Should I do a PhD? Questions for prospective doctoral students in IR/political science

Should I do a PhD? Questions for prospective doctoral students in IR/political science

After several conversations with future, current and past PhD students in my field, here is the list of (tough) questions prospective doctoral students should answer. Don’t let the critical nature of these questions distract you. With the right motivation, context and people, a PhD is one of the most rewarding experiences one can embark on.

1. The nature of doing a PhD:

Have I understood how the PhD differs from a Master’s degree?

Is independent research with sometimes very limited supervision something I am ready for?

Have I understood the difficulties of the academic labour market?

2. Implications for private life:

Am I ready to move abroad (also after the PhD)?

What do my partner and my family think?

3. Motivation:

What is my intrinsic (during the studies, for myself) motivation?

What is my extrinsic (career opportunities, impact) motivation? This has implications on methods and research topic, as a PhD for a policy career can be quite different from one for an academic career.

4. Opportunity costs:

What will I lose by doing a PhD?

What career paths will I give up on?

Am I ready to see my peers advance quicker outside academia, both professionally and financially?

5. Alternatives:

How can I maintain/gain a foothold in the non-academic/policy world?

6. Topic:

What topic will I be passionate about for 3-5 years and is career relevant?

7. Methods:

What methods do I want to use?

Am I ready to fit into a discipline that is increasingly dominated by quantitative and data driven methods?

8. Funding:

Is there a reliable prospect of financing the entirety of my doctoral studies?

What’s the plan B if a promised scholarship/position falls through?

9. Department/University:

What’s the quality of doctoral training and of the faculty?

Is there a track record of good academic placement of doctoral students?

10. Supervision:

Which professor will supervise me? What is their availability, track record of good students?

Apart from the committee, who are my academic mentors?

Comments and suggestions for edits are welcome in the comments below or by e-mail!