Why PhDs Are Good – For Individuals, And For A Country

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By Brenda Wingfield

What is the value of a PhD? Is there a need in a developing world country to undertake a PhD study? It’s expensive (around R1 million per graduate) and in many regards a luxury for students from poor families. Even for those who have better access to money there’s a very real cost in tuition, costs of the research as well as years lost with regards to climbing the career ladder. As students in the southern hemisphere consider their study options for next year, it’s worth revisiting the pros and cons of doing a PhD.

From an individual perspective, there are good and bad reasons to do a PhD.

The good reasons include achieving a significant goal in terms of a research output, publications and in many cases solving an important problem. Doing research towards a PhD allows one to be curious, literally every day.

It’s also the first step in becoming part of the global network of researchers. Becoming part of a global community can be very gratifying.

The bad reasons would include the assumption that having a PhD will earn you a larger salary. This is not always the case. Another is peer pressure which can lead students to register for a PhD. Sometimes the pressure comes from family. Another not so good reason is when people decide to do a PhD because they don’t like the job that they are doing.

Undertaking a PhD study should only be considered if you are really passionate about research and understand that it really takes a huge amount of time and energy. It is after all the ultimate degree – there are none higher.

The value of a PhD

The bottom line is that there is no magic about the qualification. It doesn’t make you a better or smarter person.

However, people who have PhDs have shown a certain capacity and tenacity and have the degree to prove it. Many other people might have the equivalent capacity and tenacity but without the degree, it is less easy for employers to identify them.

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