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Should I do a PhD? (2)

In the previous article, I have discussed four “wrong” reasons to do a PhD. In this second article, I discuss several “right” reasons to do a PhD. It is important to note, however, that “right” here does not imply an absolute truth. I do not suggest that these are the only motives that can guarantee you to get into a PhD or to be successful after getting your PhD. What I am trying to suggest here is that if these are the reasons/motives you do PhD, then you are likely to get what you wish for. So here they are:

Right reason #1 – I want to start (or switch to) a career in the academic world.

Many people (including me) have a career aspiration in the academic profession. I enjoy the entire process of research from A (crafting ideas) to Z (finally publishing my ideas). I also enjoy teaching and interacting with my students. The only thing I hate in my job right now is grading (if I could, I would prefer give A to all students I have). Now, the reality is that to have a successful career in academia, one needs a rigorous training in (i) conducting research (ii) writing (iii) teaching. And those are what a PhD program is for!! A typical PhD student in the US will spend first two years to understand the subject field, as well as various research methodologies. Additional skill that one may need is the writing skill, so I strongly suggest PhD students to also take academic writing class. A PhD student may also be required to take teacher training, either in the second year or first year, to prepare them for teaching. After passing qualifying exam at the end of second year, then a PhD student spends most of her/his time doing research and (sometimes) teaching. Thus, the main intention of a PhD program is to systematically prepare students for academic job. If you expect a PhD program to provide training outside the realm of research and teaching, then you may be disappointed. Sure, there are other things that I accidentally learn doing my PhD time (like how to cook, or how to maximize utilities with almost zero budget, or how to appreciate money), but these are not the primary intention of a PhD program.    

Right reason #2 – I am not in academia, but my current job requires high level of research and writing skills.

If you are outside academia, would a PhD education help you? The answer is it depends (I know, academics like me overwhelmingly use “it depends”) on what kind of skills you need in your job. Research and writing skills are now increasingly needed to advance one’s career outside academia. In some industry, especially consultancy, research and writing skills are among main qualifications that employers look for. Some firms also have in-house research institute. For example, Samsung has Samsung Research Institute, while Microsoft has its own internal research department. These in-house company research department/institutes are looking for candidate with research and writing skills, something that are very similar to what a research university is looking for. Supranational institutions, like the United Nations, World Bank, WTO are also looking for staffs with research and writing skills. So, PhD-level training can be very useful to get a job in these institutions.

Right reason #3 – I am not interested in academia, and I do not work in a job that requires research skill, but I have a spare time (and money!) to talk about abstract things!

Well, this is a least likely motive to do a PhD, but I know one or two middle age people (with a successful business or career in the past) who got into a PhD program just because they want to spend their time doing something to challenge their brain. If you are one of these, then sure, a PhD program can give what you want.

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