My PhD Advice, Part One – Choose Your PhD Carefully

OK, here begins my pontification about my experiences of the last three years – hopefully it’s of use to you. This is almost too obvious, but the most important part of any PhD is picking it.  You need to be absolutely sure that you even want to do a PhD in the first place.  Ask yourself why you’re doing it – is it three tax-free years? Can’t live without that student discount? Attracted by the laissez-faire academic lifestyle? If these issues are more important than the research itself, then you better think very carefully about doing a PhD at all.

How about the subject matter? Did you really enjoy doing it as an undergraduate? Are you willing to become completely obsessed about the minutiae, create, innovate and invent fundamentally new things and opinions? Perhaps most importantly, will you argue your position coherently and logically when there is no consensus, and stand up to criticism?

And the institute? Is it in a city you think you’d like to live in? Are the facilities good? Will there be a language barrier? Will you have a decent social life when you leave work for the day?

If you do decide to apply, make the most of the interview process.  Be proactive – don’t just sit there quietly.  Talk to as many people as possible: students, postdocs, staff, even the administrators – they’ll be a lifeline in the coming years.  Get an honest account of the PhD experience from current postgrads – it might change your perspective drastically.  The next batch of PhD candidates are visiting my institute over the next few weeks, and I’m looking forward to a good discussion about anything and everything connected to the postgraduate experience.  Remember – academics don’t bite!  Ask us lots of questions, chat to us about your interests.

Of course, these are just my thoughts.  If you’re reading this as a former PhD student, and you think I’ve missed anything else, feel free to comment below!

6 thoughts on “My PhD Advice, Part One – Choose Your PhD Carefully

  1. Well, I applied to do a PhD because I enjoyed the subject a lot, and I already had previous experience working with my supervisor on an undergraduate project (another very useful thing to do whenever possible, but more on that next week!). Plus, I knew it would be a useful career boost, and I was vain enough to want to be a doctor 🙂

    I certainly didn’t think as carefully as I should have about the implications of doing a PhD, and the deep study of the small details. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20…

    1. Lol! Ah, yes, Vanity is the great motivator, isn’t it… 😉

      So, once you’ve completed your PhD, do you plan to be a professor or gain even more practical experience within your field?

      Again, just curious…am I asking too many questions?? 🙂

  2. Well, I’m now a postdoctoral fellow, and continuing my research.

    As for my future aspirations… astronomy in the UK has had its funding slashed in recent years, so I’m not sure about a professorship. In any case, I’ve got a few years before my contract is finished, and until then I’ll let the chips fall as they may.

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