PhD Survival Guide; Why a PhD?

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I think the most logical place to start this guide is at the start (very innovative – I know), and the start is why on earth I decided to undergo a PhD in the first place. If you had asked me at highschool, or even during the first few years of my undergraduate degree where I was going to end up, I never in a million years would have said that I would be doing a PhD. To answer why a PhD I have to go back to the source of why psychology (which is the area that my PhD is in). When I was choosing my year 11 subjects at school I had one spot to fill and it was actually my wonderful mum that suggested psychology. I absolutely loved psychology in both year 11 and year 12 and dreamed of being a clinical psychologist as at this point that was the only career path I believed was available in psychology. So, when I was offered my first choice at university- a Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) that was what I went off to study. The question “what do you want to be when you’re older” sends shivers down the spine of many high school students. However, for me it was worse- all through my last year of high school I knew what I wanted to do. It was not until I started studying psychology that doubt arose and I genuinely could no longer answer that question. Did I want to be a psychologist? A teacher? A journalist? All of these options crossed my mind, so much so that I was going to transfer into journalism in my second year at university. But once again my mum had sound advice, suggesting that I stick with psychology for at least the first semester of my second year as the consensus was that second year at university was much more interesting. I am so grateful that I listened to my mum’s advice. I loved my second year in psychology and came back around to the idea of being a clinical psychologist. I still had no idea that research was an option. I actually remember sitting in a lecture presented by my now PhD supervisor (a conservation psychology researcher) in my second year. I admired her and her job, researching animal behaviour and humans’ influence on the environment. But, for whatever reason in my mind her job was neither attainable nor realistic…

…Fast forward to the start of honours year when students have to choose a research topic for their thesis. I was still in the mindset that I would eventually go onto complete my masters and become a practicing psychologist. But when I looked over all the research options, I kept gravitating towards the conservation psychology topics. I vividly remember standing in my kitchen trying to decide which topic I should choose as my first option (as I was thinking clinical related would be most beneficial) when I realised something really obvious. The reason I was hesitant to choose a conservation psychology topic was because I thought that it was a cop out- I thought that choosing a topic that I would find fun and enjoyable was a cop out. How stupid! I realised then that, that is the exact reason why I had to pursue conservation psychology-the words of Marc Anthony ringing in my ears- “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life”. Going onto a start a PhD became an obvious next step, starting honours opened up the world of research and I realised that pursuing a career in research and academia combines the three careers I was tossing up in my first year: psychology, teaching, and journalism. 

Many of these words came from a blogpost that I wrote during the first year of my PhD when I was a fresh faced, starry eyed, passionate newbie researcher. I thought that rather than writing a version of why a PhD now, which may be slightly tainted- hearing from first year PhD me was more authentic. 

Click here to download this weeks PDF to go into the Survival Guide. 

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