Dear PhD considerator,

You’re at an important crossroads in your life. Straight ahead you see a road that will lead you down the path of research and academia. At your left and right you see other possibilities, perhaps a road towards more clinical work, a path towards industry, or a way towards something entirely different. How to make the choice? We, the PhD Candidate Advisors of the Amsterdam UMC Doctoral School, know how hard this can be. We have walked the road of academia, we have doubted our chosen path and diverted from it, and now we’re walking alongside those who are venturing a PhD as their guides and coaches. From our personal and professional experiences we have extracted 5 questions you should ask yourself before you plunge into a PhD.

Question 1:

Where do you see yourself in five years?

A typical question you may encounter in a job interview, but we think it’s the most important one: Where do you see yourself in five years? What kind of job will you be doing? If you can envision your destination, then you can map out your journey. Does a PhD contribute to reaching this destination or are there other ways that suit you better? Take time to explore this and reach out to people who may have helpful perspectives. Especially reach out to people who are doing what you hope to do in five years. Did they do a PhD and do they believe that completing a PhD is helpful to get where they are?

Question 2:

Do you get excited about research?

If you have established that doing a PhD is a good path toward your destination, then think about if research excites you. There are an infinite number of topics you can investigate. Apart from the research topic you will be working on (e.g. cardiology, virology, mental health etc.), you will also have a choice to make regarding the research type (e.g. fundamental, clinical) and methods (e.g. lab work, epidemiological research, clinical trial). Can you picture a research topic, type and method that excites you? Being excited and motivated is very important to enjoy the path toward completing your PhD. Be honest with yourself if you do not feel excitement when envisioning this at all. Explore other ways to work on your CV that may suit you better.

Question 3:

What skills do you hope to gain from a PhD?

A PhD is not only about doing research. There are different types of skills you may gain from a PhD, such as project management, writing, science communication, presenting, teaching, and supervising. When considering a PhD, think about the skills you have to gain and hope to gain. If none of the required skills appeal to you, a PhD may not be the best road to take. If you want or need to gain a specific set of skills for your future job, regardless of it being within an academic setting or not, see if you can find a PhD that gives you the opportunity to practice those skills. 

Question 4:

Do you click with your potential future supervisors?

Our experience as PhD Candidate Advisors has made it clear that a good relationship between PhD candidates and their supervisor is key to a successful PhD trajectory. When there is mutual respect and open communication the PhD team can overcome almost every obstacle. But when this respect and communication is lacking, a potentially great PhD trajectory may fall apart before the finish line. When you are considering to start a PhD, take some time to get to know your potential future supervisors. Ask them questions about their supervision style and talk about your expectations. If you do not feel a good connection with the team you’ll be working with, you may want to look for another PhD position.

Question 5:

What are the other options?

In life there is never only one road that leads to a destination. Walking the path of a PhD may be a wonderful road to take with many professional skills landmarks and personal growth sightseeings. However, it is not a road that everyone enjoys and there may be other options that will support you and your goal better. When standing at the crossroads, take a silent moment and reflect on who you are and what you want before you decide to take the next step. And when you are ready to take this step, whichever road this leads to, remember that you can always choose to deviate and go off the beaten track. But if you do decide to embark upon the journey to get your PhD, know that we are there to support, guide, coach and cheer you on along the way :)

Best of luck in your self-discovery process!

The Amsterdam UMC Doctoral School PhD Candidate Advisors

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