwise quite easy.

For me, I found it similar to laying bricks. Each individual task is not all that hard, and you’re not getting stumped or start scratching your head for days. Each of these tasks can get so repetitive and mind-numbing though that the sheer boredom makes it extremely difficult to put in the required hours. Just like laying bricks, it becomes tiring/difficult from repetition and boredom, not from anything becoming overly difficult to do. I found passing certain classes, when I still had classes to take, much more challenging and difficult. Remember though, there is a LOT of work to do before completing a PhD. A LOT!!!!! That’s where the difficulty is. It can be overwhelming, and emotionally difficult, to look at a seemingly endless road of numbness. For example I always struggle when I finish planning my experiment, perform a practice run with a timer running so I can see how long it takes, and realize that you will be doing that exact procedure in the lab 150 times, which will take 600hrs to complete, or roughly 4 months of your life. Last time this happened to me it was early may, and it meant that was how my entire summer was going to be: repeating those same 4 hours again and again. Which is why when an experiment fails, depression start to sticks out it’s ugly face.
Oh, and you’re broke the whole time…. So you become a TA and correct hundreds of papers a week about things you already know just to make some money. That doesn’t help improve ones spirit. To add to this, there is little supervision, so it becomes incredibly easy to procrastinate and pseudo-work (like writing this answer right now instead of working). Since I am not under pressure to finish quickly, that only makes it easier to put things off. After I spend several unproductive days I feel guilty about myself and my work. I begin to believe I don’t have what it takes/am not PhD material. If it coincides with a failed experiment, then depression can really become hard to fight. The cherry on top is the ego in academia. There is a ton of it. One prof says to add something to a paper, another says to remove it. They love looking for anything wrong with anything, most of it banal stuff that doesn’t actually matter (often with regards to how you chose to write something), and then tear you up for it. It appears much bigger and more important in your life than it truly is. That makes you feel bad about many other small things. Reviewers from journals are sometimes even worse. I have seen, several times, someone be personally insulted by someone reading their paper. So on top of feeling like you don’t have what it takes, you also feel like you are really bad about what you do. Rarely do you get a compliment. When someone needs help and you can provide it easily, that’s your own way of feeling better about yourself, your own compliment from you to you, which isn’t as good but hopefully enough to keep your head out of the abyss.

In conclusion: constant feeling of being overwhelmed by the amount of work, feeling bad/incompetent at what you do, and importantly numb from boredom. Not hard to see why impostor syndrome and depression are so prevalent. Is the life easy? Intellectually yes. Physically yes, if you can sit behind a desk endlessly (I struggled with that part too) and have a good sleep routine. But emotionally… I found a PhD to be, and continue to be, seriously destructive.

PS: Not saying every PhD knows everything. In cases when you don’t know something (a regular occurrence) though, it does not mean it is harder, just makes for a few more bricks to lay before moving forward. For example, if there is something you don’t know you go find an answer in the literature . If it is not there, you perform an experiment to obtain the answer (forget asking a prof, that’s what they’ll end up telling you to do anyway: literature then experiment, profs have barely ever been of any help in my experience). What about equipment? If you need to learn to use equipment, you pick up a manual and read. Still in trouble, you may need to pay for a company rep to come train you for a day or find someone who uses that equipment and shadow them for a day. See? Even when you don’t know something you’re not really struggling intellectually. Other examples of normal tasks are: write a long long long paper about something you already know quite well, perform a 4 hour long extraction procedure 200 times, correcting hundreds of papers (again on a topic you are comfortable with) each week as a TA. And it is like this for years. Easy peasy!

19 Replies to “Is the life of a PhD easy?”

  1. Well, that's a loaded question.

    PhD student life? Tricky. It depends on literally a billion factors, and I can only speak to my areas. For some, grad student pay is about equal to post PhD pay and that would mean PhD school is easy relative to life.

    For anyone, it's challenging and harrowing to do one, or it isn't being done correctly.

    Philosophically, it's a lonelier life. You are out thinking about topics that nobody cares about or will understand, and autonomy is pretty much 100%. I personally like that for the most part, Major Tom to ground control or something.

    Afterwards, it's just life. Life has ups and downs and being a doctor doesn't make you immune. But, you can make peace and have patience because grad school covered you in sadness and feces often enough.

    For career academics, the publish or perish cycle is horrifying. If I were in that life inclusively, I would probably be hard-pressed to find a worse career, personally.

    All life is hard.

