My reasons for pursuing a PhD

I am almost out of the five years post-PhD that make me an Early Career Researcher (ECR), and still every now and then I am asked if a PhD is worth it and if I think others should pursue it.

In my view, the short answer is that any candidate who should consider a PhD has to want it and know why they want it. If they want enough they will know what is the best path to follow. This also means that no, I never tell anyone they should do a PhD.

In my native country of Brazil a Masters or a PhD does not make you more or less an urban designer, architect or any other profession. In the Brazilian system, a postgraduate degree is seen as intended to give us the skills of researching and teaching so we can follow the academic career path. This also means one would only pursue a Masters Degree as a pathway into a PhD, as in Brazil we don’t have honours, diploma and certificate equivalents.

The Brazilian system is the one where I graduated with my BArch, did my MSc and started my academic career. For many years I actually shared the point of view that Masters and PhDs were only for academics, until I started to understand the Australasian system – if I dare to say, a much more open but also confusing one. In Australia and New Zealand, postgraduate students hear from day one that transferability of skills is key. This is really great not only because it opens up professional oportunities, but because postgraduate studies do add some key and significant skills for so many areas other than academia. But if it is clear that we can make use of those skills later, why we start can be confusing.

As I can’t speak for others, here is my story. In 2006, while doing my Masters I attended the PLEA Conference and that was a turning point for me. Attending presentations from trully amazing researchers made me realise what kind of professional I wanted to be. As a lover of architecture and urbanism, a key challenge was to convince myself that dedicating my career to research wouldn’t make me less of an urban designer and architect. That I would be (and I am) just looking at the same ‘thing’ from a different angle.

In that conference I also realised I wanted to fill my professional career with opportunities to focus on different things, to learn more about various interesting things; and that I wanted to be able to choose the direction of my work and, in this case, research. More recently I also came to realise that the thing that nurtures me the most is knowledge and learning. I can’t stop investing time on learning systems, methods, softwares, techniques etc. and academia is a great place for that. As for us researchers one of our key jobs is to learn.

In summary, perhaps one of the most important things, is to think about why you are considering a PhD and who (as a professional) do you want to be once that long journey is done. What is it that the PhD will give you that you don’t have now and can’t achieve in any other (simpler) way? If you want to be an expert, what sort of expert and in what area? For what? If you can envisage yourself in the other end and the PhD is the clear path to getting there, then go for it and enjoy the ride!

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Header photo credit: Eli Francis on Unsplash.

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