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Why do a PhD?

Extract from: The PhD Application Handbook. (Open University Press) by Peter Bentley

You have to be a little strange to want to do a doctorate. You'll be giving up the chance to earn
some real money in a steady job, for several years of little or no money. You'll be losing the
simplicity of regular hours and a boss who tells you want to do, for the complications of setting
your own agenda and planning your own work. Why do you want to do a doctorate? No, really.
Why? You need to be very clear in your mind what the reasons are. Thankfully, there are some
very good reasons why a normal, sane person would choose to do a doctorate. If any of these
make sense to you, then you are on the right track:

Good reasons to do a PhD

...To achieve something significant

Those who have ambitions to make money should become entrepreneurs. But if you are
ambitious in that you wish to challenge yourself, push yourself to new heights or achieve a
difficult goal, then a doctorate may be for you.

...To discover or learn something new

Those who never lose their childlike curiosity of the world make great researchers. If you feel a
driving force pushing you to explore and learn new things, then you may love research, and find
a doctorate is perfect for you.

...To improve yourself and your life

Doing a PhD for the sake of a pay rise is not a good reason. But if you want to improve your
abilities to understand and solve problems, increase your confidence, make yourself a better
communicator and gain skills that may lead to a better job, then a doctorate may be right for you.

...It fits you

Some people are made for a doctorate. You might have grown up doing countless little 'research
projects' as hobbies. You might have a natural thirst for knowledge or an insatiable appetite for
reading books about a particular topic. You might have had a life-long fascination - even
obsession - about something significant. If this sounds like you, and you can tailor a doctorate to
suit your particular needs, then you'll love it.

Bad reasons to do a PhD

Most of us have several reasons for wanting to do a doctorate, and of course they're not all good.
Here are some common bad reasons why some people consider a PhD (and I know there was a
certain amount of 'bad reason 5' that led to my own choice.):

...Keeping your visa

If you are thinking of a doctorate because you want to keep your student visa and stay in the UK
or at your current university a little longer - don't. You must not use a PhD as a method to stay
close to your friends or family, any more than you should commit a crime and have yourself
locked up in jail. It is not worth it. And jail is the cheapest and easiest option by far.

...Peer pressure

If you're thinking of a doctorate because all your friends are going to try, well done on having
some clever friends. But you will have to do the doctorate, not them. How will you feel if they
all achieve their PhDs while you struggle on, year after year, getting further and further into

...Horrible job

If you are doing a job that you hate and just want to quit - then find another job. A PhD is not an
escape hatch through which you fall into a better world, it is a long steep staircase that takes
extreme perseverance to climb.

...Fulfilling the ambitions of others

If your partner or parents think that you should do a doctorate because they wished that they had
- tell them to do one themselves. It must be your own ambition that drives you, not the ambition
of anyone else. Otherwise you will resent them during the tough times of your work and blame
them if it goes wrong.


If everyone is telling you to go and get a job and you don't like being told what to do, then make
sure you are rebelling towards something you want, and not simply away from irritating parents
or a boring town.

...Misplaced genius complex

If you think you are brilliant and will solve all of the world's problems, but every one of your
undergrad lecturers is telling you that your ideas are unworkable and that you are not cut out for
a doctorate - it is quite likely that they are right and you are wrong.

You might feel that your talents are never appreciated and you crave more respect from people
around you. Perhaps you like the idea of impressing by showing a credit card with 'Dr' on it. This
is not as daft as it sounds, for doctors do genuinely receive preferential treatment, and in some
countries are treated with enormous respect. You are more likely to get a better job as well.
However, if insecurity is your main driving force then you may struggle, for you will be
surrounded by professors and post-docs who are more experienced than you throughout the
course of your PhD. You will receive respect from them when you earn it, not because of the
`Dr' which they have themselves.

...You've done this kind of thing before

If you have worked in a similar area, you may have already done research or activities very
similar to those that you will do during a doctorate. Or perhaps you have done a research-based
project for your MSc. This is excellent experience and will help you, but a word of warning:
most people think they know what they are letting themselves in for, and they are wrong. An
undergraduate or MSc project does not give a proper taste of a PhD any more than a beansprout
makes a Chinese meal. Working in industry is very different from academia. Even for someone
with experience, the doctorate is not as easy as you might think.

Hopefully, you will find that more of the good reasons apply to you than the bad ones. Be honest
with yourself. You are thinking of embarking on something that can change your life, either for
better or worse, depending on you.

