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Ph.D. Aspirations, Societal Norms, and Harsh Realities

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By: Mohd Younus Bhat

While obtaining a Ph.D. is widely recognized as a badge of academic achievement that presents opportunities for both career advancement and intellectual growth, aspiring academics however face a plethora of obstacles that may prove intimidating. This analytical analysis explores the complex relationships between age-related factors, family and society expectations, Ph.D. aspirations and the pressures that come with working in research and the workplace. The paper seeksto clarify the intricacies involved in this educational experience. With so few tenure-track posts, the job market transition is challenging. Ph.D. candidates can contribute to knowledge and career routes while growing professionally, even in the face of challenges. Mastering the voyage is made easier by being aware of the benefits as well as drawbacks.

A Big decision- Needs focus and Persistence:

An important turning point in a person’s academic and personal journey is when they decide to seek a Ph.D. It is a significant, life-changing commitment that requires constant focus and persistence. In order to fulfil this goal, doctorate applicants must immerse themselves in a rigorous academic inquiry and intellectual exploration process that is marked by rigorous research endeavours.

For example, let us consider a neuroscience doctorate student. They begin their Ph.D. journey by exploring the complexities of the human brain, examining intricate neurological systems, and learning about state-of-the-art research approaches. Their quest for knowledge demands constant experimentation, data analysis, and critical thinking, and it goes far beyond the classroom or textbook readings.

Doctorate applicants frequently become absorbed in the quest for knowledge as they proceed, debating complex theories and procedures. A large amount of time and mental energy must be dedicated to this immersive experience, frequently at the price of relationships and other personal goals. It is possible for the scholars to find themselves doing experiments or data analysis for extended periods of time in the laboratory. Their personal time may be invaded by these onerous research duties, leaving little time for social or recreational pursuits. Furthermore, as they immerse themselves in their academic activities, the intellectual rigor inherent in their quest of knowledge may result in moments of isolation or solitude. Because the Ph.D. path is so comprehensive, it becomes more difficult to distinguish between obligations in the workplace and goals in personal life.

Doctorate applicants frequently have to balance the demands of their academic pursuits with the obligations of daily life, which requires careful attention to detail. For example, they can find it difficult to find time for self-care activities or to keep up meaningful relationships in the face of their unwavering focus on academic performance. Doctorate students’ mental and emotional health may suffer greatly from the inherent pressures of their studies, which may result in feelings of stress, burnout, or loneliness. Thus, choosing to pursue a Ph.D. involves much more than just academic factors; it signifies a strong dedication to scholarly research and intellectual development. In their drive for academic greatness, doctorate candidates fully commit to the pursuit of knowledge, delving into intricate theories and approaches.

Familial and Societal Expectations:

Societal Expectations: Many societies hold strong opinions about education and work choices, with a Ph.D. often seen as a prestigious achievement.

Family Pressure: While initially respected, pursuing a Ph.D. can lead to familial pressure, especially concerning traditional views on marriage and family.

Guilt and Struggle: Ph.D. students may feel torn between academic ambitions and family expectations, leading to feelings of guilt and inadequacy.

Balancing Act: Finding a balance between academic pursuits and family responsibilities can be challenging, impacting personal well-being.

Age Considerations: The timing of pursuing a Ph.D. intersects with societal expectations about job, marriage, and family, adding to the complexity.

Gender Dynamics: Women, in particular, face added scrutiny due to concerns about fertility and family duties, further complicating the decision-making process.

Publish or Perish Norm in Academia:

In academia, the competition is intense, and what really counts is your research and publications. Doctoral students are under a lot of pressure to come up with innovative ideas and publish their findings while also managing teaching and administrative duties. This pressure stems from a culture where it is essential to keep publishing to stay relevant and succeed in academia. This constant need to publish, known as the “publish-or-perish” culture, creates a cycle of stress and anxiety for scholars.

They feel the weight of expectations from their mentors and peers to produce ground-breaking research, often at the expense of their mental health and well-being. Moreover, moving from being a doctoral student to finding a job in academia is tough. There is a lot of uncertainty and insecurity because there are fewer tenure-track positions available. Many Ph.D. graduates end up in temporary roles like adjunct positions or postdoctoral fellowships, which often lack job security and benefits. This transition can be challenging and disheartening for those who have dedicated years to their studies, only to face a precarious job market upon graduation.


Since, a Ph.D. journey offers a plethora of exciting opportunities for budding researchers, showcasing a path filled with intellectual growth, professional development, and personal fulfilment. It is essential to recognize the positive aspects while also acknowledging areas where caution is warranted. First and foremost, pursuing a Ph.D. allows individuals to delve deep into their chosen field of study, immersing themselves in cutting-edge research and contributing to the advancement of knowledge.

This process fosters critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills, preparing students for diverse career paths in academia, industry, government, and beyond. Moreover, doctoral students have the chance to collaborate with experts in their field, gaining invaluable mentorship and networking opportunities. These connections can open doors to collaborative research projects, conference presentations, and job placements, enhancing the overall learning experience and professional growth.

Additionally, the pursuit of a Ph.D. enables individuals to explore their passions and interests in-depth, shaping their academic trajectory and making meaningful contributions to society. Whether it is conducting ground-breaking experiments, developing innovative technologies, or analysing complex data sets, doctoral students have the freedom to pursue their intellectual curiosity and make a tangible impact on the world around them.

Nonetheless, it is imperative that prospective researchers proceed cautiously and cognizant of the difficulties that may arise during their Ph.D. journey. Stress, burnout, and mental health problems can result from the competitive nature of academia as well as the pressure to publish and land tenure-track jobs. It is imperative that PhD students prioritize self-care, seek out peer and mentor assistance, and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

People should also think about how getting a Ph.D. might affect their personal objectives and duties, such as family planning and job ambitions. Even if earning a Ph.D. presents many chances for development and success, it is important to consider how pursuing this degree may affect one’s personal life and make decisions that are consistent with one’s priorities and values.

In summary, earning a Ph.D. is a fulfilling and enlightening experience that enables people to become lifelong learners and make significant contributions to their disciplines. Future researchers can successfully traverse their Ph.D. journey by embracing the positive features of doctoral studies while being aware of potential hurdles. This will help them feel resilient, confident, and purposeful in their work.

The writer is Senior Research Fellow, CSIR-NET, Gold Medallist, DST-INSPIRE fellow & Pursuing Ph.D. at Pondicherry Central University. He is also founder atGeoBuddy Learning Solutions.

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