I Regret my PhD, What Do I Do Now?

I’m sitting here looking up at my PhD diploma. It’s late.

At times, I’m very proud of my accomplishments.

It took days, weeks, and years of my life to achieve. I read several books, took dozens of courses, taught undergraduates (for little to nothing), and wrote a dissertation.

Other times, I look at my student loan debt (sadly yes), and countless stressful days, and see the careers of others I went to school with in my undergraduate degree who are already in senior positions. I don’t feel as proud.

I think of the times that I could have done something different like getting a finance or business degree in my undergrad degree, enjoying my hobbies, and paying all my bills.

This question often comes up in academic circles for good reason. Many like myself go through this thought process to determine if the time was well spent.

After thinking about it more deeply – yes, I regret my PhD.

Now what?

How To Take the Next Steps in Your Career (and Life) After Your PhD

If you suddenly come to this realization like I did, the worst thing you can do is become hard on yourself for making the decisions you did.

Millennials especially grew up with the notion that a college education was the requirement for success. I believed it so strongly I got more than one college education.

To help others who feel the same, these are a few tips I recommend.

#1 – Talk to People Outside of Academia

I’m still friends with a lot of folks from my academic days at the University of North Texas and Indiana University, but friends, come and go. The same goes for professors you might have worked with. Sometimes you want to prove it to others that you can finish a PhD, but at the end of the day they have their lives and we have ours.

I strongly recommend reaching out to academia and talking to people from all different backgrounds. People on LinkedIn. People at social gatherings. People who have jobs and careers that interest you with informational interviews. Maybe even a therapist.

Sticking in the same social bubble can only worsen your chances at a career pivot.

You need a wider social network to achieve success (however you define it).

#2 – Determine Why You Chose To Pursue a PhD Degree

Although I mentioned not to be hard on yourself, it is worth it to think consider why you chose a PhD. Answering these type of questions can save you months of times looking for the next career path.

Determining the reasons that drove you to pursue one goal can help you lead to the next goal. Unless you had a severely traumatic experience, you’re still yourself after finishing a PhD.

Ryan Collins (before the PhD) at Indiana University

For example, I wanted to become a film studies professor because I enjoyed storytelling, writing, research, and teaching. I loved being in a quiet, well-structured library where I could learn anything I wanted.

However, sometimes you have to leave that calm and safe place for somewhere new and exciting. That means you have to ask questions.

Maybe that’s why I adore the film Truman Show so much.

Herman B. Wells Library – Indiana University

Now, I work in marketing/SEO and there are all of the elements intertwined with my current role. I get to educate clients about SEO, do keyword and article research, and put all the data in a way that clients understand (storytelling).

Do your best to write your thoughts down if you can. Take them with you when you take the next step in your career and even use them in informational interviews to connect the dots for you.

#3 – Set Small Goals, Ask Questions, and Be Open to New Experiences

Part of doing a PhD is setting a lofty and big goal. It can seem like a giant mountain that you climb, and when you reach the top, you feel tired and done and realize you have to climb down.

Don’t do this again. Instead, set smaller goals that can lead you where you need to go next. For example, here are some ideas:

  • Meet 5-10 new people
  • Interview 2-3 people about what they do as a [insert profession]
  • Learn 1 new skill
  • Build a portfolio
  • Revisit a new skill
  • List 2-3 jobs that interest me

Part of this process is also asking questions and being open to new experiences. There could be a job or career that interests you that you didn’t know if you didn’t ask questions in the first place. For instance, I was dead set on data science, however, I learned that my skillset didn’t really align. I eventually found that SEO was a much better fit. This didn’t happen by chance. I had to ask questions.

#4 -Find a Hobby, Rediscover a Hobby, and Know That Work isn’t Everything

Lastly. careers aren’t everything. I’m probably not one to talk since I’ve created a whole website about the topic. However, it’s something that we should take to heart. But I digress.

Find a hobby. It can be a new one or one you had in childhood. You need to find ways to keep your mind and body occupied rather than thinking about work. In many ways, it can be grating to constantly think about your career path and what to do next.

In terms of my hobbies, I started playing some of the video games I played when I was growing up like the Fallout series and Elder Scrolls. As of the past few years, I’ve grown to enjoy hiking. It’s good for the body and mind and I get to take a ton of pictures.

Hiking in San Antonio, Texas

Now you may ask, is there a specific goal in with a hobby?

Not necessarily. That’s the beauty of it.

Reach Out If You Regret Your PhD

If you made it this far in the post, feel free to reach out to me at afteryourphd@gmail or you can find me on LinkedIn. I don’t mind answering any questions you have (depending on the volume of questions, I will do my best to answer).

I’m not a career coach or aspire to be, I mainly envision myself as someone who wants to help people connect with others, especially when it comes to networking and making sense of one’s career paths by talking to others.

Book Recommendations For Leaving Academia

Welcome to After Your PhD!

Sign up for the After Your PhD Newsletter to see new blog posts, job leads, and more!

Founder – Ryan Collins PhD