Ten good reasons for doing a PhD

Posted on November 14, 2011 by Marialuisa Aliotta

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 (dont 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 :)


The single most practical Philip Guo

reason for pursuing a Ph.D.

that I can think of (and I've
thought a lot about this topic!)
September 2014 (assistant professor)

Summary Assistant Professor of

Computer Science
Pursuing a Ph.D. is the only way to spend 4 to 8 years being paid to University of Rochester
work on something that the market does not directly value in the short
term. Curriculum Vitae
I've written a ton about Ph.D. life and given a talk called Why Google Scholar Profile
Pursue A Ph.D.? Three Practical Reasons (12-minute video).
Even though I've thought a lot about this topic, it still bothered me Twitter: @pgbovine
that I couldn't come up with a concise answer to this simple RSS feed
question: What's the most practical reason for pursuing a Ph.D.?
I think I finally got it, though. But before giving my answer, I (Read before emailing me)
want to go over some not-so-practical reasons for pursuing a
Tel: 585.275.1448
I want a lifelong career in academia. The open secret that (do NOT call; email instead)
all Ph.D.-holders know is that the chances of sustaining a
lifelong career in academia are exceptionally slim. It's hard
to get and even harder to keep a faculty job, and even Office Hours
harder still to continually raise enough funding to sustain a
30-plus-year career. In my experience, most people who
enter a Ph.D. program wanting to become a tenured I am seeking undergraduate
professor end up bitterly disappointed when they and Ph.D. students to work
encounter the dismal job market. And non-tenured with me on HCI research.
positions in academia are rarely sustainable since they are
even more dependent on the whims of grant funding. Newest
I want to get higher-paying jobs. Even though your post-
Ph.D. starting salary will be higher than those of What to expect over the next
Bachelor's and Master's degree holders, your lifetime decade and beyond (CS
earnings are not going to be higher. In the 4 to 8 years that graduation speech)
you spend doing your Ph.D., you would've saved up much On Writing
more money and gotten higher raises if you had just
started a regular job after college. Other graduate degrees Failure to Launch
(e.g., M.D., M.B.A., J.D.) are better if you want to
maximize lifetime income. Stumbling in the right direction
I love the subject and want to do a Ph.D. for its own sake Deconstructing Research
regardless of future job prospects. This can be a great Advising
reason for some people, but it's not really a practical one.
Nonetheless, if doing a Ph.D. for its own sake can lead you Categories
to sustained long-term happiness, then I'm all for it. Best
research (28)
of luck!
how-to (28)
OK, so here's the single most practical reason in my mind for
pursuing a Ph.D.: CS Education (26)

programming (26)
Pursuing a Ph.D. is the only way to spend 4 to 8 years being
paid to work on something that the market does not directly Ph.D. Grind (26)
value in the short term.
junior faculty life (25)
If you want to work on something that the market does value in productivity (23)
the short term, then stop reading now. Don't pursue a Ph.D. Bye!
personal (22)
I think most people want to work on something of immediate
jobs (20)
short-term value, so they shouldn't pursue a Ph.D. But for the rare
weirdos such as myself who purposely want to work on things social observations (19)
with no tangible value in the coming day, week, month, year, or
even decade, then a Ph.D. is one of the only ways to do so. computing (15)

software (14)
Note that the majority of Ph.D. graduates return to the real
world outside of academia after finishing their degrees and spend education (13)
the rest of their lives working on something with tangible short-
term market value. So if that's the case, then why even bother with CACM (13)
the Ph.D.? Why not join the mainstream work force right away? undergrad education (13)

The most practical reason I can think of is that you get a rare 4 to On the Move (12)
8 years away from direct pressures of the market to pursue work
guest article (11)
with no short-term financial or social value. (Most of you have the
rest of your life to deliver direct short-term value.) So why on photography (11)
Earth is that compelling? One, because you have dramatically
Asian parents (11)
more creative freedom when you're not bound by short-term
market pressures. (This is by far the most practical reason, and teaching (10)
why I'm in academia!) And two, because there's a tiny, tiny, tiny
chance that what you work on will have unforeseen benefits to the kids (10)
world decades in the future. (This isn't a practical reason, but it's
talks (8)
still cool!) Without silly weirdos working on useless quantum
mechanics 100 years ago instead of doing something immediately Ph.D. student advising (7)
useful for society, we wouldn't have iPhones right now!
faculty job search (7)
Retorts screencast (6)