  2. I am not sure if you mean life of someone who has a PhD or life of a PhD student. But in either case, it depends on the person and on the PhD program or post-PhD job, and on how you define easy.

    In any case, it is typically very much easier at least than life of a minimum/low wage worker, especially physically – if a PhD student is full-time and gets paid for it (and especially if someone has a full-time job for which PhD is needed or useful and gets paid for it) they typically do get paid at least a bit more than that (and have lower expenses), and they typically don’t need to do much of hard physical work or work in so harsh conditions of any kind. Many PhD students can even in big part pick their own working hours and partially work from home, and most PhD students and post-PhDs in academia can live much closer to their workplace than workers to typical factories. Many can take more vacations than an average person in their country (though many feel guilty or are discouraged by their supervisors to utilize it). And teaching undergraduate and graduate students is typically easier than teaching primary school and high school. With all that, I am quite sure that at least life of a typical PhD student or a person employed utilizing their PhD in a functional country is easier than lives of the majority of other people in the same countries.

    Of course, there are many exceptions. There are PhD students and people with PhD who work in harsh physical conditions or are severely mistreated by their supervisor/boss, and who don’t get paid (and who get paid only half- or quarter-time while having to work on it full time, so the pay is insufficient), there are academic institutions where PhD students and postdocs (and even professors) can’t live anywhere close or have to live in miserable accommodation, etc. Be careful what particular situation you are getting into, compared to your other options and considering what is important to you.

    It may be argued that life of a PhD student or a PhD-utilizing person is intellectually difficult. But if you are considering getting a PhD and realistically able to fairly get in, chances are that you can handle and at least somewhat enjoy such intellectual challenges. And there are also other intellectually difficult degrees and jobs.

    Another issue is difficulty of getting a suitable job which utilizes the PhD. That’s also very dependent on the field and location and on what is easy/comfortable for a particular person. Academic jobs seem difficult to get in almost any field and location, but in some there are also (more plentiful) comfortable jobs outside academia (or at least more comfortable than non-PhD jobs in the same field) – better-paid and/or in better working conditions of any or every kind.

    Of course, if we define easy life as life of someone who doesn’t need to work at all (not a homemaker who does lots of housework/childcare – that’s much more difficult than a typical PhD – but someone independently wealthy), then “life of a PhD” is not at all easy in comparison, unless you really love doing research or/and would be too bored if you do not have to do anything.

  3. Hmm!
    Although this question is kind of stereotype but to be honest, I am happy to see this question. You ask why? Because after long time I am getting to answer a question regarding PhD other than- When will your PhD be over?” Ha Ha.

    Now come to the answer-

    I recently earned the designation of “Dr.” before my name so I will tell what I have experienced during my PhD. To start from end, I would say – It was like a Roller-Coaster ride and here’s the thing as per my experience- IT SHOULD BE LIKE THAT. According to me , experience is not in binary like it’s very easy or hard.

    PhD is not something where you can plan your exact outcome , exact time you are going to consume on your tasks or any other plan of that sort. But one thing that you can consider for sure about PhD and that is – YOU HAVE TO HUSTLE HARD! AND AGAIN, YOU SHOULD!

    Your hustle starts the day you think to pursue PhD. You have to qualify some really tough exam (including interview) to get enrolled. Then you have to qualify your Pre-PhD program which may be either of 6 months or 1 year long depending on the institution and then will you come to your PhD work. For me , when I started working on my PhD goals, I had realized that PhD is NOT just a degree or a customized course/study to pursue. It is much more than that. It is a teacher itself. I have learnt a lot from it not only professionally but at the personal level. I believe that I am a changed person now regarding some aspects and good thing is that change is very much positive. I have emerged as much more patient, strong and helpful person. I learnt how to manage things. I learnt how to handle and deal with pressure, negativity , ignorance and rejection. I learnt not to fly high on some achievement and not to have low self esteem on my failure. All in all, I learnt to face many situations.

    There were days where I was stuck whole day long on something that was supposed to take half an hour. Sometimes when I anticipated that I would understand some particular thing probably in a month but it took two or sometimes just 10 days. I remember the time when I was so so stuck on some codes that were not working for me and when I finally did it after spending like a month I felt like a QUEEN ( I tried various other ways, being from biology background it is not easy to be perfect in coding which is needed in my field). Not many days after that I made such silly mistake on some codes that I felt so STUPID because I had wasted a lot of time on that. Likewise, I spent many nights staying awake in writing my research articles, book chapters and thesis and I felt like I am working hard which I was. But when I got my paper rejected once I realized that I needed to work harder, I am not doing good enough. I improved my paper and bang ! I got my paper published and after that I got two more publications (I know I have not many but 3 publications as first author was good enough for PhD. I needed one to have the degree).

