Articles on pursuing a PhD frequently highlight the challenges that research students encounter. Here, we contend that the scientific community ought to draw attention to the advantages of earning a PhD.
A PhD program may be rewarding and rigorous. PhD students may face financial hardships, an unsatisfactory work-life balance, or ensuing worries about their mental health in addition to the intellectual and scientific obstacles associated with conducting original research (Woolston, 2017; Auerbach et al., 2018; Oswalt et al., 2020; Evans et al., 2018). Despite all of this, the majority of PhD candidates appear content with their choice to pursue a PhD, mostly due to the exciting surroundings in which they work under excellent supervision and with a high degree of freedom (Pommier et al., 2022; Woolston, 2017).
Ironically, though, it's not always evident to the outside world that the majority of PhD candidates are enthusiastic about pursuing a degree. For instance, the current authors analyzed over 90,000 tweets on the PhD experience, and found that while less than a sixth of the tweets were unfavorable, the negative ones garnered more likes and retweets (Figure 1). What steps may be taken to refute such false and unfavorable perceptions? In order to provide a more fair picture of the entire PhD experience, we, a group of PhD candidates, postdocs, and permanent academics, emphasize the benefits of completing a PhD in this essay.We also offer suggestions for keeping the PhD moving in the right direction. Though these suggestions and ideas stem from our experiences as European ecologists, we believe that the majority of the problems we raise are applicable to other fields and locations as well.
Three benefits of doing a PhD
A PhD produces two main results: new information for the general public and new skills and competence for the graduate. In this piece, we emphasize the former and go over the three primary advantages of earning a PhD for an individual: (i) the acquisition of specialized information to become an expert; (ii) the capacity to operate in a group setting; and (iii) enhanced knowledge-sharing and communication abilities (Figure 2). We go over both broad benefits that are applicable to the majority of PhD students and more focused benefits that are dependent on the student's supervisor, research area, location, and other variables.
The advantages of pursuing a doctorate.
Acquiring expertise (pink circle), learning how to work in a collaborative atmosphere (blue), and building communication skills for information sharing (yellow) are the three main advantages of pursuing a PhD. Each advantage is displayed in a small circle with bold text for broad characteristics that practically all doctorate students can relate to and a large circle with plain type for specific elements that rely on factors like the student's study topic or supervisor. More subjective and abstract concepts that are not included in the main text can be found in the huge grey region. It should be emphasized that this figure is conceptual and that there are numerous equally legitimate ways to organize its elements and concepts.
Becoming an expert
A PhD candidate will gain competence in a particular topic and acquire many of the abilities required to become an independent researcher throughout their doctorate study. PhD students get new transferable abilities by learning how to do a range of activities in addition to learning a great deal about their profession and contribute information to it. These will include resilience, organization and planning skills, autonomy, critical thinking, and the capacity to plan, organize, and execute initiatives. Furthermore, PhD students are often free to devote their working hours almost solely to academic endeavors that they are (or can become) enthusiastic about, unlike postdocs and principal investigators, who must do numerous managerial and administrative chores. One of the things that makes a PhD experience special is this independence, which shouldn't be disregarded or taken for granted. While not all PhD students experience or recognize this kind of autonomy, it should be a goal for all of them.
A doctorate is not something that happens over a series of boring years up to one big break. Instead, there are numerous steps involved, like perfecting a technique, finishing a set of fieldwork or experimentation, or finishing the first draft of a manuscript, and the student should take pride in the sense of achievement that each completed milestone brings.
Working in a collaborative environment
Obtaining a PhD involves a lot of learning, including how to collaborate with other researchers. The most significant working connection for a PhD student is with their supervisor (or supervisors, in some situations). However, most PhD students will also have the chance to work with other members of their lab or research group, as well as with academics from other universities. Intermittently working on other projects might benefit students' own work by boosting creativity and productivity; also, it can improve lab cohesiveness and perhaps result in the student coauthoring a paper. Moreover, managing undergraduate or even fresh graduate students is an excellent method to develop management abilities.
Another option to connect and meet other scholars is at conferences. They provide a chance to learn about, debate, and draw inspiration from the research of other scientists in particular. Conference discussions can spark original research topics or provide fresh approaches to well-posed problems. Students also get the opportunity to develop a professional network, get input from their colleagues, and be acknowledged as active researchers by presenting their findings at a conference.
