In the run up to the launch party for our You’re Hired! Graduate Career Handbook Korin Grant and I are posting a series of blogs aimed at students and new grads which offer some tips on career building. In this sixth post we look at decisions about whether to take a postgraduate degree and in particular whether to study a PhD.
A lot of people have a good time at university. When we talk about career, we’re usually talking about what you might do after you leave university. However, you might feel that you aren’t finished with university yet. Perhaps you want to get even deeper into your subject, or you feel that your career would be helped by having a few more qualifications.
The world of postgraduate study can be confusing. There are so many courses and qualifications it can be difficult to penetrate what it all means. One distinction that we make in the Graduate Handbook is between the academic route (which takes you to a PhD and beyond to an academic career) and the professional route (which takes you other places).
In this post we are going to focus on the issue of whether you should think about doing a PhD.
A PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) is a research based course which requires you to develop a new piece of original research. It will typically take you three to four years if you do it full time and will take a lot longer if you do it part-time. At the end of it you have a ‘license to practice’ as an academic (although in reality many people become academics without this qualification – but that’s another story).
Sometimes you may find that an academic takes you aside and suggests that you should think about studying for a PhD. Sometimes they may have opportunities to offer you like the 1+3 Awards (which fund you for a one year masters followed by a three year PhD). Other times they may just be encouraging you to think about PhD, but not have any money to offer (this is an important distinction to note!)
If an academic approaches you like this it can be very flattering and could be the start of a great opportunity. But you should think carefully about how you respond to this. The academic who has approached you sees some potential in you but they are also trying to steer you into a particular career path. It may have been the right one for them but that doesn’t mean that it is necessarily the right one for you.
Think carefully about these kinds of opportunities and decide whether they are right for you. If you would make a great academic you would probably also make a great something else. Don’t let flattery blind you to what you really want to do with your life.
So before you jump into the academic life ask yourself?
- Is this really what I want to do?
- Can I talk to some current PhD students and academics about their career choices?
- What else could I do?
- How will I fund this?
- What happens if it doesn’t work out? If I don’t get onto the course? If I struggle to finish my PhD? Or if there are no jobs at the end of it?