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Guess what, guys?! It’s official! I have signed a contract to be a PhD student for the next 5 years! My plan to stay in Switzerland is officially a success!
It’s been a quite stressful and hectic past few weeks/months because I was stressing about my life after I wrap up my Master degree. My parents have been nagging me for months about finding a job (in Toronto) ASAP. “Get your ass back home!” they said (no, they didn’t actually say that).
Sigh. But my parents don’t seem to understand that I don’t want to go back to Canada. What’s worse, my mom sends me almost daily messages saying, “Oh, my dream is for you to open an accounting firm in Toronto with your brother…” Talk about pressure!
So why did I decide to pursue a PhD? I was pretty undecided for a while, and the parental disapproval factor definitely played a big part in my self-doubt. I kept asking myself over and over again, “Should I do a PhD? Am I signing my life away?” However, I am glad that I made what I believe to be the best decision for me.
Reasons to pursue a PhD
1. I wanted to stay in Switzerland
In my previous post, I mentioned all the reasons why I wanted to stay in Switzerland and not go back home. The reasons ranged from superficial things like, I don’t like the weather in Canada (lol) to more profound things like how I want to chase freedom and build a new life.
Anyway, I feel like the past (almost) 2 years that I’ve spent in Switzerland have gone by way too quickly and I would feel unfulfilled if I went home now. And that’s why I’ve decided to stay.
2. I didn’t want to return to the corporate world
On the same day as I signed my PhD contract, I also had a job interview for an accounting job in a pretty large multi-national company based in Switzerland. I’m certain that the salary would have been at least double (maybe even triple) what I would be earning as a PhD student.
However, I just couldn’t even find the motivation to get out of bed to attend the interview. I didn’t even do the bare minimum and look up what the company actually does (I think they sell some form of insurance but I’m not even sure). I took this to be a sign that I really, subconsciously, don’t want to return to the corporate world. In the end, I cancelled the interview and explained that I had already found something else.
Related: I Quit My Job, Not Once But Twice
3. I want to keep my freedom
The past 2 years living as a student in Switzerland have been a dream for me. I feel like I’m living out semi-retirement because I can do just about anything I want, on my own schedule. I can play hookey and skip classes in order to travel (which I often did).
In the past 2 years, I travelled to so many different places (I think I visited something like 12 countries). I went to Thailand for a month during the Christmas holidays (didn’t have exams). I went to Italy to take part in a snowboarding competition. I went to Italy to host a conference. And I even went to Spain for 2 weeks to study Spanish (talk about random!).
I love that I have the flexibility to just pick up and go wherever and whenever I please. I know that if I took a regular job, I’d never be able to do this again.
4. The PhD job is considered a real job
Being a PhD student is considered a real job and I would actually be earning a real salary. What’s more, the salaries in Switzerland are so high that I’d actually end up getting paid more than what most professors earn in other parts of the world.
Also, if I factor in the currency exchange rates and tax rates, I’d be earning more as a PhD student than as an accountant/manager/what have you in Toronto.
Further, in the first year, I’ll only be working 70% (yay) so I can still spend a lot of my spare time pursuing some of my other passions 🙂
And the best part of all is that I’d actually get paid to study!!! I love studying and not everyone can say that they’re PAID to do it. It’s usually the other way around – people go into tens of thousands of dollars in debt just to complete their Bachelor degree.
5. Investing in education is always a good idea
I’m a huge believer in investing in education. I have a Bachelors degree, a CPA, and very soon I’ll have a Masters degree. I’ve never regretted going to school and spending time studying and learning new things. It’s something that brings me great joy and I feel like you can never be too overeducated. I’ve never had to struggle finding a job because of my excellent credentials.
Do I feel like education is a waste? No. My education helps me make informed decisions in all areas of my life.
For example, I got a CPA when I was 24 and now I don’t think I’ll ever make use of it ever again. However, getting the CPA has taught me some essential financial management and budgeting skills which have helped me so much in my personal life (keeping my finances in check, etc.) On top of that, every year, I still help my parents to file their taxes, which saves them like $500 a year (yay).
6. I will become a doctor
This is purely a vanity measure, but I can eventually call myself a doctor. Dr. Janet.
