Which PhD program should I choose? Why

Should I do a PhD?

Towards the end of their studies, an important question arises for good students for their future career: "Should I do a doctorate?"

If you ask yourself this question, you often overlook the fact that there are actually several other, personal questions hidden behind this question. The question of the strength of scientific ambition, curiosity and motivation; the question of the advantages of a doctorate for further life; also the question of professional and private goals; according to personal suitability; And last but not least, the question of what to expect and whether you are prepared to accept disadvantages.

Arguments for and against doing a doctorate

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The best, noblest and most far-reaching reason for a doctorate is still: burning interest in the topic. You have the opportunity to deal intensively with a topic for several years, to actively research, to find solutions and to become an expert in your field.

This expert knowledge can also be very helpful in life after completing your doctorate, especially when it comes to a practical question that can be used in industry. Interest in the topic is the most important requirement if you want to do a doctorate. The great motivation that is drawn from it helps to successfully pass the doctorate - even if it takes longer than planned.

Then there are the career opportunities. In certain industries, it makes sense to do a doctorate, if not mandatory. For anyone striving for a scientific career, a doctorate is simply part of the process. However, he should inform himself carefully beforehand about the job market in the university sector. A good doctorate is by no means a guarantee for an academic career. Anyone considering a responsible position in a scientifically oriented R&D department of a company should also do a doctorate. For chemists, for example, who would like to work with managerial responsibility as a laboratory manager, a doctorate is the right degree. Otherwise, the path to the desired personnel responsibility will be longer. In contrast, engineers are usually not expected to do a doctorate. It is more of a bonus for students who are particularly interested in science.

A “Dr.” can also serve your career in less scientific areas: the title promises prestige. In addition to the intercultural skills of the owner, it also signals to potential employers motivation, discipline and persistence: the graduate has already successfully completed a long-term project before actually starting his career - his own doctorate. But you should look around carefully and not only do a doctorate because of the supposedly better career prospects.

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In many areas, a title is not necessary to advance quickly or to earn a lot in sales, for example. Small companies in particular often see a doctorate as overqualification if it is not necessary for the exercise of the activity and cannot or do not want to pay the corresponding remuneration surcharge. Graduates from areas in which applicants are urgently needed should also consider whether they would like to take advantage of the current shortage of skilled workers to go into industry immediately. The companies are currently assuring the coveted experts high wages and special conditions.

Anyone wanting to do a doctorate needs a high level of motivation, which will carry you through the multi-year doctorate. Research fatigue that may occur in advanced phases should also be able to overcome this motivation. This requires passion for the topic. A doctorate that is started for the wrong reasons can easily fail. Personal vanity ("Dr. title in front of the name just sounds damn good"), pure career calculation or external pressure should and therefore cannot be decisive factors.

Keep in mind that if you do your PhD, you will be dealing with a single topic for years. Often there is a high tolerance for frustration. and stress resistance necessary. Even those who do not like to write will find it difficult to write many pages of scientific texts in the form of manuscripts, publications and the actual dissertation. Further arguments against a doctorate are the financial deprivation. You have to accept this despite hard work and usually considerable overtime during the doctoral period, while many friends get well-paid jobs and start families. That takes a good deal of idealism.

However, the two letters in front of the name are just a key. The right door for this key, which opens happiness in terms of job satisfaction, remuneration and field of activity, must first be found despite a successful doctorate. There is no guarantee, but the likelihood of a demanding job in an exciting environment is high.

Who is the right doctoral supervisor?

When you have weighed all the arguments and decided to do a doctorate, you come across the next big question: “How do I find the right doctoral supervisor or the right doctoral mother?”. Choosing a supervisor is an important decision, because ideally the supervisor offers professional support, personal encouragement and encouragement in times of crisis and points out weaknesses.

In addition, the personal and professional network of the doctoral supervisor often helps with starting a career. It is best to take various courses and lectures in order to get to know the professors and their work better. You should also find out whether the potential doctoral supervisor has a good reputation and how well networked he is in his subject. Reading his publications doesn't hurt either. In any case, you should choose someone who is familiar with the topic you are interested in.

Good supervision is also important for a successful doctorate. You can talk to other PhD students and ask how well they feel supported. Do you have enough freedom to write your doctoral thesis, or does the working time that have to be invested in other tasks such as exam corrections and other preparatory work in the institute predominate? Which methods does the professor prefer?

Are doctoral agreements common in which the doctoral supervisor undertakes to provide adequate supervision? The human level should also be taken into account. Personal problems with the supervisor can have a negative effect on motivation and endanger the "Project: Promotion". You can also find out more about graduate colleges: There you work with a whole team of supervisors. As in the subsequent professional life, a factor that should not be underestimated is the team with which you will probably work for more than 1000 days: Do you fit in there and could you make friends in this team?

Content and structure of a dissertation

And how does a doctorate actually work? First of all, you need a good question that you can work on and try to answer independently and first. In order to find the right topic, you should first consider which topic you are personally interested in and which questions are relevant and still unanswered.

Before starting work, you should be absolutely sure that the question or the desired solution has not yet been processed and published in this way. Then you should check the question to see whether it is possible to deal with it comprehensively in the planned doctoral period, otherwise the topic should be narrowed down even further. Then the topic is "broken down" into smaller parts so that milestones can be set.

During the next few months you will be actively researching and documenting your results. At the same time, you keep an eye on the current research results of other scientists in the field of doctoral theses and compare your results with them. The measurable quality of the doctorate should ultimately also manifest itself in the number of publications published during the doctoral phase.

Towards the end of the doctorate, when the time and subject matter is a well-rounded picture, you write a coherent dissertation in which you use your previous documentation. Like any scientific text, the dissertation is structured logically. It begins with an introduction in which the topic and question are presented and derived from why the question is relevant and has not yet been scientifically answered.

In the second part you show how you got your results: you describe your materials, methods and experiments. Most of the text deals with the presentation of the results and their interpretation - the discussion part. The publications of other scientists in this area are also used for this purpose.

At the end of each chapter, the conclusions that emerge are summarized. Tables and figures are used to visualize the results. In the final part, all results and conclusions are succinctly summarized and the doctoral student gives an outlook on questions that have remained open and that still need to be researched.

What sounds quite simple when presented so briefly here is a process that takes at least three years in the natural and engineering sciences. Furthermore, you have to be able to accept setbacks and bridge motivation holes. At the end there is the graduation ceremony, where you can put on your doctoral cap and look back proudly on your achievements!

Key qualifications & networking for your doctorate

You should also use the doctoral period to acquire so-called key qualifications. Many universities offer courses specifically for doctoral students. In addition to academic content such as academic writing or presentations, these can also include topics such as project management, time management, and rhetoric. Courses of this kind in particular can be very beneficial for future applications.

In this context, you should also inquire about structured doctoral programs. These are offered by many universities. Examples are graduate colleges, focus areas of excellence or graduate programs. In these courses, courses are offered, inter-institute lecture series are organized and multi-supervisor concepts are often implemented so that you receive as much scientific input as possible.

The doctoral period is also an excellent opportunity to make contacts and build a network, both in science and in business. You can present your doctoral thesis at conferences and draw attention to yourself in lectures by other scientists with good questions. Another possibility is to talk to scientists at conferences or to use junior panels. The foundation stone for sustainable networking, also for later professional life, is laid during the doctoral period.