Why Study A Philosophy PhD? Why I’m Chasing the Hopeless Dream

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Why study a PhD? Why I am chasing the hopeless dream. Philosopher Ad Absurdum. Artistic purple head with planets and flowers.


In October of this year, I made the decision that I was going to start a PhD in philosophy. The PhD process is often shrouded in mystery. It can also feel lonely with no comparison point for if a person’s PhD experience is normal. As a result, I have decided to share my own journey on the website to make the PhD process more transparent. This post explores my journey to starting a PhD, the struggles I have faced both personally and as part of academia widely and why I still want a PhD.

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Why I Initially Wanted to Do A Philosophy PhD

Discovering Philosophy

Not going to lie, I was that weirdo in school. You know the one. The one who actually wants to be sat in a history classroom on a Friday afternoon and is wildly waving their hand to answer the question because they are so enthusiastic about the topic. I have always enjoyed learning, particularly when it comes to humanities subjects. To me, the humanities and its concepts are integral to what makes us all human.

Though I have always loved the humanities, I didn’t discover philosophy until A-Levels. I really enjoyed my GCSE in religious studies but truly fell in love with philosophy during that period of time. Philosophy was nuanced and detail-orientated like a chess game but required radical creativity when finding solutions. It required digging deep into the foundations of what I thought I knew and turning it on its head.

Getting Into an Argument With Peter Vardy

The desire to study a PhD in philosophy started when I was 17 and my philosophy teacher took a group of us to a study conference led by Peter Vardy (you can find the full story here). During this conference, Vardy opened the floor to questions about the arguments he had posed, including the argument that one day we would not be able to tell the difference between robots and humans. In front of roughly 300 people (and with the full support of my philosophy teacher) I actively challenged his argument until he became speechless. It may not have been a good kind of speechless looking back, but my philosophy teacher seemed pretty pleased with me.

There were multiple lessons that I gained from this experience. Firstly, I had really gotten a taste for philosophy and the art of debate.  However, more importantly, I learned that you could be a philosopher full-time. There are spaces where you can sit, read and debate ideas all day with others just as passionate as you are… and someone would pay you to do it. It was called becoming a lecturer at a university.  It sounded like the perfect place to be. A PhD was the gateway to this and became my ultimate goal.

Journey Through University

Experience at University

During both my undergraduate, I never had any regret about deciding to study philosophy at university. I remember standing outside the library at Southampton and thinking how privileged I was to have gotten to this point. Every day, I got to read and write about philosophy surrounded by those who were also just as enthusiastic about the topic as I was. I had access to some of the leading philosophers in the world. I knew I was lucky, as a university education is not something everyone can afford, particularly studying a subject like philosophy.  

Discovering the Area for my Philosophy PhD

The Area I Thought I Would Study

I enjoy most areas of philosophy, but I didn’t find the areas I enjoy the most until the end of my undergraduate and into my masters. In my second year of University, I was asked to review a book that focused on the philosophy of mental health for the blog. Before this point, I didn’t realise that there was a philosophy behind mental health. I had merely just accepted the presented objectivity of psychiatry. This motivated me to study the topic for my dissertation, where I looked at whether our concepts of mental health can also accommodate the diversity we have in society today. It also motivated me to do my masters at a university that specialised in the philosophy of mental health as I thought that this would be the topic I would do my PhD on.

The Area I Chose

However, I changed my mind on the topic after being introduced to the philosophy of disability and disability rights. After being newly identified as Autistic and ADHD, the subject matter drastically opened my eyes to a world of possibilities in regards to my identity as a disabled person. Philosophy quickly became my form of therapy to gain all the concepts I had needed for so long.  

Despite this, it was challenging. One lecture I attended included discussions of disability-selective abortions, where parents choose to abort a fetus because it has tested positive during pre-natal testing for a disability. As a neurodivergent individual with a chronic illness, I cannot express enough how uncomfortable it is to sit in a classroom of peers and find out some believe that you should have been aborted because they perceive your life to be a tragedy.

However, every cloud has a silver lining. What the experience showed was that disability selection and reproductive technology is something I have a lot to say about.  After receiving top marks for my essay on the subject, I decided that was the topic I wanted to study for my PhD.


Where Everything Went Wrong

Problems With My Masters Dissertation

Before I got to the end of my masters, I thought I had everything in the bag. I was averaging a 74 on my degree and I thought I had essentially guaranteed myself the distinction I would need to secure the PhD funding. Little did I know that disaster was around the corner.

Everything that could go wrong went wrong with my masters dissertation. I mean, even the Queen died while writing it!

But in all seriousness, severe burnout, a harassment situation in university halls and extremely poor management of my personal flaws led to a dissertation that was some of the worst work I had produced in both my undergraduate and masters degrees. I received a 62 for my dissertation that I had worked extremely hard on. It wasn’t a bad mark but, due to university policies, it meant I was awarded a merit for my degree despite averaging a 70 that, in other circumstances, would have given me a distinction overall. 

The End of My Academic Career?

One of the largest barriers to gaining a PhD is the finances. It currently costs over £4,000 per year for tuitions fees alone. That is over £12,000 in total, before you get to living expenses. This is why most people attempt to secure funding to achieve a PhD. However, getting funding is ultra-competitive. Sometimes, they don’t even consider those who didn’t get a distinction in their masters. So, though I achieved top marks on some assessments during my Masters, I am now undesirable for funding because of my dissertation. Even though I tried anyway, I was unsuccessful in achieving the funding.

I was devastated. At the time, it felt like I had ruined my life. I had wasted years of hard work with one single grade.

Why No One Wants to Study A Philosophy PhD

My financial struggles reflect the wider crumbling of an institution. Funding for philosophy has been continuously slashed by institutions that do not see the value in the humanities. As a result, entire philosophy departments are being wiped out plus academic jobs are few and far between. The jobs that do exist involve poor working conditions and are only temporary, creating stress for individuals on whether they can maintain a continuous income. All of this disproportionately affects minority philosophers who still face significant prejudice within the profession.

The sad truth is that the job I wanted when I was 16 and dedicated years of my life to may never have existed for me as a disabled woman, and certainly doesn’t exist now with the erosion of philosophy in the UK.

Why I Want to Study a Philosophy PhD Anyway

At the start of this post, I stated that I wanted a PhD. Yet, I have stated many compelling reasons why people in my position wouldn’t one. So why do I still want one?

I Would Enjoy A Philosophy PhD

Yes, it is true that the finances are against me. However, money isn’t all there is to life. Philosophy may never make me rich, but I am fine with that. Life can be far more meaningful when we explore what is beyond the material (though I acknowledge that I am privileged enough to make those sorts of decisions). I have always believed that life needs to include something that sets off a spark inside of us. For me, that is the curiosity that comes with philosophy.

Making Philosophy Accessible

However, there is another reason to get the PhD. And that is the blog. I have always been fascinated by alternative career paths in philosophy. They often engage the public with the philosophical concepts they need. Connecting philosophical concepts to what the public is fixated on is entertaining to me. I also want to deal with the problems I have encountered in philosophy during my journey. This includes students being unable to afford to study philosophy or being denied access because of the elitist culture. I want to build on the values I have gained. I believe everyone should be able to access a philosophy education. By gaining my PhD, I hope it will provide me with valuable skills to develop the blog into something that can truly do good.

Can you help us?

We believe that everyone should be able to access an affordable philosophy education.

However, we can’t do it without your help.

Donate now so we can continue to give people the philosophy education that they need.

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