Is a PhD the right thing for you?
Before embarking on a PhD programme, giving some thought to what you would like to do in the future and how you like to work is a good idea.
Here are three questions you can ask yourself if you are considering becoming a PhD student.
Would I like to learn how to carry out research?
As a PhD student, you undergo training as a researcher and, during a period of typically 3-4 years, you must create new knowledge that contributes to a scientific field. A PhD programme concludes with the submission of a thesis which must be defended at a public defence. A thesis may consist of a coherent monograph or a series of articles, published regularly in the course of the PhD programme.
In other words, the primary task of a PhD student is carry out to research and write a thesis. Along the way, as a PhD student, you must, however, complete courses equivalent to 30 ECTS points, visit another research institution and teach or carry out other work for the institute where you are employed. Often, in addition to carrying out research and working on your thesis, the work of the PhD student also consists of attending conferences, publishing and participating in research networking.
So as a PhD student, you become good at carrying out research - but also good at communicating and collaborating.
What would I like to use my PhD for?
Before you start writing a PhD application, it is worth considering what you want to do afterwards? For many, the PhD is the start to a research career at a university. However, for an increasing number of research graduates, the PhD takes them elsewhere in the labour market.
Depending on their scientific field, there are significant differences in what PhD graduates do after completing their studies. Compared to other countries, we have a high number of privately employed PhD graduates in Danish companies. These graduate primarily from the technical field, the field of healthcare and the scientific field. However, we are seeing a growing number of PhD graduates from the humanities and social sciences, who move away from academia and take up positions in both the private and the public sector.
Members of DM/the Danish Association of Masters and PhDs (“DM”) holding PhD degrees hold many different jobs around the country. By way of example, PhD graduates work as IT developers in small start-up companies, as statisticians in large international pharmaceutical companies, as teachers in private companies providing consultancy services and as project managers in municipalities.
Is this type of work a fit for me?
It is essential that, before applying for a PhD position, you consider whether you would like to work in the way that many PhD students work. The good PhD student will often have a strong professional "drive", a high degree of independence and an enterprising attitude which may help him or her find a way out of a deadlock.
Studies of the working hours of PhD students show that they often work long hours. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because many PhD students love their area of study. But it does mean that the ability to set boundaries for your working hours are an essential prerequisite for a good working life as a PhD student.
In other words, it is essential that you are able to manage your working hours in your day-to-day life as a PhD student. However, it is equally important that you are able to structure your time according to a long-term schedule that runs across the three years that completing a PhD programme takes. It is, therefore, crucial that your PhD project does not slip, that you are alive to your responsibility and that you reach the deadlines you set for yourself.
In order to successfully complete a long programme as a PhD student, it is essential that you have a good relationship with your supervisor. Usually, you select a principal supervisor at the beginning of your programme - and may then select one or more secondary supervisors during your course of study. However, it is possible to change supervisor during a PhD programme. The supervisor who follows your project from start to finish is usually your primary sparring partner. Therefore, it is also necessary to have an ongoing dialogue with your supervisor and use him or her to commit to reaching the required deadlines and to ensuring that your research continues to develop in the right direction.
Before embarking on a PhD, consider how you would like to collaborate with your supervisor: Should the discussion of your research results be the primary focus of your relationship, or are you in greater need of someone more who holds you up on your project plan? Contact potential supervisors already while writing the application to get a feel for what a collaboration might look like.
At DM, we would be pleased to have a conversation with you to help you answer these questions and make sure that you get a good start on your PhD programme and find a good career path once you have completed it.