Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Why a PhD is not as exotic as I thought

The primary reason why I thought that a PhD is exotic is because of the idea of stretching yourself mentally and emotionally and doing work [research] that is a contribution at the vanguard of human thought and thus a massive contribution to human civilization.

Let’s take each of these one by one.

Point 1: Stretching you mentally
A PhD if approached by an immature person will be a huge challenge for him because instead of achieving the goal of developing a conceptual understanding of the subject one might get lost into an ever more complex spiral of unstructured abstract thinking that does not progress towards a goal. If however a person is mature and approaches the subject with the goal of developing a structure through conceptual understanding he will probably finish his PhD and not stretch himself all that much.

Another aspect of stretching oneself mentally has to do with the idea of doing one’s best in the PhD. This is not always required because many PhDs are awarded to students who achieve a pre-defined level of quality in their work. This means that one does not have to do their personal BEST, they simply have to meet a certain threshold that will most likely be easier to achieve. The same person can continue to do research for the rest of his career and continue to make contributions.

Point 2: Stretching you emotionally
A person stretches himself emotionally [in relation to his work] when his work requires him to do something he doesn’t like. A PhD student is usually doing something he enjoys. A person doing a job in a bank or even a kid going to school when he doesn’t want to might be stretching himself emotionally far more than a PhD student who enjoys what he does.

Point 3: The research work is a massive contribution to the human civilization
At the end of the day a PhD is like any other 9 to 5 job. In its nature it might be interesting but everybody doesn’t like the idea of doing research. While a PhD contributes to human civilization through the contribution of knowledge in some specific field, people in other fields contribute to human civilization in ways that are many times equally fundamental. Some enjoy being entrepreneurs, some enjoy being politicians, and others enjoy trying to become saints.

What Bill Gates achieved or Nelson Mandela have achieved are probably as significant as many PhDs, any one taken individually.

People who want to can stretch themselves mentally, emotionally to do work that they like whether it be a bank, an NGO, school, a business or many other useful fields and make equally signifiant contributions.

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