    So you see? Why I say like PhD is like a roller-coaster ride? Because you go high, you go low, you get scared, you feel okay, you laugh, you cry, you enjoy, you feel like getting off it asap but trust me when you get off the ride YOU WILL CHERISH THE RIDE. IT’S WORTH IT.

  4. I am finishing up my second year and on my way to candidacy. Let’s summarize my experience so far.

    So, the life as a PhD student in overall was okay.
    But the learning process is different. First couple of years you sort of train yourself with all the tools available while identifying a “medium” size problem to work on for the next three years (if your goal is to stick to the usual 5–6 years). The truth is, if you devoted enough time and effort to your problem, it’s not difficult to correctly figuring out the size of the problem.
    To me the first year was unusually hard, you have course requirements while trying to meet the expectancy of your temporary advisor (given you were offer a fellowship). Time management is the key to survival.
    The second year was also not easy for me because my advisor ran out of funding and I have to change field completely (from experimental engineering to computational physics). If you did a good job in time management, things should get easier.
    The most difficult thing to me is to identify the right problem to my committee so I can be considered for candidacy (ongoing).
    To summarize, not easy but it’s getting better.

  5. As a current PhD student the short answer: no. But you'll probably get health insurance for 5 more years.

    Long answer:

    If you're lucky enough to be in a program that pays you'll still probably find yourself very poor. If not extremely poor unless you're a waitress. You see it turns out that while the tuition is free Expect to see fees and similar hidden costs use up thousands. The fees are so steep my first semester I thought there was a problem and I was still being charged tuition eventually after a very embarrassing meeting I learned my tuition had in fact been paid I simply owed "a few" fees. After thousands in fees, plus housing, food and other expenses, you'll be hard pressed to save any money. If you're wondering I have never heard of any school offering any type of overtime pay whatsoever. You'll be paid the set amount or nothing.

    Even if you like sports and are happy to pay the few hundred in stadium fees you'll be so busy working that you won't ever step foot into the stadium unless that's where they'll hold your graduation. You may be thinking surely I am exaggerating. Well unfortunately in my experience a PhD program is one of the few things in life (along with 4 wheel drive and LSD) that really is the big deal people act like and not just completely exaggerated. So prepare to be poor, and not undergrad fun poor. Real life adult poor. Staying in the same lab I went from a tech/ Jr. scientist to a PhD, my workload tripled and my pay was cut in half. And the paperwork almost drowned me. Years in and I still struggle with the forms. My pay is also juuuuuuuuust enough that I did not qualify for any support programs like food stamps which my more traditionally employed friends were able to make use of. At the start of grad school I would never have taken them even if they were an option, such was my pride but today I wouldn't hesitate to enroll. The point is moot because I make just enough to be ineligible, funny how that works. My tech savings lasted a while but once they were gone I was left to the mercy of my advisor program. Fortunately with the aid of my program I have actually paid my own salary for at least a quarter of my time as a student through awards alone. But getting these awards is so expected it's almost factored into the budgeting so now that I have 4th year status my proposals will not receive the same priority as new students'. This will increase pressure from my boss even further. And don't forget that this can lead to a cycle where you're paying yourself simply so you can get more funding to pay yourself…

    Grad School was also my first true academic challenge. I was never challenged by K-12 and even my undergrad came as an almost trivial accomplishment. luckily for me this came from true passion leading me to have already researched class topics beforehand on my own time. In a Ph.D there's no textbook to check because you're figuring out what will be in it, for maybe the first time your questions won't have answers, your job is to find them. Had I not been a self directed learner and truly passionate I would certainly have left the program by now. As many of my most promising compatriots have.

    To many graduate students being awake is synonymous with work. Even if you're cooking dinner or in the shower you're planning an experiment, you're thinking about various hypotheses. So if you're awake you're working, unless you are in the minority of people who can establish a good work-life balance. While many of the steps to doing so seem simple in practice many find it very difficult and find the resulting sense of constant work stressful. I certainly do in fact I'm only writing this because there's other more difficult writing im putting off. Academia attracts a diverse and eccentric spread of individuals for better or worse. It's important to find an advisor who you see eye to eye with and ideally can support you and your work financially.

