Is a PhD life-changing?

About a year ago a very good friend of mine who has since finished writing up his PhD thesis, excitedly told me one day how life-changing the process of undertaking a PhD was proving to be for him.

At the time, as a fledgling doctoral researcher still in the throes of figuring out the full scope of my own project, I tried, but could not imagine myself ever going through such a change.

However, one year on and I am now starting to appreciate what he might have been alluding to when he used the term life-changing. I assumed he meant that gaining a PhD would be a life-changing experience in terms of achieving a high-level qualification, (should have known better).

But I assured myself that a doctorate could never alter my personality, values, beliefs or sense of self – since I do not locate an individual’s worth with educational attainment – but I was totally missing the point.

Now that my life has been totally consumed by my own PhD thesis – I spend at least 10 hours a day reading, re-reading, re-examining, re-analysing and refitting ideas, concepts, theories and perceptions into a giant jigsaw puzzle centred on a set of research questions; I now understand that undertaking a PhD does not necessarily change who you are, but it does change how you see the world.

Reviewing the literature related to your discipline and exploring new research methods is a never-ending, on-going process that means there are always new theories being advanced, new frameworks, new arguments and new tools of inquiry that your brain is continually processing to satisfy an unquenchable thirst for new ways of explaining human thought, behaviour and action that is increasingly mediated by constantly evolving new technologies.

But enlightenment comes at a price: it can be depressing, disturbing, challenging, inspiring and empowering – and on top of that I have to try to fit my own conceptions into this gigantic ecosystem of knowledge in a symbolic gesture to leave my own blot on the academic landscape – and in the hope that my thesis may lay the foundations for new ideas, new ways of thinking, seeing and knowing.

Is that life-changing – you bet!

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