What motivated you to commence a PhD?


Hey, I have heard so much about the right kind motivation to start a PhD and the wrong kind of motivation to start a PhD, the right being things like holding an extreme interest in your topic, the topic was previously a hobby or the more noble idea that you want to make a positive impact on the world. The wrong being, just something to fill time while you think what to do, it seemed like a good idea at the time, they will pay you to study or having one can't hurt the resume.

I write this because I don't quite know where I stand, I'm still at the beginning of the process and it scares me to think I might not make it because I'm doing it for the wrong reasons. I would like to think I'm doing it because I enjoy the idea of research and I enjoy discovering new interpretations, but at the same time I think 'well I have no idea what else I wanted to do so it seems like a good idea'.

So basically, what was your original motivation to commence a PhD? And has that changed the longer you do it?


IIntheHead: That is a fantastic thread. I joined to improve my knowledge and to feel how it feels like when you can analyze things mathematically and not scared of all those Einsteineans equations. My hair turning gray in the whole process and I think I achieved a stage where I can look through a right angle but found many critics. Those who cannot answer my questions and are not proving of any help and bring all those petty issues as a cover up. Its so saddening to see those empty people holding top research positions in universities who do not even qualify to teach at school level.


I've started a PhD twice. The first time, after my computing degree, I didn't want to work in industry as a programmer, was keen to work in academia, and would quite like to have been a lecturer.

Obviously that didn't pan out, because I developed a life-changing illness and had to leave.

The second time I started a PhD because I found a topic that I absolutely adored, and wanted to research. That was quite unexpected: I didn't intend to follow the history Masters with a PhD, but then this topic came up in my Research Assisting work, and I absolutely loved it. So I signed up. And it was a strong enough topic to sustain my interest and enthusiasm through to the end.

If I was to compare the two PhD experiences I think the second one was clearly the better reason for doing the PhD. But if I'd stayed healthy I would have completed the first time, and would probably be a lecturer now, which I would have loved. Ah well!


Wow, a simple but complex question. Here's a list of my reasons, in no particular order.

1. To be at the cutting edge of scientific discovery.
2. To be able to work with intellectual people who share a common interest.
3. To further my science career.
4. To give me better qualifications in my area.
5. To allow me the chance to escape the UK.
6. I love playing with all the gadgets I get to use in the lab - it's like cooking, but instead of getting to taste something for 5 minutes, you get data which very few others in the world have.
7. The chance to engage in something which is motivated by a desire for knowledge, and not just a desire to please shareholders.
8. I'll get to be called "doctor". (that's the least important, but just the cherry on the icing on the cake)


It's funny the more I think about the more I have to tell myself everyday about the benefits, like making my own hours and just thinking which is great. But I love your reasoning 4matt especially number 5! Travel which is something I hope to do a lot of during my studies.

I agree Bilbobaggins I think the reason you started the second time is probably the best motivation to start a PhD!


I started for a few reasons too:
- I had already done a lot of postgrad study, and wanted to tackle the big one, the hardest academic achievement there is, the PhD;
- I also wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, that I was smart enough to become a dr (which I now realise is a fallacy - you don't need to be smart, you need to have perseverance)
- I was hoping for a career change, into academia, which is unlikely to happen, and
- I loved my subject. I had worked in the civil service on the subject matter for many years, and had also studied it, and my specific topic excited me (which it no longer does).

Oh - and because I study in a social justice area, so that was important too - that's what's motivated all my studies and working life, not just the PhD. Good to remind myself of these reasons!

Avatar for Batfink27

Like everyone else, I had a few reasons for starting.

First was that I'd been studying for my MSc part-time while working, and I realised that I loved everything about studying - the university environment, being surrounded by intelligent people who were enthusiastic about the subject, bing able to focus on idea sthat interested me and find out new information, all of that! The thought of three (or so) years spent researching full-time, and the chance to become an expert in my field, just seemed too good to pass up.

Also, I love my subject, and think it's important for society as a whole (I'm looking at individual behaviour around environmental issues like climate change), and the chance to be part of the solution to these problems is just amazing. That's a kind of idealistic reason, and that's dropped off a bit as I've got more into the research and seen how specialised and small many of the research findings seem, and as I've come to value research for itself a bit more, instead of as a way to save the world.... :-)

The most pragmatic reason, though, is the one I jokingly tell people outside academia was my main motivation - the place where I was working introduced a ten per cent pay cut and started planning redundancies, and it looked like my entire section was going to be got rid of. I couldn't stay there after the pay cut as my pay was stupidly low already and I couldn't make my rent, but with the economy the way it's been, there were no similar jobs coming up. And the PhD bursary works out being more than I was earning in the job anyway, so financially I'm better off! Not many PhD students can say that! But that just shows how badly paid I was before!

Intheheadplease, this last reason sounds like one of those not-good-reasons you mentioned. And it's not a good reason on its own. But all it is really is the flip-side of so many people feeling they can't do a PhD because of financial commitments or family or other responsibilities. It's just a practical nudge that helps with all the other stuff - and I certainly don't regret starting the PhD, even if the impending redundancy meant I was ready to jump much more quickly into an opportunity than I might have been otherwise. But maybe sometimes jumping quickly gives you (one) the courage to do things that you (one) might otherwise back out of?


I started doing my PhD because I wanted to be an academic - that is, a lecturer of some sort. But I had absolutely no 'burning desire' to research a particular area, and I really struggled to pull some waffle together as a research proposal. I think I had the desire to research, but no idea what direction I wanted to head off in. I like the problem-solving aspect of research, rather than the 'fitting into a community of scholars' aspect where you have to nail your flag to various theoretical/empirical posts. By the end of my PhD (which I finished in November) the situation was totally the reverse. I adored my topic and firmly believed that my approach was the best possible way to go about researching it. I became part of a wonderful network of academics in a similar field. And, ironically, I was no longer sure whether I actually wanted to stay on as a lecturer or not. For the time being I am working as a research associate, but I have no idea what will happen when my 2 year contract runs out.