    While it depends greatly by field and the type of institution you're at you'll likely end up participating in a collaboration at some point, Great! Collaborations can be fun, a great excuse to travel and are invaluable for networking, building relationships with your peers and they may offer a chance to accomplish something that was difficult to impossible without a combined effort. However these situations are not without risk, predatory, more senior individuals or even your peers may allow you to complete large amounts of work only to claim they did it and/or that they deserve equal recognition for inferior contribution. In some cases this can lead to ethically dubious territory when it comes to assigning authorship. Sometimes collaborators are just plain old obnoxious or rude. It's a good idea to make agreements about sensitive aspects of the collaboration at the beginning but this often falls to the way side. Recently a collaborator who I did a massive amount of free work (this included) for randomly send me a request that he and some other members of his lab be author in every paper that used any of this data. Since I use this data as a testing benchmark for many things and several papers may come out of it, time will tell. But he must not understand the rules of authorship since adding him and his PI would be very unethical, and so pretended the email was lost in the bustle of my inbox and never responded (a good way to deal with push collaborators IMO). If he brings this up again I will shoot him down directly because innapropriate behavior should be identified and remidied. Including him would put his name on papers he knows nothing about and did no work on which both violate key rules. His discipline is more communal but this is the equivalent f a GitHub that someone legally had to upload since their reaserch was publicslly funded which it also is. Cleary the one day ethics course they make us take is a bit lacking as is his mentors guidance. But good collaborators can lead to spectacular results especially in the omics age when modern tools can shed light on age old questions.

    ill finish with some of the least obvious downsides to a life in graduate school relationships of all types will be difficult to maintain. I have seen people who's parents did not go to grad school spend the whole time never grasping what there child is doing and why, just that it seems to eat up an awful lot of time. I am truly fortunate to have two parents with biochem PhDs to talk with but so much has changed even they sometimes have difficulty understanding. So I can tell why some students are so distressed by the tension caused by the cultural clashes between families and students. Such as: "why spend so much time working on a degree when you're just going to be a housewife in the end?" Conflicts like this are very difficult and are probably the number one reason I see people quit. Education also tends to shift people's politics and world views which can also be a source of family tension. One issue I want to mention that's rarely addressed is something that's both happened personally and to many friends and colleagues. It doesn't really have a name so I'll call it failure to compartmentalize and is probably also related to the graduate student "always working" mentality. Failure to compartmentalize (FTC) is actually a sign the program is working mostly as intended but results in major relationship problems and exacerbates problems with isolation many PhD students already face. While depression and anxiety are well documented enough in grad students I won't really mention it here I find those discussions often lack any mention of FTC which certainly does not help mental health. FTC occurs when a student has successfully managed to unconsciously adopt the air of authority and intellect any successful academic must be able to conjure. Remember getting a PhD is often about becoming the world expert or one of several experts on a topic so this behavior is vitally important. However because it is often picked up subconsciously students don't know how to compartmentalize that behavior or that they're even doing it. This can make PhD students seem condescending or arrogant and can further alienate students who may already be having a difficult time in a new city with no support network. It can even strain well established relationships as it did for myself and many I know Romantic relationships are difficult to maintain or start during a PhD, and seem exceptionally vulnerable to FTC like problems which I'm sure have a real name. I know many who succeeded but probably more, including myself, have seen grad school lead to breakups, romantic and platonic. I know one individual who while happily married has commented that should they ever remarry it will definetly be a scientist. And feelings of not being understood, alienated, and lonely are a major cause. In my case the stress of my program actually got so severe I became physically ill, while it could have been an infectious agent to this day stress remains the most likely cause.

    I dont want to make a PhD sound impossible, they're not, they're just actually hard, but I believe ultimately worth doing and that the world needs them so I don't regret my quest to get one. Although it's certainly taken years off my life. It opens realms of possibilities and I'm constantly reminded of just how absolutely incredible nature is. There's also the frequently referenced delight of for a moment or few hours where you and you alone know the answer to a question. Which is a true joy. But it's no doubt a difficult life to choose as those joyous moments are all too fleeting. It's hard to know the university charges hundreds of dollars an hour for your work only to pay you pennies on the dollar with no overtime or holiday bonus. the funding situation is the worse it's been in Over 50 years. I can't fathom how the single parents manage. As the funding pool of academia in general dries up things are getting worse and worse overall and hard to separate from just grad school. Even so I'm in it for the long haul, but it's truly hard, thankless, stressful and a lot of my hopeful success will still come down to luck. So it's a hard life but if you truly have passion it's ultimately worth it. It also really depends a lot on your advisor namely their funding, their friends, and their opinion of you. Reputation is the currency of academia and science. But if reputations the currency then passion is credit.

