Is doctoral research for me?

Research degrees offer a rewarding and exciting opportunity to explore an issue in real depth. On completion of your degree you will be one of the world's leading experts in your (possibly narrow) field. You are likely to have had the opportunity to meet researchers from around the world and present your work to them. You will also have a qualification that is not common in the workforce, although it is not a passport to all jobs.

You should also be aware that doctoral research is a big commitment in time and energy and can be a roller-coaster ride. Research projects are highly challenging and can be frustrating at times but being prepared for this and understanding yourself and your motivations will increase your resilience and help you to maintain motivation.

First understand yourself...

In the UK a doctorate will take you at least three-years full-time and up to seven years part-time: in other countries it can be longer. You need to be really clear on your motivations for doing a doctorate, and that it is a positive career step. It's not advisable to start a doctorate because you're not sure what else to do next or simply because your professor has suggested it.

A natural starting point is to reflect on your values, capabilities and expertise. Understanding the basic principles by which you live your life and make your personal decisions is important but it's easy to sideline - especially when our immediate concerns may be things like meeting financial or family responsibilities. However, if our day-to-day work does not fit with our values or motivations, we are likely to become demotivated and potentially disillusioned, or may not perform as well as we might.

Committing to a doctoral research programme is a big decision, and there needs to be alignment of your personal attributes and capabilities with what is needed to undertake and succeed in obtaining a doctoral degree. You could take a look at the Vitae Researcher Development Framework to gain a sense of the areas in which you can develop throughout a research career.

Then take advice...

There is no better way to find out how or why current researchers decided to undertake a research degree than to talk to them. Ask what it's actually like doing research. You can also get some ideas by looking at our online researcher career stories and by reading online advice.