Having recently completed my Ph.D. study, I feel a sense of duty to clear certain misconceptions (some of which I previously held) about the Ph.D. journey.
If you are seeking to embark on a Ph.D. or have taken the plunge and are now working hard to get to the finish line, this is for you.
Let me caveat this by saying I am not here to discourage Ph.D. ambitions. Rather, I’d like to share with you, using the experience gained, the myths I debunked about pursuing a Ph.D.
What a Ph.D. is not…
Here we go.
It is not an easy ride.
It’s not a space where the nonchalance of taught undergraduate study thrives. You can’t “wing” it.
If you don’t work hard enough, there are carefully designed checks that will ease you out.
Intelligence is not a vital ingredient
Intelligence is not a vital ingredient in the cocktail of ‘successful Ph.D. completion’.
Yes, you read that right!
You don’t need sky-reaching IQ scores to do it.
I tell people all the time that if I could complete a Ph.D., then anyone can.
It’s not a guaranteed path to wealth
A Ph.D. is not in itself a guaranteed path to wealth if you plan to continue in the academic line afterward.
In fact, academics around the world remain poorly paid compared to many of their industry-based and entrepreneurially-inclined peers.
Academia is definitely not the place to multiply those zeros on your account balance.
If your aim is to genuinely satisfy a desire to solve problems, then you might fall in love with academia. Otherwise, drop it NOW.
If your plan is to complete a Ph.D., delve into the world of big business, and join the fast-growing list of billionaires, then maybe this excerpt from a 2016 Fortune Magazine article might prove insightful:
About three out of 10 billionaires- 29.9% around the world did not have at least a bachelor’s degree in 2015, according to a billionaire census by Wealth-X …Twenty-two percent (of billionaires) went on to nab a Master’s degree, while 13.1% of all billionaires earned an MBA. Only 9.5% took home a PhD…
Family pressure is never a good reason to pursue a PhD
If you are considering a Ph.D. primarily because of family or peer pressure, drop it NOW.
Those whom you seek to impress will go missing when the sleepless nights come. They will not be typing a line of that 60,000-word thesis.
You need more than peer/family pressure to get through a Ph.D.
You need a deep interest in your chosen subject area of study. This is what will keep you going when you spend weeks or maybe even months slaving away at a particular research question.
Your passion will become your fuel to drive through these periods. Don’t go in without it.
What the Ph.D. is…
An opportunity to gain and hone a unique transferable skill-set
Because you will be self-managing a project from beginning to the end, identifying specific and realistic goals required for the completion of the project, you will gain tremendous practical project management skills.
In addition, you will acquire great interpersonal and leadership skills from the constant liaison with various members of your research group and beyond to realise the goals of your project.
Furthermore, the pressure is not in short supply during the course of a Ph.D., so you will develop an ability to work and deliver under pressure.
Whatever you decide to do after the Ph.D., these skills will prove useful.
A Ph.D. is a marathon and not a sprint race
The most important lessons which I learned on the Ph.D. go beyond my field of science and engineering. They are vital life lessons.
During my study, I discovered the efficacy of resilience, which is this: that if you hang in there long enough in the face of a challenge, you will surely see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Also, that every problem has a solution and many times solutions hide in plain sight.
I have found this concept to be positively applicable in situations outside my Ph.D. life – to wider society.
It requires sacrifices, sacrifices from you and everyone around you
Don’t expect the luxury of social life that you may have been accustomed to.
An experiment could go horribly wrong and force you to attend your best friend’s birthday party via Skype from your laboratory.
The journey was full of pain but also enormous gain.
It was commonplace for me to spend weeks trying to painfully solve a problem (for example debugging thousands of lines of code). However, the joy I felt once I solved these problems is beyond words.
I wanted to repeat the process and feel that joy over and over again. However, the danger attached to this process is the addiction that often comes from it. You may find yourself easily bored and ever searching for problems to solve, which could play a role in your career choice but that’s a different can of worms for another day.
I could go on and on about what a Ph.D. is, but that would defeat my aim of passing a clear and quick message across to prospective and current Ph.D. students.
I hope I am leaving you with more clarity as to the nature of the Ph.D. study. My intention is that whatever your decision, it’s a well-informed one.
Good luck and may the wind always be at your back and the sunshine, warm upon your face.
Dr. Oluyemi Jegede is a Research Fellow in multi-vector energy systems modeling at the University of Birmingham. This article was originally published on LinkedIn, and has been re-written and republished on Stylish Academic with permission.
You may also want to read:
Oh boy, the Ph.D. is not easy – Mike Irene
What I wish I knew before my Ph.D. – Stylish Academic
Things to know before the Ph.D. – Furaha Asani
Meet the Scholar – Yemi Jegz