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 bachelors 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 fulltime 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 need 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.
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 bachelors 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.
25. Further my career – If you want to become an academic and/or if you want to move up the ranks of academics it is almost impossible without a PhD. Outside academia, you might also find some jobs or organisations will support your study and encourage you to do a PhD. Some include the various health professions. Engineering might also be another. In the later cases experience is also necessary. A PhD alone won’t further your career.
26. Get a career in research – Similar to furthering your career, but specifically in research in this case. A PhD will help you get a research career. Particularly an academic research career. In other industries, such as health, doing a PhD will be a massive help in bridging the clinician-research nexus. Indeed, clinician-researchers are highly sought after.
27. Have a staff life on a student salary – Perhaps a little tongue in cheek. But nonetheless as PhD student you are treated like a staff member (in Australia anyway). You have staff email, rather than student email. You get a desk and a spot in a lab. You might have some kind of student supervision; honours and third year students, not other PhD students. You can be on more committees – especially student committees, but also research or ethics committees. But you generally won’t have the same level of responsibility in terms of staff supervision, PhD student supervision, governance or management involvement.
Why do a PhD?
Develop transferable skills
28. Learn about research – In my view this is the best reason to do a PhD. To learn how to do research and to learn how to do it well. To understand how to design an experiment with appropriate controls. To understand how to interpret other people’s data and findings. To learn how to communicate your findings to other research audiences in various verbal and non-verbal ways.
29. Learn about yourself – The trials and tribulations of a PhD will mean you learn a lot about yourself. You’ll learn how you handle stress, adversity, set-back. You’ll learn how you operate in a tense environment. You’ll learn working styles and preferences. From how you like to communicate to the hours you like to work, to how you like to learn and retain information, to how you like to take notes and record your (research) life. You’ll learn how to get yourself through work even when you are not motivated.
30. Learn how you work in a team – Much research success relies on team work. As a PhD student you’ll need to work well as a team member for your own success as well as the success of the group you are part of, not to mention the projects and grants you are working on.
31. Learn how you work on your own – But not all of a PhD is undertaken as a team. Indeed, much research is done on your own. Although teams develop and deliver projects, individual components of those projects are often conducted solo. Thus, as a PhD student you’ll be working on your own a lot
32. Make your parents proud – I’ve never met a parent who is not proud of their kids for doing a PhD. If you’re keen to make your parents proud, I can highly recommend a PhD.
33. Meet awesome people – The people who work in research are awesome. They are passionate about the work they are doing. That passion and drive is very infectious. Discussions are deep about a range of topics. Not just those in your area of research. Researchers also have a range of views, opinions and experiences beyond research. And these make for interesting discussions too.
34. Please your friends – Maybe your friends see something in you. That you have a passion for a topic, for learning or for research. You could do a PhD to please them.
35. Please your parents – I’m sure many people did a PhD to fulfil parental expectation. For some people this might be a strong/good reason to do a PhD.
36. Prove someone wrong – We’ve all heard the “you’ll amount to nothing” speeches from famous or influential people. Maybe your motivation for doing a PhD is based on the same or similar experiences.
37. Save the world – You may be inspired into a PhD. Perhaps you’ve had a life experience or got an awesome idea that a PhD will help bring to life. Or perhaps a PhD is the first step in making your ‘save the world’ goals a reality.
38. Set your own work hours – In PhD you can mostly set your own hours. Most equipment is available 24-7. Most writing and analysis can be done on portable computers connected to cloud storage. Combined this means you can work anytime and anywhere.
39. Solve a problem – Maybe there’s a problem you see in the world. Or perhaps a widget that needs to be built or modified. A PhD is one pathway to making these things happen.
40. Someone has told me I’d make a great researcher – Maybe you’ve always been analytical. And now you’ve reached an age or stage where people are telling you to do a PhD. If these people have personal experience of a PhD – their advice might be worth taking seriously.