One potential retort is that plenty of people work on projects that undergrad research (6)
aren't directly driven by market forces. What about people at
email (6)
nonprofits? In the government? Or those working on nonprofit
projects at for-profit companies? At nonprofit and government human computer interaction
jobs, your role is still dictated by short-term goals of the political (6)
market. Benefactors or taxpayers are giving your organization
money, and they expect you to use it to produce something of MIT (5)
immediate value. On the other hand, working on nonprofit writing (5)
projects at for-profit companies is the closest approximation to
Ph.D. life, since the surplus from the rest of your company's high school (5)
profits temporarily funds nonprofit pursuits. However, in my
experience, such projects are usually fleeting and rarely last for memoir (3)
more than a few years; definitely not 4 to 8 years like a Ph.D. And geeks (2)
if you're working on a nonprofit project in a for-profit company,
you are, by definition, not part of the core mission of the learning English (2)
company and are thus not as likely to get as good of promotions or
raises as your peers who are working on for-profit projects. (Also, inane (2)
what about people who work on R&D or research projects in statistics (1)
industry? Many of them have Ph.D. degrees, so you'll likely need
to get one first if you want that type of job.) health (1)

reading (1)
Another retort is that during your Ph.D., you are still bound by
market forces ... of grant or fellowship funding, of your advisor's Computer Science Bloggers
research direction, of your lab's resources. Fair enough. But the
mission of research money is explicitly to fund work with no Lydia Chilton
short-term market value but that could potentially have longer- Julia Evans
term societal value. And your advisor is also motivated by such
longer-term goals. It's not a perfect alignment of interests, but it's Mark Guzdial
the best we can do at the moment.
Allison Kaptur
Created: 2014-09-05 Andy Ko
Last modified: 2014-09-05
Related pages tagged as Ph.D. Grind: Lindsey Kuper

Edmond Lau
Pep talk for new Ph.D. students
Exit Interviews for Ph.D. Students Daniel Lemire
Academia and industry aren't that different
Early-Stage Grad Student Depression Crista Lopes
Writing for Work
Leo Meyerovich
Student Fizz Buzz
Getting Past Superficial Matt Might
Advice for new Ph.D. students
Interested in working on research with me? Cal Newport
Hacking the Ph.D.: Three Serendipitous Projects
Philip's Ph.D. Portal John Regehr
The Ph.D. Grind: tl;dr Edition Margo Seltzer
Ph.D. Dissertation Summary
My thoughts on "The N=1 guide to grad school" by Adam Jaime Teevan
Why pursue a Ph.D.? Suresh Venkatasubramanian
Lessons from the Grind (MIT Technology Review) Matt Welsh
The Ph.D. Grind: Lead From Below
The Ph.D. Grind - Answers to Reader Questions Jean Yang
The Ph.D. Grind: Main Grinds and Side Grinds
The Ph.D. Grind
Overview of Science/Engineering Ph.D. Program Requirements
The similarities between being a junior researcher and a high-
tech entrepreneur
Reflections and advice on life as a mid-stage Ph.D. student
Advice for Ph.D. Program Applications
Advice for Science Fellowship Applications: NSF, NDSEG, Hertz

Related pages tagged as jobs:

Stumbling in the right direction

Deconstructing Luck
The Tenacity Test
Industry versus academia: A junior employee's perspective
A Simple Guide to Professor Job Titles in the United States
Superpowers of Highly Successful People
Organizational Orders of Growth
Motivation, Momentum, and Marketability
Academia and industry aren't that different
Work Time Scales
Unicorn Jobs
What makes a good engineering culture? (guest article)
Why pursue a Ph.D.?
How to Do What You Love: Get Good, Get Known, Get Lucky
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Programming Interview Tips
The similarities between being a junior researcher and a high-
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Five reasons why I decided to pursue a PhD

Some time ago, I was asked why I decided to pursue a PhD, and how I got an idea of what a PhD
candidate's work life looks like. In fact, I had always liked to idea of simply keeping on studying (there's
always more to learn), but when I went to Georgia Tech and was in class with both MS and PhD
students, I got a more realistic idea of what I could expect when deciding to pursue a doctoral degree.

Ultimately, these five reasons are the main reasons why I decided to study for a PhD, and why I enjoy
my studies and research so much:

1. Curiosity

I wanted to know more, I wanted to figure out things - and for that reason, research is about the best fit
possible. I was also curious to explore my own boundaries and abilities and to get off the beaten path
and "work my way through the woods".

2. Intellectual freedom

Even though I do have deadlines, I still have enough time and space to spend on developing thoughts
that simply seem interesting to me. Also, I dislike authority very much, and being able to work for my
degree on my project in all the freedom I like, is about the most ideal work-situation for me.

