Why do a PhD?

I’ve asked myself that question a lot over the past 5 years. Why did I do it? Why go through all of the hard work, pain, and suffering for a piece of paper that (like my PhD) is made in China?

And I really haven’t come up with a firm answer as to why I did it, let alone to advise someone on whether they should or should not pursue a PhD. There are many small reasons which, grouped together, motivated me to get a PhD. I shall attempt to enumerate.

  1. To be the best and go the furthest.
  2. To prove other people wrong about me.
  3. To get a higher income.
  4. To learn more and acquire new skills.
  5. To do something great for the sake of having done it.
  6. To tangibly contribute to human progress.
  7. Study in a new setting, different from undergraduate years.
  8. To get more respect.
  9. Because my undergraduate professors encouraged me to get one.
  10. Because I didn’t want to get a real job yet.

All of these factors more or less created a “perfect storm” which motivated me to get a PhD. How did these motivations turn out for me? Some just fine; others not so great.

  1. After 5 years of exposure to some of the most brilliant people in the world, I can conclude I am not the best nor have I gone the furthest; not even close.
  2. I really don’t know. From my youth, there was many people in my life (especially my teachers and Boy Scout troop leaders) that thought I was, to be frank, stupid. One of my Boy Scout leaders outright said I was stupid in front of the whole troop (this gentleman, I later learned, dropped out of engineering school to become an auto mechanic.) In the 9th grade, my science teacher told me I wasn’t smart enough to leave her class and go to the physical science class (I later learned that she had lost my screening test for that course). I even got some of this garbage from my own family. My own brother didn’t think I would make it in chemical engineering, and told me to pick a different major. Did I succeed in proving these people wrong? I don’t know. Most of these people have probably forgotten me, just as I probably should have forgotten them. But their insults put a fiery competition and anger in me that simply wouldn’t go away. Curiously enough, that old Boy Scout leader tried to friend me on LinkedIn about a year ago; I didn’t accept his invitation.
  3. A higher income, heh. While I make a decent living, my current salary doesn’t justify 5 years of extra schooling. Chalk this one up as a loss.
  4. To be frank, I don’t think I learned a great deal in grad school. The courses at my university proceeded at such a fast pace, that I could hardly keep up with everything, and didn’t really succeed at a level I was happy with. I learned a great deal on my own of course, from research and tinkering around with my code.
  5. Sure, I’d agree with this one. Getting a PhD was a really great thing, and I feel proud having conquered that mountain.
  6. I’m on the fence with this one. Did my PhD work contribute to human progress? I don’t know. It is too early to tell, and the research field is still too young.
  7. Sure, I’d agree with this one too. My new school was very different from my undergraduate institution; much older and more respected. Did it matter that much? Nah, not really.
  8. I’d say actually “Yes” to this one. People really do respect you more when they find out you have Dr. in front of your name; most people anyways. People that are insecure about their own education might resent you for it.
  9. Yeah, this might seem like a silly reason to get a PhD, but I had a good rapport with my undergraduate professors, and I respected their opinion highly. The consensus was more or less unanimous that I should get a PhD, so I went for one.
  10. Probably the “worst reason” on the list. I see this a lot on websites that discuss PhDs, that wanting to avoid the workforce is a terrible reason to get a PhD. But hey, I think it worked out great for me. Instead of busting my ass for 5 years at a job I probably didn’t want, I got to study and learn for 5 years. Plus, I got a paycheck for doing it. I just wasn’t ready at the age of 22 to get a real job; I didn’t think I had learned enough or done enough with my education yet. I’d chalk this one up as a win.



One thought on “Why do a PhD?

  1. Pingback: On Working Out, Mindmapping, my Writing Backlog, and a Long List of Blog Topics | unpropaganda

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s