These are views after having talked to several people that I know who have obtained PhDs and struggled to get a decent job.
Requirements for a PHD are a minimum of 2.1 (first degree) or 2.2 with Masters.
Is it worth the extra years? In some cases yes and for some people not.
PHD is worth the extra hard work if you want to become a researcher, want to teach as a professor or work at higher level for the government or NGO's. Although the private sector also employs people with PhDs one must consider all the facts before starting a PHD because after completing it you will over qualify yourself for most jobs and some employers don't like employees with PhDs as it could be seen as intimidating.
Main factors to consider are minimum of three years of study for PHD. Plus you have to choose a project to write as a thesis which is part of the degree, funding from central government fund or from private sector could be very competitive to obtain so you have to have good references as well as minimum grades. The best way to study is fund yourself, this will make it easier to find a supervisor but you have to convince of your ability.
Good luck to anyone thinking of doing a PhD but remember it may not be the best option for the profession you intend to pursue.
More info at http://www.findaphd.com/students/explain.asp
Oh come on Brits, 3 years is nothing for a Ph.D. In the USA and most other places in Europe, we do 5-7 years for the Ph.D. So why are you complaining about a measily 3 years? 3 years is like a masters here in the USA. Average age for a Ph.D. in USA is 30. I see plenty of Brits over here age 25-26 who call themselves postdocs yet don't know what the hell they're doing in the laboratory. To all Brits who are thinking of getting a REAL Ph.D. with REAL challenges, I suggest you go to graduate school in the US. Trust me, after your 300 page thesis with 300 references, years of teaching, 6 papers, and 6 years of graduate school, THEN I'll call you a Doctor.
Noted physicist William Henry Bragg was famously known to have said, whatever you do, dont do a PhD. However, noted opinionator collingwood21 feels that whatever you do, dont do a PhD without giving it a lot of thought is perhaps a more constructive standpoint to approach this subject. Having passed my PhD some two weeks ago now, I feel than I am in a good position to reflect on my experience, having now recovered from the shock (then joy, then hangover) of surviving the examination process.
I think a good place to start would probably be a bit of explanation as to what a PhD is, given the esoteric nature of the thing. PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy put basically, this is a type of higher degree gained through conducting original research (rather than attending a taught course) that allows holders to use the title Doctor. It was originally an abbreviation for the Latin Philosophiæ Doctor (teacher of philosophy), given by universities to learned individuals who had demonstrated peer acceptance and a lifelong commitment to learning and the spread of knowledge. These days, a PhD (in UK universities things vary in Europe and North America) is undertaken by students who usually already have a good Bachelors and Masters degree, and takes 3 to 5 years of full-time study (although universities are getting increasingly keen for their students to complete in under 4 years). For part time students it can take a lot longer; I recently spoke to one woman who took 12 years to get her PhD! The PhD culminates in a thesis, which in the case of my faculty was described as being of around 100,000 words in length, and as well as having elements of originality, must fulfill the wonderfully vague notion of containing material of publishable quality. In my case, I took 3.5 years, produced a thesis of 130,000 words and have not yet been published (although I am working on it ).
As you may have guessed by now, doing a PhD is somewhat different from the conventional notion of being a student. I know people who have signed up to do one largely because they enjoyed the undergraduate lifestyle and rather liked the idea of it continuing for another few years; such people tend to either (1) do little or no work and get kicked off their course within a year, or (2) become disillusioned that knowledge is no longer going to be spoon fed to them in bite-size amounts on a daily basis, that they dont have a large group of classmates any more, and that they dont get 3 months off over the summer, and subsequently drop out. This is, you might have guessed, not a good reason to start a PhD. Although you will still have the word student in your occupation title (which will therefore mean a lot of people automatically assume you stay in bed half the day and dont do any real work), a PhD is nearer to a full-time job in terms of the way you are expected to manage your own research project, in the hours you keep, and in the fact that you dont get the university holidays off. Well, you could take them off, but you would never complete within 5 years! So there it is. No routine lecture schedule. No essays. No written exams. Just an idea of a research area, with 4 years and the odd meeting with your supervisor in which to produce a thesis that meets the criteria required. Put like this, I suppose it really is no surprise that 90% of students who dont get their PhD are drop-outs rather than people failing the final examination.
**Help Where Do I Start??**
My career as a PhD student began with a very laid back meeting with the Professor who was to beome my supervisor. As I was soon to learn, my supervisor was always very laid back and didnt really seem to believe in deadlines for me or him. I came to the meeting with a general idea of a research topic, and left a short while later with a mandate to go away and read things for the next 6 months or so, then come back to him with a more clearly defined research topic and idea of where I could make an original contribution. At this point, I was feeling completely overwhelmed and was heartily wishing I hadnt started on this course. I can still remember the feeling of walking into the university library knowing I had to read things but not having a clue what to read. My supervisor had given me no indication. This was my project it was up to me to figure it out.
This was a complete culture shock after a taught course in which I was given bibliographies and lists of recommended reading! But, a PhD is often described an an apprenticeship; it is training in becoming an independent researcher. Part of being independent means working out for yourself what you need to do, and although it is bloody terrifying at first, being thrown in at the deep end like this does help you to develop this skill, and confidence in your own ability to search for, evaluate and critique information.
