Why Complete a PhD?

Why Complete a PhD?

QS Staff Writer

Updated January 28, 2022 Updated January 28

What is a PhD, and why complete one? TopUniversities.com examines this research-focused qualification, and the career benefits a PhD can bring.

For many interested in the more academic side of life, a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is the ultimate recognition of educational and intellectual ability. What distinguishes a PhD above all other degrees is the focus on research, with an extended and detailed approach that relatively few students attain.

To gain a PhD, a student will usually be expected to have completed education up to master's level. The PhD will build on the interests and knowledge gained so far, requiring the candidate to spend three or more years researching a particular question, with the aim of contributing to the body of knowledge of that subject.

PhD programs abroad

International PhD studies are currently at their most popular, driven by the demands of our modern, knowledge-based economy. PhD graduates are regarded as among the most key knowledge workers throughout the international labour market, and are prioritized by national and international policy makers.

There is a lot to consider when thinking about whether you would like to apply for an international PhD program: how long will the degree take, how much will it cost, can I afford to fund myself, what entry qualifications will I need, how do I choose a research project, how do I write a research proposal and what is it actually like to do a PhD?

The short answer to all these questions is that every system of education, every institution, and even every faculty, has a different approach to PhD candidates and applications.

Regional differences

PhD courses vary in both length and structure according to where you study. In the US and increasingly in the UK and across Europe, a significant period of the first year of study is spent in classes, refining theoretical knowledge and reviewing your methodological approach to your topic. 

There then follows a period of between two and four years of research and writing-up, under the close supervision of a small number of academic members of staff, resulting in the production of a thesis or original work, between 80,000 and 100,000 words in length.

Admission requirements

PhD applicants will almost always have some element of existing graduate experience, whether this is a graduate certificate, master's degree or professional equivalent. 

Entry to the PhD degree will rely not only on your existing academic credentials but also whether your research proposal – the topic that you wish to develop and study for your degree – can be supervised by a member of the faculty you're applying to.

Finding a supervisor

One of the crucial areas common to all PhD circumstances is that of selecting and communicating with a suitable PhD supervisor - the academic responsible for providing support and guidance throughout the program. This will clearly need to be someone with interests and specializations closely aligned to your own, who is excited about your proposed project - or perhaps already seeking a candidate to research a particular topic.

Nguyen Kien Cuong, a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Melbourne, illustrates one of the primary reasons for choosing one university and department over another: “I came to Melbourne mainly because the professor I am currently supervised by had the same research interest as my proposal.”

Career progression

Who employs graduates with a PhD qualification?  The obvious answer is universities and colleges all over the world. In many university systems it is routine for new academic appointments only to be offered to those candidates who hold a PhD degree already. Career academics will almost certainly have to be in possession of a completed PhD, or one that is close to completion, at the point of appointment.

However, this is not the whole truth; the variety of employment sectors that currently target the recruitment of PhD graduates is staggering. All areas of business, industry, research and development, teaching, government and the public sector play host to PhDs, particularly where a concentration on the production of knowledge is required.

Karsten Vandrup, Manager of Strategic Planning at Nokia, explains why PhD graduates are particularly important to the ICT industry: “We are dependent on innovation. We look for specific skills when recruiting, rather than qualifications. PhD graduates can also act as a bridge between universities and industry, helping to promote technology transfer and a knowledge flow in both directions."

Whatever your academic area of interest, studying for a PhD degree is regarded as the very top of your field. The effort required studying for three, four or sometimes five years is enormous, but the results can be similarly worthwhile. 

As we place greater importance on the production of knowledge and look for new developments to revolutionize the way we work and live, employment prospects for those with the highest academic qualification possible are both exciting and diverse.

This article was originally published in October 2012 . It was last updated in March 2021


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