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What is a Ph.D. about?

September 6, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’ve been thinking what a Ph.D. is about. A couple of months ago, I read something regarding graduate studies and what people expect from them and what they really are. Yesterday, I read, again, a post of how to fail a Ph.D., and those readings come back to me. From all these sources I realize that what you will learn or the contributions you will make don’t matter, but what matters is the training. A Ph.D. prepares you to conduct quality research and gives you the tools to do it by yourself: to identify valuable problems, to solve those problems and to survive peer review.

Looking back, I can say that is similar to undergrad studies. In college, at least in my country and my former university, professors try to teach you how to learn by yourself and being able to overcome problems. If possible, they try to teach you some “new” ideas. The problem is that, after 5 years of college, you end up with a lot of useless knowledge because the technology and topics you learnt, probably, shifted to new ones; needing you to learn them again. The useful tools, however, that you learnt back then will paid now. Thanks to those tools you are able to adapt to changes and overcome new problems. I think that’s one of the reasons why some people succeed in (dynamic environment) works that demand new knowledge and why some others are stuck in crappy jobs doing the same thing; because they are not able to learn the new things by themselves.

In the end, all these years of school and education are not about the “new” topics you are learning, but building a set of tools to explore and try to advance forward. And if you have enough courage, make the humanity knowledge advance with you. I remember my advisor words: “…at the end of their Ph.D. most people work in something totally different of what they did…“, so it is not about the topic, but the skills you are building. ūüí°

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