    and I've hardly or not touched on gender issues, race issues, advisor issues, beaucracy nightmares and labrinthys, the pain of destroyed/lost experiments, sleep depravation, mental health, program lengths, choosing programs, rotations, many ethics topics, student conduct codes, lab safety, working with lab mates and undergrads. I could go on…but I think you get my point.

    NOTE THIS IS ALL IN REFERENCE TO A 5–7 year PhD program in the USA and while much of it is generalizable, much is also specific to the hard sciences, humanities students have it bad in their own ways. PhD systems in other countries have very different standards and are rarely as rigorous. For example an Australian PhD isn't much more training or content than a US masters degree. Because labs can be very diverse this can cause unique conflicts. HR departments are rarely aware of this and ironically may pay someone like an Australian scientist MORE (traveling fees, "talent" retention etc) than an American PhD recipients with twice the training if not more. And those who have not even received their degrees may actually be far more qualified…That being said one of my favorite things about the environment I work in Has much more diversity in the workplace than many jobs although women and POC still remain underrepresented.

  6. First of all i’ll edit the question from Is the life of a PhD easy? to What’s the Life of a PhD Scholar?

    The reason behind it is because nothing is as easy/tough/possible or impossible. The word we call easy or tough is basically nothing but “PROCESS”.

    And this process can be slow or fast sometimes.

    Now coming to the question that life of a PhD Scholar is easy or not. I truly and honestly answer to this question is a “BIG NO”.

    The life of a PhD scholar becomes more meaningful, rational, logical and taking ease in life.

    1. The constant contact in reading your own literature unfolds a true reader in you which you have never explored. Reading consciously and calmly truly brings “patience”
    2. You start taking less of melodrama and more of sensible input in your RAM (brain), and hence you avoid to ignore unproductive discussions.
    3. Only a scholar or someone into research can relate your level of stress. So here it becomes difficult for a PhD scholar to make them understand and have work-life balance at least not in PhD. example: Like I have been shot with a question by my elder sister “do you support padamvati ban?” “do you like deepika padukone?” I had a deadline submission next morning so i was just trying to calm myself down by sitting alone and being my own self. And suddenly these questions bombarded at me. After that to give that attention and respect I replied one answer “that i don’t like deepika padukone”. But she did not stopped there, she wanted to ask further “WHY? also”……….. I took literally a deep sigh and said “am into hibernation mode and I have a deadline to submit and I have to write a lot tonight and for that I need some mental peace. To my bad she didn’t leave but I had to leave that space and come in other corner.
    4. You will find difficulty in balancing health, relationship and your PhD publications for sure. So here i’d like to mention a tip. Prioritise your health and fitness routine first, your mind literally become too stress that if you won’t focus on your health you’ll fall flat in other elements in your PhD.
    5. It becomes stressful sometimes to followup other vital activities when you are in rhythm of your PhD. Due to which your memory start focusing on more in PhD and slowly gradually less in maintaining relationship in your social circle…… such as birthdays, anniversaries, relatives or friends weddings etc…
    6. A constant stress of long term career planning which many scholars do especially in India common in men due to the settlement (marriage, kids, etc). And on counter part a constant pressure by family from female scholars to marry during the PhD. So to this situation scholar through out his/her PhD struggles to maintain a balance between both which it self is a time taking and energy consuming activity.

    At last I will any conclude saying this PhD is a phenomenal mental gaming exercise. The way it gives struggle and difficulties at the same time it makes you stronger day by day while dealing and sorting them out in your life. You’ll be an entirely flip side of your own personality.

  7. Life of any PhD student is never easy going. It’s only that he/she has lot of troubles but he/she is passionate enough to curb all troubles in order to achieve their goals. I always connect PhD with passion. If you aint passionate about PhD then you ought not fit for it.

    PhD is about half a decade life being spent on something. Why not love that something, so, you don’t just give away half a decade of your life. I was fortunate ,to attend one of the seminar by Prof Gelbukh . He explained how a PhD student should choose his/her topic.

