Why do a PhD?

Is doing a PhD worthwhile? Why do a PhD? These questions might appear simple, and yet they may have many answers depending on our goals and motivations. Here, I will share what I find worthwhile in pursuing a PhD, what motivated me almost 20 years ago to perform PhD research.

I always thought of doctoral research as an intellectual pursuit driven by questions that may or may not have short term applications; this pursuit goes far beyond acquiring technical skills and preparation for a job. It includes those components, but in my mind they were not the central motivation. Indeed, one can acquire technical skills and prepare for jobs without performing doctoral research. A more important motivation for me is the environment and the community that create space for intellectual inquires, for rigorous exploration motivated by curiosity.

Another major appeal of doctoral research for me is the opportunity to lead a cutting edge research project. Doctoral research is unusual in offering leadership opportunities to very early career scholars. To the extent that doctoral research provides such opportunities, it can substantially accelerate career development. Prominent publications that may result from leading such projects provide worldwide visibility and influence, unlike corporate research results that are often confined to a research unit within a company and evaluated by smaller groups of bosses.

Multiple studies have indicated that having a PhD tends to substantially increase the earnings over a lifetime, and thus such expectations may provide motivation for doing a PhD. This factor alone is not compelling enough motivation for me since alternative routes, such as hedge funds, are likely to more effective maximize earning potential.

What do you think are good reasons to pursue doctoral research?

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