**PhDs Should Carry A Government Health Warning**
One of the biggest problems that PhD students encounter is isolation. When you are an undergraduate, you are in a large group of people, all experiencing the same thing: if you have a problem with a certain essay, there are a dozen other people doing the same essay that you can talk to about it. When you are a PhD student, by the very definition of the course there is noone else doing exactly the same thing as you, and there might not even be anyone else in your department working on even a broadly related topic or at the same stage of research as you. I was fortunate in that the research base of my department was expanding whilst I was there, so there were several other PhD students to talk to even if it was only to gripe about how certain staff members were never in the country when you needed to talk to them! I also benefitted from knowing people locally from having done my Masters degree at the same university, although there were still plenty of times when I felt very alone. I could well understand how lonely it must be as a new PhD student in a new university, knowing noone else there, especially if you are in a department that doesnt provide workspaces or offices in the university for their research students. If you think that working alone (often at home all day) may be an issue for you, then it is a very serious point to consider before undertaking a PhD. Depression is far from unknown amongst research students.
A lot of students also having trouble coping with the prospect of writing something as big as the PhD thesis. As any seasoned dooyooer will tell you, writing is fairly easy once you know what you are writing about but that is scant consolation in the early stages of a PhD. It is also little comfort to those PhD students who find themselves sitting in a physiotherapists office having damaged their wrists from excessive amounts of typing whilst trying to desperately finish their thesis on time (as I can verify).
**Pros & Cons**
At the end of 3.5 years of wandering around in circles, panicking, experiencing frequent fits of gloom and despair, suffering frequent inadequacy crises and eventually (somehow) emerging with a PhD, I am amazed to find I have learned things. Not just things about the obscure field I was working in, but useful Real World things too. Take time management. Or independence. Or better IT skills, improved confidence, organization, or the ability to negotiate. And that is before I mention the academic skills of giving presentations, writing, arguing, debating, analysing, or critical thinking (also known as finding fault with other peoples work). Yes, I could have easily learned these skills in a Proper Job, but what Proper Job allows you to be all pretentious and stick the work Doctor before your name, I ask? Well, yes, being a medical doctor, but you see the point I am making. Skills AND a cool title! There is also the wonderful sense of satisfaction you get from having taken on such a seemingly impossible task and winning especially the looks you get from the other PhD students, LOL.
There are of course disadvantages, too. As well as the points I have already mentioned, you have to contend with the eternal battle for funding I had a grant for 3 years, but spent the last 6 months of my PhD trying to fit a part-time job into my already hectic life. As a result, it was 3 more years of living at student levels of economy, whereas 3 years of employment would have left me in a much improved financial situation.
Added to this there are also greatly different standards of supervision to contend with. When you pick your supervisor (or are picked by them in my case), it is purely on the basis of how your research topic matches their field of knowledge. Just because someone is assigned to be your supervisor doesnt mean that in any way they will be good at it. If you have a supervisor who is prominent in their field, it will often mean that they will frequently be away at conferences (usually when you really need to speak with them), for example. Some supervisors also have an annoying habit of never being in their office, and refusing to respond to phonecalls and emails sent to them. I have seen students reduced to tears by bad supervision or even having their collaborative project with industry withdrawn because of it, losing them a years worth of work as they couldnt use the data they had already collected. Its a big issue, and there is a limited amount you can do about it without employing lengthy and unpleasant university complaints procedures.
**So Is It Worthwhile Or A Waste Of Time?**
I think ultimately it depends on the person doing the PhD. If you have chosen a topic that interests you sufficiently and that you can tackle with the timescale you have, and if you are prepared to put in the work required without someone constantly having to check up on you, then it can be a very worthwhile and satisfying experience. But do check up on your prospective supervisor before commiting to work with them a bad relationship with your mentor can make the whole thing a waste of time.
**Useful Further Reading**
Rugg, G. and Petre, M. (2004) The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research. Open University.
Dunleavy, P. (2003) Authoring a PhD. Palgrave Macmillan.
Muray, R. (2003) How to Survive Your Viva. Open University.
