Was it worth it?

When starting their PhD journey, many new doctoral students might ask

“Is it worth it?”.

All the way at the other end, some soon-to-be PhDs might start to ask themselves

“Was it worth it?”.

The answer to both these questions is, that it will probably be worth it in the end.

See, the thing is, you shouldn’t define the worth of your PhD only by how well you now know the topic you’ve been deeply engaged with for four years (or more). Or by how useful knowing everything about this specific topic is for your future career. And you should definitely not define the worth of your degree by the successes (and failures) you’ve had.

Because going down that road only focuses on two aspects of your doctoral studies – your dissertation topic and a subjective view of success or failure. And those are not at the core of your experience. Or, at least, they shouldn’t define your experience.

What you should do, instead, is take a step back and grasp the bigger picture.

Whether you’re thinking about continuing on in academia or getting an industry job, you’ve learned some really useful skills during your doctoral studies. Believe me, you have.

Self-management and time-management

Even if you won’t agree with me at first, I know that one thing you’ve learned during your doctoral studies is to manage your own work, time and motivation. How do I know this? Because otherwise you wouldn’t have finished at all.

You’ve learned what to prioritize and how you work most effectively (i.e. what works and what doesn’t).

And these are skills that you will need no matter what your future career brings in front of you. Knowing how to manage yourself and your time is a skill, that will take you far in today’s work life, which is increasingly focused on self-organizing teams and organizations.

Creativity and ability to produce material

Another set of skills that you’ve probably picked up during your PhD, are related to creativity and putting ideas into action. Because of these skills, you’ll be able to plan and execute projects, and create new innovations, be it related to physical things or conceptual ideas.

You’ve also learned to write, not only long, detailed texts, but also shorter abstracts.

That’s not all! You’re also able to document your work, and to present your ideas in a (somewhat) coherent manner. Presentation and communication skills are a must-have in almost any job.

And you have plenty of experience, thanks to all the papers you’ve written and all the presentations you’ve given at seminars and conferences.

Critical thinking

One of the most fundamental skills you’ll learn during your stay in academia is thinking critically. This doesn’t mean that you will criticize everything. It means that you will evaluate all the options, analyze the strengths and weaknesses, and rely on evidence in decision-making. Thinking critically and knowing how and where to look for evidence, is an important skill in any industry or academic job.

There are a lot of other skills you’ll learn as well, such as receiving and giving feedback, organizing seminars, advanced IT skills, and mentoring juniors. The list is long, but these were the ones I thought would persuade you to think about your PhD in a different light.

Of course, these skills are not automatically or magically acquired during your PhD. As with any other skills, you have to work on them and practice. But, with them, the world is your oyster.

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One thought on “Was it worth it?

  1. “Should I stay or should I go” – reasons for persistence and attrition in doctoral studies – PhD Pathfinder

    […] To complete one’s doctoral studies is not an easy task. The road to defending your thesis is long and winding and sometimes there are obstacles that just make it impossible to go on. This might lead you to think “Is it worth it?”. I’ve written about my own experience earlier in the blog. […]


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