Whether to Pursue a PhD Degree in the Humanities: Advice from a Year-One Student

Previously I wrote about the masters degree. I’m currently wrapping up my first semester in the PhD program. It will likely take 4-6 years to complete. Here’s what I’ve experienced for what it’s worth.



Coursework isn’t as intense. The masters workload is like jumping across a river on slippery rocks. It’s not as easy as walking down a straight path like undergrad, but it’s manageable with a pair of good shoes and reliable gear. The PhD workload is like your bungee instructor pushing you off a cliff 1st day without warning. You didn’t stand a chance.


More flex, less stress. A masters program is more flexible. In my program, you could power through in a year and a half or finish in two years. It’s completely up to you. It requires less commitment in terms of time, energy, and effort in comparison to a PhD.


Freedom is within reach. A masters program isn’t a lock down like the PhD. You have the comfort of knowing you can enter the job market in a few months as opposed to half a decade. The best part is you know you’d be making more $$$ than your bachelors equivalent.



Wow, people are dumb. The more you know, the less everyone seems to know. What used to be foundational now seems problematic, if not paradoxical or completely illogical. How did we survive as a species for this long?


No skim, just whole. Expectations of you are at the highest in a PhD program. Professors won’t be happy if you show up to class and only skimmed the readings. They expect you to engage deeply, analyze carefully, and reflect consciously. You’ll be able to apply these practices to everyday life more easily.


Wow, I’m dumb. The more you know, the more you realize you know nothing. You can’t go back to the naive person you were a year ago. You accumulate more questions than answers. This is a good thing to foster curiosity and practice humility.

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It’s like joining a family. In my department, people smile and say hi to each other in the hallway. We crack jokes about our commitment to the long haul and share pain from certain classes or instructors. There’s a sense of intimacy created from our collective misery.


We ask each other for advice on future plans and feedback on our work. We talk about the latest breaking news, life back in our home countries, and what’s for dinner that night.


Age becomes a number. You meet people from all walks of life. I have classmates in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. Each person comes with their own story and reasons to do the PhD. These encounters give you the valuable gift of perspective.


You’re in training. Coming out with a PhD means you’ve learned the necessary skill set to be a particular type of researcher within your field. You’ll have the chance to contribute to world knowledge. While a masters may boost your salary, a PhD can boost your mind.


All in all, it depends on what you’re after. The two programs have notable differences that should be fully considered. After all, this is at least a year of your life we’re talking about. Be sure to communicate openly about what’s expected from you, including tuition and funding. Happy schooling!


3 thoughts on “Whether to Pursue a PhD Degree in the Humanities: Advice from a Year-One Student


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