41. Travel the world – PhD’s often involve interstate and overseas travel. Certainly most (if not all) supervisors will support and encourage their students to attend international conferences held locally and overseas. And there are various grants that help support students to attend these events.
42. Turn a PhD into your career – There are countless examples of people turning their PhD research into their career. At the simplest level going from PhD student to academic is the obvious way. But others take their research and turn it into a business. Examples of this can be found in the innovation space – where many innovation PhD students identify models that can help organisations be more innovative. Similarly, there are examples of people doing PhDs in organisational psychology, workplace development, leadership, strategy and personal growth that have led to well-paid and fulfilling careers.
43. Turn your passion into your job – Just like turning your PhD into your career, you might have a passion for engineering. And thus, you might do a PhD so you can continue focusing on engineering, and explore specific aspects in detail. Conversely, you might have a passion for research in general. In which case, doing a PhD will help you develop those skills and open up the world of academic research.
44. Wear the funky cap and gown at graduation – It’s not cheap to buy or to hire, but it does look hot! Especially when put next to the regalia for the other degrees.
45. Work indoors – Nowadays so much work is done on computers, you can pretty much set yourself up to be inside all day. Whether that is inside a dark room on microscope or in the basement of a building working on sensitive machines, or in a computer lab at the top of a tower. But, if you like the indoors, you could definitely design your PhD to take advantage of that.
46. Work long hours – If you love working then a PhD is definitely for you. You’ll get to work heaps. Sometimes for not much reward. And reward includes but is not limited to satisfaction, data, money, good results. But, if you like the working, you could definitely design your PhD to take advantage of that.
47. Work on a university campus – In Australia, all PhDs need to be undertaken through a university. Thus, you could spend your entire time doing the work while on a university campus. And they are not all that bad these days. Most have largish retail centres with food courts. Not to mention old a new buildings. Some are little villages all unto themselves. Others are a floor in a high-rise building in the middle of the CDB.
48. Work outdoors – Your project could require you to work outside (e.g. collecting data on the ecosystems of the great barrier reef). Other projects might not have a specific location, but the nature of the work environment means you could take it outside. But, if you like the outdoors, you could definitely design your PhD to take advantage of that.
49. You just want to – Maybe you’ve experienced enough in work, in life and now you feel like your next best challenge is to do a PhD. Or perhaps you like education and you just want to continue being more educated. In which enrol in a PhD.
50. You know a great supervisor – Great supervisors are hard to find. If you know a good one, then enrol with them! They’ve probably got a good sense that you’ll do well in a PhD (or not).
51. You love research – Doing a PhD is a great way to develop and/or hone your research skills. And, even if you’re not that good at research, but you love it anyway, a PhD could help you get better at research.
52. You love to learn – There’s no higher qualification than a PhD. If you love learning a PhD will help you develop new specific skills in your chose discipline, generic research skills as well as a range of self-directed learning skills. These will all be useful well-beyond your PhD.
53. You love your subject area – If you’re really into a certain thing there is no way to get better at it, to know more about it than to do research into. Think about, if you suddenly develop a love for making beer, you soon look up the various styles of beers, important temperatures and phases in beer brewing. But if you really want to learn more about beer making do the research yourself!
54. You were offered the opportunity – Sometimes being given an opportunity is a good enough reason to take it. So, perhaps you’re doing a PhD because someone gave you the chance. They might have suggested your apply for a scholarship, or had one on offer. They could have a project ready to go. Or they might just need a student to help get more work done. Regardless, for some people the opportunity to do a PhD is the only reason they will need to get started!
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.
To find out more, call 0412 606 178, email (Richard.firstname.lastname@example.org) or subscribe to the newsletter. He’s on LinkedIn (Dr Richard Huysmans), Twitter (@richardhuysmans), Instagram (@drrichardhuysmans), and Facebook (Beyond Your PhD with Dr Richard Huysmans).
1The research workforce includes people in R & D in engineering firms, government etc; not just those based in universities or research institutes.