    If you see the above image, you will realize how important is “choice of topic” in PhD. The whole PhD is the iterations of decisions, mistakes and updation of decisions. That something is your topic of research.

    As Rishab pointed out, it is important to take up the challenges and make it a fun and fulfilling for yourselves.

  8. It depends on how you define “easy”. On the one hand, the life of a PhD (as a university professor, as opposed to working in industry) can be all-consuming in the sense that one can constantly be thinking about his/her research (how to get published in an “A” journal, potential research topics, etc.) , how to improve one’s teaching, potential career progression, etc. This is NOT really a career that lends itself to “leaving your work at the office”. You can be thinking about it during the weekends, during vacations, as you’re exercising in the morning, etc.

    On the other hand, the quality of life in terms of autonomy (ie, having control over what you do, how you do it, etc.) is virtually unmatched by any other profession that I’m aware of. The only fixed hours that you’ll have in any given semester are the times your classes meet (generally, you’ll teach just 3 or 4 classes in a semester, each meeting 2.5 hours a week, so you’re looking at a maximum of 10 hours per week in the classroom). The rest of the time, you’re free to use your time as you see fit. Maybe do some office hours (if your institution requires that), spend time doing research/writing, studying, thinking about next semester’s classes (working on course outlines, etc.).

    I think the trick is to find a happy medium, an equilibrium between trying to get to that next level career-wise or research-wise, but to also enjoy the luxury of having that much freedom, autonomy, and other intangible perks of being an academician/university professor.

  9. If your life is easy as a PhD – you're doing it wrong.

    If you are currently a PhD and it's ‘easy’ you are not setting the bar high enough for yourself – and it's your job to make your thesis amazing. Don't assume if your advisor is happy, it's fine. It's your thesis – not theirs.

    A PhD gives you great freedom and responsibility (really, not like Spider-Man). It's really important to use that freedom to explore and get a lot of work done. If you are feeling capped out on research – use your freedom in flexible time to work on other interests.

    Similarly after your PhD – people will trust you to dig deep, develop your own lab, or some other intellectually independent endeavor. If it's easy – you are making it easy.

    I believe it's important to challenge yourself as a PhD. It should never be easy – but it should always be fun and fulfilling.

  10. I’m holding a PhD in Computer Science.

    The life of a PhD is definitely not easy. Low payment, crushing uncertainty on yourself, lots of work that often does not directly contribute to the thesis, but most importantly:

    →Total dependence on your supervisor. ←

    If you have the wrong supervisor, you can become trapped in hell. Consequently, choosing the right supervisor is really important. Some good criteria on choosing a supervisor are listed in the following Times article:

    10 truths a PhD supervisor will never tell you

  11. I am at the end of the second year of my PhD so I will speak for this part of the process. I see the PhD as a rollercoaster where the beginning is somewhat easy but long to be well set in place. You reach the top of the first hill after hard work and you have fun gliding down. Then you realize that you only did the easy part and there are lots of cliffs ahead. Way more than your optimistic self believed. Anyway, who gets out of a rollercoaster, right? Then you get into your second year and general exam, this period is really bumpy and you face lots of hills that are maybe not as steep as the first one, but the frequency at which they come is way higher. In fact, it seems that this frequency continually increases and you try to keep the pace. This is not particularly hard, but you need to focus on the next goal and you have way less time than before to explore alternative pathways for the ride. All in all, I wouldn't say it's easy, but it's certainly doable. Just keep in mind that this is not a sprint, but a marathon, you need to have the stamina (read here: motivation).

  12. After graduation, I got my share of jobs but I didn’t join any. I thought corporate life will be too tough and without freedom. Instead, I got into a PhD program and that too into areas I had interest in. I had descent skills related to the work prior to joining. So, in the back of the mind I perhaps thought the life of a PhD will be easy. And so the journey began.

    Gradually I discovered descent is not good enough. There were long hours of agony. Since in most of the times you will be working on things which no one has worked before, you have to self teach things. And that was the first lesson of the PhD life and I don’t think that was easy.

    And then comes the heart-break. Project will fail, results won’t be good enough. And you will feel down. But not out. This is the most critical juncture I believe. The cut-off point. If you can ride this wave purely on the joy of the work and the willingness to find out the unknown you enter that part of the life of the PhD which is easy.

    You now enjoy the freedom and responsibility as Rishabh Jain said. In fact you crave for it. Revisions of your papers don’t dishearten, rather reviewers seem like friends.

