I'm lucky, my family are very supportive of me embarking on a PhD. However, a PhD is often seen as a superfluous qualification; there are many people who don't initially see the value in embarking upon higher study over seeking employment immediately after graduation. I argue, despite only being a month in to my PhD programme of study, that in fact there are already tangible benefits that I am experiencing or anticipating from being a PhD student; and eventually a Doctor.
The National Qualifications Framework in the United Kingdom has 11 levels, three 'Entry Level' levels and then a further eight levels of qualification above that. A Bachelors degree is level six (tick), masters level seven (tick) and PhD is level 8; in theory the highest level qualification an individual in the United Kingdom can work towards.
What has struck me in the very early days of my doctoral studies (I'm yet to submit my final research proposal for research committee approval, that's how early on in my program I am), is just how individualised a PhD is. The requirement of a PhD is to make an "original contribution to knowledge"; thus, whatever one decides to study is right on the cusp of innovation in any particular academic field.
...you have to come up with something from scratch.
Identifying a problem worth studying for three years, one for which you can come up with original conclusions and answers is a skill in itself. In my case, I chose to investigate why people don't/won't trust autonomous cars (in its simplest iteration), but you could investigate anything at all. Literally anything that interests you and you could demonstrate that you're capable of researching.
Upon acceptance at a higher education establishment you are assigned a supervisory team to guide you, often one that has some relevant expertise and interest in your project; that expertise is however generally limited as your supervisors conducted study in different areas of your field.
In progressing through the levels of qualification and during an academic career developing expertise, you start to know more and more about less and less. That's not speaking ill of progressing through academia, it's just a fact.
Bachelors and Masters programmes teach you to synthesise and regurgitate existing ideas in relation to new contexts; they do not necessarily encourage true original thought. However, Masters programmes, more so than Bachelors, do tend to create original knowledge. My masters thesis sat in a significant research gap and generated original insights based on primary research; exactly what a PhD does.
Taught degree programs somewhat spoon-feed the student; this certainly left me feeling lost when I commenced a PhD and was cast out in to the open to consider my next three years of study alone. Through my Bachelors and Masters I had a set program of study, module outlines and assessment deadlines - I knew what I was doing, how I was doing it and when I was doing it. A month in to my PhD, I still have no clue what I'm doing.
I can however see the ability to develop a sense of independence and confidence in myself, my abilities and my work. I will have to devise exactly how I'm going to investigate, measure and analyse the data that I will have to collect in order to answer my research questions. All from scratch, there's no-one to copy. The reality is, that in employment you are required to generate 'things' from scratch; 'things' including marketing insights, business leads, products and services. I don't think my Bachelors prepared me for that at all. Conducting Masters study did vastly improve my confidence, both academically and personally; I still now feel like I was spoon-fed and asked the initiative and ability to create something original.
While a Bachelors and Masters dissertation will develop ones independence to a degree, they form a small part of an overall program of study accompanied by seminars and intensive support from staff and peers (of which there are many). A PhD is so much more solitary.
Add in to that, that I'm the only full-time Business and Management PhD student at my institution. there is a part-time PhD student. Though, he is also a full-time member of staff and an undergraduate degree pathway leader, so hardly your typical PhD candidate who's regularly on the postgraduate campus for a coffee and a chat. I've been forced (well, not forced, but it's been a necessity) to develop friendly relationships with other students from disciplines I have absolutely no experience (or interest) in, and who are often much older than myself - something I have not needed to do to date but something you'll need to do in life.
It amused me that I received an email circular from the "mature students' rep", despite being just 22. As a PhD student I was assumed to be much older and re-entering education, in fact, since the age of five, education is all I've known as yet.
In doing a PhD you must weigh up the opportunity cost of the extra three years of education as opposed to employment. Roughly, if you add the potential earnings of three years in employment as a Masters graduate and the actual cost of PhD tuition; the opportunity cost approaches £100,000. A PhD has to be something you really want to do, and something that you'll gain something from whether that be entry in to a specialised career, advancement in your career or the skills, attributes and experiences through your three years of study.
As I learned in my induction, a PhD is not a product; it's not just your thesis at the end of your three year candidature and it's not the Dr title you earn. A PhD is a journey; an opportunity to develop as a person, as a researcher and as an academic - therein lies the value over a bachelors or masters degree.
I'm sure I'll revisit this topic through my time as a PhD student and contribute further to the topic in this blog...
I'm a PhD student in the UK looking in to consumer innovation resistance toward autonomous vehicles. This will be a blog about both my research specifically and the wider autonomous vehicle landscape.