Hi People

Quite a philosophical thread here, the main question i want to ask is Why are you doing your PhD? and what motivates you to do so?. Any awnsers are welcome, i'm just curious as to why people are putting themselves through this.

Personally I don't really know, I'm in biomedical research, I never thought I would even go to university so it was never a childhood ambition. I sort of fell into my degree, found I could do it and liked it, took it further to PhD level, and am now a post-doc of nearly one year.

As to what motivates me to keep going? I'm not sure. I'm not here out of any altruistic reasons, peoples health would be improved so much more by taking better care of themselves than anything i will ever discover, and i just don't care that much. I am however highly competitive, academia gives me a good outlet for that. Whilst i think I am interested in what I am doing, to an extent it all feels like a bit of a game i'm playing here in terms of trying to get papers published etc. I just wonder if there is, or should be something deeper that drives me onwards.

All opinions and contributions are welcome


I never thought that I would go to uni. Yet when I left school at 16 I passed an ONC so thought I'd try an HNC. Once I passed the HNC my tutors suggested I could do a BSc. My brother had just passed his BSc so the sibling rivalry (I was always living in his shadow yet did acheive higher) and a growing ambition to do the best academically that I was capable of spurred me on. Once I had completed my BSc hons (1st) I got some work experience before applying for a funded PhD which I subsequently had to graciously turn down due to health reasons. My career was focused upon again with research on the side and through this my 'supervisor' approached me about being a PT student. So this is it, the end is near for me and I hope to acheive my dream of getting academically as high as I can! After this I stop ;-)

I guess in a psycho-analytical sense I am always trying to prove myself as worthy, played out in an academic form :$


Hey Cakeman! I think I remember a similar thread on here not so long ago. For me, I just love research. I love working with my patient group (people with Alzheimer's) and I like to think that even when I've been dead for 100 years, hopefully someone, somewhere will be accessing my papers and I will have left my mark, however tiny, on the world. My subject has a lot of personal meaning for me as well. My grandad will most likely die from Alzheimer's disease in the coming months (he has suffered for 10 years or so but we have been told he doesn't have long left now). My other grandad also died with dementia. I have spent plenty of my life in the hands of the mental health system with bipolar and I would just love to see some improvement in the treatment of mental health problems, whether it's dementia, bipolar, or anything else. I'm not naive enough to think I can make some huge change, but even to contribute to the tiniest change would mean something to me. And I like the research lifestyle as well- I love writing papers, love conferences, and my PhD has given me so much confidence that I just want to keep going. I also want my family to be proud of me- they stuck by me when I was really poorly years back and I want to do well as a thank-you to them.

But I don't think it matters what your motivation is- everyone does PhDs for different reasons and I don't think we can judge any of them to be 'better' reasons than others....some people just love research, some folks just want to be called 'Dr' and for some it has other meanings. Anyway, it would be boring if we were all the same! Best, KB


gosh keenbean, you seem to be in this for much more worthwhile reasons than me, and so enthusiastic


Always wanted to be called "Dr" (come on people, admit it!) as well as knowing I could do it and thinking it could be pretty rewarding to be the first person to find something (i.e. what you researched) out. I guess I also kind of cruised through my MEng and wondered how well I'd do at something if I tried a bit harder for once!

I also wanted to change sector after working in engineering of large steel fabrications and wanted to work in the wind industry. Met with the catch 22 of "any experience in the wind industry? No? Then we can't give you a job in the wind industry", so a PhD in it will hopefully count as significant experience...


I've finished my PhD but guess I can answer retrospectively :p

I left a full-time science PhD in 1996. I'd wanted to be a lecturer then, and probably would have been, if the neurological illness hadn't developed.

I signed up for a second PhD, this time part-time and in humanities, purely out of love of the topic. I'd never expected to have another try, I was really scared to to be honest. But I stumbled upon a topic which hadn't been adequately researched and I could research to bits. And I loved it.

It was also really good for my neurological illness, as a way of doing something positive, and taking my mind off the bad patches and the nasty chemo treatment. I can't work in academia now, but doing a PhD was still very worthwhile for me.


Hi Cakeman

"cos its 'ard"

I loved the challenge, confusion, the subject, learning whilst engaging with others who know so much is exhilarating and realising quite how much is out there that I know nothing about is good scary.