    As usual easy or difficult is a matter of choice and your approach to it.

  13. Even though I haven't started my PhD yet, I am tempted to write this answer.
     It comes from the curious analysis of a PhD life that I have been exploring to see if I, like many other aspirants, can ACTUALLY fit into it or not.
    The best and most befitting picture (literally!) of a PhD life looks somewhat like this.

    Illustration courtesy: Jorge Cham.

    Extra love for @PHD Comics!

    Edit 1: Changed to a better image uploaded through laptop instead of phone like the previous one. Thanks for the comments you quorans! 🙂

  14. Contrary to many answers given in this section, I would say life of PhD –

    is EASY – because you are your own boss.

    is FUN – because you work on what interests you.

    is FULFILLING – because you research on what you are passionate about.

    is CHALLENGING – because you don’t know where are you heading to.

    is CONTEMPLATING – because you decide what would you do next to solve that world-saving problem.

    is JOYFUL – because you dedicate your extra time + weekend to your research still knowing you wont be paid any extra. (in terms of money of course, you are paid in terms of happiness)

    is SATISFYING – ask anyone who could publish their results in their dream journal.

    is REWARDING – ask anyone who have completed their thesis.

    I am fully aware that there are exceptional situations, my answer is general and valid for most of the cases.

  15. I believe it depends upon every student because every individual student is different and their supervisor . What constitutes here the bonding you have and the level of understanding. Keep brushing up on your syllabus. Follow advisors instructions and update your supervisor on regular basis . That will help you complete your PhD as per track and on time .Sometimes you become teaching assistant(TA) / research assistant(RA). As TA you would have to assist proff with his classes ,grading and exams etc.

    Candidacy is very important exam that you should start working on from day 1. Sometimes its oral exam / written. If its oral ask seniors for previous experiences and if you have good rapport with your advisor that will be taken care of. For written, solve previous year papers. Department usually keeps set of papers with them available for students. Kindly ask them.

    Otherwise PhD life I believe would be very easy. Its just studying , working on your course, research and rest of the time is yours ! 😀

  16. In general, life during PhD is like baptism by fire. Most student scholars perceive difficulty in the task of moving from read book-pass exam mode of undergraduate education to researching , finding new ideas and worst of all- convincing others that it is right! And depending on one’s own taste, one’s supervisor/guide and other factors life can get lot smoother or turn troublesome.

    In short, one would find that he/she needs to take more responsibility and be largely independent in solving problems, with loads of self motivation. Once you are through, you might find yourself more mature- patient, confident and resilient- and also be happy/proud that you are an expert in a small nook in the realm of knowledge. And of course, jobs and other perks that come with it do make the effort even more fruitful!

    For a few words from more learned/experienced voices, you can look at these articles, among many others!

    Bernstein-Students Guide to Research

    Some Modest Advice for Graduate Students

  17. No.

    Look at all these PhDs sitting on google waiting for someone like me to search PhD diploma. They have to fight to be the first diploma that people see and download. They have hunger games style fights to eliminate the weak and rise to the top.

    phd diploma – Google Search:

    Is this easy? NO……..THIS IS PHD!!!!!!!

    Wait, did you mean a PhD holder? or a PhD candidate? either way, it depends and is not a yes or no answer.

    Happy PhDing

  18. No way! It’s like having an impossible amount of work to do, with little time for socializing, and rarely feeling your work measures up to your vision of it. Even if you enjoy your research, all of the demands and time limits piled on make getting a ph.d. incredibly stressful. Most ph.d. students also have teaching requirements to satisfy while they’re pursuing their own studies, which generally take precedence over their own work and add considerably to the stress and lack of time.

    Another student showed me an article last night about a study showing that ph.d.’s are especially susceptible to depression, anxiety, and suicide. All of the other students we talked to about it agreed. So no, it’s not like we’re all partying it up, sleeping late, and relaxing because we don’t have a “real” job. That image some people get is really frustrating for ph.d. students.

    After reading some of the other answers, I have to say, I’m talking about being a ph.d. STUDENT, not a graduate with a ph.d.

  19. I love Rishabh Jain’s answer. My snarky addendum is to note that he is not yet a PhD … he is a doctoral candidate. The question answered is “Is the life of a PhD candidate easy?” and his answer is excellent.

    After you earn the PhD, I can testify, life does not get easier. It remains a roller coaster.

    Having worked through a PhD does give one some level of confidence that the problems can be solved.

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