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Why did I leave my Ph.D. to start a career in content writing?

An engineer by education, I was once a Ph.D. student and an Assistant Professor, but now I write full-time.

It's been 19 months now that I told my Ph.D. supervisor that I felt overburdened, I was depressed, and I really wanted to quit my Ph.D.

Well, that's not entirely true. I did want the Ph.D. degree; however, I could no longer see myself actually going through it all. And everyone I spoke to about this, tried their best to talk me out of it. However, I still wanted to quit.

The expectations can be scary!!!

What made me take the plunge?

Almost everyone had their lives changed with the pandemic, and I am no different. It was March 19th, 2020, when my University decided to shut down for the lockdown. So, we had to work from home. Being a Ph.D. student was an excellent opportunity to catch up on my work and work on my objectives. Alas! If only things were this simple!

Since we were to work from home, we had a few tasks with really bizarre deadlines. And, believe me, I am not even exaggerating.

As I said, March 19th was the last day at the University, so we were to communicate a manuscript by March 30th. Yeah, you read that right! If only writing manuscripts and communicating them in less than two weeks was as easy as blindly signing a notice like this!

When life gives you lemons! But, how do you make lemonade with dried-out lemons? Let me clear that one out for you. Like every supervisor in the department, my supervisor too called out a meeting with her students to discuss the respective manuscripts.

During the lockdown, when the whole University had to submit a manuscript by the end of the month, I was given 5 days to start and finish a manuscript. Expectations!

The pandemic, the lockdown, the whole work-from-home situation, and being away from home on top of that were all too overwhelming. However, when we had the first lockdown in March, it was more like a paid holiday. But not for everyone!

Nonetheless, I managed to communicate the manuscript before the deadline. However, that wasn't good enough for my supervisor, and she took my case in the group, not personally but in the group. 

Why? Because I couldn't prepare a manuscript on a whole new topic in 5 days. My bad! 

However, what added to my disappointment was, when the other students failed to do the same, they didn't meet the same fate as I did. 

With time I started wondering why I was the only student of her's with a different deadline? I was on a short leash for everything that came next. One thing led to another, and my confidence kept shattering after listening to her humiliating and discouraging words.

I shared my concerns with her that it is becoming difficult to continue my Ph.D. like this. Although she did not quite understand what I was going through at that time, and she simply brushed it off, asking me not to overthink and focus on my work to get through it.

She turned a blind eye to my mental state and kept on sending me all those warning emails failing to meet the unreasonable deadlines. You see, dried lemons!

This continued for the next 2 months. I kept on receiving tasks with bizarre deadlines and warning mails. I was angry; I was hurt; I was having all kinds of mixed feelings. But, still, somehow, I was hanging in. 

Anyways, this continued for a while, and there was a new manuscript she had given me a deadline for the month-end. However, one evening, I received her email that she needed the manuscript the next day (I still had four days until the deadline she gave initially). 

I panicked, couldn't sleep because I knew where this was headed. Yet, I got to work the whole night and the next day to do the impossible. By evening I was done with my manuscript, but since I wasn't happy with the results, I told her I needed time to improve the accuracy, and till then, she could review the manuscript. But to my dismay, I received another email stating that I am not responsible and have been missing deadlines repeatedly.

That was it! It was at that moment; I realized that I have had enough. I couldn't take it anymore. I really wanted to complete my Ph.D.; I loved what I did, I loved my research, I loved writing papers. But not at the cost of my mental health. So, I quit!!!

Why Content writing?

While I was in school, I really enjoyed writing. Unlike my friends, I never really mugged up or crammed essays for the exam (not bragging). Instead, I always left things to my imagination, and it was fun. 

However, never in my wildest dream had I imagined that I would leave ten years of engineering and all the research experience to pick up a career in writing!

But, the one thing I was pretty sure about was I wanted to do something that I enjoyed. Besides, to me, words had always felt compelling, and I knew writing is something that makes me happy, and that was reason enough. 

However, this is not a decision I took overnight. It took me five months, one job, and one highly supportive friend to finally take the plunge into this career.   

In the initial few days of my leaving Ph.D., I didn't quite know what I would do. So, I took a break, spent time with my family, and got a sweet GSD pup to keep myself occupied. Fortunately, my parents were quite supportive of this decision and gave me the time and space to open up and figure things out on my own.

So, I created a profile on all job portals I knew about and started applying. But, the chances of getting a job in a time when most businesses were getting shut, especially when I had no on-paper experience at all, were pretty bleak. However, I kept applying.

One fine day my friend Adhish asked me what I really wanted. I wasn't sure about what I wanted to do, but I knew the one thing that I was missing the most about my Ph.D. was writing.

As weird as it may sound, but that was the truth. I had spent my masters writing research articles and did the same in my Ph.D. along with project proposals, filing patents, and whatnot. Besides, another friend of mine got me this gig for writing research articles for someone from a different university. And I was a happy kid writing.

So, it was then he suggested I take content writing as a career. 

So he suggested I get on Freelance and try my luck as a technical content writer. Like an obedient child I was, I created an account and started bidding. And in less than a month, I got my first gig. It was content writing for a home decor website.

I was on cloud nine, although I knew nothing about SEO, meta-descriptions, or keywords, for that matter. However, my employer was kind enough to walk me through it all. And in only a month, I could see myself working as a full-time content writer.

Reasons content writing is a great career choice

Work flexibility

A content writer has the privilege of working from the comfort of their home. Besides, this industry has seen an increase in the demand for content writers across the globe over the years.

