Thursday, 7 December 2017

Should you do a PhD? Consult the PhD triangle first.

Have you ever seen the fire triangle?  If you have worked in a lab or similar the fire triangle is used to explain that fire requires a combination of three elements: one for each side of the triangle.  If either fuel, oxygen or heat is not present, the triangle collapses and a fire ends.  When people talk to me about their options regarding a PhD, I tell them to consult the PhD triangle.

Funding: If you do not have it, do not do it. Doctoral degrees take up a considerable amount of your life that renumeration is a requirement to help off-balance the investment in time and concentration. It is very difficult to pack another job on top of that and those of you who did it with a family - I salute you. I would still recommend all PhD students to continue with teaching on the side (tutorials, practical demonstrators, etc.) to build your networks and stay energised. 

Subject: When you describe the topic to someone and you start to smile, then this is probably a good choice. Conversations, internal or otherwise, that give excuses for the choice such as, "It'll be good for my career," are a sign of hard times to come. Are you prepared for weeks/months/years of things not working out for you on a subject that doesn't grab your heart? Avoid. 

Supervisor: Often the hardest one to get right. Science is all about people and their interactions. Sometimes people do not get on and it can really weigh you down. There are always alternatives if you discover you and your supervisor are not working together well, then there are options.

It is so important to have all these elements on your side to keep the fire of your PhD going. Conversely, if you do have all three, then you absolutely should do a PhD! Go for it!


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