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Is undertaking a doctorate beneficial?

Written by Dr Katryna Kalawsky

Is undertaking a doctorate beneficial?” – that’s a question I occasionally asked myself before and sometimes during my doctorate and it’s often a question i’m asked during postgraduate open evenings or when i’m chatting with a doctoral researcher experiencing the ‘2nd year blues’… Being honest, when I experienced my research lulls (you know, those notorious dips in the doctoral roller coaster journey) I did wonder “Is all this hard work going to be worth it?” especially when I realised during the course of my doctorate that becoming an ‘academic’ in the traditional sense of the word (i.e. lecturer etc) wasn’t for me. But now post doctorate (hindsight is a wonderful thing!), I can clearly see how hugely beneficial undertaking and receiving a doctoral was! Even now when I reflect on my doctoral ‘dips’ i’m glad I experienced them because it was during those times that I learnt the most both academically and personally (if only I could do a Marty McFly and go back in time and tell myself that!).

OK, ok, now some of you may well be thinking “Well of course she’ll be promoting a doctorate! – she works in the Doctoral College!” – and yes you’re right (I wouldn’t work in a role/service that I did not believe in) BUT its not just me that can see clear benefits of this endeavour…

During the Doctoral College’s Wellbeing Week in March 2020, I organised a Twitter Chat with several colleagues with doctorates at Loughborough University (academics and non-academics) and asked “Reflecting on your career journey to date, has undertaking a doctorate been beneficial?” and this is what we said:

“Absolutely! I’m still researching the same topic – regions. Still teaching the same topic – regions. Last paper accepted was on the same topic – regions, Northwest England. To be fair, I’m just obsessed with regions, which was my PhD.” – Dr John Harrison

“I simply couldn’t have had the career I’ve had to date or fulfil my role without a PhD. It’s foundational for academic life & *many* other professions.” – Professor Elizabeth Peel

“Yes, but in ways that are sometimes really subtle. What it taught me to do was: 1. preserve, 2. deal with lots of info (sometimes quickly), 3. analyse and synthesise ideas (hopefully some new ones), and 4. be curious about stuff” – Dr Manuel Alonso

“Definitely! In all aspects of my life, not just my career. It’s particularly important to me as I work in a University (even though I’m not an academic). Data analysis was a particularly useful skill!” – Dr Sophie Crouchman

“Yes, absolutely! Moving from being a design practitioner to a design academic would not be possible without undertaking a doctorate!” – Dr Ksenija Kuzmina

“Without a doubt. I qualified to teach in 1996 and taught for 15 years. In the last five years I undertook my PhD part time and learnt more about my field and myself than across the whole of career otherwise (huge thanks to my mum who funded my PhD)” – Dr Ash Casey

“Absolutely! I wouldn’t have been where I am now without the PhD, I wouldn’t have met the amazing people I get to work & be friends with from all over the world, & most importantly I wouldn’t have known that PhD is just a first step in becoming a researcher” – Dr Ksenia Chmutina

I frequently draw on the vast amount of skills I acquired and developed during my doctorate – whether that be for research-focused tasks or otherwise! For example, my problem-solving skills, personal effectiveness and ability to work and communicate with others (in writing and in person) developed significantly as a result of undertaking a doctorate. Also, for my current role as Doctoral Researcher Development Officer (DR-DO – got to love that acronym!) which is not part of the ‘academic’ job family, having a doctorate was part of the essential job spec criteria. This is because in the role that I have, its important for me to understand the challenges that researchers may encounter during their doctorate and without undertaking a doctoral myself, I would not be able to share candid real-life experiences and relevant guidance to the doctoral researchers that I support and train. But that said, even if I applied for a role that didn’t require a doctorate, I know that everything I learnt during my doctoral journey would be put to good use! Put simply, never underestimate the power of a PhD/EngD qualification! – Dr Katryna Kalawsky

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So, next time someone asks you (or even if you ask yourself) “Is undertaking a doctorate beneficial?” the short but clear answer is ‘YES!’ or even better, ‘ABSOLUTELY!’ as many people proclaimed in the Twitter Chat!

It’s understandable if you experience doubts; three years plus (depending on your mode of study) is a big commitment, but I hope you feel reassured by this blog post. Whether or not you decide to continue working in academia, having a doctorate is a highly desired qualification, world-wide, by a wide range of employers (just ask the Career’s Network!) in Higher Education and beyond. Also, you’ll acquire skills that you can apply outside of work too. So keep going, it IS totally worth it!…Trust me, i’m a Doctor ; )

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Please feel free to share your thoughts and advice to our doctoral researchers on this topic via the blog comments box or via TwitterAfter all, one of the many aspects of ‘kindness’ (the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week 2020) is about taking time out for others.

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