Share This Post

General

WHAT A PHD IS AND WHAT IT IS NOT

After having completed a PhD degree myself, and
having supervised, co-supervised and examined a number of PhD
students over the years, I would like to offer some humble advice
and pointers to those aspiring to pursue a PhD degree themselves.
I find that many students misunderstood the purpose of getting a
PhD degree and the commitments and sacrifices that it calls for. A
PhD is the highest academic and research degree from a
university. I have seen both remarkable successes and
disappointing failures amongst students pursuing this academic
accolade. It takes more than just brain power to complete a PhD.
A degree by research is very different from a degree by
coursework. A course degree whether at the undergraduate or
masters level is heavily structured. A student just have to be
disciplined and rigorous in following this predetermined structure
regimentally, without much creativity required from him or her. Of
course, creativity is demanded from the student in completing
assignments and projects but the demand is nothing close to what
is required for a PhD degree. The most important prerequisites for
pursuing a successful PhD program are passion, inquisitiveness,
creativity, discipline, persistence, perseverance and
meticulousness (or attention to detail). I did not mention
intelligence not because it is not important, but because it is less
important than the other attributes I mentioned. At least, it is in
my book. Others may feel differently. Of those many attributes, I
consider passion the most important. Some students start out
enthusiastically but loses steam halfway through or towards the
end. They lack passion or the love of knowledge. Ever heard of the
saying, “when the going gets tough, the tough gets going?”
Success in a PhD is simply that. The harder it becomes, the harder
you will strive. Sometimes, you do not see the light at the end of
the tunnel but you still keep looking for it because you know it is
there. When you love what you do, failure is not an option. Some
people do PhD for the wrong reasons. Some take up postgraduate
because they could not secure a job after their first or second
degree. Some do it because the jobs they have taken up require
them to acquire a PhD, for e.g. an academic or a research post.
These cannot be the sole reason for pursuing a PhD. You cannot
force yourself to do a PhD. You must want to do it badly enough.
You cannot force yourself to love something; you must love or
want something bad enough to force yourself to get it. The PhD is
an academic journey. There will be failures but mainly successes
along your way. You may encounter some foes but mainly friends
in the same boat as yourself. It always help to be in a group of
students to share both your setbacks and achievements. Working
alone in a silo is the worst you can do to yourself. There are
certain things you want to discuss with your fellow students that
you cannot discuss with your supervisor; matters that are either
academic or personal. Your supervisor is your mentor, guide and
consultant, not your teacher. He cannot teach you your PhD
knowledge, you have to teach yourself through his guidance and
wisdom. He is more your friend than he is your master. He does
not dictate to you what you must do, he merely points you in the
right direction. At the end of your PhD journey, you would have
been more knowledgeable on the subject of your research than
your supervisor. I have heard of students not being able to
complete their PhD because they could not get along or see eye to
eye with their supervisor. This is the worst scenario that can
happen to you. If you do not have a supervisor you can work with,
you will not get your PhD no matter how good you are or how hard
you work. So, choose your supervisor well, not just the university
you want to do your PhD in. Just a few months back, I met a
doctoral graduate who told me that to be supervised by this one
professor carries more prestige among his peers in the working
world. A PhD degree needs sacrifices, especially when you are a
family person; a wife, mother, husband or dad. Family is always
important and should always be your priority. However, you and
your family members must be willing to make sacrifices that are
necessary. There can be no gain without pain. That is why when
you finally get your PhD degree, your family members can even be
happier and more proud of you than you yourself, because it is as
much their accomplishment as it is yours. Their sacrifices must
be duly appreciated. So what does it mean when you have a Dr.
before your name? Does it mean that you are an expert on a
certain subject matter? Hardly so, I think. It means that you are
both a seeker as well as a generator of knowledge. It means that
you have enriched the world and added on to the vast body of
knowledge through your PhD contribution. The world has become
a slightly better place from the knowledge that you have
contributed through your PhD thesis and publications. The world
now knows more on a subject than before you completed your
PhD. Your work get referred and cited by other researchers in your
field, as they absorb your new knowledge to generate new
knowledge of their own. Your PhD is an end that should be
justified by its means. The research methodology, the analysis
and the interpretation should justify the conclusion. The new
knowledge must have been tested and challenged by your peers
and rigorously defended by you. It is an accomplishment unequal
by any other feat. Once you have obtained a well-deserved PhD
degree, you become your own teacher as self-teaching becomes
common practice. You are always curious and tends to read a lot,
not just on your subject matter but on everything. You will find
doing new things, exploring new frontiers and taking up new
challenges more scintillating. In other words, it will change your
life and your outlooks forever. I hope I have inspired some of you
to pursue a PhD degree if what you read here is what you really
want from a PhD. On the other hand, I hope I have also
discouraged others who have a misconception of what a PhD
degree entails, so that you will not go down the road of failure. A
PhD is not for everyone. You may share this post if you think it
would help people you know in deciding whether pursuing a PhD
degree is the right path for them to take.

Share This Post

1 Comment

  1. Ok

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.