DO NOT DO IT!!!
Okay, maybe that is over stating it a bit.... But not by much. If you are thinking about it, I suggest you consider the following.
I started my Ph.D. studies a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed student, eager to learn and be challenged intellectually. I was a combination of ignorance of the true workings of the Ph.D. machine and overly optimistic naivete about what I did know of the horror...
"I can do it!" "I can do anything for a few years!" "It can't be that bad! Right?"
It can be that bad and worse. It's going to suck, it's going to suck bad, and it's going to suck bad for a really, really long time.
-Your family and friends may forget what you look like and vice versa.
-You will gradually loose the ability to form coherent sentences both in writing and in spoken word (exhibit 1, this blog).
-Ah, um, yeah....what was I saying? (exhibit 2)
-You will also loose the ability to understand normal people when they speak. Instead, you will ask innocent and unsuspecting people what evidence do they have to back up their opinion that China Garden has the best Chinese food in town.
-Over time you will feel stupider and dumber, not smarter. Ever meet a Ph.D. who made you think, "Dang, they are dumb, how did the get a doctorate?" They were probably smart when they started and the process sucked brain cells and IQ points out of their head through either their nose or ears.
-You will note an increase in emotional lability to the point that you may think strange things are funny and you may cry in inappropriate places and at inopportune times.
-You may harbor strange fantasies about printing the picture of one or more of your comprehensive examiners or dissertation committee members from the university web site, and attaching it to a pinata (perhaps shaped like a chicken with yellow and red feathers...with the picture of their face right on the face of the chicken) and then going to town with a baseball bat. (Yes, that is a rather well developed plan. To answer your next question, no, not yet. But, I have a feeling it will be soon.)
Why? Why is it so bad you ask?
-Being intelligent will only get you so far. You have to know how to play the game. Deference, paying of respect, and yes, good old fashioned butt kissing. But, really, to a certain degree you have to have pity on the objects of your kissing up. Obviously they have been permanently damaged by their Ph.D. experience. This damage leads them to say things like, "Well, when I was doing my doctorate..." until you want to launch yourself over their desk and firmly grasp their throat between your hands. (At this point family and close friends will become concerned that you seem to be having a lot of rather violent thoughts.)
-Hard work will only get you so far. You can work as hard and as fast as you can and you will still be at the whim of others. I have waited as long as 13 weeks to get feedback from a committee member. I have been told to change "this" to "that" only to be later asked by the same person, 'Why are you using "that"? You should be using "this"!'
-The higher the degree level, the less organized and sensible the whole process is. Nobody knows what is going on, even the chair of the program. The "rules" can be changed on a whim. The format of my comprehensive qualifying exams (taken after all courses are finished but before dissertation) completely and significantly changed 6 weeks before the exams were to begin...I still get a tight feeling in my chest when I think about it.
-In short you must possess a very high degree of ability to put up with bulls**t.
-You will have almost no balance in your life. Most programs require a residency which consists of taking a full time graduate load (9 credits, usually 3 courses) for two semesters in a row. This is to demonstrate your "commitment to the program" (oh, it will make you feel like you need "committed" all right.)
I still haven't changed your mind?
That probably means that you are invested enough in the doctorate that when someone asks you why you want to pursue one that you can come up with an answer better than "It would be cool to be called doctor". If that is all you want I'd be happy to call you doctor for only, say 10% of the cost of tuition, and none of the mental anguish.
Some other, perhaps more serious, things to think about (though I do really kinda mean everything I have said so far):
-If you can be a full time student, with either a very low stress part-time job, or a graduate assistantship it seems to be a bit less stressful than working full time while pursuing the doctorate (though there is additional financial stress).
-If you are married I would think about it carefully. The divorce rate when one partner is in a Ph.D. program is around 80%. It seems the couples who I know who navigated the Ph.D. waters most successfully were both committed to the idea.
-If you have children I would think about it very hard. It is a major time, financial, and personal energy commitment.
-If you are a woman and have/want to have children I would suggest not doing it until your kids are older (older teens) or until after it becomes unlikely you will have a baby.
-In my observation it seems to work better when both mom and dad are not working full time while one of them is in school. I have seen that work in various configurations (dad works and goes to school, mom is a SAHM, or dad goes to school and works part-time and mom works part-time and they juggle the schedule, or mom goes to school and works full time, dad works part time and is available for the kids. etc).
-Before you start, think seriously about if you are willing to commit to finishing. Most people who start a Ph.D. never earn their degree. Most quit (I have fantasized about that too). It is an awful lot of work and time and money to waste to not finish. Count the cost before you start and save yourself a whole lot of anguish.
I think once someone finishes a Ph.D. they seem to forget about how awful it was in the process.
Either that or they lie about it in order to suck other unsuspecting victims into the machine. I guess I'll see when I am finished if I would say that it was worth it or not.
And, yes, I know this was pretty rant-ish. I do feel better now.