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Nine things to know before doing a PhD

Having ‘Dr’ in front of your name is not a reason for doing a PhD. Instead consider these nine tips before embarking on a PhD 

    Subhas Yadav's avatar

    Subhas Yadav

    September 3 2019
    Nine things to know before doing a PhD


    Doing a PhD is the peak of one’s formal academic training. However, there are a number of career paths that you can follow before getting a PhD and it is not vital to have one to have a successful career.

    Undertaking a PhD is a time-consuming and tiring process, and there are many different opinions on the need for doing a PhD – not all of them positive. However, a PhD remains a benchmark in the arena of higher education, it decides the quality, ranking, and evolution of the academic disciplines. There are still a high number of bright aspirants for the very few competitive PhD positions available at university departments. 

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    Here are nine things to consider before doing a PhD.

    Do you really need it?

    In disciplines like technology you do not need to have a PhD to become the best. Since this is a practice-based industry, you can gain the relevant skills while working in the field. 

    But in the case of non-science subjects, it can often help to continue in academia because that is where the ideas are generated, through debate, discussions, reading, writing, conferences, seminars etc. For example, a PhD in humanities hones the skills of reading, writing and teaching, something which is not always possible in the workplace. 

    Research your area of interest

    Once you have decided to jump aboard the PhD boat, research your area of interest, go through the websites of different departments at different universities, read the faculty profiles, past and current PhD students’ profiles and their publications.

    Also, try to talk to those who are doing their PhD in a related department, email them or use the networking sites like ResearchGate or Academia to get in touch. That may help you in making the right decision.

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    Project-based PhD v open PhD

    Many research groups, mostly at European universities, call for PhD applications in their working topics and generally fund all the accepted candidates. 

    However, generally you can choose any topic of your interest after getting into a PhD or even during the application itself.

    Choosing a supervisor

    A good supervisor during your PhD is crucial. You will need them to guide you in the right direction academically, as well as be there to help with any other issues you may have.

    Look up a prospective supervisor’s academic profile, publications and past supervisor experiences. If possible, get in touch with their old students and talk to them about your decision to work with that teacher.

    You don’t necessarily need a famed scholar – who may not give you enough time and attention – so choose wisely.

    Should you choose an interdisciplinary topic?

    There is a lot of freedom in choosing your PhD topic and it can end up becoming very specialised, but try to think about the employability factor as well.

    This is especially true for the humanities, where a highly selective or niche PhD topic may not fit into mainstream academia or may have less scope for gaining an academic position after you have finished. Some courses might have a tough time financing their departments, getting funding and placing the students.

    However, sometimes the skills learned in the undergraduate courses come in handy. Many people working in media studies and digital humanities have a background in engineering, technology, or other science subjects.

    Be a reader

    A PhD aims to create an independent and keen scholar, and for that it requires someone who can sustain wider reading. So read whatever you can get your hands on, and get yourself updated with every change in your area or particular topic.

    Remember that a PhD is a leap forward in terms of reading and writing skills. Be ready for it and push the bar as much as possible, as you will be doing much of the work on your own. 

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    Academic life and networking

    The negativity around such rigorous academic pursuit can often lead to negative opinions.

    However, when you see it from the inside, you will see there are many positive aspects. Attending conferences, seminars and workshops in different cities or countries can be a rewarding experience.

    So network with colleagues, researchers and academics, and develop your networking to balance the inherent solitude of research life. It will further help in finding funding and possible jobs in the future.

    Passion and commitment

    It is important to be passionate about your subject. It does not mean that you need to enjoy the pain, but you should be able to see the silver lining that lies ahead.

    Don’t just do a PhD to add “Dr” before your name or for any kind of recognition. The main reason to do a PhD is to study a topic in-depth.

    Start by honing in on a thesis based on your passion and the rest will follow.

    Take a gap year but don’t let it run on

    Many take teaching jobs or work experience before doing a PhD, so they may take study leave to finish their thesis and go back to work again. Sometimes, work experience helps you to figure out your next steps.

    Many don’t feel satisfied with the academic training they have, so they embark on a PhD to fill that void and enhance their career prospects.

    However, do not wait too long before starting your PhD if you want to be in academia. It will really hinder your career enhancement. Better to target finishing your PhD first and then venture into teaching.

    Read more: What is a PhD? Advice for PhD students

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