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The problem with having a PhD

October 24, 2017

Having a PhD doesn’t guarantee a success in your career or making a living. Some people having spent several years more on studying for a PhD only find out their salary for a new job actually being less than before. Because having a PhD may be just a measurement for your academic capability in a certain subject and will be paid off if you do academic jobs in a university or a research institute. But the fact is that there’re less academic positions in the universities than the number of the PhD holders. And there is no need for such a qualification across a wide spectrum of job markets and most corporate bosses will tell you that you’re over-qualified and even if you barely fit in you’ll have to lower your pay expectation. Having grumbled about this, I know some might disagree with me and give the examples of successful individuals.

I am not sure if I am the right person to write something about it without sounding too irrelevant as I am basically not an advisory person. But another little voice urges me to have a go, and you may have a different viewpoint to add up to the discussion.

So why do you study for a PhD in the first place? This is a hard question. The answer varies depending on individuals’ circumstances. If you look out to it for a fortune, you’d mostly be disappointed. However, it is the highest degree possible for academic accreditation. And it’s very hard to get it, especially from those highly ranked universities.

How can one get a PhD in a certain subject then? Simply put, you have to choose a topic to do research on, get a supervisor and write up a thesis. In your research work, you must provide novelty and make distinctive contributions, even make a breakthrough in the specific filed, either theoretically or experimentally. In order to achieve this, you have to carry out literature review, look at the state of the art worldwide progress so far, and pinpoint what’s the next step for your research. It will fail you if you just repeat other people’s work. So you must be adamant, even questioning the established theory, and being creative. You must be open-minded, welcoming any new ideas and critics. After years of hard working, your findings or discoveries should be written up in papers, sometimes a peer-reviewed journal is required for publication.

At last you must pass your viva from external and internal examiners, where you must be able to defend the details in your thesis, which will be put up on the shelf of your university library (or in the British Library if you study in a British university) afterwards. Then you may get congratulatory messages and drinks for celebration, and you may feel on top of the world for a while. When this short term ecstasy is over, the reality creeps in, as mentioned in the beginning.

But I do know that some retirees are working on a PhD just for personal interest. It’s a good experience for some, a part of a journey.  If it’s not for the sake of making a living, then people can do research in so many unknown fields, and the curiosity is never ended.

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