Why I chose to do a PhD

Getting to go on field trips to Tenerife where I could see spectacular physical geography - another reason to do a PhD!

I’m going to come clean. My motivation for doing a PhD is not what you would call conventional. In fact, I think it’s what some academics would politely call ‘misguided’. Put simply, the two main reasons I applied for a PhD were to prove people wrong and to prove that I could do it.

The audience gasps. Perhaps some context would be useful at this point.

Academia was never the path fate had laid out for me. Coming from a fairly normal working-class background, nobody in my family had ever been to University. A long story short, by the time I finished school I couldn’t afford to go into further education, so I took two years out to earn some money. The University of Southampton admitted me on a Geography BSc undergraduate degree (although I didn’t make the grades) and I’ve been here ever since. I just wanted to show people what I could achieve.

I wasn’t even meant to be doing this PhD; the one I applied for is now being researched by my colleague and good friend, Simon Dixon. He out qualified me, principally on account of him being much, much more experienced (i.e. much, much older), and I ended up with the cows. As always, it worked out in the end; cows aren’t evil, and Simon does adore large wood.

So that’s my (simplified) PhD story. But I’ve heard better reasons for doing a PhD:

  • I love my topic. Beyond being an excellent inspiration for a PhD, it’s actually just a good idea to really enjoy your work. You have to live it for 3+ years, after all.
  • I love research. Ok so perhaps your PhD project isn’t perfect, but you’re motivated by the opportunity to do work with some of the finest minds in your field. A passion for academia is a real asset.
  • A PhD will let me advance my career. Ah, so you’re the pragmatic, slightly naive type? A PhD will enable you go onto a postdoctoral position, a lectureship, and beyond. There are many options outside of academia, too.
  • I enjoy the student lifestyle. In many ways postgraduate studies are an extension of undergraduate studies: 10% off at Topshop; no council tax; reduced entry to museums and galleries. Deal.
  • It seemed like a good idea at the time. A downward economic outlook, high unemployment and a global recession; now probably isn’t a bad time to be getting another qualification under your belt.

There are other inspirations. Maybe someone is helping you out financially. Maybe you’re staying somewhere so you can be with your partner. Maybe you’re in love with Professor Brian Cox and hope to impress and coerce him with your seminal paper titled ‘The Universe: It’s Big and it’s Amazing’. Maybe, like me, you just want to prove you can do it.

Whatever your reason, hold on to it. You’ll need it later (trust me!) And why not tell us about it? (There’s a comments box below).



  1. […] an application. Trev Bond has posted a couple of good pieces recently on what PhD life is like and reasons for doing a PhD. I’m going to do something a little different and tell you reasons why you shouldn’t do a […]

  2. […] are many reasons why we might choose to do a PhD, but they arguably become redundant if we fail to get a job at the end of it. Indeed the main reason […]

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