Email for a constituent … Should you do a PhD?
As a politician you get asked a lot of questions. A lot of them are about policy but sometimes people seek your advice since they just want to learn from your experience. I was recently contacted by a constituent asking me whether he should do a PhD?
I am happy to answer these sorts of questions. I think it’s the duty of all of us to help the next generation learn from our experiences and encourage them to achieve their potential.
So should you get a PhD? Would a PhD help someone enter Parliament or be valuable in any career? I studied for a PhD since I was fascinated by telecommunications infrastructure and whether new technologies could be used to leapfrog old technologies in post-Communist economies with out of date equipment. I was interested in how old monopoly Communist State Post, Telegraph and Telecommunications (PTTs) departments could be transformed into modern, competitive telecoms companies with modern finance and marketing departments. I wanted to study the transformations in a post-Communist countries and companies and see what lessons could be learned for the future. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I became a politician!
So, when I received a letter the other day asking for advice about PhDs from a young student, I was delighted to help.
I’m going to leave out the name of the person but I hope the advice will be useful to other youngsters in a similar position and feel free to share it with other people if it could them too.
If you don’t agree, then that’s fine since I was simply passing on my own experience and I realise that we all have different experiences.
In my reply I covered everything from why someone might want to do it, to how to approach it, to the “second year blues”.
Should you do a PhD? My reply…
My advice would be …
1. Ask yourself why you want to do a PhD. Be honest, is it because you don’t want to enter the world of work yet or is it part of a life plan, e.g. do you want to be an academic or you need it for the industry you are thinking of working in?
2. If you are not sure, I would suggest you get a job and start earning a salary. If you still yearn or are still tempted to do a PhD, you can always quit the job to start a PhD before you start taking on responsibilities such as mortgage, family etc.
3. If you decide to do a PhD, think about your area of research. You don’t have to have the exact research question pinned down from the start, since you usually take the first year to decide upon and agree the research question.
4. Be prepared for the second year blues. I know of PhD students including myself who go through this. You have expended the initial enthusiasm and got through your end of first year viva and a few months later you suddenly feel alone (especially if you are not part of a group of PhD students working on different parts of the same research project). You have to think about whether you can motivate yourself to get through this. If you can’t shake off the second year blues, you will either take much longer than 3 years to complete, never complete or opt to write up your research as a M.Phil.
5. Make sure you have a supervisor that you respect and get on well with. I was able to drive my supervisor to agree goals and deadlines. If I was not so motivated, I would have liked a supervisor who drove me to agree these.
6. Enjoy the PhD. It’s a great excuse for 3 more years at university and to read almost anything you what to read but don’t let the fun get in the way of the PhD.
In my case, I decided to get a job after my Masters. After about a year, I decided I didn’t want to be making the same commute for the next 40 years so I applied to do a PhD.
I was interested in the changes in Central and Eastern Europe in the early 1990s and wondered how telecoms technology could allow these countries to leapfrog from 1950s infrastructure to modern communications networks. I contacted several universities and went to meet with potential supervisors.
In the end, my PhD evolved into a study of radical change in post-communist transition economies with a case study of how the national telecoms company was transformed while experiencing technological, societal, cultural, political change. Since I had worked in a bank for the 2 years between my Masters and my PhD, I was able to manage my PhD like a project. I set goals and agreed targets such as PhD chapter deadlines with my supervisor, especially after 2 years.
Be aware that engineering and scientific PhDs are very different to social science PhDs since the latter are far more subjective.
I hope this helps.