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July 3, 2020, by Leah Sharpe

How Do You Know a PhD Is Right for You?

By Jo Workman, Employability Education Projects Officer

A PhD is a huge commitment, taking three or more years to complete, and resulting in the creation of new knowledge. But how do you know whether it will be the right move for you?

We asked two psychology students to tell us how they progressed into their PhD, and how they were sure it was the right thing for them:

Blanca, PhD researcher

My undergraduate degree was in psychology and I became very interested in research. For this reason, I decided to pursue an MPhil in Psychology, which gave me the opportunity to conduct research on the topics I was most interested in. I am now a PhD Researcher pursuing a cross disciplinary PhD between the Division of Psychiatry and Applied Psychology, and the Division of Rehabilitation, Ageing and Wellbeing, based within the School of Medicine.

It’s important for you to know what your preferences are. I think it is fine if you have doubts initially. By doing some work experience you can gain a better idea of what you like and don’t like. For anyone thinking about a role in academia, I would recommend contacting lecturers or professors working on topics that you enjoy. You can ask them if they have any projects advertised or coming up. Or simply tell them that you are interested in their work as they might be in need of a new researcher. PhDs can be competitive, so if you are not successful at first, remember that there will always be new projects coming up. I’d recommend looking into opportunities to take part in work experience in research or related areas before pursuing the PhD.

Read Blanca’s full case study

Luke, PhD researcher

I had a passion for research, which I discovered during my third year of undergraduate study, so I progressed into an MSc in Health Psychology. My postgraduate degree confirmed for me that I wanted to do further research, and enabled me to hone in on the area of particular interest to me, which is health research. A PhD is a huge commitment, it’s three to five years, so that passion will sustain your learning. I am now pursuing my PhD in the Division of Pharmacy Practice and Policy within the School of Pharmacy.

You’ve got to have a passion for the subject area, and enjoy reading other theses, articles, policy documents, journal papers, and many other documents to discover more. My advice when applying for your PhD is to ask lots of questions. A PhD aims to push the existing frontiers of knowledge in the topic area of your choosing, and therefore the answers won’t always be there. Part of the researcher development process lies within making key decisions with the best available evidence, and defending your choices to wider audiences, regardless of whether they are the gold standard or not. It’s alright not to have all the answers, and it’s better to say ‘I don’t know’ instead of pretending you do.

Read Luke’s full case study

Are you considering taking a PhD or feel inspired to find out more? Visit our PhD webpage to help you investigate whether or not it is the right option for you. 

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