I thought that some of you might be interested to know how things panned out. Skip to the end to the part marked *UPDATE* if you’ve read the rant from before. A wisened old PhD graduate once said to me "you never make up the money you miss while studying for your PhD". After three years I can tell you, he was absolutely right. So what's the deal? Science PhDs are usually funded by one of the research councils. They pay your course fees and a maintance grant of around £6500 tax free. This is a quota award. The actual grant varies between research councils and it is rumoured to be going up (however, this has been rumoured for the last 3 years). You get a little bit of extra cash if you're a mature student and if you accept a CASE award affiliating yourself to a company you get an extra £3000. The downside is that you have to work for them for 3 months during your PhD and they have ownership over your results, ie they tell you when you can publish. You can make a bit of extra pocket money by tutoring or demonstrating at university or outside. This is usually quite well paid, £10 - £20 per hour. This all doesn't sound too bad does it? The money situation is poor but you're still a student so life is cheap. You learn a lot during a PhD but I don't believe that what you learn has anything to do with your subject. You learn how to organise your time, what motivates you, how to start again when things go wrong (for the tenth time). I still would not recommend a PhD to anyone though. I suppose the one word which describes a PhD is frustrating. I know about 3 PhD students about of about 100 who actually get on with their supervisor and I think this is the biggest problem. Supervisors have complete autonomy over you. If you have a grievance there is very little you can do. Unlike industry your supervisor is not accountable for how s/he treats you. I have known many PhD st
udents suffer from depression, low self esteem and alcoholism (research PhD students are some of the biggest drinkers.) If you get a group of postgraduates and postdoctorates together, they will recount tales of supervisors from hell. For example, there was a supervisor who hit a student, a supervisor who searched though students private things at work and one student who left for work in the morning to find her supervisor in the kitchen after sleeping with her housemate. No action was taken against any of these people despite compaints being made. The more common situation however, is the supervisor who is never there. His resemblance to "Dungeon Master" from Dungeons and Dragons is uncanny. You're mid discussion about your research and turn around and before you can say "PowerPoint" he's on a lecturing tour of the US. Do I regret doing my PhD? Yes. The reason I did it was because I loved my BSc. This is a poor reason. Undergraduate degrees are very different to postgraduate ones. If you can take 6 months of no progress in your research and implications by your supervisor that this is as a result of your incompitence then fine, go ahead. It might work for you. If you're thinking about improved job prospects, generally it's a fallacy, especially as after a PhD most people hate their subject so much, they change career anyway. If you think you'll be able to spend three more years partying, that can be true but chose your supervisor carefully. I know plenty of supervisors who insist their students have to be at work from 9am to 6pm daily. If you're dead set on the idea, remember if you go for it and a year into your PhD you decide it's not for you, whatever your supervisor says, write up an MPhil instead, save your sanity, I wish I had! I received a poem today that sums things up nicely... (In the style of Philip Larkin) PhDs. By Rebecca Stacey
They fuck you up do PhD.s You realise when it's gone too far And find you're supping herbal teas Instead of propping up the bar. Each student's fucked up in his turn, Each project bears a deadly curse. The fieldwork's bad, but soon you learn That writing up is even worse. Man hands on chapter draft to man, Who doesn't buy your central theme. Get out as quickly as you can And stay away from academe. *UPDATE* My supervisor was determined to get as much research out of me as possible. He wanted me to carry on with practical work but I could see it was getting me nowhere. At the beginning of December 2001, I went to see him and told him I thought I had enough to finish writing up and the next person could continue my work. He disagreed with me and even said, “do what you like but it’s you that has to defend your thesis not me!” For those of you who have been saved from the world of PhDs, I had nearly finished writing up the remainder of my work. I had written over 200 pages and was working between 12 and 16 hours a day, every day because I wanted to be rid of this offensive thing from my life. When he implied that he wasn’t sure I’d pass, I felt like crying but I stuck to my guns. I then told him that I’d be finished and submitted by Christmas (he said I wouldn’t but I handed in 2 weeks before Christmas day). My supervisor then delayed my viva deliberately by failing to hand in a form. Eventually, 3 months later, I had my viva. It was the shortest viva ever in my research group and I passed easily with minor corrections (they took me 2 hours to complete). My supervisor then had the cheek to say to me “well Heidi, when you’ve written an excellent thesis like yours, you’re bound to pass easily.” Why could he not give me a compliment once during my PhD? Why only in front of other lecturers
who had already expressed their high opinion of me? I left university that day feeling depressed that one man could have marred so much of the preceding 3 and a half years. I look at my bound thesis now with pride that I achieved in the face of such adversity. I can’t look back without feeling angry though and I hope that there will be reform of the PhD system to prevent supervisors abusing their position again. In practice, it doesn’t happen. Students can’t complain because they are reliant on references for their first jobs and any professional qualifications or membership. In the Royal society magazine for my subject a letter was published about a year ago, which displayed many similar feelings on PhDs. Unfortunately the letter was refuted by academics, one of whom attends my old university. I hope that in years to come I will be in a position to help the reform of this antiquated system. It needs it. It’s only a matter of time before someone really does something horrible. In the depths of my PhD induced depression (for which I was receiving help) you don’t want to know of the ways I thought of to end it. Anyway, on a more cheerful note, I am now out of it and I hope this serves as a cautionary tale. If you still chose a PhD, be careful on your choice of supervisor and stand up for yourself.
