Jul 1, 2022

7 questions to answer before you start those PhD applications


Overview: Before investing your time and energy into applications for PhD programs in your field, you need to set some time aside for reflection, thinking and planning. A PhD will take years of your life to complete (a limited resource), present you with challenges and will require you to have some grit. Being able to clearly articulate your ‘why’ will help you push through research set back, tough courses and your first journal article reviews. 


Post Contributor(s): Marian Kennedy



Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash
Before investing your time and energy into applications for PhD programs in your field, you should set aside time in your schedule for reflection, thinking and planning. A doctoral program will take years of your life to complete, require financial sacrifice, and challenge you academically. To make sure the investment is worth it and to ensure you have to motivation to complete it, you need to spend time identifying how you will benefit from earning a doctoral degree.

To do this, you need to find large time blocks in your schedule.

Take yourself on a date to a coffee shop, library or just your kitchen table. It should be an area where you are able to work uninterrupted. Speaking of that, you should probably put your phone on silent. Have a pen and some paper in front of you and think of how to answer the following questions. Don’t worry about writing out a formal response, you can just jot words, phrases or short sentences.

  • What will you get out of earning a graduate degree? That is, how will you be different than you are now and how might the degree changes the things you are able to do?
  •  What are the different types of graduate degrees that you could pursue in your field, and which one interests you the most? Why?
  • Are there other ways to get to your goals beyond earning a graduate degree?
  • Most STEM graduate programs require you to conduct research. Do you know what that is?
  • How will a graduate program be different than your undergraduate program?
  • What will you do after you attend a graduate program?
  • What questions would you want to ask someone who has just finished a graduate program (earned a PhD, MS, ME)? 


Another option would be to read these questions before heading out for a run or walk. You can think about them by pounding the pavement and then jot your notes when you return. 


Acknowledgements: This blog post was edited by Kate Epstein of EpsteinWords. She specializes in editing and coaching for academics, and she can be reached at kate at epsteinwords.com.