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To go back to university to do a Masters/PhD

(44 Posts)
purpleangel17 Tue 22-Aug-17 20:59:21

I am a single mum to two girls aged 8 and 9. I currently work full time and earn a decent wage, not a huge one but above the national average. I do not like my job. I find it boring as anything. I had a job I enjoyed before for 5 years but I left it because I hit an earnings ceiling I couldn't crack without retraining and I didn’t want to retrain in that area. After that I did a job for a year then quit to relocate and I have been doing my new job a year.
I am thinking about going back to do a Masters and then PhD and try to get into an academic career path. I think I'd be good at it. I know it's hard work but ultimately it feels more 'me' than any of the other jobs I have done.
It will be an earnings drop while studying but if my calculations are right, not a huge one if I work part time and top up with universal credit. After a PhD my salary should be higher than now.
My mum thinks I am irresponsible to take a pay cut to do something I would enjoy when I have a well paid job now. She says it isn't fair on the kids and I shouldn't keep 'reinventing myself' which is how she sees my life ever since I left my 5 year job 2 years ago.
Am I being crazy here?

Nuttynoo Tue 22-Aug-17 21:02:06

How old are you? The road to academic roles usually closes by 30-35.

purpleangel17 Tue 22-Aug-17 21:05:11

I am 35 but maybe it varies by sector; I know a few people who made the switch late 30s or early 40s. I certainly don't feel I can leave it much longer if I'm going to try.

dinosaursandtea Tue 22-Aug-17 21:09:54

It's very, very hard to get a job in academia - depending on your field, it could be basically impossible.

nutbrownhare15 Tue 22-Aug-17 21:10:59

Yanbu if it's what you really want to do. However do think quite seriously about what kind of role you want in academia and what you will do if things don't work out. Lecturing roles are well paid but very competitive as they are secure and research jobs tend to be on short term 1-3 year contracts. Early on you will need to move about potentially to be able to work continuously. I did a PhD and had to commute somewhere 3 hours away from where I lived so stayed up there in the week for 2 years in my first post doc role. If you want an academic career path you need to be focused on networking and publications as soon as you start the PhD really. However the academic route is not the only career path open to postgraduates so have a plan 'B' too (maybe research or specialist roles in your general field). Do as much research as you can and speak to any postdocs you know, particularly in your chosen field- reach out to friends of friends or post on social media if you can. There should be specialist careers and phd websites you can look at too although it depends on your field.

Xmasbaby11 Tue 22-Aug-17 21:11:27

I think it's late if you want to get ibto academia.

Also not sure you'd manage to work pt on top of a PhD and 2dc.

purpleangel17 Tue 22-Aug-17 21:12:56

The field is politics if that makes a difference.

Pumpkinnose Tue 22-Aug-17 21:12:57

Are you willing to keep moving every year or so? Most junior academics I knew had to move all over the country just to get a job. And with Brexit there's going to be even fewer jobs around.

JohnnyMcGrathSaysFuckOff Tue 22-Aug-17 21:13:48

OP I think you need to be clear on what your opportunities would realistically be. What is your area of interest?

It is not the case that a PhD leads to an academic job. It is an entry level qualification for the profession but you need a lot more, like teaching experience (you can usually start to pick this up during the doctorate) plus multiple publications.

I don't want to put you off your dream, but a few sobering realities -

It is normal to be unemployed or casually employed for up to several years after a PhD.

I recently interviewed for a temporary lectureship. Every candidate on the shortlist had a book, several years teaching at reputable universities, and several articles out. The person we eventually hired had also done a year abroad on a prestigious research contract. That was for a temp post, mind.

When I did my own PhD at a big Russell Group there were 15 in my cohort. 3 of us have permanent academic jobs.

Ttbb Tue 22-Aug-17 21:15:16

I'm not sure you appreciate just how difficult doing a PhD is. Most people who do it properly (in a serious subject area and do well) do nothing else while doing it, they don't even have a boyfriend/girlfriend. If you have children then it will be much harder and will likely take longer. If you plan to work at the same time it could take a decade. Have you considered continuing working and doing you postgraduate study at your own pace?

purpleangel17 Tue 22-Aug-17 21:16:00

I would try and stay relatively local but I live in an area with a lot of universities.

dinosaursandtea Tue 22-Aug-17 21:17:14

I assume your current job is in politics?

Iris65 Tue 22-Aug-17 21:24:19

I understand where you are coming from. I gave up on a phD because I couldn't manage financially and am envious of my DP who is a senior, tenured academic at a good university. He spends his time on research with three hours teaching 30 weeks a year and a couple of phD students he supervises.
However, most junior academics are on short term contracts and it is hard and stressful. I know several people who got a phD from really good universities who changed career because they couldn't manage with the frequent moves involved in trying to develop an academic career. That's if you get a contract at all. Many end up on sessional contracts and are paid term time only. Pay is low unless you have tenure and are able to publish a lot and pull in plenty of research grants.
The old days of the dreaming spires when academics could maintain a family and a middle class lifestyle while doing research they were interested in and teach classes they wanted to highly motivated, able students have gone.
There are lots of articles on The Guardian website about the difficulties:
www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2017/aug/09/2vcs-onhow-do-we-take-the-pressure-off-young-academics

purpleangel17 Tue 22-Aug-17 21:27:37

I must have come across as more naive in my OP than I am. I truly do know it is very hard work and competitive. I also know people who have made it work with kids and in their 30s. But I want to try. I don't want to forever be asking 'what if?'.
My career has been in education so far.

impostersyndrome Tue 22-Aug-17 21:31:19

There is no such thing as tenure anymore. This is a very tough route to take. A vanishingly small number of PhD students get a permanent post in academia nowadays. I'd look at findaphd.com and see what the realistic options are for a funded route in your field within reach from your home, assuming you cannot move.

nutbrownhare15 Tue 22-Aug-17 21:36:34

findaphd.com is worth a look. There are details of some funded phds which would be competitive but worth checking in case they match with your interests and experience. Ultimately I think it boils down to your research project- is it interesting/exciting enough for you to spend several years of your life on, will it motivate you to keep going when there are so many other demands on your time? I would suggest coming up with a basic project then contacting some universities to discuss it.

