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Why I chose to do a PhD midway through my career

Why I chose to do a PhD midway through my career

by Brett Cherry

If you have been working in a career for several years, studying at university for a postgraduate degree may not seem like the most attractive option - if not downright daunting. 

But if you’re aiming for a PhD in a topic that you love, which is what I decided to do, then it may be an opportunity too good to pass up.  

Truth be told, postgraduate study isn't for everyone. However, studying for a PhD has its perks.  

Here are the top 5 reasons why I decided to do it: 

  • Opening doorways to new opportunities in academic research that would not be available otherwise, including the PhD itself.
  • Enhancing my career overall and giving my CV a complete overhaul by adding a variety of skills and accomplishments. 
  • Job opportunities that are unlikely to be available to you without a PhD.
  • Gain knowledge in a specialised topic that you will know better than anyone else!
  • If you have the time (and the funding) take advantage of an opportunity of a lifetime that not many people get to have. 

If you're still not convinced, below I've listed some tips and advice on this (potentially) new but often scary chapter in your life. From how to find the bravery to take that leap, to advice on how to get funding in the first place, read on to see if postgraduate education is for you. 

Broaden your horizons 

If you have a good undergraduate qualification, it's possible to switch to something entirely new or a related subject in another field. In my case I was looking to switch from humanities, with some course work in science/engineering, to social science.  

I felt that I had the right mix of past course work to embark upon an exciting academic career in Human Geography and the Northern Ireland and North East Doctoral Training Partnership (NINE DTP) agreed. 

What would you lose if you didn’t do it? 

If you are interested in pursuing postgraduate study at a later stage in your career, make sure it's something you really want to do. I find some of the general lessons from life help in this regard, although it may seem a little harsh.  

It’s better to be honest with yourself now, rather than later.  


 If NOT doing a postgraduate degree prevents you from achieving what you really want to do in life, then you need to seriously consider what it would provide in terms of reaching your goals – even though you may not know entirely at this stage 

As with nearly everything in life, we don't know what's on the other side of choices until we make them. That may seem terrifying, but it’s also incredibly exciting at the same time.  

The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard spoke of making a qualitative leap or ‘leap of faith’ - to trust yourself in moving forward. Pursuing postgraduate study involves making such a leap, no doubt about it. 

Take negative experiences with lots of salt 

For some people, doing a PhD is a great pleasure, but not without its growing pains and sacrifices. For others, a PhD can be true agony– from what I've heard!

But modelling someone else's experience onto your own too closely isn’t wise if you want to succeed in anything.  

For me, postgraduate research training is about growth, especially if you want to be an academic researcher or boost your career.

Getting funded 

If you’re applying for funding, the first step is making your application, which is – in a sense – a research proposal. Unlike some of your peers, you will likely already have an extensive CV with lots of work experience – this is an advantage, so use it 

If you can convince funders that you’ve excelled in your career (especially if it's relevant to the PhD) then you will likely have a bit more leverage over other applicants. Applying for funding is a highly competitive process and you will need to make sure you use all available assets to make an outstanding case that cannot be denied.  

I spent a lot of time writing and researching my proposal, including working on Christmas Eve! This, in many ways, was the hardest part, but I enjoyed doing it despite the countless revisions. Writing your research proposal is a great way to test whether you really want to pursue postgraduate study in the first place.  

If writing about the topic alone gives you a greater sense of purpose in life or you enjoy doing it, despite mental and physical exhaustion, you may be on the right track.  

Here are my top 5 tips for making your funding application stand out: 

  • If you can put in the time and effort to make a flawless research proposal, then it is more likely that you will be rewarded.
  • Don’t ignore the guidelines no matter how annoying they may seem – if you leave something out reviewers won’t hesitate to mark you down.
  • Use your contacts from your career to get good referees for your application, especially those aware of your research interests who can give you an outstanding letter of support. 
  • If your marks from your undergraduate degree aren’t perfect, don’t sweat it apply anyway, especially if you have commensurable work experience. 
  • Find a lead supervisor that matches well with your research proposal and has published in the area you would like to do research in. 
I hope this advice helps you make that crucial decision about doing postgraduate study later in life. If you decide that it’s something you really want to go for, then you’re nearly half-way there.  
If I'd decided not to make the ‘leap’ I wouldn’t be writing this now, from the other side of a choice that will likely be the start of an exciting new journey, one that is more than worth taking.  
If you're interested in postgraduate study and you're a recent or soon-to-be graduate, why not read our post on managing the transition from undergraduate to postgraduate study?

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