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Is a PhD truly worth it?

By Jeffrey Okundi

Over the last couple of months, I have asked myself this question so many times: is it all worth it? My postgraduate journey has been full of many bittersweet moments. And many times I have even contemplated packing my bags and just sneaking out and flying back home, because I felt I had reached my breaking point and, in the process, lost my identity. Many people back home believe that when one is studying for a postgraduate degree, especially abroad and on a full scholarship it is a bed of roses. I wish they would wake up from this dream. Being away from home is never an advantage and the pressure that comes from being in a foreign land is compounded when you are a postgraduate student.

Jeffrey in the lab

I have come to realize that my entire life has been spent in school and while I have been busy studying, most of my age mates have been progressing with life. My entire day is filled with research work. The only time I get to just relax is mostly spent on social media to catch up with the happenings in the world. How else would I get a break from the monotonous research life? Sadly, it rather worsens my feeling of depression. I get to see how my age mates, who decided to directly enter the workforce after an undergraduate level or who ventured into a business are all progressing. They are getting promoted or putting mega deals together. They are also settling down with their life partners and starting families, while my life seems to be at a stand-still. On a daily basis, the only things that occupy my mind are when will I finish data collection, analyze data, write a paper, submit and after submission when will this paper be published. The pressure is just overwhelming and this does not include the pressure from parents and relatives back home who do not understand why you are spending so much time in school. They wonder when you will get back home and get a “real” job. They panic about whether an employer will give you a job without the necessary experience or if you will be labeled as an overqualified candidate with no experience.

Jeffrey with the Kenyan football team in Wuhan

If I could go back in time and advise a younger me, I would tell him to get an undergraduate degree and at most a masters and then join the job market. After working for some years, if it is necessary then, by all means, do your Ph.D. After all, one is never too old to get a Ph.D. In the African labor market, I have come to realize experience counts more than qualifications. Your Ph.D. will end up just earning you a title, but no one will respect the title. You look at the qualifications for job opportunities and you realize you meet the academic criteria but when you move to the experience requirements you are left broken because you lack that. So many have earned certificates but have ignored them to hassle on the streets.  If you ask them about the courses they took, they cannot even remember the details. They have applied for many jobs and never had a response or have been told they are overqualified. My final advice, “secure a place in the job market first and then continue building yourself later”. Never rush for the title and lose yourself in the process.



 The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and they do not purport to reflect the policies, opinions, or views of the AfroScience Network platform.

Jeffrey Okundi is a Kenyan postgraduate student at the Wuhan Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences. He is majoring in invasive ecology and biocontrol with a key interest in how invasive species utilize allelopathy to create virtual monocultures in the areas they invade and the effect of these allelochemicals on plant morphology and physiology. Outside the life of science, he has a great passion for working out, playing football and cooking. Yes, I said cooking which is one of the activities that calm him a lot especially after a crazy day.


This article has not been submitted, published or featured in any formal publications including books, journals, newspapers, magazines or websites.