Why do a PhD? Learn what a PhD can do for you 🎓

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Finishing university can open up an exciting world of possibilities. But this can also be quite daunting.

Where to go next? Grad schemes, travelling, and getting experience in a job sector are all possibilities.

For those who enjoyed the academic side of university life, doing a PhD might also be on the table.

So, why do a PhD?

Below you’ll find some tips and info to help you understand what a PhD is, and whether it’s right for you.

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What is a PhD?

A PhD is a research degree. It’s a type of doctoral degree (or doctorate), the highest form of academic qualification attainable.

A PhD is the most common doctorate and stands for ‘Doctor of Philosophy’. Other doctorates in the UK include Doctor of Education (EdD) or Doctor of Business Administration (DBA).

The use of ‘philosophy’ in PhD might be confusing – but don’t be put off! Technically, PhD stands for the Latin term Philosophiae Doctor (which is why the letters are abbreviated in that order).

The word ‘philosophy’ denotes the wisdom and knowledge of the degree holder. So no, you don’t need to be studying philosophy!

A PhD typically takes 3 or 4 years to complete full-time. You can also do it part-time, which takes around 6 years.

In the UK, most PhD students are provisional until they pass a mini viva (oral) exam at the end of their first year, also known as an ‘upgrade’ or ‘transfer’.

After this, they are official PhD candidates!


Can you do a PhD without a master’s degree?

In the UK, most PhD students will be expected to have a master’s degree – or, at least, be working towards one when they apply.

In the arts and humanities, you’ll be expected to have one.

This means that PhD students in these subjects will have completed both a bachelor’s and master’s degree prior to their PhD.

However, in STEM subjects, it isn’t always necessary.

PhD programmes in STEM subjects sometimes involve a year of training at master’s level.

For example, some funded PhD projects in the sciences will be advertised as ‘1+3’, where the funding includes a one-year master’s course followed by a three-year PhD.

What does a PhD involve?

This can vary depending on what subject you are in. In general, a PhD will require a thesis of up to 100,000 words based on original research.

This usually includes a literature review of current scholarship, and the presentation of new research (e.g. through data that has been collected, or through an original written piece of work).

The PhD culminates in a viva voce (oral examination) where the student must defend their thesis.

Many PhD students also engage in other activities beyond the dissertation, such as presenting conference papers, teaching undergraduates, and writing journal articles.

As a research (rather than taught) degree, it involves lots of self-led and independent work.

As a PhD student, you are becoming a specialist in your subject area – so it’s a great opportunity to make a unique contribution to your discipline!

But PhD students aren’t on their own.

They are overseen by a supervisor or a team of supervisors, who are there to offer support and guidance.

Supervisions are a great time to review your work, discuss how things are progressing with your research, and ask for support if you need it.

In the sciences, many PhD students can also benefit from the collegiality of a wider research team.


Is a PhD worth it?

First and foremost, a PhD student is a researcher.

Like the idea of doing research? Good at committing to a project and seeing it through? Have a specific project in mind that’s of interest to you?

These are all sure-fire signs that you will enjoy a PhD!

In the arts and humanities, PhD applicants are invariably expected to propose their PhD project, too – meaning you have a lot of ownership over it and get to devise a project you’d enjoy.

A PhD is an opportunity to dedicate a few years to researching and studying something of interest to yourself, and of value to society.

It’s important to consider your motivations too – it’s not just about the end result of having a doctorate or being called a doctor.

Make sure you’ll enjoy the process too!

If you have the determination and ability to devote yourself to a demanding project, and if you thrive working independently, you could be very well-suited to doing a PhD.

It’s true that a PhD can be challenging – but it’s also very rewarding.

It comes with a lot of flexibility, given that most PhD students manage their own time and workload.

The downside to this is that many PhD students tend to overwork.

But if you can manage your own time well and put boundaries in place, having some flexibility and control over your working hours can be fantastic.


What could a PhD do for you?

When weighing up if a PhD is right for you, consider if and how it could contribute to your career.

You don’t need to have your life’s career mapped out, or even know exactly what you want to do after.

But having some idea what you’d like to do will help you identify if a PhD is right for you.

A PhD is the highest academic qualification, so this will open doors.

Having a relevant PhD is nearly always a requirement for an academic career.

A PhD will provide you with experience in teaching, marking, conducting research, publishing articles, and presenting at conferences.

So, if you’d like to work at a university as a lecturer or eventually a professor, a PhD is the perfect choice for you.

But a PhD can also be a good opportunity even if you don’t want to pursue academia.

It’s a great opportunity to indulge your curiosity and intellectual creativity, to advance your knowledge, gain experience, and develop skills.

In fact, having a vested interest in your research is a very good reason to do a PhD, and will help keep you motivated.

PhD students can develop hard skills like using software, coding, or working with a particular type of data.

But there’s also a vast array of transferable skills PhD programmes can give you, such as:

  • Written communication
  • Project management
  • Public speaking
  • Time management
  • Communicating to non-specialist audiences
  • Grant writing
  • Report writing


Pursuing something for your own interest and skills development can be a career contribution in itself, especially if these align with your long-term professional goals.

Finally, doing a PhD is also a good opportunity to help you discover what you are (and aren’t) interested in.

By having a go at the various things a PhD involves, you might learn more about how you want to work.

This could be deciding whether you prefer working alone or in a team, and even figuring out if you like working in a office or prefer to be doing something a bit more active.

It could help you figure out what kind of people you want to be surrounded by, what’s important to you, what you find tedious and what you find enjoyable.


If you have skills you’d like to develop, passion for your subject, and ability to do research, a PhD could be a great opportunity.

But remember: you are the one who can decide if a PhD is right for you!

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