I have read some of the excellent ops in this section and felt that one more wouldn?t hurt. I aim to give an overview of the whole PhD process and I will illustrate this with my experiences throughout the course of my PhD, some humorous, some not? Anyway, I think the best place to start is why do a PhD? I think the majority of people go on to do PhD?s after they graduate because they see it as a natural progression in their education. For example, I did biochemistry and probably about one third of my year went onto to do PhD?s. This was probably because short research projects in their final years had whetted their appetite (that was the case for me). In my experience, I wanted to do a clinically related project and was fortunate enough to get offered one in the Royal Liverpool University Hospital. I?ll come back to this later. Other reasons for doing a PhD range from those wanting the title to those fortunate individuals who have a good job and are being industrially sponsored to do theirs. I have only known two people who started PhD?s for the title and status ? they left before the end of their first year. This is probably a good time to agree with other ops in this forum ? if you are doing a PhD for any other reason than you are interested in it, you will have a hard time. It is a long learning curve. For me, the reason it is called a Doctor in Philosophy is because it is not until the end that you have adapted to handling information in an advanced manner. I read a class quote regarding the criteria for awarding one?s PhD, which sums this up: ?A PhD thesis should contain unique research which shows the author has explored and expanded the frontiers of knowledge. This writing should convey the development of the authors ideas which have arisen following years of contemplation, observation and reflection?. This fine statement is from a splendid book entitled ?Scientists Must Write? by Robert Barrass (Chapman & Hal
l; ISBN: 0412154307). I include the reference, as I would recommend this book to anyone involved in any sort of research. In fact, I had this quote above my desk towards he conclusion of my studies and it generated quite a lot of humour, colleagues often walking in and saying ?Ah, Simon, still pushing back those frontiers, ha ha ha?.? Etc? Oh, maybe it?s just me that was amused then. So back to the main subject. You have started your PhD, you have had that first cup of coffee with the supervisor and then, you make your way tentatively out of the security of his office and before you know it, you are up to your eyes in literature searches. For me, my time was split between clinical studies on patients, laboratory preparation and analysis and the remaining time keeping up to date with the lit and generating several million Excel files. OK, you may consider me to be exaggerating with the million reference, and you could accuse me of being inaccurate, but I have my PhD, so :op to you. I think that every new PhD student I have met, says something like ?Oh, I?ll write up continually along the way, so I don?t have to do it all at the end?. Indeed, the young Ahoy was guilty of uttering these words. I have never met anyone who has done this and who hasn?t suffered ?writing up?. I shall return to this at the end of this op. Another excellent phrase I adopted was ?PhD?s, all about peaks and troughs?. I, naively, took this to mean that there would be many highs and lows, for example, going to numerous international symposia after slogging away at an abstract or paper. Oh no, my education continued. There are 3 peaks and two troughs. Peak One ? The anticipation of starting. Peak Two ? Submission of the thesis Peak Three ? Passing the viva Trough One lasts approximately 3 years. During this time, you will reach the abyss at 18months, when you realise that you have done nothing for 18months and that you have 18months left to do 36
months work. This deepens at the start of you final year when you still have done nothing and your supervisor calls you in for a chat to inform you of this. But, miraculously, you get it sussed. To be honest, what you set out to do, and what you hand in are two different things entirely. You have suffered anguish in writing up ? it is so boring and fiddly. I hated it. If it wasn?t bad enough writing the damn thing, it was almost unbearable doing your lists of contents, figure and tables, only for your supervisor to chop the chapters around and you to have to redo it. Then what happens? You show them the second draft and they change it back to what you had before (there?s a lesson in there!!) But who cares. You have submitted and have left trough one forever? So now you have a viva date and you?re in trough two. Trough two is full of nightmares of the viva, the external examiner gleefully tearing you apart, the shame of your supervisor looking down on you in disgust and you not being able to call yourself ?Doctor? after all this anguish. In your waking hours, you fear that the thesis contains terrible errors, yet an invisible forcefield surrounds your copy and prevents you from reading through it before the viva. All of a sudden, you are outside the examiners' office, and your supervisor only comments on how smart you look. The fact you haven?t slept for 24hours and have only had 5 coffees and half a Mars bar does nothing to calm your nerves. This was the case for me. I went in for the viva and went out four and a half-hours later, while they discussed my performance. I phoned a mate and told him that I?d failed. They?d pulled it apart. They weren?t ?wildly impressed?, to quote my internal! They called me back in and the internal examiner congratulated me on something ? I wasn?t sure what. As we sipped champagne in my supervisors? office about 5minutes later, it dawned. I?d passed. My mates in the pub said I looked like ?a rabb
it caught in the headlights? as I walked in. A fine night ensued. Not appropriate to discuss here though? OK, so that?s it. My views on a PhD, illustrated with my own experiences. I feel it appropriate to include a quote which has now entered PhD circulation (which I hope will be attributed to me): ?You wouldn?t do two PhD?s, would you!!?
Why do you want a PhD? Prestige, financial gain, academic pleasure or just because you couldn't think of anything else to do? None of these are valid reasons. So we are back to the original question - why? I chose a PhD because I enjoy research, I enjoy university life and quite simply, I wanted a PhD. But there does have to be something else there to drive you when the going gets sticky (and it will). All I can tell you is my story... After finishing my university undergrad course, I decided that I wanted to go on and carry on some interesting work I had been doing at the previous uni. I chose my new post-grad place rather at random (luckily worked out well) and my supervisor much by the same method (unluckily didn't work out well!) Piece of advice number one - choose your Yoda well. If the supervisor is top of their profession and internationally known, chances are you won't see them for dust. BUT...they do have their uses. Stay on the good side and work hard and they'll do just about anything for you! (Especially one placed in charge of the purse strings!) Piece of advice number two - work. Obvious but largely ignored in the first year. Yes, I am sure your parents/friends/pets are well impressed by your powerful brain, but you do have to actually DO something when you get there you know. Start as you mean to go on. Plan, plan, plan. Every day you chip away at the bigger picture...every day you spend down the pub 'conceptualising' is another step closer to failure. I kid you not. But is it worth it? Well as a second year PhD student who has been messed up in almost every way you can be by supervisor, participants and equipment...yes. I think it is actually. When a piece of work goes well, you finish a challenging bit of transcribing or your supervisor gets really excited about something, it's good. It makes you get excited and strive to do well. And I think it does add kudo's to your CV
at the end of it all. And you don't have to go into academia straight away, in fact I would suggest don't, unless you are in some specialised science world where one test tube is rather the same as another. Overall, think carefully about why you want to do it. Don't feel that your first idea has to be your only idea. PhD's morph into all sorts of things, you can add what you want within reason as you go along. Money will be tight but the opportunities for work within the university should be there to keep you bumbling along. And in the end, for me, it's the day I get to call myself Dr. that really takes the biscuit!
