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By: Darren Cullinane

If you dare to dream of a career as a research academic, then you will need to complete a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD).

Completing a PhD is something most undergraduate students would contemplate at some point in their degree; however, the size of the thesis and the time it takes to complete the PhD can make it a daunting prospect for some students.

This coupled with the uncertainty of job prospects within research departments, means students need to consider if they are taking the PhD on for career outcomes, or because it is the next step in their education stream.

What is a PhD?

A PhD is a postgraduate academic research degree awarded by universities. It is not specifically a Philosophy degree, but refers to the ancient Greek definition of philosophy, “love of wisdom”.

The word doctorate comes from the Latin “To Teach”, which means that the holder of a doctorate is allowed to teach in their specific field. A person who successfully completes a PhD can be referred to as a Doctor.

More broadly there is a professional doctorate; closely aligned with a particular profession, such as, Law, Medicine and Psychology, and an academic doctorate. Both are awarded after academic research leads to a publishable thesis.

The PhD candidate is provided a supervisor by the university who guides the candidate through the process of completing the degree. The finished thesis will usually be around 100,000 words, and will be examined by a panel of experts from around the world.

The Part-time Perspective

Christopher Groot received his Psychology Undergraduate and Honours degrees from Melbourne University

In the hope of elucidating some of the PhD experience, I spoke with Christopher Groot, a part-time PhD Candidate from Melbourne University.

Chris is in his fifth and final year of his PhD, which is looking at auditory processing in schizophrenia. Chris is also a tenured part time lecturer in Psychology at The University of Melbourne. As well, he holds down a full-time position as the Director of Research at Crisis Support Services, a not-for-profit, non-government organisation that provides national mental health services.

Chris explained that the most important thing to consider when applying to do a PhD is that you are motivated by your thesis question, and that you spend some time getting the right PhD supervisor, because both these factors will play heavily towards your overall PhD experience.

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“Make sure you organise your personal and professional life so that you have the ability to give the PhD the focus it needs,” said Chris. “Five years part-time or three years full-time is hard to plan for so the last thing you need is disruptions.”

“It’s a large commitment at a time in your life when you are under pressure to start a career, so make sure it is something you really want to do,”

The Full-Time PhD Perspective

Lisa Waller is a full time PhD student who received a scholarship from The University of Canberra. She is also a part-time lecturer in Journalism at Deakin University. I spoke with Lisa about her PhD experience.

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Professional Perspective

In the interests of providing Deakin specific information for undergraduate and honours students at Deakin University, I approached Professor Chris Hickey, the Associate Dean of Research for the Arts and Education faculty.

Professor Chris Hickey

I asked Professor Hickey a little bit about his role, and the PhD program at Deakin.

“I oversee the portfolio associated with recruiting, enrolling and supporting Higher Degree by Research (HDR) candidates,” said Professor Hickey. “It is a terrifically rewarding and interesting role.”

“Deakin University has around 350 doctorial candidates in the Arts and Education Faculty each year.”

“Just under half of these are part time and/or study at a distance,” Professor Hickey said. “Around 50 of our doctoral candidates are also international students who have travelled here from various parts of the world.”

For the last word on this topic, I asked Christopher Groot if he thought the PhD was valuable for his career, and would he recommend it to students wanting an academic career.

“Absolutely, I have found the PhD challenging, but also extremely rewarding. I am looking forward to a career in research, and playing a significant role in the future of Psychological thought.”

It seems that a PhD is worthy of consideration if students wish to undertake a career in academic research. Both Chris and Lisa elucidated the importance time management, career management and personal management for factors to consider if a PhD is for you. The best place to start is by discussing these factors with your family, teachers and representatives from the doctorate program of your choice.

Those students wishing to find out more information about the Deakin Arts and Education Doctoral program can contact

Robyn Ficnerski – Research Training Officer
Email: robyn.ficnerski@deakin.edu.au
Phone: 03 52272226
Department: Research – Arts & Education – Arts Administration Building

See also The Good Universities Guide for more information about Higher Education Degrees throughout Australia.

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