Why do a PhD?

general phd May 15, 2023
Descriptive, man in long sleeved shirt at computer

I recall when I told my degree course mates that I was going to do a PhD after the course, I received the same response from all them… “WHY?!” When I was interviewed for my PhD position, I was also asked why I wanted to do the PhD? To them all, I answered “There is something that I am passionate about that requires a solution. I want to find that solution.”

I started the doctorate thinking that all the other students with me had the same intention, they wanted to solve a problem that they cared about. Boy was I wrong. Doctoral students come from all walks of life, background and life experience. It stands to assume that they all have their unique reason for walking into a 3-year (or longer) programme of immense torture and joy. I tell my clients that they should not let anyone diminish the significance of their doctoral journey because of their reasons of starting the programme; no one is in a position to judge the value of another person’s intentions. However, everyone should at least be able to answer that why question with confidence.

The doctoral programme will test your resolve. If you are not able to clearly convince yourself why you should press on and get to the end, it will be even more of a struggle. The PhD has a successful completion rate of 80.5% in the UK. Unsuccessful students fail or drop out of the course due to various reasons. Really knowing why you start the programme (I don’t mean the politically correct answer) will go a long way in motivating you to work through the tough times. Here are some reasons I have heard of. They are not ranked in any order, nor do they differ in significance. They are equally valid and equally legitimate reasons for each individual.


The Problem Solver

Similar to myself, there are many people who are truly passionate about a certain topic or a problem that they want to resolve through their doctoral programme. It could be testing a new drug for diabetes, improve the curriculum, developing a theory about certain cultures etc. We are driven heavily by the topic of research and the pleasure of developing the solution ourselves or to see that we have made a difference in the field. The sense of achievement is often not drawn from the certification but the body of work that was produced.


The Career Minded

For some people, the doctorate opens up new job opportunities for them. For healthcare professionals, it is a requirement to climb to higher bands or pay scales. For some people, it is about breaking in research or teaching. The doctorate offers these people opportunities to work in new areas or at a higher level.

The doctorate offers a rather unique experience. Not often do people get the opportunity to manage a 3-year long project on their own. Along with this experience comes many opportunities to learn skills that employers value deeply such as planning, self-management, collaboration skills and argumentative skills.

The Academic
The doctorate signifies the highest academic achievement for many people. For the education-minded, it is a key milestone in their personal and academic development. They probably do not need the doctorate for their jobs or for any other reason than to show that they have arrived at the end of their academic journey. Within our society, the doctorate means something. Some people treat you differently and some hold you in higher esteem. It is a badge of honour to be worn proudly because it a certification of your efforts and achievement.


The Explorer

The doctorate offers an opportunity to break free from certain circumstances. It is an opportunity for someone to explore life in a different university or country, work with researchers around the world, share and contribute to the wider pool of knowledge. It is a way to attain global citizenship and it allows one to work with experts anywhere in the world and contribute to global causes.


The Expert

Quite naturally, being a doctorate holder also means that you have contributed to an area of knowledge. You have found something that no one else has. In other words, you are a certified smarty-pants in your area of research. You are the person people go to for answers in that area. To be treated seriously in the field of academia, you must be respected as an expert in an area and the doctorate is a recognition of your expertise.

Why do you want to do a doctorate?