I'm a second year student on a PhD course at the University of Sheffield. I'm not a great example of someone who is completely dedicated and works all hours in order to complete their PhD within 3 years. After all I'm currently writing an opinion on Dooyoo rather than getting any work done. Still, this doesn't mean that I'm completely undedicated, in fact there are times when my PhD is going really well and there is nothing else that I would rather do. I don't know if the way I started my PhD here is that unusual, but my department approached me to ask if I wanted to stay on to do research. I had to apply to the Economic and Social Research Council for funding which was a horrible process as it gave me even more work to do during the final semester of my degree. I then had to wait to August to find out whether I was sucessful and I wasn't. Fortunately the department funded me for a one year Masters/ PHd programme and I had to go through the whole process again. I did get a grant the second time and it also means I get 4 year funding, which was nice. However, even though I was applying with a department I had been with for 3 years, it was a horrible and scary process. I dread to think what it would have been like if it had been a new university. So if you are thinking of doing a PhD maybe consider staying with your current department if they have funding. I found the first year quite challenging as it was all very new and the best thing about doing assignments as an undergraduate is that when you hand them in, as long as you pass, you never have to see them again. However, with a PhD you have to write work, then revise it again and again and again. I have just spent about 4 months revising a questionnaire for fieldwork (which isn't uncommon in my department). Also in the first year besides being told to do lots and lots of reading, you generally have a research training programme which means lectures and a
ssignments which take up quite a bit of time. We had to take modules within our department but if you get a choice then see what is offered by the Graduate School and the rest of the university. I think the main challenges of the PhD process are: Supervision - it's quite challenging to develop a good working relationship with someone who was previously just an unknown lecturer, but it's the key to getting good work done. It's important to talk to them if you are having problems, as opposed to just avoiding them. Reading - everyone says to read as much in the first year and it's completely true. Try and get as much breadth in your reading as possible as well as depth. Even then you still have masses to read after that, so the more you can do at the beginning the better. I particularly love journal articles and readers/ collections of work. They are so much more concise and also you get better ideas about the authors that are any good. Networking - how I loathe this word but it's completely important to your Phd. I found it really useful to go to conferences and speak to people with similar research interests. I've met lots of helpful academics who have sent me papers and also given me helpful criticism and advice. Accommodation - when considering any department make sure you see what facilities it offers to its PhD students. I think it's quite a good reflection of how much they value you. I'm quite lucky as our department lets us have offices in a nice victorian house, with a park in between us and our supervisors. It's also great because you see most of the other PhD students and it's always helpful to talk, and especially moan with/ to them. Motivation - it's important to try and keep motivated. Course run by the Graduate School are generally very helpful and you get to meet lots of other people in similar situations. Also books about the PhD pro
cess and writing papers and dissertations are quite helpful if you feel lost. Most importantly, my supervisor is very helpful as you knows I tend to produce very little work unless she gives me deadlines. I guess I should be doing this myself, but it's nice to have a human supervisor who remembers what is was like to do a PhD. I have found the process quite hard overall to date but on the other hand the times it's going well make up for it. I like to remember that I will be the world expert on my particular (very small) topic when I finish my PhD. Oh and instead of some annoying telesale person asking me if I'm Mrs or Miss and finding it hilarious when I say Ms, I can say Doctor!!
This is really a good topic. Is Phd waste of time? Well I must say it depends on what a people wants in his or her life. As for me I think it is worth its while indeed. I am saying that from my point of view of course. I am currently doing Ph.D. on software engineering in University of Southampton. Honestly I really enjoy it because I learn a lot from it. Let me tell you why I want to do Ph.D. in United Kingdom. 1. First of all, of course I am lucky to have my university sponsor me. In other words I don't have to spend a penny of mine on any living expanse in United Kingdom. 2. I am still young and I think it is still early for me to entering the industrial world. I want to earn as much as possible from academics before start my industrial career. Of course it really depends on what you want for your life. When I think of I will spend the rest of my life in industrial world, I will definitely spend some of my life in academics first. 3. I like doing the research on software engineering -- reading, planning my own time, presenting my studies, looking for information and so forth. Of course I enjoy doing my topic. 4. Lastly I hope that I could earn a better career after graduating from Ph.D.. I plan to go back to my home country and I think with what I learned I would have a better chance to get a better job which I love. Well, as I keep saying it really depends on what you want in your life. However as for me, doing Ph.D is a gold opportunity and I wouldn't want to miss it.
