Why a PhD is Worth it!

Why a PhD is Worth it!

QS Staff Writer

Updated January 28, 2022 Updated January 28

Considering a PhD? It could be the best decision you ever make, both in terms of your career and personal development. Here's why...

Okay, let's start with the arguments against. First: who wants a PhD degree when you can earn a six-figure salary with an MBA or a professional degree in much less time? Imagine watching your friends drive off to work in their expensive cars while you're still stuck in the library or lab.

Let’s accept it, doing a PhD can be intellectually challenging, physically tiring and emotionally draining. So, why should anyone do a PhD? And is it worth the effort?

Join the knowledge economy

To begin with, PhDs are an essential part of the knowledge economy. Completing a PhD is all about creating fresh knowledge, discovering new things and developing new skills.

It is a degree meant for those who seek greater depth of knowledge in a specific area. With a PhD, ‘one can make a difference’, says Professor Paul KH Tam, Pro Vice Chancellor and Vice President (Research), University of Hong Kong. “A PhD is about pursuing knowledge for the passion of acquiring knowledge. If one is fortunate, one’s discovery/invention may even change society,” he adds.

Although academia is considered to be the most obvious path for any PhD holder, the degree also paves way to a career in industries centered on research and innovation.

“In developing countries, where there is a gap in higher-education sector, but where government as well as society realize and pursue a policy to develop knowledge-based economy, there is an across the board need for increased PhDs both in academia and in industry,” says Prof Tam. 

Diverse range of research roles

He adds that PhDs are required for the discovery of new drugs to satisfy the health needs of an ageing population, to continue making communication technology (iPhone, iPad) as one of the major driving forces of economic activities in modern society and to develop the understanding of humanities as society faces the challenges of coping with the side-effects of science and technology.

“Areas with high demand for very specialized and high level research skills demand PhDs. In the current economy, these areas may be biotechnology, information systems and medical and environmental engineering.

"That said, a PhD in liberal arts discipline is likely to be a passport to employment in any number of areas from media to political advising to independent research work,” says Dr Emmaline Bexley, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne, Australia.

Sectors such as manufacturing, scientific research and development, health and social work and business activities all welcome PhD holders.

Transferable skills

Besides this, a PhD degree helps you develop valuable transferrable skills, which are held dear by the employers. The very nature of the degree teaches candidates to be team players, problem solvers, have great presentation and communication skills apart from having an analytical mind and perseverance.

“Employers value the transferrable skills which PhD candidates bring to the table and they take on PhD holders from a variety of disciplines. The process of doing a PhD is often recognized as a training in creativity, critical inquiry, negotiation skills, professionalism and confidence,” says Dr Nathalie Mather-L’Huillier, Postgraduate Recruitment and Admissions Manager (Research), University of Edinburgh.

Dr Harry Kelly, Chemistry Operations Manager, GlaxoSmithKline, says that many view a PhD as an excellent means to acquire theoretical as well as practical skills. He says, “Together with high levels of innovation, creativity and ability to solve complex problems…PhD…enhances transferable skills such as communication skills and the ability to work in a team, both of which are critical to the achievement of our drug discovery programmes.”

Gain some 'gravitas'

Doing a PhD is not as much about ‘patience or persistence’ as much it is about ‘quality and preparation’ according to Professor Richard Anthony Strugnell, Pro Vice Chancellor (Graduate Research), The University of Melbourne.

That is why those who earn the degree are held in high esteem. It wouldn't be wrong to say that a PhD degree gives gravitas to one’s social standing. “In society, a PhD in any field still stands for something,” says Professor Thomas Vogel, Pro Rector for Doctoral Studies, ETH Zurich.

However, it is also a degree to be pursued by only those who are truly driven to do something original, create a new knowledge base and be prepared to discover the unknown. “One of the hardest things to do in the world in educational terms is the PhD, but the rewards are amazing. The self-fulfilment and satisfaction you achieve from it pushes you to go through all the hard work and toil,” says Prof Andrew George, Head of Graduate School, Imperial College London.

But he also adds, “You should only do a PhD if you are really interested in it, not if you can’t think of doing anything better.” Point taken!

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


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