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.
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