The decision about whether you should undertake a Ph.D. should be taken for the right reasons. I can tell you honestly that if it’s for financial gain – then forget it. There are very few companies that require you to have a Ph.D. as an essential qualification. Many people do a Ph.D. to be able to stay in the academic world, become a lecturer, and have a career at a university. If you wish to pursue this type of career then it is indeed an essential qualification. In recent years, though, these positions have become quite scarce. It is not uncommon for postdoctoral staff to wander from grant to grant for years without ever being able to establish themselves in a research field. Financially, you would be better off taking up a position in a company when you have graduated than after spending three years pursuing specialised research. Often, the research is of interest to only a minority of people so it is unlikely to gain you any financial advantage when you apply for a position. Some companies even take a dim view of people with a Ph.D. – from their perspective, they are difficult to train and indoctrinate. One of the good benefits of a Ph.D. is that you are your own boss for three years. You determine when you will work, how you will work, and where you will work. As with anything, though, there are some boundary conditions that are slightly beyond your control. You will have a supervisor. Ideally, you will meet with them on a regular basis. They will help to steer your work and prevent you going to far down any blind alleys. Almost everybody will wander down a few but a good supervisor will gently push you back on course. If you are unlucky, your supervisor will be a high-flying professor that is rarely about and when they are on campus, they are usually involved in either staff or administrative meetings. You will be one of many students and research staff desperately trying to gain an audience with the wise-
one before they jet off again to some other important conference. The prestige of working with somebody like this is very good but often you are left to your own devices to progress your research. If you are lucky, you will have a supervisor that is interested in the research you are undertaking and will take an active interest in your results. They will be willing to meet and discuss issues and help guide you through any difficult stages. There will always be some difficult stages! What does a Ph.D. teach you? It teaches you how to question things. It teaches you how to find out things. It teaches you how to be self-reliant and be critical of other peoples results. It will also teach you how to pull together some disparate pieces of work to make some sense of it. Or rather – you will have to teach yourself how to do these things. You will also have to develop some sort of routine and discipline. Some people like to work late, some like to start early, but you will need to get into a routine – just like having a job. Otherwise the three years will just slip by and you will always be saying that you will do it tomorrow, next week. Remember, there are still a lot of people who complete the three years and never get around to writing it all up. So why should you do a Ph.D.? You should only do it if you are genuinely interested in the subject. Three years is a long time trying to specialise in something you are not interested in. Mostly, you should do it for your own enjoyment. Enjoy the freedom, enjoy the subject, enjoy yourself. In the end, it takes a lot of dedication to complete the Ph.D. and if you doubt that, consider the thesis you will have to write! Even for those that like writing, this is a daunting task. And no matter how much time you have allowed to write it all up – it will not be enough! Finally you have to go through the ordeal of the viva! This is where you have to explain your work to
experts in the field. They are there to make sure it is your work, that it is original and contributes to the field. Everybody gets nervous for this but the thought of it is almost always worse than the reality. Yes, you are asked some difficult questions, but it’s your work and by this stage – you should know your subject! When it is all over and you get the nod, then you have every right to feel pleased and even a little bit proud of what you have accomplished. You will deserve that celebration drink!
This opinion is written entirely from my own experiences so is probably rather biased. However if there is anyone out there thinking about doing a PhD it may give you some food for thought! I finished my PhD almost exactly a year ago. I can honestly say that I did enjoy it but it was a lot of hard work - especially the last 6 months. I decided to do a Phd after realising that the big wide world working environment was not for me. I was stuck in a lab job which was boring monotonous and had absolutely no chance of promotion. When I finished my undergrad I wanted to do a Masters but, after several interviews and the offers of places with no funding, I had to work. This PhD was the only one I actually got around to applying for in my disorganised fashion. Things moved very quickly from the application to the interview where I was offered the PhD there and then. Starting a PhD is very daunting. You are used to practical classes where you go into the lab and follow the instructions in the lab manual. A PhD is not like that. I spent about the first 6 months doing background reading so I actually knew what I was doing and why and also learning the techniques that would see me through the next 3 years. after those 6 montha were up I basically lived in the laboratory. I didn't work Mon-Fri and I certainly didn't work 9am-5pm! Science definately does not work like that. I was lucky - I really enjoyed what I was doing and motivating myself to get out of bed every morning was no problem. That doesn't mean to say that I didn't lie in until after 10 and leave early when I was bored or things weren't going well! I had the flexibility and, as far as my supervisors were concerned, as long as I did the work they didn't mind what hours I kept. Supervisors are extremely important and mine were brilliant. I clicked with my main supervisor when I came up for the interview and know that one of the reasons I got the post was because m
y personality would fit in with the dept. Everyone in our dept is outgoing and extremely friendly which helps no end. I met my other two supervisors about a month before I started when they attended a conference near my home. We all went to the pub and got rather drunk. It was wonderful as I saw them as real approachable human beings which has continued throughout my studies. My PhD has allowed me to publish several papers and to travel to international and European conferences to present my work. This is invaluable as it allows you to meet other people working in your field in an informal setting and possible job contacts for when you finish! It also looks very good on your CV if you have a publication record. I think the main reason that I did a PhD was that I wanted to keep learning. I didn't feel as though I had stretched myself far enough with my undergrad and I wanted to see how far I could go. I also wanted a career in research and I knew that a PhD would help enormously. I can see myself working in science for the rest of my life but I will probably end up being a lecturer as i will want more job security as I get older. The main drawback with science jobs is that most of them are only short term contracts (1 - 3 years) which is not ideal. The government has made mumblings about changing this but we shall wait and see. All in all if you want to pursue science further and you love lab work, do a PhD. Just make sure its something you are really really interested in or it will be 3 years of hell!
