Welcome to the spotlight on PhD realities. A PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy, is a postgraduate degree undertaken at a University. It is the highest level of degree a student can achieve, resulting in the title of "Dr." upon graduation. All views will be given from a biomedical sciences perspective, but concepts should be generally relevant.
This post is inspired by a recent discussion I had with Alex regarding the merits of undertaking a PhD program. Here in Australia, a PhD program requires a 3-4 year commitment to a project. Interestingly, I have met and heard of a lot of people who have entered into the program, but part way through have become disillusioned and lose their drive to complete opting to drift through, downgrade to a Masters degree or cease. Reasons for this mainly stem from the lack of job security and opportunities in science/research upon completion, fuelled by the restricted grant funding available to research laboratories in the current economic climate.
So why then would you spend (waste...?) 3-4 years of your life mastering a field, only to know that there may not be a secure academic position and career prospects? Good question.
Most higher degree by research students are sold the idea that you undertake a PhD, and the next progression is a Post Doctoral research position (preferably overseas for exposure), before establishing somewhere to build up your own laboratory and research niche. BUT DONT FORGET A PHD DEGREE IS NOT JUST FOR THIS! A doctorate is representative for many other soft skills such as project management, independence, analytical, time management, interpersonal skills and leadership. Therefore you can leverage your PhD experience and science/medical background to open many doors in both science (industry) or non-science related careers; such as business, sales, marketing, laboratory work and clinical studies, that align with your long term goals.
I am currently a 3rd year PhD candidate in cancer genomics. People always ask me, how do you this is what you want to do? If you had the choice again, would you undertake the PhD? I have known since high school year 10 that I wanted to do a PhD. At that stage it was just about long term goals and the charm of being "Dr. Blanket" (LOL). If I had the choice again, yes absolutely I would undertake a PhD. Im not saying its always rosy and a fun ride, but I take it as a growth process. Sure experiments and deals don't always work out leaving you feeling frustrated (for a week), but the excitement of the unknown unknowns keep me in. And I am never depressed because I always known where I am going; biotechnology.
For any new undergraduate/Honours/Masters students contemplating a PhD, here are critical points of advice that will ensure you enjoy the PhD journey should you choose to begin:
1] Find a project in your subject area that you are passionate/excited about, which sparks your curiosity. I think Steve Jobs said it best in his Stanford commencement address, "The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you havent found it yet, keep looking and dont settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know it when you find it. And like any great relationship, it gets better and better as the years roll on."
2] Verify that the offering laboratory has a positive working environment. They say doing a PhD can be a lonely process, so a supportive group (supervisor guidance/laboratory friends) is essential for successful completion.
Having a PhD (and science background) will greatly enhance your career. As Jack Ma (Chinese business magnate; Alibaba Group) said, “No matter what one does, regardless of failure or success, the experience is a form of success in itself.”
You can take it as insight, or you can take it as Just BS.