Why I'm Doing a PhD and Why You Might Want to Think About Doing One Too.

I’m getting my PhD. Right now I am about a year into it and I’m not looking back. I started straight after getting my previous degree (BE Electrical) because for me now is the best time to be doing it. The following are some thoughts about why I am working towards a PhD and why I did it as soon as I could. To avoid sounding self absorbed I have put this here with the hope that someone like me who needs that final push will come along and convince themselves to enrol in a PhD, my particulars are not overly important here.

What my PhD is/will be about

For some context my PhD revolves around the design and optimisation of gradient coils for MRI. I have a background in electrical and software engineering so for me this was perfect. There are a lot of simulations and coding which I love and also enough experimentation to keep me grounded. A lot of what I do revolves around the mitigation of eddy currents in conductive surfaces. Eventually I plan to write a post outlining these concepts in a simplified way but that will have to wait for another day.

I should clarify that where I am (Brisbane, Australia) a PhD is usually 3 years of continuous research. I have talked to others who have course work and other combinations of study in their PhD. Some are longer, I haven’t heard of any much shorter but who knows. As such individual milage may vary here.

Reason 1 – I love what I do

First and foremost I’m here because I love it. I am extremely lucky to be able to take the time to keep studying, I know there are many others who are not so lucky and sometimes the ‘do what you love’ mantra ignores that fact. Believe me I realise that I’m in a great position. I enjoy the work, even when it’s a grind. The idea that, maybe one day, I will discover or design something brand new is quite an exciting prospect. I have a great amount of freedom in my work (which is probably why I’m in a startup too). As well as that I feel that medical technology is a great use of my skill set. Knowing that I might pay a part in making the lives of others better is very rewarding. I’ve met some of the smartest people in the world in a whole range of fields related to what I’m doing and having the chance to pick their brains is a reward in and of itself.

If you finish university and find yourself thinking ‘finally’ then a PhD probably isn’t for you. If you hated study and research then, as it should be obvious, you may want to consider other options. If, however, you left thinking ‘Over already, it was just getting interesting!’ or you’ve been away a while and have maybe changed your mind you may want to talk to your local graduate school.

Reason 2 – The tip of the iceberg

Bachelor’s degrees are, as they should be, more about exposing you to concepts and building a foundation than becoming an expert. As an electrical engineer there are dozens of possible pathways you could follow. There is no way you could become an expert in all of them in a four year period. A PhD (or any post graduate study for that matter) gives you the chance to tunnel deeper into some facet of this knowledge. It’s true that you come to know more and more about less and less but it’s only when you break through the outer crust that you start to see the vast amount of wonder out there.

There is also an interesting opportunity to apply skills from other areas in your life to your research. Some of the algorithms and software ‘tricks’ I have picked up over the years have boosted the performance of simulations significantly. In a way a PhD becomes a lot like an apprenticeship, you are mentored by some of the best in your field as you grow into your own.

Reason 3 – I have few barriers right now

As I mentioned I went straight from my bachelor’s degree to a PhD, this is in part due to the system we have at my university. I thought about it for a long time and I realised that the longer I waited to do it the harder it would be to come back. If I had a family to support, a mortgage, and a well paying job it would be difficult to drop everything and go back to study. I’m not saying it can’t be done but for me I figured now was the time. There are some things that I think a little bit of real world experience can make all the difference but I had aligned myself with some of the best people in my field and I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity.

In summary (or tl;dr)

So there is my story, or at least the introduction to it. I love what I do and I’m extrememly lucky to be doing it. I would recommend a PhD to anyone who wants to experience more in their field. I’m not saying you can’t get the experience elsewhere but a PhD is a great place to find it.

As always I would love to discuss with other PhD’s or those considering it about their thoughts on the matter. Feel free to tell me I’m wrong, as long as you provide some reasoning. If you want to get in touch with me jump onto twitter or leave a comment wherever you found this article. Also if you are interested you can leave your email address below and I will, from time to time, send you an email about a new post (not all of them though thats what RSS is for).

- Elliot