Life after the diploma thesis, or: my case against a PhD

I'm 34 pages into my diploma thesis (target is around 100 pages, including everything), and the deadline for handing it in is Decembre 28th. Time to think about life after the thesis.

I've been toying with the idea of going for a PhD, since I really, really want to do science. And if you want to do science, getting a PhD is the way to go, right?

But after mulling this over for quite a while, I've almost arrived at the conclusion that, no, for me, a PhD is not the right way to go. I'd like to lay out my reasoning and my plan here; who knows, maybe I'll get some useful input before making a final decision? Or maybe I'll make my decision anyway, and leave this as input to others who are in a similar situation.

One of the points that came up when talking about the issue with my parents was: making a living. Really. Me and my three siblings were raised by a single dad at the low-income end of the spectrum. Much as my older siblings, I started earning my livelihood when I was 17. I know that if I fail financially, my parents and grandparents would give anything to help me out, but they just don't have the resources themselves. Seeing as I've been working fairly successfully as a software developer and security consultant for the past 12 years, it would be foolish bordering on irresponsible to throw this away for an uncertain academic career by disappearing into the depths of a PhD programme. I hardly need to mention that software technology as well as IT security are fast-paced fields - if I decide to drop out for three years, I can't really expect to get back in afterwards.

Another point has to do with the above-mentioned work experience. I've been used to working as a freelancer, on my own terms; I've seen quite a bit of The Industry(tm). Meaning: I've seen too much to accept subordination easily. I've actually had squabbles about this with my thesis advisor, who nagged me about "taking my future seriously", all while I was juggling the responsibilities I had signed up for to pay rent and other unpleasantries (literally; we're talking contracts and penalties and fines here) and my thesis work which is taking place in an ivory tower. This makes me think that I wouldn't take kindly to the slightest hint of being used as a scientific wage slave. I pretty much know that every time my PhD advisor would be nagging me about this paper of theirs they want me to contribute to, I'd be thinking "You know, I made the decision to do this PhD at quite a monetary expense; don't you dare act like it's a privilege to do your work." So, whether these thoughts would be misguided or not, I'm guessing conflict would be pre-programmed.

Then there's the thing that from all I know, doing a PhD is a specialization exercise. Go deeper. But I don't want to go deeper, I want to go broader. This seems to be what makes me enthusiastic and happy and what makes me do good work: going broad. I don't really see how that fits in with what's expected of a PhD student.

So, taking all this into account, I've all but settled for going for an alternative. I'll try to make my own PhD. I'll try and see whether I can't do science on my own terms. There's a vague plan there that might me a combination of "transitioning to bioinformatics as a service" and "independent scientist". The idea is extremely vague, but I have a very roughly sketched plan. We'll see how it pans out.


  1. One month to finish the rest of your thesis? That's quite a feat! Thinking two moves ahead even in the middle of your thesis is just the kind of forward-thinking that makes a PhD student. Good luck thinking it through. There are pros and cons to both options and I hope you're happy with what you decide on.


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