1. Avoid looking for work – Looking for work is a long process. Especially when you are first joining the workforce. Building your CV is hard. It has to be a short document, but you’re struggling to think of what to include and what to take out. Regardless your CV feels inadequate. So, you complete an application for a PhD and that means you don’t have to look for work. Yay!
2. Avoid getting a job – No matter when you join the workforce, doing so is hard. And if it is not hard, it can feel overwhelming. You might have submitted your CV and even been offered a job. But, doing a PhD allows you to put that decision and action off. To keep your study going from degree, to honours and masters and onto PhD. You just see yourself as a studier, not a worker. Bring on the PhD!
3. Avoid leaving university – You’ve studied for over three years. Often spending all that time at the same university campus. You’ve become accustomed to university life. So, its easier to stay at a university. And what better way than by undertaking a PhD?!
4. Be called a doctor and actually have a doctorate – The system in the USA results in people trained in medicine having a Doctor of Medicine upon graduation. As a result they are called doctors. Yet, in many other parts of the world (including Australia) people trained in medicine only have a bachelor’s degree in medicine and surgery (MBBS). BUT, the carry over from the USA means they are called doctors. Worse still other professions are now referring to themselves as doctors. Think physiotherapists, chiropractors, dentists and many others. Having a PhD is the real (and only reason) to be called a doctor #enoughsaid. #rantover.
5. Be the “smart person” in your friendship group – There’s nothing like being the smart person in your friendship group or getting called “doc” by all of your friends. Nothing is more effective at that than having a PhD! Of course, you’ll make friends as you do you PhD and thus no one calls you doc and you probably won’t be the smartest in that group…
6. Become a researcher – there are many professions, jobs, roles and sectors that require researchers and research skills. One of the best ways to develop those skills is through a PhD. Note that a PhD is neither necessary, nor sufficient for a research career. You can do research without a PhD (in Australia the majority of the research workforce1 DOES NOT have a PhD). And having a PhD does not guarantee you a research career.
7. Become a world expert – a PhD is about finding out new things. New information. New knowledge. By necessity you must become the world expert. It might be in a very narrow field or thing. But, nonetheless, you will become the world expert.
8. Become an academic – if you want to become an academic (someone who teaches university students, does research and works at a university) the best way to work towards that is to undertake a PhD. Similarly to becoming a researcher, a PhD is not sufficient to become an academic. In some cases its not even necessary, but the vast majority of academics have PhDs.
9. Become more employable – there are certain careers (e.g. academic, clinician in medicine, nursing or allied health) where having a PhD will make you more employable. Of course, if your employer is sponsoring your PhD that will definitely be the case. Depending on the work you focus on within your PhD you could also build your own job or turn your PhD into your career. For example, many people undertaking PhDs in organisational development, organisational psychology, strategy and innovation create methods, processes and assessment tools that can be turned into saleable products or services.
10. Build a new career – If you’re looking for a change in career direction undertaking a PhD can be a good way to make that start. It’ll give you new skills and a new way of looking at things around you. And if your new career could be an academic one, doing a PhD is a good way to start down that path. Of course, it will come at a cost. Both time (3 – 7 years) and money (reduced income relative to most other full-time jobs). And you PhD does not have to be in the area that your career to date was in. You’ll have to demonstrate you’re at the right level to start a PhD (known as a H1 or honours equivalent). But other than that there is no reason it needs to be continuous with your previous career. Of course, you need to have some idea about the subject area your PhD is in.
11. Change career direction – You could undertake a PhD to change career direction. For example, as a clinician, you might undertake a PhD in order to become a clinician-research. A clinician-researcher is unique and highly coveted position as they span the practical and the academic. Taking real-world questions into the academic environment and academic resources to real world problems. Similar positions, spanning the practical and the academic, exist in other fields as well. So, you could do you PhD in your current field and become someone who bridges the practical-academic divide. A pracademic.
12. Comfortable giving feedback – As a PhD student (and then as an academic) you’ll need to give feedback on (critique) other people’s research all of the time. This will come in the form of reviewing proposals, publications, grant applications and research projects. If you’re comfortable doing this (and the push-back you might get) in a nice way, a PhD could be good for you.
Why do a PhD?
