Do You Need a Ph.D.?
Whether you need—or should get—a Ph.D. ultimately depends on why you’re doing it, and if you’re doing it for the right reasons.
Nobody “Needs” a Ph.D.
I recently saw a social media post that claimed “you don’t need a Ph.D.” Of course you don’t need a Ph.D. To claim that you don’t need a Ph.D. is completely besides the point. Here was my reply to that post:
You also don’t “need” to climb Everest, yet some people find that a worthwhile experience. A Ph.D. is about the journey, the experience of growth, learning, contributing to knowledge, deep expertise. Not for everyone, but for many it is incredibly rewarding.
My response I think sums up the value of a Ph.D. in a nutshell: Nobody needs a Ph.D. For you, it might still be the right answer. For many, it is the most fulfilling experience of their lives. For others, it can be a frustrating path. Whether the path makes sense for you depends on your goals. One thing is certainly true: You have to want it as part of your own personal life plan, for the right reasons—not for any other reason, and certainly not for anyone else.
The Fire Must Come From Within
Intrinsic motivation is key. It is somewhat easy to get hung up about titles—many people seem to want to tack the phrase “Ph.D.” to the end of their name as a way to somehow signal credibility of authority. But a Ph.D. is neither necessary nor sufficient for succeeding in life, or even being a valuable contributor to a team.
It can and often is an incredibly valuable and life changing experience, but in order to succeed, you have to be doing it for the right reasons, which essentially boil down to intrinsic motivation, as opposed to a quest for some external validation. This is, of course, true for many things in life, but the Ph.D. is a long, multi-year journey, with challenges and ups and downs. To succeed (and to enjoy the experience), you need to be pursuing the degree for the right reasons, based on internally motivating factors.