“Do you think I should do a PhD?”

It seems like I can’t go to a party without at least one person asking me this question – does this happen to you too? I probably shouldn’t be surprised; according to a recent government report the number of people undertaking a research degree in Australia has increased by 41%  over the last 10 or so years.

There’s no doubt that some students start without realistic expectations of the amount of work that is involved and how it may affect their life, which is why I was pleased when Dr Ehsan Gharaie, a lecturer in the school of property Construction and project management at RMIT, sent me this guest post.

As a recent PhD graduate in a field which is relatively new to this form of education, Ehsan tells me that he is often approached by people who ask him how to get into a PhD program. Ehsan tells me he replies: “tell me why and then, I will tell you how” – this seems like a good answer because PhD study is not for everyone.  I hope you will send you Ehsan’s list of diagnostic questions to the next person who asks you: “should I do a PhD?” (American readers please note – this post refers to the dissertation writing part of the PhD Program only)

Can you work without anyone telling you what to do?

A PhD is way different from Bachelor and Master Programs. There is no lecturer telling you what to do and you are not asked to do an assignment or sit for an exam. If you have been working in industry or government, you have probably got used to having a boss who tells you what to do and having staff who help you do your work. Here there is no boss, and no one helps you out. You have a supervisor who, if you are lucky, advises you and guides you through the process and that is all. Thus, think about yourself and see if you can work without anyone telling you what to do. There are many decisions that you have to make in the process and you should be ready to take on that responsibility.

Are you ready to work by yourself for four years?

Many PhD students work in isolation most of the time. There is no official classmate or peers. Your first and best friend is your computer and you have to spend years with it. The second person in your list of acquaintances is your supervisor which you interact with probably dozen times a year. Are you looking for the third person? The answer is none. Thus, be ready to work alone for four years.

Have you thought of your family commitments?

When you are an undergraduate student, your main concern is your study and the rest is just fun. But PhD usually happens when you have more important commitments. If you are not married, you are probably thinking of it. If you are married and have not had children yet, that is probably the next thing you are thinking of. Do you have children? Then you certainly think about them way more than your studies. There are even PhD students who have to take care of their parents. Further, you probably have a good job and thus, income and financial comfort and you should think the effect of your studies on your financial situation. You see, there are always life commitments, and the issue of study-life balance should be extremely important in your decision in doing PhD. You have to get your head around them before you start doing your PhD.

What is your career plan?

People usually study at universities to become trained and get a degree which has a clear set of professions or jobs attached to them. A PhD, like other university programs, is a training process; you will be trained to be a researcher or an academic. You learn how to do literature review, how to find a research problem, how to figure out a research methodology and method, how to follow and implement that method, how to present your result and at the end how to write a thesis that covers all your arguments and demonstrates all your efforts during past four years of your life. Thus, if you are interested in these “how tos” and if you want to become a researcher or an academic in the future, that would be the path to go through. But if you are thinking of some other things, you better think it twice.

And finally, why do you want to do it?

Getting PhD is not easy. It needs passion and patience. The only driver in the whole journey is your self-motivation. So what is your motivation? Is it the title of being a “Doctor”? Do you have a brother or sister with PhD and you feel you have to have it? Are you pushed by your family? If you are not convinced yet that you really need to do a PhD or you have doubts about it, wait for a while and do not rush to it. After all this is going to be at least four years of your life and you need to make sure that you will not run out of steam at the middle of way.

I hope this post will be read by a lot of people thinking about doing a PhD, so do you have advice you would like to offer? Pop it in the comments!

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