Many students think about the possibility of doing a PhD. But how do you know if it’s right for you? A PhD can certainly be a rewarding experience but it can also be tough and take several years, so it’s really worth thinking it through before making the decision to start. Here Dr Madelaine Chapman, the PhD Careers Consultant here at LSE Careers, shares a few insights.
How does a PhD fit with your long term career plans?
It’s a good idea to think about how a PhD could fit in with your longer term career ambitions. If you’re not sure yet what sort of career you are interested in, it’s worth exploring your options before starting on a PhD. You may find that a PhD isn’t necessary for the kind of career that you are interested in after all. Alternatively, a clearer idea of your career goals will help you to work out what sort of research project would be most useful for you to do during the PhD. You’ll find plenty of guidance on the LSE Careers website for choosing a career that would suit you and for finding out more about different employment sectors.
Where to study
If you do decide that a PhD is for you, then you’ll need to carefully consider where to study. Think about which country, university and department would suit you best and research possible PhD supervisors. It’s worth noting that PhDs work differently in different countries. For example in the US a PhD lasts 5 to 6 years, whereas in the UK 3-4 years is typical. If you’re thinking of doing a PhD in the US, take a look at the US-UK Fulbright Commission which has great guidance for anyone looking at postgraduate study in the US.
What research topic to focus on
During a PhD you will be expected to produce original research that makes a contribution to the body of knowledge in your discipline, so you’ll need to think about how your proposed topic fits in with what other researchers have done. It will also need to be something that will sustain your interest and enthusiasm over the course of several years. What you pick will influence what options you have after your PhD, so consider what expertise and skills you will develop over the course of the project. For example, will it give you strong quantitative skills? Will you be an expert on a particular issue or region by the end? How valuable are these to future employers?
If you want to find out more, do talk to current PhD students. Books including ‘The PhD Application’ Handbook by Peter J Bentley and ‘How to Get a PhD’ by Phillips and Pugh are available in the LSE Careers Resource Centre, Saw Swee Hock, Floor 5. Check out the Postgraduate Study of the LSE Careers website. You can also book a 1:1 career discussion to discuss your career options, including doing a PhD.