Episode 65: The Hidden Cost Of Doing a PhD

The Hidden cost of doing a PhD


In episode 65 of The Struggling Scientists podcast, we delve into the often ignored or unrecognized struggles of PhD students. To shed light on this, they asked their audience about the hidden costs they discovered during their PhD journey. With over 150 responses, the hosts categorize the hidden costs into five broad categories: financial, relationships, mental health, work-life balance, and personal milestones.

Financial Struggles:

One of the prominent financial hidden costs of doing a PhD is the lack of retirement savings. While some countries provide retirement savings for PhD candidates, many respondents shared concerns about not saving up for retirement, causing them to lag a decade or more behind their non-PhD peers. Another common worry was funding instability, leading to constant uncertainty about future financial support, especially when funding periods do not align with the duration of the PhD program.

Challenges in Relationships:

Navigating relationships can be problematic during a PhD journey. Many participants expressed struggles in giving sufficient attention to friendships, often leading to neglected connections due to exhaustion from work and study. Frequent relocations for research purposes also posed challenges, causing PhD students to be physically distant from family and friends. Being away from family for an extended period was particularly painful for those studying abroad, as they witnessed how time had taken a toll on their loved ones during their absence.

Mental Health Concerns:

The mental health of PhD students emerged as another hidden cost. Several respondents acknowledged the toll that the stress, pressure, and often isolating nature of PhD work can take on one’s mental well-being. Dealing with imposter syndrome, increased anxieties, and a sense of worth tied to academic achievements were common experiences shared by many.

Struggling with Work-Life Balance:

Maintaining work-life balance proved challenging for PhD students. The demanding workload and the desire to excel academically often resulted in neglecting personal well-being and recreational activities. Numerous participants expressed the difficulty of finding time for hobbies, exercise, and self-care, as their academic commitments consumed most of their time and energy.

Impact on Personal Milestones:

The pursuit of a PhD often means putting personal milestones on hold. Many academics mentioned how they had to delay significant life events like buying a house, traveling, and getting married, as they prioritized their doctoral studies. This sacrifice can lead to feelings of detachment from societal norms and a sense of missing out on important life experiences.


This episode on the hidden costs of doing a PhD sheds light on the often overlooked struggles faced by PhD students. Financial concerns, challenges in maintaining relationships, mental health burdens, work-life balance issues, and deferred personal milestones were among the major hidden costs shared by our audience. By discussing these experiences, the hosts aim to provide valuable insights to future PhD students and create awareness among current researchers to navigate these challenges more effectively. The episode serves as a reminder that the PhD journey involves more than just academic pursuits and brings to the forefront the need for support and understanding for those embarking on this challenging path.

If you enjoyed this then consider checking out our episode on Burnout, perfectionism, or imposter syndrome as well. If you’d like to read about the other hidden costs people listed that we weren’t able to dive into on the podcast or provide your own response to the hidden cost question we posed you can do that by going to Twitter

Until next time !

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