I completed my Ph.D. in Medical Physics in mid-1999 at the department of Medical Physics, University College London. If you're thinking of doing a Ph.D, here a few things to consider. It's most important to have a good supervisor and feel happy with him or her. I've seen many people get a supervisor who is totally unsuitable for them. For example, someone who is not too good at maths, would have problems if their supervisor loves lots of heavy mathematics. I've seen this several times and in each case the students failed to finish. If you don't like them too much, find another. Check on the reputation of the potential supervisor. Has he or she published a lot on the topic ? If not, look elsewhere. It is more prestigious for you if your supervisor is well known and respected. How many Ph.D. students has he/she had ? How many have passed and in what time scale ? All projects will need some money. The amount depends very much on the project, but make sure their is sufficient money available. Many students have to spend a lot of time making things which could be bought off the shelf, given sufficient funds. This just wastes time. If you can do a Ph.D. with a project that is well funded, you will have a much better time. You are not going to get much credit for designing and building a power supply if you could have bought one off the shelf. Make sure you find the project really interesting at the start. If you don't find it really excites you then, there is a good chance you will get totally fed up with it and give up. Enthusiasm for a project will decline with time, so unless you have lots at the beginning, you should look for another project. Check on the rating of the department in the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). This is where other university experts rate the department from 1 to 5. Unless the department is rated 4 or 5, I would go elsewhere. Ask what facilities you will be pr
ovided with. Will you get your own desk ? Your own computer - if so, is it something reasonable, or just a relic nobody else wants ? You are unlikely (at least in London where land is expensive) to get your own personal office, so don't expect that. Try to speak to other students and staff to ask about the project, the funding situation, how successful the potential supervisor is with their Ph.D. students. It would be worth asking the department if you could spend a few days there before accepting a Ph.D. position. Find out what money you will get. This depends very much on who is funding you. Not all students will get the same money to live on, as different funding bodies will provide different amounts . The very best students will generally get the most. Sometimes the work is done in collaboration with a commercial company, who may pay something. There is a book called 'How to get a Ph.D' (or something very similar), which I think it published by the open university press. Take a look at that. It will give your far more tips than I can here. Don't do a Ph.D. for the wrong reasons. It is essential for a academic post (lecturer), but for many jobs it is worth little or nothing. It is certainly not the best way to make lots of money - an MBA would be far more productive in that respect ! You must be self-motivated. During school and your first degree, someone else will give you a timetable to work to. You will be told what lectures to attend, at what time. You will have been told that your project, must be submitted by a certain date. This is not so with a Ph.D. You must decide when to work, when to write, when to submit. It is very easy to take 4, 5 or more years. Someone I knew took 13 years to get his Ph.D !! Dr. David Kirkby, B.Sc, M.Sc, Ph.D.
As part of my university degree course, I worked at a major local employer for twelve months on an industrial placement. I found this time to be a very rewarding experience, but the one thing that was really impressed upon me was the difference between what graduates did and what PhDs did. Overall, a PhD was given a greater amount of responsibilty and license to work in his own direction within the project, whereas graduates were not allowed this freedom to such an extent. In general, the PhDs were looked upon as the more inventive of the group, providing innovative solutions to problems, being well versed and up to date with the literature. It was seeing this at first hand that prompted me to do a PhD, and I haven't looked back since. I was fortunate to have a supervisor on my PhD who would listen to my suggestions and encourage me to work independently. Now that I have secured a position in industry, I am in a position where I enjoy my job and can contribute at a level where I can be innovative and influential.
I finished my PhD about a year ago after 6 years of ups and downs. I can concur with most of the sentiments expressed in this section, but for what they are worth here are my thoughts. The reason my PhD took 6 years is because I stopped doing it for 3 and managed to not quite tell myself that I had stopped (luckily). I started in January 1994 and managed to do about 9 months. I got my research proposal out of the way but then lapsed into boredom. If you are doing a PhD on your own then it is a very lonely business, like someone else said, no lessons, no classmates, it seems like no one cares. After 18 months I’d stopped and took a part time job as a games programmer which I really enjoyed and devoted most of my time to. I muddled along not doing much until my bursary ran out. At this point I took a full-time job as a programmer and worked for 12 months without touching my PhD. It was during the Christmas break when having worked in a boring 9-5 job for 12 months and then having my first couple of weeks off I realised that I didn’t fancy 40 more years of it. I then devoted all my spare time to my PhD and got myself to the point of thinking that I could actually finish it (at this point I thought I was a few months off). After 6 months of this I got an interview to for a short-term lecturing post. I managed to convince them that my PhD was in the bag and got the post. It took 18 months of pretty hard slog to finish it from here. It took much longer than I thought, but at this point I was never going to give in. Getting it was a complete anti-climax, but that’s the way I am. Not getting it would have been a disaster. Now I’m a full-timer and permanent lecturer (a fantastic job on the whole). I’m looking forward to spending the rest of my life getting annoyed at people for calling me Mr. Mullier or thinking I can perform an emergency tracheotomy. Most people do drop out of their PhD and not for reasons of academi
a (I read a book on it which was someone elses’ PhD, worth a read). It does take self-motivation (far more than a degree) and I can say that I didn’t particularly do it for reasons of money or a career (I did it because I like the sound of Dr. Mullier). All in all I’m very pleased at the way things have turned out. Of course you could learn a lot from reading completed PhDs, mine is obviously a classic and can be found on my web page. It's on Artificial Intelligence, so I wouldn't bother if you are a few fields away or have a life to lead.
