Why Study a PhD?
In a knowledge-led economy, researchers play an important role, making new discoveries which stimulate economic growth, improve competitiveness and enhance our wellbeing. The European Union has predicted demand for an additional one million researchers by 2020.
New research into perceptions of value of a PhD – from the researchers’ point of view – suggests the personal and social value of doctoral learning is hugely important in the workforce, as are extracurricular activities during doctoral study that build experiences and interpersonal skills.
Some of the benefits described by PhD students themselves include:
- Feeling well prepared for future employment – with a greater experience of management and commercial awareness.
- Valued professional competencies, such as critical decision-making, resilience, negotiation, project leadership and organisational experience enhances promotion prospects.
- Expanded networks create contacts which can lead to employment, collaborations or friendships across the world.
- Being more open-minded and tolerant to different ways of doing and being.
The Research Councils UK (RCUK) 2014 report on ‘The impact of doctoral careers’ evidences the high value placed by employers on the advanced knowledge, research skills and problem-solving abilities of staff with a PhD. These are viewed as:
- Business critical: One in five employers felt doctoral graduates were business critical – without them, their business could not function. This was particularly the case in the research and development and manufacturing and engineering sectors and in businesses that are built on science and technology.
- Able to innovate: In-depth specialist subject knowledge, excellent analytical skills and critical thinking bring fresh perspectives to all aspects of the business. PhD holders are adept at developing new or improved goods, more efficient services, processes and ways of working, which increase productivity, generate savings and enhance competitiveness.
- A mark of quality and authority: When it is important for outputs to be innovative, rigorous or evidence-based, having a PhD can provide reassurance, boosting the profile and credibility of an organisation.
- Enabling greater knowledge transfer: Doctoral graduates promote knowledge exchange and help to foster innovation through industry-university engagement. Three-quarters had engaged in collaborative projects, giving employers access to cutting-edge facilities, knowledge and ideas for commercial benefit.
- Motivating others: Talent and attitudes of doctoral graduates ‘spill-over’ to other employees. Doctoral graduates help others to improve their problem-solving skills and think more creatively: they ask questions, bring new ideas and expertise to a company and offer fresh perspectives on old problems.
Future proof your career
Postgraduate research will equip you with a unique set of personal and professional skills to help you succeed in whatever career you choose, though over a quarter of doctoral students choose to remain in academia. Vitae, the organisation which champions the personal, professional and career development of doctoral researchers in the UK, conducted an extensive survey of over 850 research staff from 24 EU countries in 2016. It found research staff were employed in a wide range of occupations, many still supporting the research system through funders, policymakers, institutional research offices, public engagement, knowledge exchange and publishing. The most common occupations are research and development manager and researcher, accounting for almost a third, though research policy and administration managers are also popular roles. Job satisfaction is high: over four-fifths are satisfied with their current job.