Learning Student-made

Why do people decide to do PhDs?

When I finished my masters, quite a few years ago now, I was faced with the decision to either accept a PhD position or a job at an engineering consultancy. I was really keen on doing a PhD, conducting research and working in a laboratory, but I ultimately decided to take the job. Why? Because I simply wasn’t interested enough in the project and didn’t think I could commit 4 years of my life to it.

I made the right decision in choosing the job as it was directly related to my MSc, but a few years later I found myself missing the lab. Long story short, I did a search of advertised projects in the subject area I was interested in, applied to do a project that stood out to me, and eventually got accepted.

Here we are 1.5 years into my PhD (with 2.5 years left to go) and I have zero regrets. There’s freedom, flexibility, and such huge room for learning that I just didn’t really find in industry. In fact, I feel myself enjoying my work more and more as I dig deeper into my project. And that is, I think, the most important thing when you decide to do a PhD. To be able to answer “Yes!” to the question, “Are you really interested in the project?”

It’s no surprise that a PhD is challenging. It tests your patience, perseverance, creativity, willpower, and yep- it tests your boredom. Because there are times when you have to slog through really boring and tedious tasks. Are you interested enough in your project to stick with it?

I was fortunate enough to stumble across an advert for the project I have now as it’s the perfect combination of materials science, engineering and the nuclear industry. I care about the potential industrial application of my project, and I’ve found that’s kept me quite focused.

It gets stressful and hectic, it can feel like you know nothing (impostor syndrome anyone?), and you often think you’re not doing as much work as you should. I’m constantly reminding myself that a PhD is a marathon not a sprint, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and all that. But it’s also truly the most I’ve enjoyed work, whether at uni or industry.

Of course, like anything you do, there are pros and cons. But doing a PhD has, for me, so far been an overall net highly positive experience. I’ve interviewed a few current and former PhD students to share their own views, and asked them the following questions:

  1. Why did you choose to do a PhD?
  2. What would you say was/is the best part of doing a PhD?
  3. What would you say was/is the worst part of doing a PhD?
  4. Do you think you made the right decision in doing a PhD?

Read what Georgia, Ed, Dave, Elaine and Huw have to say!

Georgia, Electron beam physics

1. Want to pursue a career in academia/research
2. Working on your ideas and the flexibility a researcher has compared to a 9/5 job
3. Writing up and running out of funding in the end
4. Absolutely, I get to learn new things everyday through research and testing my own ideas

Ed, Computer science

1) I wanted to pursue my curiosity further.
2) The freedom to follow your interests.
3) Working intensely on one specific unique thing can sometimes feel isolating
4) Yes, definitely.

Dave, Plasma physics

1. Wanted to do research and have more control over what I’m doing compared to an industry job.
2. Travelling to conferences and meeting people from the physics community and control over my research.
3. When you lack motivation you need to make sure you find it otherwise time passes and you end up wasting lots of time!
4. Yes

Huw, Machine learning

1. The idea of getting really stuck into a long term research project appealed to me. The project itself was really interesting. I wanted to challenge myself.
2. The flexibility/autonomy to control what I do and the direction of my research.
3. End of year reviews.
4. Yes.

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