In addition, PhD students can collaborate by joining one of the many online communities available to them for moral, scientific, or technological support. Doctorate students can, for instance, share stories, talk about their experiences, and provide and receive assistance through the Global PhD Server. PhD students working on articles or thesis chapters can participate in writing sessions supported by the @PhDForum, and Stack Overflow is a wonderful location to provide and get assistance with statistics and code.
Developing communication skills
Communicating findings effectively is an essential skill for any researcher. For instance, a PhD student will have to exhibit their research to other scientists at conferences and meetings through speeches or posters. Additionally, the learner will begin to learn how to write scientific articles. Additionally, PhD candidates have a wealth of possibilities to impart their enthusiasm and expertise in their profession, including mentoring and teaching graduate students and undergraduates. Additionally, they can engage in public outreach activities that can spark fresh interests or inform the public about particular subjects.
Throughout the PhD program, neither the supervisor nor the doctorate student will have complete control over the course of events. It's inevitable that things may go wrong, so try to be optimistic and make the most of this special chance. Rereading previous pages in their lab notebook to see how much progress has been achieved and keeping track of all the encouraging comments from various sources are two strategies for the student to stay upbeat. It's also critical to keep in mind that getting admitted to a PhD program is a significant accomplishment in and of itself; one does not become a PhD student by accident. Furthermore, discussing early findings with group members and going to social gatherings of a lab can build a supportive working atmosphere and help students to stay positive.
Spending time on other activities, such as teaching, supervising students, or working on outreach, may break up the monotony and provide a sense of progress, as concentrating only on research can occasionally be draining. Lastly, accomplishments like a completed first draft, a paper that was accepted for publication, a conference presentation, or the filing of a grant proposal (and, of course, a grant proposal that is approved) should be celebrated. These accomplishments can be acknowledged in person, on social media, or both! It is simpler to acknowledge that challenges have been met, that progress has been made, and that knowledge, competence, and skills have been acquired when good results are frequently highlighted.
Simultaneously, it's critical to work on mitigating the negative effects of the PhD experience, as they exist, are diverse, and can be quite depressing if ignored. It is crucial to contextualize them first. For instance, remember that failure is a necessary component of growth and that it's frequently only a brief setback rather than a loss. This is particularly true when a journal rejects a manuscript; it may be helpful to reframe rejections in a positive perspective by realizing that the reviewer reports are about the research, not the authors, and by viewing the rejection as a chance to improve the paper.After all, rejection is a common occurrence for even the most illustrious scholars. Furthermore, as was already mentioned, science is a group endeavor, and asking for assistance seldom leaves one alone. In this sense, discussing the difficulties encountered while pursuing a PhD with other scholars or students can also aid in placing these difficulties into context and highlighting their advantages.
The experience of a PhD student will probably be greatly influenced by their interaction with their supervisor. But it's crucial to understand that this is a mutually beneficial relationship, and both parties stand to gain if it goes well. PhD candidates may assist themselves in a number of ways, such as by arranging frequent meetings devoted to their work or by being explicit about the kind of feedback they need, and by persevering even in the face of a busy supervisor (Kearns and Gardiner, 2011).
Additionally, we would advise supervisors to foster a favorable relationship with their PhD students and to create a worldwide atmosphere of productivity that might be advantageous to the student (Andreev et al., 2022). For instance, supervisors should make sure that criticism is always constructive and commend PhD students when appropriate. They should also urge other lab members to follow suit.
PhD candidates could potentially encounter difficulties that are beyond the reach of optimism. Bullying, harassment, and discrimination are examples of abusive behaviors that need to be reported right away to the appropriate authorities.
A few PhD candidates may also be concerned about their employment chances in the future, particularly if they intend to stay with academic research. Determining the measures required to achieve one's life or career objectives might help alleviate anxiety of this kind. A list of all possible funding sources, together with deadlines, should be created by the student, for instance, before the beginning of their last year. This will help them plan ahead and reduce some of the stress that will accumulate as their PhD draws to a close. Planning a career can also be aided by developing a professional network; partnerships and conference attendance are essential in this regard.
Ultimately, it is very fine for a PhD student to take a vacation from their work if necessary, to refocus on their goals for the future, or even to quit their PhD program early if they decide it is not for them. However, we would advise the student to consider if a PhD is truly the best career route for them or whether their reservations are just the result of a transient problem that will pass before making such a decision.
A PhD program is an exceptional experience that usually takes three or more years to complete. The student will benefit from this experience by earning a respected certificate and a variety of professional and personal skills. Making this experience as good as possible ultimately serves the interests of all parties involved: the PhD student, the supervisor, their colleagues, their institutions, and academia as a whole.
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