And the best part is, you also have the opportunity of entering this field as a part-timer. 

So, even if you are still studying, you can have a successful career in content writing, given you are innovative and have a knack for writing. 

Passive Income

If you are pursuing a freelance writing career, it can offer you tremendous benefits in passive income, followed by overall career growth. Besides, you can take up gigs as per your wish, leverage that experience for future references, and grow your writing skill sets while earning a great deal of money.

Knowledge gathering

I was always a curious child, and the high I get by learning about new things is beyond normal. So, for me, the best part about this career is that I still have the opportunity to do research and learn something new every day. Besides, writing content on different topics shapes you as an influential content writer and ultimately improves your confidence in writing. So, for me, it's a win-win! 

Read more- 7 Best Content Writing Certifications for Your Career Growth in 2021

Was the transition smooth?

I will be honest, the whole transition from a research scholar to a full-time content writer wasn't a bed of roses. Here are a few concerns that I came across in my journey. 

  • Money: Of course, I was no content writer to begin with, so that meant I had to start from scratch. With no on-paper experience, I was afraid I wouldn't be paid well. However, the only thing that kept me firm about my career choice was that I would be doing what I liked the most. Besides, with time I learned that although money is an important consideration, it is not the ultimate deal-breaker. Fortunately, I landed a job with a company that saw my potential and offered me a good enough package to begin with.
  • Public opinion: I won't lie that I wasn't scared of public opinion. For days, I tortured myself with imaginary scenarios of my career going downhill and people talking about the same. However, my parents, friends, and even close relatives were astonishingly receptive to my decision and were happy to see me do something I was passionate about.  
  • Fear of failure: I constantly fretted about failure. All my friends had illustrious careers, and here I was, starting from scratch. I was scared that perhaps throwing away a Ph.D. degree may have pushed me down to the bottom of the 'career ladder.' Although, the truth is everyone has a unique journey, and the meaning of a successful career is not the same for everyone. 

Apart from these, I was also worried that my parents might think that I quit my Ph.D. because I wasn't good enough. However, once I had a heart-to-heart conversation with them, I knew they were still proud of their daughter, irrespective of her title. 

Although, I often get a few raised eyebrows when I tell people that I quit my Ph.D. to be a full-time content writer. "You were a fool to quit," they say. I agree entirely. If leaving behind something that is disturbing your inner peace to follow your passion is foolish, I am guilty as charged! 

Read more- Top Content Writing Jobs in Chandigarh for graduates.

Is Ph.D. over-hyped?

A Ph.D. may often feel like a jail term. But why? Maybe a Ph.D. is not for you? Maybe the picture for your future they painted for you is not what you truly desire? Why is a Ph.D. treated so differently from other degrees? What is all the fuss about?

Well, I believe a significant part of this is that our entire education has been evolving to a relatively straight line. One thing comes after the other, and if you wish to be a professional in your field, then a PH.D. is the ultimate step toward that path. 

I, too, was following that path. But when I decided to quit, a lot of my friends asked me to hang in there for just another year; otherwise, my entire journey would come crashing down. I was asked, what else would I do? And how would I get a decent job?

I did not have answers to any of these questions at that time. All I knew was I couldn't see myself going through with it anymore.

What did I realize after quitting my Ph.D.?

The first thing I realized once I left my Ph.D. was, it was definitely not the end. Second, your Ph.D. supervisor can make or break you, irrespective of how good or bad you are.

Third, a Ph.D. is not that much different from other jobs. Of course, there's a fancy Dr. title, but otherwise, it's pretty much the same. 

As far as content writer salary is concerned, well I earn higher than what I got as my stipend, which by the way, was fixed for three years, and whether or not you'll get it, was entirely dependent on your supervisor. And if they are not pleased with you, just forget about getting paid, even though you might have worked as hard as an ox.

Some of you might be wondering that I would have received a fancy package after my Ph.D. Well, there's no denying that! But, had I not gotten enrolled in Ph.D. at all and started my content writing career back in 2017, I would have started earning pretty much the same package.

Besides, a Ph.D. should never come at the cost of your mental health and peace. The way we are blindly running this rat race, no one really pays much attention to mental health. In fact, schools, colleges, and universities in India rarely have practices in place to monitor and address students' health.

Remember that the cost of a Ph.D. is definitely not worth your health. Besides, a successful Ph.D. or any other career, for that matter, depends on your health, commitment, good supervision, training, and supporting infrastructure. And if any of these is missing, the whole endeavor might get unnecessarily harder.

The Bottom Line

Sometimes, it's ok to quit, take a break, and think about what you truly want to do. Don't go for a career simply because that's what you have been told while growing up or just because there is a decent package.

Because at the end of the day, money might get you things that make you happy (temporarily), but it sure as hell won't give you mental peace.

So, if you are unhappy with where your career is taking you, you might need to think again! But don't simply quit because you think you will have a drop-out story to tell.  Do it for the right reasons, so you will be at peace with your decision ten years from now. 

In the end, don't let my or someone else's words take this from you. It's your hard work and skills that got you this far. So, if you quit, it has to be a positive move, not a retreat.

And for me, I am writing and editing, and though I sometimes miss playing around with data (machine learning),  I would still make the same choice in a heartbeat.

Richa Sharma

Richa Sharma

A writer by day and a reader by night, Richa is a researcher in a writer's body. Her hunger to write transformed her into a full-time content writer, after she left her Ph.D. Despite being from an Engineering background, Richa's passion for writing drives her to write easy-to-understand, SEO-friendly, and engaging content.

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