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To PhD, or not to PhD?

February 20, 2019 by Kathleen Franklyn

To PhD, or not to PhD?

That is the question!

Bad pun, I know, but it is a real question that many postgraduate students ask. And, the answer is not simple… Here are some of the things you need to consider:

So why do a Postgraduate degree?
Sometimes a higher degree feels like the most logical next choice – a) you’ve been offered a PhD place and a scholarship or b) it’s considered a must have for a specific industry position.

Weigh up all of the factors involved. Check out Not doing the PhD (and being ok with that), it definitely provides food for thought. If you’re going to commit to 3+ years of research, you need to at least enjoy the area of study, or have it aligned with potential future roles or career direction.

Remember it is ok to say yes but also okay to say no. Ideally, do it because you want to, you are interested in it, or it will improve your career progression – but don’t assume the latter.

Should I continue?
The “I’m a year in, and don’t know whether this is right for me” stage. This is a normal time of self-doubt. It’s a good time to logically assess where you’re at – is the project/study progressing at an acceptable pace and, if not, what will it take to get back on track?

Often this is a good time to seek some professional career advice – talk to mentors, people in target industries or roles, or a career consultant.

The grass may not be greener on the other side, so continuing becomes a conscious and good choice. The upside- you’ll be more motivated to continue or know it’s ok not to.

Should I finish?
A final stage PhD student recently asked: “What’s the point of submitting if I have no intention of continuing in research?” This question tapped into her motivation; underpinning this was the concern that her research results were mostly negative.

However, positive discussion could still be had around “mostly negative outcome research” and how this had helped in a number of ways. This student’s PhD experience had assisted – way beyond the level of early research skills – in:

  • Developing and demonstrating tenacity
  • Analytical problem solving
  • High level critical thinking and creativity skills
  • Resilience

These are all skills highly valued by future research and non-research employers.

Postgraduate employment
Keep in mind that a higher degree will not necessarily increase your employability immediately.

A 2017 graduate survey reported that 75% of early-career scientists working on PhDs were intending to pursue academic careers, however less than 5% will gain an academic role.

But it’s not all doom and gloom… There are other opportunities to pursue careers outside of academia. Translating your academic and research skills to real world advantages is key.

Remember, you’re not alone, there are lots of resources and support services available to you. Have fun, explore your options, and start your career journey

There is an Orientation Session for HDR Students this Thursday 21 February. Organised by the Graduate Research School, it will provide a summary of the major student milestones and the resources/services at Curtin important to HDR students. You can register to attend through UniHub.


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