At the start of another academic year, it seems an apt time to consider what aspirations we have at the beginning of a new year or a new venture. A PhD is a 3 or 4 year full time venture; even longer part-time. Too often people set forth on this venture without considering what they want out of it, in career terms, or perhaps with vague ideas around a career in research or higher education.
In his book on the 7 Habits Of Highly Successful People, Stephen Covey advocates that a key element of success on a project is to set out with a clear end aim in mind. In the world of recruitment and selection there is a phrase which is essentially the flip-side of the same coin, specifically “if you don’t know where you are going you will end up somewhere else”. Having a career outcome in clear focus gives a sense of purpose which can be very helpful throughout the PhD process, e.g. in that second year lull when probation has been successfully negotiated and the pressure of the submission deadline is not yet exerting its influence.
Of course we also hear about those who do not consider such things, as their post PhD career options, but still seem to fall on a successful path anyway. Just like when we were at school, or during undergraduate days, there were people who told us they had not prepared for an exam, yet they came out the other end with top marks. The gifted and the lucky will always be amongst us. For the rest of us, preparation is necessary.
Whilst a PhD may set someone up for a career in Higher Education, research or a variety of other professions many things can change over the course of the three or four years that it takes to complete a PhD. Opportunities in a particular sector may fluctuate over time, an individual’s interest may wane over time, or a variety of other factors can come into play. There is careers advice, support and training to all PhD researchers over the course of their time at University. The sensible option is always to seek out such assistance as a contribution to making informed choices, in the case of circumstances, or interests, changing. This of course fits with another of Covey’s 7 habits, i.e. “be proactive”.