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Why should I do a PhD?

| May 29, 2013

A PhD is more than just completing an academic degree. It is a path to in-depth knowledge and acquiring unique expertise in a specific field. A PhD is an academic achievement which has a very profound ability to affect your future career and life opportunities whether in industry or academia.Having a PhD shows the world that you are capable of putting in the disciplined effort, logical thought, and leaps of insight required in becoming a leader or innovator.[1] Studying for a PhD will help you to:[2]

  • Why should I do a PhDEnhance skills and develop new ones (i.e. independent study and research skills)
  • Demonstrate to future employers an ability to cope with a heavy workload and the ability to self-motivate
  • Develop expertise that only few have in the world
  • Gain an internationally recognised qualification
  • Enhance future career prospects

A PhD is a research training leading to a professional research qualification.[3] As such, PhD holders are qualified for research related jobs not only in private companies but also in public offices, international aid agencies, and non-profit organisations. Industry and academia alike hire and relocate good people with PhDs from all over the world. PhD holders can explore a life in academia, engage in professional work, or run their own companies.

A PhD is a requirement for some professions. Most universities and colleges require their faculty members to hold a PhD and to undertake research projects to improve the faculty’s proficiency to teach courses and to ensure that their knowledge are always up to date. As such, one of the common reasons for studying a PhD is to secure an academic position.

Deciding to pursue a PhD is not an easy decision to make. Here are a few questions you may ask yourself to help you determine if you should study for a PhD.[4]

  • Do you want a research career?
    • Earning a PhD is basically training for research. As such, you should ask yourself whether a research position if your long-term goal. If you want a non-research career, then a PhD is definitely not for you.
  • Do you want an academic position?
    • A PhD is considered as the de facto union card for an academic position, especially at the university level. Most universities and colleges require each member of their faculty to hold a PhD and to engage in research activities. This is to ensure that the faculty have sufficient expertise and skills to teach advanced courses and to compel them to remain up to date in their chosen field.
  • Do you have what it takes?
    • Intelligence:
      • In your college and graduate courses, were you closer to the top of your class or the bottom? How well did you do on standardized tests?
      • Time:
        • Are you prepared to tackle a project larger than any you have undertaken before?
        • You must commit to multiple years of hard work. Are you willing to reduce or forego other activities?
      • Creativity:
        • Research discoveries often arise when one looks at old facts in a new way. Do you excel at solving problems?
      • Intense curiosity:
        • Have you always been compelled to understand the world around you and to find out how things work? Did you fulfil minimum requirements or explore further on your own? A natural curiosity makes research easier.
      • Adaptability:
        • Most students are unprepared for Ph.D. study. They find it unexpectedly different than course work. Suddenly thrust into a world in which no one knows the answers, students sometimes flounder.
        • Can you adapt to new ways of thinking? Can you tolerate searching for answers even when no one knows the precise questions?
      • Self-motivation:
        • By the time a student finishes an undergraduate education, they have become accustomed to receiving grades for each course each semester. In a Ph.D. program, work is not divided neatly into separate courses; professors do not partition tasks into little assignments; and the student does not receive a grade for each small step.
        • Are you self-motivated enough to keep working toward a goal without day-to-day encouragement?
      • Competitiveness:
        • If you choose to enrol in a Ph.D. program, you will compete with others at the top. More importantly, once you graduate, your peers will include some of the brightest people in the world. You will be measured and judged in comparison to them. Are you willing to compete at the Ph.D. level?
      • Maturity:
        • Compared to coursework, which is carefully planned by a teacher, Ph.D. study has less structure. You will have more freedom to set your own goals, determine your daily schedule, and follow interesting ideas.
        • Are you prepared to accept the responsibility that accompanies the additional freedoms? Your success or failure in Ph.D. research depends on it.

To summarise, studying for a PhD requires a deal of effort, patience, and hard work. However, earning a PhD degree opens doors towards many opportunities. You can choose to enter the academe as a lecturer or professor. You can also focus on a research career either in the private sector or with government agencies. The growing need for research professionals in various industries provides a lot of potential employment opportunities for the PhD graduate.

[1] Centre for Advanced Internet Architectures. (2005). Why would you do a PhD? Available: Last accessed 28th Mar 2013.

[2] Brunel University of London. (2013). Why study for a PhD? Available: Last accessed 28th Mar 2013.

[3] Marian Petre & Gordon Rugg, The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research Open Up Study Skills. (Berkshire: Open University Press, 2010), 1-13

[4] Purdue University. (2012). Notes on the PhD Degree. Available: Last accessed 28th Mar2013.

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Category: Phd Writing