Should you join a PhD program?

I am asked frequently whether pursuing a PhD would be  a good idea. Here are some of my personal insights -

A PhD is a degree that is very different from a bachelor or a masters degree:

  • It is not a structured, time bound program
  • It is an internship/apprenticeship program and not a classroom program
  • It requires you to demonstrate original thinking and work
  • It requires a “master” to certify that you are capable of independent research
  • A good PhD program teaches you to explore topics, identify and define problems, and then research those problems. It teaches you comfort with ambiguity and fuzzy information, and create structure and understanding in the midst of a “haze”. Very few programs teach that.
  • A PhD is a doctorate in philosophy (“love of wisdom”). I suppose some love and aspiration for wisdom is necessary to truly earn a PhD
  • PhD studies often require you to dip deeply into a cumulative body of knowledge with diligence and thoroughness
  • Often PhD programs require/teach considerable patience and a healthy tolerance for frustration/failure.
  • PhD programs are not meant for creating “skilled hands” but rather “thinking minds”. Developing skills (esp industry relevant skills) is not the objective of a PhD program  all though it can be a consequence. Similarly, familiarizing the candidate with the ways of career researchers (including the focus on publications, conferences, peer recognition, academic honors,  etc) is not the objective but a side effect.

So, should you do a PhD?

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