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I allowed myself get side-tracked from my original goal (training to be secondary school teacher) by doing really well at undergraduate level and felt, as a result, that I was expected to keep going. Was awarded scholarship for PhD so I'm still here. I really struggle with the issue of 'relevance' hence I have done a lot of extra work for department and also the university to justify my existence (and the money as well, to be honest!!). I don't hate it but do wish I had stuck with my orig plan. Pride won't allow me not to finish but when this PhD is in the bag, that's it, I'm out!!

None of that sounds very honourable, does it?? Certainly not as noble as others who have posted in this thread :-(

Screaming: it's my hubby who can't wait for me to be a Dr. - he dreams of the time when we are in a restaurant, or aircraft, and somebody yells "is there a doctor here?" Then I'm really in trouble!!


Just fell into it after returning to University to do a Masters. Did well, was offered a scholarship and it felt like a good opportunity.

To be honest, I have very little idea what I am doing, or why I am doing it, but most of the time I enjoy this bizarre existence.


PierreR that really sums up the way I think I got into my current line of work I am now in, without essentially explaining any of it, good post.

And the rest of you, many thanks for your responses, they are all interesting, really not sure I agree with the notion of being in it for the title, that has never really appealed to me, and I never use it outside of work either.

Anyways, its all intersting stuff, keep it coming.


It's interesting to hear the different reasons for people wanting to pursue PhDs, but this recent article made me think about why universities are keen to recruit them.  Essentially, especially in science, students and postdocs are seen as cheap labour and it is easy to get a lot out of someone who is in it for very altruistic reasons or for the love of the subject.  Having said that, my motivation was just to not have any barriers to maximising my income in the line of work I was already in, which seems a bit superficial compared to some of the other posts here.



Unemployed for 18 months
Studentship with a decent stipend (for a single 20-something) and industrial placement comes along in an area of interest
Here I am

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I am going to start a doctorate late 2011 but I will be doing a professional doctorate (an EdD). I went as an undergrad in my late 20's early 30's in Humanities and like Ady did really well. I even had my honours topic and potential PhD picked out-or in the initial development stage. I was keen to do some work on Islamic female authors and gender studies. But I was a sole parent with 3 school aged children to support and finally chose to do a PG Dip in Secondary Education instead of my honours year and to get full time work to make sure that the children had a better start than I did. Then a few years ago (9 years after first studies), once my children were pretty much finished with their own schooling and were either at uni or in work, I started back in Post Grad Education courses, looking to specialise in a Special Ed or Counselling area but was drawn instead to seeing out my earlier passion for research and academic knowledge and achievement. Plus my lecturers kept encouraging me to think of this area again.

However, while qualifying for doctoral studies through my Master's thesis, I've found that this Masters 'taster'of the Phd process and all the changes wrought by my life and work since my original undergraduate work, has made me reconsider the pathway I will take. I am still really keen to gain a doctorate. I love achievement (in a personal sense-not a competitive against other's sort of way) and I do have a passion to both really improve my own knowledge, but also to understand and put into place changes that can make a difference (even in a minor way) to students, their families and teachers. So knowing that I love research but that I want now to also use it in a practical (albeit minor) way in my profession and also wanting to ensure I complete in 6 years (part-time while still working) has drawn me to the professional doctorate instead. I will still have to submit a thesis and it will be about 80,000 words but I will do it on research in my workplace and similar workplaces and the course work and cohort I go through with will be structured around really practical lines. I've also found (through some internet research) that I will not have an 'unusual' profile for a professional doctorate (that most people undertaking them have similar goals, ages and roles and responsibilities to myself) and this really gives me encouragement for some reason.

Now, finally I am happy with this choice and can say I have no regrets about the past and other difficulties, that it makes sense but it has taken me some years to come to this thinking and this particular choice. Some awful experiences with my master's have helped prepare me mentally for the challenge as well. So I'm having a bit of a break to get ready and prepare but am definitely continuing-oh and I won't mind being called 'DR" in my mail but will still be 'Ms" when I purchase air tickets! Thanks cakeman for the post and others for their interesting replies-it always really helps to both write about it and to read all the different views and experiences of others.


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I visited this forum again as I got my PhD certificate in the mail today and am on cloud 9.

I don't know if people will disapprove of my reason for writing a PhD thesis.

I did the degree as by doing so, via the Commonwealth Scholarship and Cambridge Uni, I could get me and my family onto an immigration track for the UK. This was my main reason for doing the degree; I am now able to get an EU passport (gained citizenship last week woohoo). So everything has happened at once (hence the happiness).

I do love philosophy (this was my area)  but I could have just read it on my own as I had previously. Since my viva I have shunned all lecturing and am working full-time as a carpenter again; this is what I did before becoming a student.


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