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.
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