One thing that the PhD process is notoriously bad for is the overwhelming urge to often reinvent the wheel – this should be avoided. So in that spirit, my thanks to Petre & Rugg (2010) for an excellent introduction to what a PhD is; if you want to know more read other posts in “The early years” section. This is the section of the blog that explores: Should I start a PhD? Am I going in the right direction? And the other most common questions before and during the first year of your PhD.
A PhD is less like hacking through the jungle with a machete, and more like crawling around on the ground with a magnifying glass – less major discovery of new lands, more painstakingly detailed investigation of familiar ones. More realistically, it is a demonstration of research competence, in particular:
- Mastery of your subject
- Research insight
- Respect for the discipline
- Capacity for independent research
- Ability to communicate results and relate them to the broader discourse
It involves you doing a substantial chunk of research, writing it up and then discussing it with other academics. You have at least two supervisors (or more) to help and advise you, but in theory the PhD is something for which you take the initiative, and so it is a demonstration of your ability to do proper research independently.
[The above has been adapted from: Petre, M. & Rugg, G. (2010) The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research. OUP: London]
Now, more importantly, it is at least three years of your life, so really be sure that you want to do a PhD it is not something to be undertaken lightly and can be a lonely process. I often recount that people rarely have the same partner / pet / plant when they finish; the process is rarely smooth and you will probably be changed by it, at the very least you should be able to write a lot better and think differently.
Why would you bother with the agonies and the ecstasies of the PhD process… well apart from being a high functioning sociopath, which frankly is the most likely option, you might want an academic career, to be a researcher in industry or establish some kind of consultancy firm. You might even be a bright young thing who is likely to get a first class honours degree and not ready to go out into the world of work, but really wants to remain in the university snow sports club whilst actually stretching themselves and doing some ‘real work’. Whatever the reason is, whatever drives you to undertake academic monasticism and aestheticism, you really must want to do it, and you must be really interested in your topic.
Picture by Joachim Schlosser under CC license.