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Who Does a PhD?

What kind of person does a PhD?

What kind of person does a PhD?

If you were asked to describe a typical PhD student, what would they be like? What image comes to your mind? What background and family history do they have? Where are they from? Age? Gender? Personality?

Now save that image in your mind and be ready to share it with us when you reach the bottom of the page.


In reality, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all or standard student model for the type of individual that takes on a PhD. PhD candidates come from many backgrounds and can vary hugely in terms of age, ethnicity, education background and other demographics. The idea of diversity is widely understood to mean not just what a person looks like or where they come from, but the diversity of experiences, ideas and ways of thinking they bring to their studies. This is hugely enriching to all fields of study.

Passion for Knowledge

The common factors between successful PhD students, however, are the drive to obtain knowlege, passion in their subject and research and a commitment to persevere. Although career goals following the completion of your PhD, whether in academic or non-academic roles, may be a significant influencer in deciding to do a PhD, your passion and love of learning in your field of interest will be essential in helping you reach your goals.

“I would recommend to those wanting to apply for a doctorate that they should find a topic that they are passionate about and would like to pursue through to the end, no matter the challenges.” Doctoral student
If it feels like a chore from the start, it might prove too much to devote a large portion of your life and dedication to for the next three or four years. Genuine curiosity and a desire to understand your subject fully or to contribute to the knowledge landscape will go a long way in your PhD journey.
Your knowledge won’t be limited to your area of expertise either. You’ll be exposed to colleagues and projects across different research centres which will continue to help you grow in your academic future. If you feel like you can honestly be passionate and engaged with your subject for three years or more, you’re off to a good start to pursue a PhD.
“Do it because you are genuinely passionate about your subject, not because you want a job.” Doctoral student
As mentioned by our interviewees, networking, whether through formal or informal means is hugely beneficial at all stages of your academic journey. We recommend that you start now to reach out to others to help you along the way and create ties that might last a lifetime. We will talk about networking again later in the course.
“Network, network, network. The relationships we form during the PhD might be more important than the thesis in the end. So try to get to know your research team, other groups in your institution, and/or even external people, as much as you can (networking shouldn’t take too much time and take you from your project though).” Doctoral student

This course provides an excellent opportunity to start networking. We recommend you use the hashtag #PhD4Me in social media to find others who have taken this course.

Discussion Points:

  • If you were asked to describe a typical PhD candidate, what would they be like?
  • How much is your description informed by stereotypes?
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Is a PhD Right for Me?

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