Brokenbiscuit Tue 22-Aug-17 21:39:16

Of course it's possible to study for a PhD with kids, OP. I know quite a few people who have done this and it's bloody hard work but they manage it. Does your dc's dad do his fair share with the kids or is everything on your shoulders?

Tbh, you do come across as a bit naive with regard to how hard it will be. I do loads of recruitment and there are so many unemployed PhDs. Then there are the casual contracts - fixed term if you're lucky, or hourly paid work for many.

If you decide that you want to do it, then good luck to you, but have a plan B in case it doesn't work out.

JohnnyMcGrathSaysFuckOff Tue 22-Aug-17 21:56:45

OP the thing is, it is not the difficulty of getting through - in terms of having to work hard - but the insecurity.

I may be massively naive in my turn, but it always seems to me that this is one of the differences between academia and medicine. We typically qualify to similar levels, but basically if you manage to complete a medical degree, you are probably going to get some kind of job in healthcare. In academia, you can easily work for years on hourly paid, term time only contracts - and never get a permanent job.

Especially if you are restricted geographically. I know someone who was a successful academic and wrote a very well regarded book, widely cited. Then she stopped work to have children. When she started again after a couple of years, she didn't want to move out of the Northeast - and it took her 8 years to get a permanent job. She only managed it because her husband supported her through years of short contracts, sessional work, no work one term, etc......

I don't want to ruin your hopes but academia is incredibly hard to succeed in and with two children depending on you, it is better to be honest.

How would you survive if post PhD you could only find a few hours/week casual teaching at first? Maybe for a year or two?

Bekabeech Tue 22-Aug-17 22:03:53

Umm I have a Doctorate - whilst doing it we all lead "normal" lives. Everyone had boyfriends/girlfriends (3 in my research group got married). It was hard work. By then end I was having nightmares and partly hated my supervisor. But it was not that all encompassing. I used to go for country walks at weekends, watch TV, have dinner parties etc. I knew lots of people with children too.

But out of 10 of us, at the most 2 ended up with academic careers that lasted (I had a brief beginning). Academic careers unlike doing the Doctorate do often mean very late nights - someone I know who has small children is often awake at 4 writing Grant proposals.

But actually the hardest thing I tried to do was train as a Secondary teacher - which was far harder than my Doctorate.
Do it if you really want to - you have to be selfish to get through it. But it won't necessarily lead to a career as an Academic.

iveburntthetoast Tue 22-Aug-17 22:05:43

Honestly, the chances of you 'making it' in Politics is very low. Getting a PhD is easy--at least in comparison to getting a permanent, FT academic post. One of the biggest challenges you face is that it is the norm to do a couple of temporary (9 month) contracts before being considered for a permanent job. Are you ready to move your children to a different part of the country each year? To survive on 9 months wage per year? And despite those sacrifices, you've got a low chance of jumping to a permanent job.

Go do a PhD if you have a passion for it, but have a very, very clear 'plan B' and go into it with your eyes open.

Wishiwasonholiday1 Tue 22-Aug-17 22:13:31

I did a Masters and found that fine while working full time, have been doing PhD part time while working full time, with two children and I can say it's a completely different ball game.
Had I known how much stress it was going to cause me then I'm not sure I'd do it again but I've come too far to give up. But, your children are older than mine, so might be more manageable. If you have family/friends close by who can help with childcare then it makes it a lot easier. Good luck with whatever you decide to do.

LaurieMarlow Tue 22-Aug-17 22:28:49

To succeed in academia nowadays I think you need to be highly talented in your field, able to give it you all, free to move around (potentially across continents) for a good many years after completion, comfortable with a lot of uncertainty, happy not to have a permanent job for many years, possibly never.

It's not a career path I'd advise for someone with small kids, sorry.

NellieUnkles Tue 22-Aug-17 22:30:19

I'm all for following your dreams, OP, but I'm an academic (humanities subject), and I see how even my most accomplished, well-published, well-connected, experienced at teaching PhD students struggle to make their way. Of my last six PhD students in my former job, four either haven't been able to get an academic job or decided not to try, though they'd all initially planned an academic career. One moved back to her home country to a fixed-term junior lectureship, the other (the best PhD student I've ever had) after two years on hourly contracts took a post-doc in another country, and had to commute home to her husband and toddler fortnightly.

allegretto Tue 22-Aug-17 22:40:32

Getting a PhD is easy--at least in comparison to getting a permanent, FT academic post.

I agree. Not that I found it easy, but I have just finished my PhD. When I started it I had one child, now I have 3! I'm not prepared to move around the country or take a paycut though so for the moment it's not much more than a title for me.

allegretto Tue 22-Aug-17 22:43:22

Getting a PhD is easy--at least in comparison to getting a permanent, FT academic post.

I agree! Not that I found it very easy but I have just finished my PhD. When I started it I had one child , now I have 3! However, I realise now that I'm not prepared to move around the country or take a pay cut so for the moment it's not much more than a title for me.

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