Why do a doctoral degree?

An individual’s rationale for studying a doctoral degree will be a mix of personal (or intrinsic) and extrinsic motivations. Uppermost for most doctoral researchers is a passion for their subject, to learn about it and contribute to new knowledge about it. Without that passion, you are unlikely to have the commitment to succeed in the programme. Although rare, where circumstances allow, some individuals undertake doctoral research purely for the joy of researching a particular topic. Other personal reasons could include:

Enjoying the academic environment. It might be that you just enjoy learning and want to spend time in the academic or research setting.

Opportunism. Some people who are broadly considering postgraduate research are actually approached by an academic and asked to apply. It can be flattering but “because I could” is probably not wise as a main rationale for a doctorate – you should probably make sure some of the other drivers apply to you too.

It is important that you do have a strong rationale for pursuing doctoral research. You may find it hard to get funding, in which case you will need resilience and determination to secure it and that is likely to be driven by a genuine passion to do research. A doctoral programme requires a really serious commitment of time and energy – it will be a significant portion of your life – so is not to be entered into lightly!

Extrinsic motivations (which are mostly career-related reasons) also vary between individuals in different circumstances, but these can also be very strong motivating factors. Some people undertake a doctorate as a first step towards an academic career, while others foresee other career routes that are enhanced by the doctoral qualification or skills. Professionals who are already established in a career may want to deepen the knowledge that underpins their practice through a doctorate, while others may pursue it in order to seek a change in direction.