My mom always wanted me to be a (medical) doctor growing up. I guess I’ll help her half realize that dream by having a (not real) doctor for a daughter.
7. I don’t want to have a boss
Although technically my supervisor will be my boss, as a PhD student, most of my time will be self-managed. I can choose the topics I want to research (with approval by my supervisor, of course). I find that there’s a lot more freedom and flexibility with the PhD which is pretty hard to find in other corporate settings.
My relationship with my professor is pretty good and she has a very hands-off approach of managing her students (I know this because I currently work for her as a Teaching/Research Assistant). She travels a lot and she doesn’t care if I work out of the office or at home, as long as I deliver the work on time.
8. The opportunity found me
So, I actually never applied to be a PhD student with my future supervisor. In fact, I even didn’t know that she had a position open. I’d originally applied with another professor but when this professor found out, she approached me and basically offered the job to me on the spot.
Of course, I still had to go through the formalities (submit an official application letter), but I knew in the back of my mind that I was already accepted. And when an opportunity comes knocking at the door like this one, it’s probably a sign that it’s your destiny calling.
9. My CPA wouldn’t go to complete waste
So I am currently doing a Master in Management but my PhD will be in Accounting. I like that I am going full circle, back to where I started out (accounting). And my CPA will apparently be helpful in helping me finish my PhD (we’ll see about that).
10. Good supervision and guidance
My professor/supervisor is really well-known in her field. She is an ex-Harvard professor and she has some top connections in the industry. The project she has planned for me is something brand-new that no one else in the industry has ever done. I think that this would lead to a lot of great opportunities for me in the future and set me up for success right off the bat.
I also like that my supervisor is a woman so she can relate to some of the other conflicts I might be facing (such as the pressure to start a family, etc.)
Reasons not to pursue a PhD
1. The time investment
The PhD that I signed up for will take 5 years. FIVE YEARS! It’s such a crazy amount of time. I’m not even sure if I will make it. It would suck if I started, then a few years down the road realize it’s not for me.
But I’m not a quitter so I think I can make it! Who knows!
2. It’s tough to get a job afterwards
So, something like 1 in every 100 PhD students end up “making it” as a Professor. I’m not sure if being a Professor is my ultimate goal but it would be nice if the chances were slightly higher in my favour. Seeing such low success rates is scary and disheartening.
3. It’s pretty tough to complete a PhD
A lot of PhD students give up and these stats are pretty discouraging for me as well. I’ve been talking to some of the current PhD students and some of them are second-guessing themselves and some have even stated that they’re planning on quitting. That’s not a good sign for someone trying to get into a PhD position now.
4. The salary
The PhD salary, although is quite high on world standards, is very low for Swiss standards. I still wouldn’t be able to live an extravagant lifestyle with this salary. However, I’m a naturally frugal person, so I guess it’s not a big deal.
5. My parents will be upset
My parents don’t want me to do a PhD. I made the mistake of telling them that I was interested in doing a PhD (this was a year ago). Ever since, my mom has been messaging me sporadically saying, “Don’t do a PhD! You’re already too old and too educated!” I guess she’s partly right.
I still haven’t told my parents that I accepted to do a PhD either. I think I will tell them (face to face) when I go back to Toronto this summer. Wish me luck!
6. None of my friends will be doing a PhD
All my closest university friends will be starting real jobs in real companies and leaving me behind. Part of me is pretty sad about this. But I know I will make new friends. And I’ve also already been in their shoes a few years ago and I know it’s not what I want in my life right now.
7. Sometimes I feel too old
I am already 28 and I will be 29 by the time I start my PhD. By the time I finish, I will be 33-34. I’m not sure how easy it would be to find a job as a professor at this age. I feel like in Switzerland especially, the employers are quite age-discriminant. But I guess this is something to worry about when the time actually comes.
The ultimate decision
Ultimately, I went with my gut feeling. I knew that I wouldn’t be happy in any corporate setting. I also knew that I’m the happiest when I’m in school and learning something new. These 2 factors alone helped me to make up my mind to do a PhD. All the other reasons listed in this post are somewhat secondary (such as what my parents think about my life choices).
I’m pretty happy with my decision and I hope that my next few years in Switzerland will be as awesome as the past 2 years 🙂
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