3. Self-development

While pursuing my doctoral degree, I have been developing my transferable skills much more than I
expected to do. I've had the opportunity to attend workshops and trainings for this goal, but I have also
had the opportunities to bring into practice what I've learned from these workshops - by presenting for
various audiences, traveling to conferences and juggling several smaller projects at the same time.

4. Challenge

The ultimate goal of a doctoral dissertation is to present an original contribution to your study field. To
fulfill this requirement, certain intellectual boundaries have to be pushed, or -as my best friend states it-
we have to reinvent hot water every day.

5. Fun
Science, and in my case experimental research, is fun. There's always an unexpected challenge (or, for
the pessimists among us, a problem) which requires an original and preferable quick fix.

10 truths a PhD supervisor will never tell you

There are some important dos and donts to bear in mind when choosing someone to oversee
your doctoral thesis, advises Tara Brabazon

My father used to tell a joke, over and over again. It was a classic outback Australian, Slim
Dusty joke that like the best dad jokes I cant remember. But I do recall the punchline. Who
called the cook a bastard? To which the answer was, Who called the bastard a cook?

This riposte often comes to mind during discussions about doctoral supervision and candidature
management. Discussions go on (and on and on) about quality, rigour, ethics and preparedness.
Postgraduates are monitored, measured and ridiculed for their lack of readiness or their slow
progress towards completion. But inconsistencies and problems with supervisors and supervision
are marginalised. In response, I think of my fathers one-liner: Who called the supervisor a
bastard? Who called the bastard a supervisor?

To my mind, I never received any satisfactory, effective or useful supervision for my doctorate,
research masters or two coursework masters that contained sizeable dissertation components. I
found the supervisors remote and odd. A couple of them tried to block the submission of the
theses to my institution. Indeed, on three separate occasions in my career, academics informed
me that if I submitted this thesis, it would fail. The results that followed these warnings were a
master of arts passed with distinction, a master of education with first-class honours and a deans
award, and a PhD passed without correction. I was left with the impression that these supervisors
had no idea what they were doing. The worst supervisors share three unforgivable

1. They do not read your writing

2. They never attend supervisory meetings
3. They are selfish, career-obsessed bastards

I am now an experienced supervisor and examiner, but I still remember my own

disappointments. For the doctoral students who follow, I want to activate and align these
personal events with the candidatures I have managed since that time. Particularly, I wish to
share with the next generation of academics some lessons that I have learned about supervisors.

As a prospective PhD student, you are precious. Institutions want you they gain funding,
credibility and profile through your presence. Do not let them treat you like an inconvenient,
incompetent fool. Do your research. Ask questions. Use these 10 truths to assist your decision.

PhD programme, 3 years

Electric Power Engineering (PHELKT)
Programme description

The PhD programme in electric power engineering is standardized to 180 credits (3 years). The
final plan for the PhD programme is designed in consultation with the candidate, the supervisor
and department depending on the subject area for the thesis and the candidate's needs and

Educational objectives

Organized researcher education will ensure academic breadth in selected subject areas, along
with deep knowledge in the topics selected for the doctoral thesis.

Upon the completion of the PhD education, the candidate should be at the forefront of
knowledge in one or several of the Department of Electric Power Engineering's subject areas.
The candidate should be able to evaluate the application of different methods in these subject
areas and will contribute to the development of new knowledge, new theories and new methods
in the subject area.

Upon completion of the PhD degree, the candidate should be able to formulate questions for, and
plan and carry out research in one or more of the Department of Electric Power Engineering's
subject areas. The candidate should be able to conduct research at a high international level, and
should be able to address complex technical questions and challenge established knowledge and
practices in the area. The candidate will be able to evaluate the work of others at the same level.

General expertise
Upon completion of the PhD degree, the candidate should be able to conduct research with
professional and ethical integrity. The candidate will be able to participate in complex
multidisciplinary assignments and projects, provide research and development via recognized
national and international channels, participate in debates in the field in international forums and
assess the need to take the initiative to drive innovation. The candidate should be able to quickly
acquire new knowledge in the field.

Subject areas

The PhD programme in electric power engineering is academically linked to the department's
main platforms, which are represented by the following academic groups:

Energy transformation
Power systems
Electrical installations
Michigan Tech offers program concentrations in energy systems, information systems,
and solid-state electronics.
Energy systems emphasize power systems, with renewable energy and power electronics
as other major areas of interest. Examples include protection, operation, and control of
power systems; theory and use of commercial packages for fault, power flow, and
transient studies; and power-system components including transformers, rotating
machines, and circuit breakers.