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PhD alumnus Angie Knaggs

Is a PhD worth it?

Careers
Published 1 Jul, 2021  ·  9-minute read

Studying a higher degree by research isn’t something you choose to do overnight – well, not for most people. So, to help you make this decision, we’ve reached out to some alumni and compiled some data to help you work out if a Doctor of Philosophy would be worthwhile for you.

When you’re considering such a big academic step, it’s normal to wonder: is a PhD worth it?

Anecdotal evidence and statistics both tell us the benefits of PhD study do indeed outweigh the time and effort required. Let’s explore:

Is it worth doing a PhD? (Personal and professional benefits)

For UQ PhD alumni Angie Knaggs, Benjamin Jones and Brigid Lynch, answering this question in hindsight is easy – and the answer is a resounding yes. Their stories may help you make this choice without that advantage of hindsight.

"My PhD is as much a part of my identify as the colour of my hair." - Angie Knaggs
"My PhD equipped me well to move in and out of different roles until I found the one which was best for me." - Benjamin Jones
"I now get to work with some of the world's most talented and inspiring epidemiologists. I couldn't think of a better job." - Brigid Lynch

An unexpected benefit of a PhD

While Angie and Brigid’s thesis topics and PhD journeys were quite different, there’s one thing they have in common: the first thing that came to mind when asked for the highlights of studying their PhD at UQ. They both went straight to talking about the people.

“The colleagues and friends I met along the journey are a highlight,” says Angie.

“My supervisor remains one of my closest friends and a long-time mentor.”

Brigid whole-heartedly agrees.

“I met some great people along the way, many of whom I still work with in one way or another,” she says.

“I really enjoy dropping into the School of Public Health when I’m in town.”

Building a supportive network was a key benefit for Ben, too.

"My research organisation placed a high value on networking and provided opportunities to grow," he says. 

"I've remained in contact with my PhD supervisor and some of my colleagues, and this has given me a network of old friends at UQ."

Reasons to pursue a PhD

A good way to determine whether a PhD is worth it for you is to consider your motivations – what are your reasons to do a PhD?

For Angie, this boils down to asking yourself 2 key questions:

  • Why do you want to do a PhD?
  • What do you want to get out of it?

Hint from Angie: “If the answer to either question involves any person other than yourself, that’s a red flag. You should only ever do a PhD for yourself. It will be the toughest challenge you ever set for yourself – and it’s only worth doing if you’re doing it for yourself.”

Brigid suggests adding these 2 questions to your decision-making process:

  • Are you passionate about your field and topic?
  • Can you make a difference to the community or contribute new knowledge that could make change happen?

If your reasons to do a PhD are genuine and you have a strong vision of what you’ll study and why, this may make your decision clearer.

The financial value of a PhD

Average salary of PhD graduates

Reading Angie and Brigid’s stories may lead you to think that most candidates are driven solely by their passion for research and that the PhD starting salary is irrelevant. But this is a valid and common consideration for many people. After all, knowing what to expect from a PhD graduate salary can help you justify pursuing your doctorate and plan appropriately for your future career.

The median salary of a PhD graduate is around $93,000pa, though it’s important to note this figure can vary significantly depending on your field.

While making decent money is an enticing perk, perhaps the more important financial benefit of having a PhD is the higher chance of getting (and staying) employed in the first place. In 2021, the overall employment rate for postgraduate research students in Australia was 90%, with 80.1% of graduates in full-time employment.

A comprehensive report from Ribit.net and the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute shows there is increasing demand for PhD graduates across many industries in Australia. Some of the nation’s most competitive firms are recruiting higher degree by research students from a wide range of disciplines. This further proves Angie and Brigid’s point about PhD research equipping graduates with transferrable and highly employable skills – skills that are recognised beyond the realm of academia.

Research also suggests that people with doctorate degrees are less likely to have their employment impacted by recession.

Whether you’re driven by personal passions, academic ambitions, financial goals or a combination of all these reasons to pursue a PhD, the evidence is strong: a PhD is worth it. Start your journey today.

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