Scope and perspective
A PhD is certainly not the right path for everyone but it can be an extremely enjoyable intellectual experience for those who get their bearings right. A key factor to consider is that a research interest has to be a long-term interest, not something that changes on a regular basis. The key question to ask oneself is: can you find a problem or a field you are passionate about and want to bring value to? A PhD is also usually a slow process ranging from about 3-4 years on average in the European Union (EU) to more than 5 years in the United States (US) and elsewhere in the world. So it is extremely important to treat the PhD for what it really is: an intellectual experience that requires tenacity and dedication. However, the course of obtaining a PhD will provide invaluable skills that will pay off both in academia and the competitive job market. The all-important question to ask oneself before doing a PhD is “why?” because both the success of an application for a PhD and the PhD itself depend on the central motivation.
Pros and cons of doing a PhD
For people who take joy in learning new things, sharpening their analytical skills several fold and toughen up from the ”shark tank” situations that come up on a regular basis, a PhD could well be a road to consider. PhDs usually differentiate themselves by being able to generate new information instead of repackaging old information, a unique selling point which can be leveraged both within, and outside of, academic environments. Doctoral programs generally have involved soft skill courses as well as several examinations, presentation and conference visits which enhance professional communication skills. PhDs can usually tolerate a lot of pressure and rough work environments which make them desirable candidates for demanding job titles. However, the biggest advantage of doing a PhD is the intellectual stimulation that comes from discovering something new, digging into the roots of a field and overcome previous limitations and challenges- this is often the single most compelling reason to consider a doctoral degree.
While a PhD experience can help one to quickly learn and adjust into new fields, a PhD is not a direct route to a job. Being all absorbed into a given sub-topic within a field can lead to a one-dimensional approach to professional life which often makes employers hesitate to hire PhDs. PhDs are often also considered to be overqualified which can make job hunting a complicated process. The time one needs to invest in a PhD would be equivalent to two or three promotions in the “real job” environment.
What is life like as a PhD student?
A PhD, unlike a bachelor’s or master’s degree, does not have a clearly defined trajectory- this could be both an advantage and a disadvantage. Usually, a PhD does not proceed along a perfectly planned path and there is often a lot of restructuring and re-planning which results in a lot of stress and anxiety which varies depending on the emotional investment into gaining a PhD. However, the presence of deadlines imposed by supervisors or doctoral committee members and funding organizations usually makes the life of a grad student revolve entirely around work. While PhD scholarships and findings have now become quite generous, with some PhD studentships even being considered as part-time or full-time jobs, a PhD is not a ”real job”- it is very important to understand and accept this. PhD students are very often cash strapped and there is almost always a struggle for funding towards the end of the funding period. However, there is also never a dull moment in the PhD for the very same reason.
Paths and prospects after a PhD
A PhD can prepare one for a variety of career paths depending on the transferable skills that one can gain during the course of a PhD. Most doctoral students exhibit excellent project, people and time management skills. Technical skills depend, of course, on the field of specialization. Thinking out of the box, however, can lead to a number of exciting opportunities both within and outside of academia. Writing skills also often set PhDs apart.
How do you stand out?
PhDs are attractive candidates for a variety of jobs in view of their excellent transferable skills as well as the ability to add value by generating new information. They are usually qualified for a variety of specialized roles in view of their technical skills which depend on the field of study. Considering that PhDs generally have a rigorous training, they are generally given preference over other job applicants for roles demanding extended skill sets.
For PhDs who want to remain in academia and research, there are a lot of lucrative opportunities with generous funding for postdoctoral fellowships and even industrial postdocs which has now become a growing trend effectively bridging the gap between industry and academia. Depending on the field of specialization, publication and other measurable credentials during one’s PhD, there could be a multitude of possible paths to pursue.
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Author Bio– Dr. Promit Ray is the team lead for Destination PhD programme of BrainAura. He also works as a Business Intelligent Consultant for a Healthcare Service Provider in Germany.