PhD - did you have a burning desire to do a specific topic?

(13 Posts)
KidsWorkMastersLife Fri 06-Mar-20 19:51:08

I am about to finish a masters and am toying hmm with the idea of applying for a PT PhD.

It has only just occurred to me that this might be possible for me as a) and am getting fantastic grades in my masters and doing better that I had imagined, b) I am LOVING studying again and am feeling a bit lost at the thought of what I will do when the masters is done and c) I’ve realised that it might be affordable if I do it PT and do it alongside my PT job.

Although I would want to do it on the same discipline I am doing my masters in, I don’t have a specific project/ research question in mind. I know I can’t apply without a proposed topic, and I could come up with something, but everyone I have spoken to about seemed to be so sure about what they wanted to do.

Am I mad to consider it?

OP’s posts: |
SurpriseSparDay Sat 07-Mar-20 06:36:04

The best thing to do would be to talk to your current supervisors.

March is still quite early in your academic year so unless you need to apply right away I’d carry on exploring the parameters of your Masters research. Presumably you have a thesis / dissertation / major piece of research to complete soon? That can often become the basis of a PhD.

And of course it depends what sort of PhD you’re considering and whether funding would be attached to it - in which case you would be working on a project defined by the funding body.

You mention affordability - definitely speak to other people and think very hard about whether you’d really want to spend years and years on a presumably self-funded project. There’s no guarantee that this would be either fun or useful. Unless very clearly structured.

VadenuRewetje Sat 07-Mar-20 07:24:48

if you do a master's dissertation it normally ends up being the first few chapters of your phD thesis.

However, a PhD is completely unlike any previous kind of study. think about why you are really enjoying the study at the moment, what aspect of it thrills you? not in the subject matter but in the functions of reading and thinking and applying that thinking and perhaps measuring and evaluating etc etc.

prior to PhD study you are being tested and graded on how you can study, absorb, reproduce and think about existing knowledge in your field.

"I did a masters and really enjoyed it" is not, in my opinion, a good reason to do a PhD.

Doing a Bachelor degree gives you the skills to read and learn independently without being spoonfed facts, and can reproduce that learning reliably.

At masters level you are more focusing on how we know what we know and learning to critique and evaluate the limits of what we know. up till fairly recently a master's qualification was also a licence to teach on any subject because someone with a master's degree is supposed to have the skill to read up on and then break down into fundamentals any topic in academia. (there is a bit more to teacher training these days).

at PhD level you are supposed to be generating new knowledge and the process by which it is evaluated isn't by someone marking your work and giving you a grade, it's by academics looking for flaws and wooliness in your thinking, and if they are doing their job right, picking your work to pieces and being hyper critical if it doesn't hold together, because only work that can survive that process is fit to be added to the corpus of knowledge in your field.

if you enjoyed study at a particular level that doesn't mean you will necessarily be as happy continuing to the next level - you might be happier just applying the skills you have at the level you are at, with independent reading of any subject of interest applying the skills you have already proved that you have.

SarahAndQuack Sat 07-Mar-20 12:13:55

March isn't early. It might be too late for some funding applications.

I didn't have a very clear idea of what I wanted to do. I contacted a few potential supervisors, and then ended up writing my proposal with lots of interaction from her, and that helped me clarify my ideas.

It does depend on discipline, too. What are you in?

I think enjoying what you're doing is an ok reason to do a funded PhD, but you do need to think where you hope it will get you. Nobody ought to be doing a PhD at the moment with the expectation it'll get them into academia, for example. So, to my mind, the reasons for doing it are 1) you are ok with the idea of spending 4 years with a low income doing something you think you'll enjoy, and working out what you want to do next. 2) you have plans for what you want to do after and a PhD would be quite useful (eg., academic publishing; some industries with science subjects, though I'm guessing you're not sciences?).

SurpriseSparDay Sat 07-Mar-20 12:36:15

March isn't early. It might be too late for some funding applications.

Obviously March would be too late for the Autumn/Winter round of applications. (In my subject the second week of January would have been too late for some institutions / funding bodies.)

What I meant was that if the OP’s MA (?) is only one year she won’t have had time yet to be certain of her own subject related interests. (Extrapolating from my own experience.)

SarahAndQuack Sat 07-Mar-20 13:33:30

YY, it's tough, I think.

I only mentioned it because it's not actually obvious to a lot of students. Every year I get students who are really upset to find they've missed funding deadlines because it doesn't occur to them that the deadline might be so early.

KidsWorkMastersLife Sat 07-Mar-20 19:47:46

Sorry replying in the middle of making dinner

Masters is a MSc in public sector field. I am pt at the mo so 18months in. I am just starting my independent research for the dissertation.

My field is one where there hasn’t been a huge amount of academic research, particularly from practitioners so there are lots of themes that come to mind that would be fascinating to explore.

I have no expectation or desire to work in academia. I am senior in my sector so would see this as fuelling my own knowledge and adding some contribution to the sector.

The more I think about it I think I will explore it but definitely have a gap between finishing MSc and starting any further study ... not least because there is a separate study trip I am hoping to do in Jan 21. I think DH would kill me if I said to start straight away!

OP’s posts: |


SarahAndQuack Sat 07-Mar-20 21:41:09

Oh, then do it! If you're happy to do it while working and you're not expecting to get anything specific out of it except the interest, why not?

BikeRunSki Sat 07-Mar-20 21:48:40

I knew pretty much halfway through my BSc what I wanted to do a PhD on. My BSc dissertation laid the basis, then my MSc dissertation looked at another angle. I identified a supervisor, wrote research proposals and applied for funding based specifically on the topic I had in mind.i don’t think I could have committed to something I was not so passionately interested in.

mushroom3 Mon 09-Mar-20 14:05:23

I didn't know. I did mine as a Research Assistant. This may be something that may suit you as you earn a salary with pension etc while doing your PhD on a part time basis. My research didn't take me longer that those in the department doing their's on studentships, it was 3.5 years of study and then I wrote up while I worked elsewhere.

bibliomania Wed 11-Mar-20 09:56:02

Having finished a part-time PhD last year, after seven years, part of me would like to go back and shake my younger self and ask "Why on earth are you doing this?" It was a huge investment for not much payoff (so far).

Emotionally, it's very different to a Masters. During and after a Masters, you feel like you have "mastered" the topic. I sailed through mine, coming top of my class, with a dissertation deemed worthy of publication. My confidence in my abilities was high. A PhD stamps all over that confidence, revealing your pitiful ignorance of all the things to be known. Your inadequacies will be laid cruelly bare.

Don't do it just because you can't think of something else to do. It's a good idea to postpone the application - use that time not just to think about your topic, but about all other things you could potentially do instead.

bibliomania Wed 11-Mar-20 09:58:25

And to answer your question, yes, I knew exactly the question I wanted to research right from the start and it is something I genuinely care strongly about. The research question did not change in the seven years between writing the proposal and doing the viva, although the method did.

KidsWorkMastersLife Wed 11-Mar-20 19:43:05

These are all really interesting and thought provoking points. I already know I would need to delay a start so I think I will take some time to think it all through. I think one of the issues is that I don’t know the answer to ‘what can I do next’ if not a PhD. Eg after masters it all seems a bit murky about what further study might be available. Maybe I am missing something?

I have loved challenging myself, learning more about a topic I am passionate about, and the sense of achievement of getting great grades (I was always a swot!)

Can any of you offer suggestions?

So far I see the options as: a PhD, another masters, a post grad diploma or a post grad certificate

Or to do something quite different like a professional coaching qualification

Gah! It’s tricky!!

OP’s posts: |

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