Should you write a PhD? How writing a PhD improves productivity

Several times, prospective PhD students have asked my opinion about whether they should start a PhD or not. I’d like to share one aspect – among many other – which supports commitment into a PHD: improved productivity.

Why am I writing a PhD? Throughout my now fairly long life as a PhD candidate (I am now five and a half years into it), I gave the answers I thought best: it teaches me to be responsible of a large scale project all by myself, I learn how to use new research methods and, among many other reasons, I learn about how I function as a human being – Oh, and I contribute to research, I was going to forget that one!

While they are true, these responses only answers part of the question. Why do I write a PhD? Not the part about motivations, but rather the so what part.

Here is something about me – about most of us: I procrastinate, i.e. I postpone to tomorrow what could be done today. And since primary school, we are taught that procrastination is evil. Just look up online the thousand pseudo solutions to fight procrastination.

9gag (source: 9gag)

I guess I procrastinate because what I really need to do intimidates me. Instead I choose to do things which seem more feasible, more easily achievable. And this is where I come back to my PhD.

To be honest, the efforts I put into the PhD are unlikely to ever be worth in terms of career prospects and research fallouts. If five people – including my mother and the Viva jury – ever read it, that will be a decent achievement.

However, let’s talk about what I have achieved while I was supposed to be working on my PhD! I published my Master’s thesis recently after months of work, I recently landed a university research and teaching position, I started working on several investigation projects, I work as a health economics consultant, I ran three triathlons, I started a project of a non-profit with a PhD colleague, I competed for an essay competition with the same colleague and I work on numerous personal projects. In fact, I don’t think I have ever been as productive as since I started my PhD.

Obviously, my PhD supervisors are often grumpy – sometimes reasonably so – and frequently remind me of time passing by. Well, PhDs do have time limits – at least in the UK – which I will soon reach, so I will eventually have to finish it. FYI, three to four years full time, so six to eight years part-time, which I am.

Chances are, I am alike most people: it looks like we procrastinate with tasks smaller than the big task. In other words, the more ambitious the main quest, the greater the side quests. Therefore, I conclude that if we have a main quest ambitious enough, our side quests may turnout unexpectedly fruitful.

A PhD has several things of an ideal main quest: it is immensely – overwhelmingly? – ambitious, it is long but rather flexible and there are external assessors (supervisors) making sure you are progressing towards completion, who make sure you are not just treading.

A PhD gives you stress and anxiety, a feeling of guilt whenever you are doing something other than the PhD – like right now, for example – as well as a significant load of frustration (among many other feelings). But I am thinking that the achievements associated with side quests only may prove the main quest definitely worthwhile.

Original article in LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/should-you-write-phd-how-writing-improves-jonathan-r-guillemot

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