What to Know Before Getting Your PhD: A Comprehensive Guide for Aspiring Academics
Published May 12, 2023
Pursuing a PhD is a significant decision that can shape your professional and personal life for years to come. The journey is often challenging and demanding, but it can also be immensely rewarding, leading to a fulfilling career in academia or industry. Before embarking on this path, it is essential to consider various factors to ensure you are well-prepared for the challenges ahead. There are five key areas aspiring academics should dive into before deciding to pursue a PhD, so we're going to offer some insights and advice to help you make an informed decision.
Assessing your motivation and commitment
One of the most crucial factors to consider before pursuing a PhD is your motivation and commitment to the process (Wright & Jenkins-Guarnieri, 2012). Completing a PhD requires dedication, perseverance, and a passion for your chosen field, as you will spend several years immersed in research, learning, and teaching. It is essential to be honest with yourself about your reasons for pursuing a PhD and to ensure that you are genuinely interested in the subject matter and the research process (Golde, 2005). Reflect on your long-term career goals and determine if a PhD is necessary or beneficial for achieving them.
Choosing the right program and supervisor
The choice of a PhD program and supervisor can significantly impact your overall experience and the success of your research (Baker & Pifer, 2014). It is essential to thoroughly research potential programs, considering factors such as the reputation of the institution, available resources, funding opportunities, and the program's alignment with your research interests. Additionally, finding a supervisor who is an expert in your field, supportive, and accessible is crucial for a successful PhD experience (Mainhard, van der Rijst, & van Tartwijk, 2009). Reach out to current and former students of the program and the supervisor to gain insights into their experiences.
Developing essential skills
Pursuing a PhD requires a diverse skill set that goes beyond subject matter expertise (Mewburn, 2010). Essential skills for PhD students include time management, project management, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration. It is crucial to identify areas where you may need to improve and proactively seek opportunities to develop these skills, such as attending workshops, enrolling in courses, or participating in collaborative projects. Developing these skills will not only enhance your PhD experience but also prepare you for the job market, whether in academia or industry.
Understanding the financial implications
Completing a PhD can be financially challenging, with many students facing tuition fees, living expenses, and limited income from teaching or research assistantships (Webber, 2019). It is crucial to be aware of the financial implications of pursuing a PhD and to explore potential funding sources such as scholarships, grants, and fellowships. Additionally, consider the opportunity cost of spending several years in a PhD program, as it may delay your entry into the workforce and impact your long-term earning potential (Lindo, Sanders, & Oreopoulos, 2010). Weigh the costs and benefits of pursuing a PhD before making a decision.
Preparing for the job market
The job market for PhD graduates can be competitive, particularly in academia, where tenure-track positions are often limited (Benton ChatGPT, 2009). It is essential to prepare for the job market early in your PhD journey by developing a strong professional network, gaining teaching experience, publishing your research, and engaging in interdisciplinary projects (Austin, 2002). Additionally, consider developing transferable skills that can be applied to non-academic positions, as many PhD graduates find employment in industry, government, or non-profit organizations (Sauermann & Roach, 2016). By preparing for the job market from the outset, you will be well-positioned to secure a fulfilling position upon completing your PhD.
Deciding to pursue a PhD is a significant and life-changing choice that requires careful consideration of various factors. By assessing your motivation and commitment, choosing the right program and supervisor, developing essential skills, understanding the financial implications, and preparing for the job market, you can ensure that you are well-prepared for the challenges and rewards of a PhD journey. Armed with this knowledge, aspiring academics can make an informed decision and embark on a fulfilling path to personal and professional growth.
Austin, A. E. (2002). Preparing the next generation of faculty: Graduate school as socialization to the academic career. The Journal of Higher Education, 73(1), 94-122. DOI: 10.1080/00221546.2002.11777132
Baker, V. L., & Pifer, M. J. (2014). The role of relationships in the transition from doctoral student to independent scholar. Studies in Continuing Education, 36(1), 5-17. DOI: 10.1080/0158037X.2013.787973
Benton, T. H. (2009). The big lie about the 'life of the mind'. The Chronicle of Higher Education.Golde, C. M. (2005). The role of the department and discipline in doctoral student attrition: Lessons from four departments. The Journal of Higher Education, 76(6), 669-700. DOI: 10.1080/00221546.2005.11772296
Lindo, J. M., Sanders, N. J., & Oreopoulos, P. (2010). Ability, gender, and performance standards: Evidence from academic probation. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 2(2), 95-117. DOI: 10.1257/app.2.2.95
Mainhard, M. T., van der Rijst, R. M., & van Tartwijk, J. (2009). A model for the supervisor–doctoral student relationship. Higher Education, 58(3), 359-373. DOI: 10.1007/s10734-009-9199-8
Mewburn, I. (2010). Troubling talk: assembling the PhD candidate. Studies in Continuing Education, 32(3), 267-278. DOI: 10.1080/0158037X.2010.517999
Sauermann, H., & Roach, M. (2016). Why pursue the postdoc path? Science, 352(6286), 663-664. DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf2061
Webber, K. L. (2019). What do we know about financial stress among doctoral students? An analysis of the US National Science Foundation's Survey of Earned Doctorates. Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, 10(2), 151-170. DOI: 10.1108/SGPE-07-2018-0042
Wright, C. A., & Jenkins-Guarnarnieri, M. A. (2012). Exploring the factors related to graduate students' research self-efficacy. The Journal of the Professoriate, 6(2), 50-74.
Subscribe to get notifed when we add new resources.
Subscribe to get notifed when we add new resources.