A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is the highest university degree that can be conferred on an individual after a course of study by a university. Also a terminal degree, it is usually a requirement for a number of employment opportunities, especially in the field of higher education, when it comes to teaching. Notoriously noted for its prestige due to the rigorous vigor involved in the journey, as well as the title conferred i.e. Doctor (Dr.) to the individual after completion of studies, it is quickly becoming one of the highly sought degrees by students. However, like evey other journey, it is important to have some level of understanding before diving into it. This post highlights 5 questions, aspiring doctoral students should ask themselves, and be able to honestly answer before embarking on the dotoral school journey.
1. What am I hoping to gain out of the PhD?
It's important to take time out to think about your life and career goals, and be honest with yourself as to whether pursuing a PhD is the rightful step in your current situation. What is your desired goal for obtaining a PhD? Are you hoping to teach, do research or administrative work, or obtain an accolade to your name at the end of the day? Does the career you intend to pursue require a terminal degree like that of the PhD for better opportunities? Are you convinced about your capability of successfully completing a PhD, but indecisive as to whether to start? Now is the time to start asking pertinent questions from those who've been where you hope to be and diligently do research on some of these people if you cannot directly access them. Pursuing a PhD is a big commitment and investment you need to be aware of. Time lost cannot be replaced so get as much clarity as you can before making this major move. In times of uncertainty, consider getting some relevant work experience in your field, while figuring out this life - changing decision. At the end of the day, nothing beats knowing what you want and aggressively going for it!
2. Am I prepared for the commitment and opportunity cost that comes with pursuing a PhD?
Contrary to popular belief, not all PhD programs are paid for by the host institution. Yup! you read that right! Depending on the program and school you apply to, tuition may either be fully waived or not, hence, the reason research is key before starting any application, especially if you cannot self - fund your doctoral degree. Aside the financial commitment, even in the event where you receive a full scholarship, it is important to be aware and understand the various opportunity costs that usually comes along with pursuing a PhD. Often noted for it's prestige, the PhD journey can be the most socially isolating and emotionally draining journey one can take, especially if you fail to understand and connect with your 'WHY.' It is a time where you could be working and probably making more money than being in the classroom, especially for those pursuing their PhD program full - time. It is a time where you could be more involve in family activities, but you would rather have to committ ot research. During graduate school, there is barely any thing like an "active social life" unless you prioritize it, so you can expect to make certain sacrifices every now and then, especially because of how time consuming the research and responsibilities involved towards the doctoral degree can be. Effective preparation such as researching on potential supervisors and finding out what their students have to say about them is one way to give you a bit of foresight into the future and guide you in determining if you are ready for the task ahead!
3. Does the school I intend on applying to have a faculty member(s) who is a research expert in my field of interest?
The PhD degree is never about how prestigious the school is, but rather, if there is a faculty member doing research in your field who can supervise your work and serve as a great mentor! As such, the goal should never be geared towards applying to a school for the mere purpose of its "name." The successful completion of your PhD is partly going to be dependent on who supervises your research, as such, it is important to dedicate quality time in reviewing the profiles of potential advisers and understanding their work. Most of their information will be found on the webpages of the institutions they are affiliated with, as well as via a normal google search. It is advised and highly recommended that you reach out to a potential supervisor, via email, to find out if they will be able to mentor you before beginning an application.
4. Do I understand the research involved in PhD level
Unlike the undergraduate level, the PhD differs in the sense that, it is heavily research - focused, though most of your first year or 2 may be spent in the classroom. If you did not like Research Methods at the undergrad level, start loving it, if not, you may want to reconsider pursuing a PhD. Be prepared to search and review literature, read more than normal, write and re - write, as well as go through lots of heavy data!
5. Do I love my field of study?
Although 3-4 years may seem like a long period, which it really isn't, the PhD journey has the tendency of feeling like a lifetime, especially if you do not love your field. Hence, the reason it is important to understand your 'WHY', when it comes to choosing you research topic. If you are totally passionate and committed to your field, then BINGO! you're in for a very exciting period of your life in academia to weather the storms when it does get tough!
It is important to give yourself enough preparation time, preferably, at least 7 months prior to submitting your PhD application. During those 7 months, invest time in doing research on potential supervisors, schools, and departments, compile your application documents together, seek for recommendation letters, take any required tests and consult with both past and current students, as well as with faculty members. Remember, the quality of your input throughout the process will have an effect on your output.