Life after the PhD

How the doctorate changes you for the better

As life-transforming events go, a doctorate is second only to a man getting tied to his soul-mate in the bonds of holy matrimony. It is not for no reason that philosophiae doctors (that is PhDs) categorize all events in their lives into the pre-PhD era and the post-PhD era. The typical casual observer may not appreciate this scheme of classification but what can a mere non-PhD know about such matters!

For the man who actually experiences it however, a PhD is very much like a necktie, which is a notorious pain in the neck all the while one wears it, but whose redeeming feature is the immense relief felt when one takes it off. Similar is the case with the doctorate, which is a prolonged, agonising test of a man’s resolve and perseverance through all the months and years he tries to earn it; but which affords one the greatest feeling in the world upon its successful completion. For a couple of months, at any rate.

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This elation dies down sooner rather than later because most PhDs find out to their dismay that their hard-earned degree does not quite translate into tangible, material benefits. Fortunately, the initial euphoria gives way to a much more enduring, albeit less intense, pleasure. The source of this satisfaction is the contemplation of the fact that by successfully completing their doctorate, they have made their way into a club that will take some beating when it comes to exclusivity: that is, a group of less than 2% of world population that has earned the highest academic award. Temporary material benefits are no match for permanent honour, of course!

Whatever other traits a doctorate may (or may not) inculcate in you, it makes anything else that fate chooses to throw your way in the future seem trivial, almost childish in comparison. So it is that with the notable exception of marital bliss, you are quite unflappable in the face of any and all subsequent hardships and tribulations – ‘What does not kill you makes you stronger’, and all that sort of thing. For regardless of your subject area, by virtue of successfully braving out your PhD you cannot help becoming an accomplished philosopher along the way, one who is not subject to swaying and wavering in the face of mere vagaries of life. Any wonder that after your PhD everybody (except your better half, of course) recognizes the futility of any effort to get under your skin?

Few non-PhDs realize that by simply getting a doctorate one earns the right to hold a strong opinion on every matter pertaining to anything under the sun.

Few non-PhDs realize that by simply getting a doctorate one earns the right to hold a strong opinion on every matter pertaining to anything under the sun. Even the PhD candidate himself has no inkling of this perk beforehand; and is pleasantly surprised to find out after getting his PhD that his degree saves him from having to utter those three ignominious words ever again: ‘I don’t know.’ It need not necessarily be anything even remotely related to his specialty, or even to his broader subject area. He could hold a PhD in catalysis (say) but he would be perfectly entitled to consider himself qualified to speak authoritatively on the influence of evil eye upon the dwindling milk produce of domestic buffalo (for example). A PhD worth his salt always manages to find definitive answers to any and all questions, even if those answers are quite silly.

Another significant perk of getting a doctorate is the undeniable elevation in status from a ‘Mr.’ (or no title at all) to a ‘Dr.’ What is more, you get to be called ‘doctor’, without friends and relatives repeating for the seventy-seventh odd time exciting stories about how they sprained their ankles, broke their legs or worse; and without their pestering you for your (free) medical opinion at every party or family gathering.

Last but not the least, with your PhD you get the perfect excuse to be forgetful, reserved, socially awkward, politically incorrect, even asocial to your heart’s content. The kind of behaviour that would make an ordinary (non-PhD) mortal to immediately become a social outcast (or worse) would, in your case, merely elicit a comment like ‘Oh, that is pretty much par for the course. He is a PhD, you know.’ With this license in your possession, having to suffer fools, having to indulge in small talk and having to be unnecessarily nice to everybody soon become faint memories from a bygone (pre-PhD) era. To the thoughtful non-PhD reader, especially the introvert type: If this does not make you drop whatever you are currently doing and immediately get yourself enrolled in the nearest PhD program, nothing will.

Hasan Aftab Saeed
Hasan Aftab Saeed
The author is a connoisseur of music, literature, and food (but not drinks). He can be reached at


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