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.
- To be the best and go the furthest.
- To prove other people wrong about me.
- To get a higher income.
- To learn more and acquire new skills.
- To do something great for the sake of having done it.
- To tangibly contribute to human progress.
- Study in a new setting, different from undergraduate years.
- To get more respect.
- Because my undergraduate professors encouraged me to get one.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Sure, I’d agree with this one. Getting a PhD was a really great thing, and I feel proud having conquered that mountain.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.