Ten good reasons for doing a PhD

Two students came to my office last week to ask me about potential PhD projects. They have already decided to do a PhD, but most students often wonder whether a PhD is the right choice for them. Are you also approaching the end of your studies with no idea about what to do next? Do you doubt whether you have good enough grades to be accepted for a PhD? Or do you think that it may just be wiser to look for a job, especially in a time of financial uncertainties? If so, then read on.

Being at a crossroads is not really much fun. I know because I have been there myself. At the end of my studies I also did not know what to do next, though my problem was not a lack of interests. If anything, I had too many. A writer, an actress, a teacher, an interpreter, a traveller, a scientist, an artist… these are just a few of the things I wanted to become. Now, looking from my present perspective, I realise that having become an academic has allowed me to be all of the above. When I put together a scientific proposal, a paper, or a grant application, I am a writer. When I present talks at international conferences, I feel like an actress on stage. When I give lectures or seminars, I am a teacher. And then, travelling extensively and learning three other languages have simply followed as a welcome by-product of all these activities.

I like to think that the seed of all this was planted when I started my PhD. Yet, when I had to decide whether to do one or not, I was scared that I may not be up for it, or that I would waste three years of my life, or worse that I would quit half way through disappointing all the people involved. Luckily, a dear friend of mine came up with a great piece of advice.

He simply said: “Forget about the others and take this opportunity to invest in yourself“. It was a major shift in my mindset and one that ultimately allowed me to get where I am.

So, are you still in doubt if you should start a PhD? If so, here are the first five of ten good reasons for doing a PhD.

1) Drive for research. This is possibly the best reason of all. If you have experienced a sense of excitement while working at a project of your own during your undergraduate studies, chances are that you will enjoy the opportunity to focus on a problem of cutting-edge research. The rewards of contributing to advance knowledge in any given area can be amazing.

2) Becoming an expert in your area. This closely follows the previous point and it is almost an unavoidable consequence of working for three to four years exclusively on a specific topic. Whether you believe it or not, you will become an expert in your area (possibly even more than your supervisor!).

3) Enjoying the academic environment. If you suspect that you may enjoy the academic environment (intellectual stimulation, flexible working hours, mixture of lab and office work), chances are that you will. Of course, doing a PhD can be pretty tough, lonely, and frustrating at times (don’t panic, there will be plenty of advice and support even during the all-too-famous second-year blues!), but ultimately the freedom and challenges that come with working in an academic environment may just make up for everything else.

4) Available opportunity. Say you have been offered a studentship. What to do? Just go for it. In the worst case scenario, even if you decide that research is not for you, you can still come out of your PhD with a nice Dr title on your credit card and a set of useful skills that you can employ in your next job.

5) Developing important transferrable skills. Here are some of the most obvious ones: you will learn how to solve problems; how to find relevant information; how to work independently and as a member of a team; how to communicate (by writing, by giving oral and poster presentations, by speaking in public); how to meet deadlines; how to manage your time effectively and how to prioritise your activities. All of these, of course, in addition to very specific technical and computational skills. No doubt it will all be incredibly useful no matter what job you will take up after your PhD.

Interested in finding out what the other five good reasons are? Then, come back here for part II of this post. It will be published in just a few days.

PS In fact, if you want to make sure you do not miss any of the upcoming posts about doing a PhD, subscribe by email to this blog. Just click on the “Follow” button at the top right-hand side of this page and you are done! See you soon :)


24 thoughts on “Ten good reasons for doing a PhD

  1. Marialuisa, thank you so much for such a nice and motivational article. I got selected for pursuing PhD at a Central University of India. But, looking into my core interest, i am passionate about teaching rather than in research. I am a bit confused about either to move forward for PhD or set up my own coaching center for teaching students of under-graduation.

    Please suggest me.
    Thanks in advance

    • Hi Aabid,
      It’s a difficult call to make and only you can decide what is best for you. I can only add that a PhD will open up additional opportunities that also include teaching (for example, as a class or lab demonstrator) already at this stage. If you decide not to do a PhD at this stage you may not get another similar opportunity and may realise to have closed doors a bit too early. You can still set up your own coaching as a side activity and doing a PhD yourself would give you additional insights as to what students at various level struggle with.
      I hope this is helpful. Do let me know how things develop.

      All the best!

  2. Hi, Thanks for the wonderful article. But my problem is as follows:
    1) I have a job offer which will pay say 10,000 per month.
    2) I have scholarship for Phd which will cover say 4000 per month.
    I am really confused what to do now because if I will continue my studies and go for Phd it will be great for my learning experience but I will not be able to safe any money and it will continue for 3 years atleast if I am lucky otherwise 4 years.
    On the other hand if I will go for the job, I will be able to safe atleast 5000 per month.
    Hence, when I compare the two circumstances by the end of next three years. I will have 5000 x 12 x 3 = 1,80,000 if I will be in the job. If I continue for Phd by the end of three years, I will be at the same point as now financially speaking.
    I am unable to decide and the time is running out. I am afraid to choose between the two. Please help me.

    • Hi Asha, first of all congratulations for being in such a lucky position to be able to choose. I agree that continuing on a PhD is likely to be a less attractive financial prospect than taking up the job offer, at least in the near future. However, I think you should also take into account your personal preferences and circumstances. What are you passionate about? If money wasn’t an issue, where would your heart take you? Having a well-paid job that you don’t like is not much fun. On the other hand, pursuing a PhD just because you regard it as a ‘prestigious’ option may result in much frustration along the way. This is a very personal choice, but one I would advice not basing solely on financial grounds. Whatever you choose, I hope you it works well for you. Let me know and good luck!

  3. Thank you Marialuisa for this great and inspiring article. I have being going back and forth with myself regarding pursuing my PHD and its killing me. I’m always reminded that i’m too young and inexperience which doesn’t help either. So thank you for this.

  4. This post was incredibly inspiring. I have been in a very bad place lately, deciding what to do once my masters is over. However, it seems like you put down all the reasons I cannot make anyone but myself see as pros of PhD.

  5. Really motivational post! I am about to start my PhD in the UK this year and, as an international student, I still have some doubts and concerns about the whole process but reading your posts has helped me a lot. I totally agree with your vision that being an academic allows one to develop multiple aspirations and vocations, which perhaps would not be possible in most careers. Thanks!

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