To build a
13. Comfortable with failure – In a PhD failure abounds. In experiments you conduct. In proposals you submit. In the lack of progress you hoped to make. If you see failure as learning. If you don’t see failure, but instead see progress, then a PhD could be for you.
14. Comfortable with feedback – In some cases (not all) failure is accompanied by feedback. If you can take feedback, and act on it. And by act, I mean change or actively discard the bad advice. A PhD could be for you. Particularly if you’re interested in a career in academic research where feedback – in the form of grant and article rejections – is the bread and butter of a good career.
15. Continue university life – You’ve just completed your bachelor’s degree, and then honours or masters. You love the life. So continue what you love and do a PhD! What’s more in some cases (most in fact) you can get a scholarship and go from earning nothing to study, to being paid to study (<- its not as easy as that sounds but you can get paid). Just like uni life you can start late and finish early, but it might not be the same day. There will be periods of long hours, days and weeks too – just like when you binge studied before exams or when reports were due.
16. Develop deeper knowledge on a topic – I know I said no judgement, but if I were judging this would be one of the better reasons to do a PhD. The search for new knowledge and understanding is the key reason PhDs exist and the two key outcomes you will get from a PhD. I think many people should do a PhD with this in mind. Furthermore I think people should do a PhD having gained experience of the wider (non-university) world and then come back with questions to answer; seeking new knowledge.
17. Develop hard skills – In every PhD you’ll develop hard or technical skills. They’ll likely cover qualitative and quantitative research methods. Things like data collection specific to your research area, as well as analysing that data using various statistical approaches. Depending on your topic and field you might also learn to use new or specialised pieces of equipment such as microscopes, scanners and 3D printers. So, if you know the hard skills you’d like to develop, you can try to design a PhD with those skills in mind.
18. Develop research skills – In every PhD you’ll develop research skills. Beyond the technical skills above, research skills also include things like grant writing, scientific/research writing, research project design, and research project conduct. So, if you’re looking to develop those skills – a PhD is a great place to start!
19. Develop soft skills – Soft skills developed in a PhD include team work, self-discipline and organisation, motivation, determination, resilience. Resilience is a big one. If you want to develop those skills – do a PhD.
20. Develop transferable skills – most, if not all soft skills are also transferable skills. Of course, in a PhD they tend to develop in a research context. Take collaboration as an example. In research, collaboration is the norm. Whereas in business, there’s a large amount of competition. Different businesses aren’t always happy to collaborate to achieve an outcome like they might in research. Other transferable skills include managing up, working with others, working on your own, project management, time management and (technical) writing.
21. Do the “right” thing – It’s the done thing in your family or friendship group. As an example, of the ten cousins on my mum’s side seven went to university and six got a PhD. You could argue that in my family it was the done thing. And, certainly there are some cultures, societies and families where getting a PhD is doing the right thing.
22. Earn more money than other “students” – Most PhD students, in Australia anyway, are on a stipend. That means they get paid to do their PhD. It is not a lot. But it is more than other students. And if you’re into life-long study, getting paid to do it is a massive help. Of course, if you’re leaving the workforce to do a PhD, you’d usually be taking a massive pay cut.
23. Fulfil your destiny – Perhaps not as melancholic has “fulfilling your destiny” was to Luke Skywalker, but certainly there are many people whose families are full of PhD graduates, and thus you undertaking a PhD is part of your destiny. You may have also been an excellent student or very interested in a subject. Thus, it was only a matter of time before you enrolled in a PhD.
24. Fulfil your family tradition – A little bit like fulfilling your destiny, but even more people within your family have completed their PhD. So much so that there is a wing at the local university with your family name on it. And you’re known as the child of so and so. Or the sibling of such and such. No one in your family reaches their thirties without a PhD. Full stop.
Dr Richard Huysmans is the author of Connect the Docs: A Guide to getting industry partners for academics. He has helped more than 200 PhD students, early career researchers and established academics build their careers. He has provided strategic advice on partnering with industry, growing a career building new centres and institutes as well as establishing new programs. Richard is driven by the challenge of helping researchers be commercially smart. His clients appreciate his cut-through approach. He knows the sector and how to turn ideas into reality.
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1The research workforce includes people in R & D in engineering firms, government etc; not just those based in universities or research institutes.