I'm in the first year of my PhD, studying part-time. Many people seem not to consider this as an option, but it is one that's well worth thinking about. For many would-be PhD students, funding can be a real problem, and this is even more true for those of us who don't go into research as soon as we finish our first degree. I had student and professional training loans, so giving up a salary was not a possibility. As a part-time student, you can keep your job and still do research. You also avoid the sense of isolation that many research students complain of. I work with other people in my job, so don't feel lonely or cut off when I'm sat in the library. And after a busy week rushing around, the chance to sit down with a book is more a temptation than a chore! Depending on your research topic, your work may even enhance your research. I'm a solicitor, and although my research is in a different area of law to my practice, active involvement in the legal system does help. You are also gaining valuable work experience as well as academic qualifications, and many teaching jobs ideally want both (especially in vocational subjects like law). Of course, there are downsides. The obvious one is time: my university expects a commitment of 15 hours per week. This means all weekend, or else every evening. However, no one's standing over you with a stopwatch, so you can have time off when you need to. Depending on your job and finances, part time work or study leave may also be a possiblity for some people. And they do say a change is as good as a rest... Another one is funding. Although the fees are lower and you have a salary, you are unlikely to get any help with conference fees, etc, which full-time students might expect. Basically, "funding yourself" means funding everything yourself. This isn't easy if, like most of us, you don't have much disposable income and
most of what you do have is being spent on those all-important books! However, despite the disadvantages, I'm finding life as a part-time research student really rewarding. It isn't for everyone, but part time study is definitely a serious option.
I must admit, part of the reason that I've been spending a fair bit of time on dooyoo recently is that I'm a little disenchanted with my PhD. I won't turn this into a personal rant, but there are some points that I think are worth thinking about before jumping into the PhD pool. * How did you enjoy your undergrad/Masters' dissertation? Were you working steadily right through, or were you in the computer lab at 11pm the night before it was due, screaming because the paper had run out and your results were all corrupted? A PhD is just like this, only to the nth degree. If working almost completely under your own initiative is not really your thing, steer clear. You really do need to be motivated. On the other hand, if you relish the thought of being set free in the library and told to "work out exactly what aspect of (X) interests you the most" fills you with excitement, then come on in. You should check how much freedom you'll have though, as it can vary between individuals. * Can you live on minimal cash? (About £6,600, with upward variations for mature students, industry-sponsored places, etc.) There may be teaching opportunities, but how much do they pay? How much work is going? How easy is it to get the work? Do you have to do any training first? Are you limited in how much you can do? All of these impact on your earning ability. There's always the option of a part-time job, but a PhD is *not* a 9-to-5 thing. * Where are you heading? Are you just doing the PhD because you can, or do you really want to? You don't have to stay in academia afterwards; many people do, but along the course of a doctorate you pick up a huge number of skills, including both general/transferable skills (teamwork, initiative, self-motivation) and specific ones (how to use X piece of equipment/software, how to carry out Y procedure). These are valuable in the job market. However, be sure you can reconcile continuin
g in your studies with where (you think) you want to be, and talk to a careers advisor if you're not sure. * (This is the big one...) How does your favoured institution treat postgrads? Of course, you'll get the fawning welcome speech, telling you and your colleagues how important you are to the department/ institution/ subject area/ future of the planet, how you'll break new ground and forge new links, etc. etc. ad nauseam. But what about when it's the end of your first year and you've exhausted your photocopying allowance because the library doesn't hold some essential items? When you need a top-spec computer or sensitive lab equipment to even begin your work? What if your office is at maximum capacity and you're fighting over shelf space and elbow room? Will the powers that be come up with the goods or will they mumble something about budgets and fob you off? Check that they've at least thought about the needs you might have during your research. Sadly, the negative experiences above are ones I'm familiar with as chair of a Graduate Affairs Committee - your mileage may of course vary (and I sincerely hope it varies for the better). To a large extent it depends on your supervisor, and so... * Are you sure you've got a good supervisor/supervisory committee? Are you carrying out their research agenda, or are they supporting yours? Will they put in bids for new equipment, or deny it because it conflicts with their own needs? Are they approachable and easily accessible, or so eminent that they are forever giving presentations in far-flung places? Everyone has their own idea of what a supervisor should be and do. That's fine. Some people want one who signs forms and doesn't ask too many questions; others want a mate to go for a pint with. What your supervisor is actually like is less important than whether they are right for you. If your approaches are at odds with each othe
r, it will be a difficult time. If you haven't worked with them before, it's probably worth sitting down at the start and discussing what you're both/all expecting from this research - it will save trouble later on! It's good to talk to some existing postgrads if you can, and get an off-the-record feel for things, whether about a specific place or PhD research in general. Some places cherish their postgrads, no doubt, and really do see them as the future. Some, alas, look at a postgrad and hear a "ker-ching!" sound as the tuition fees roll in and research ratings rise. If you're sure it's what you want to do, and you're sure you've found a place where you'll be happy, then go for it. But please, do be absolutely sure.