Author: Melvyn Yap, PhD, Senior Machine Learning Researcher at Max Kelsen
The Elusive Research Path
Completing a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) requires an incredible amount of focus, persistence, personal sacrifices, and quite often, a healthy dose of pure luck. It is common belief that earning the highest possible level of academic qualification will surely and automatically translate to securing a research job, and that your life is guaranteed to be stable and financially rewarding. But is it?
The brutal reality is that the vast majority of PhD graduates do not end up continuing a career in research, let alone becoming an independent researcher. This is quite contradictory to the common belief that the sole purpose of completing a PhD is just that — entering a life dedicated to pursuing the inquisitive realms of research. Yet, the number of PhD completions in Australia has grown from 3,933 in 2001 to 9,064 in 2017 (1). If their futures are so statistically grim, then why do so many students still choose to pursue PhDs? One can reasonably assume the massive enrolment is due to a host of external factors, such as the undeniable effectiveness of university campaigns, the relative ease of obtaining government funded scholarships, the irresistible enticement by prospective PhD supervisors, and quite simply, because it is the ‘next natural step’ after a Masters degree.
Committing several years of your life solely to completing a PhD is not a trivial matter, even if the motivations, as mentioned above, can be. Those qualified into PhD programs tend to be some of the brightest students in the cohort. As such, I strongly believe that the real reason for this commitment is none other than simply wanting to do research — to follow their curiosity of exploring the unknown, to have the ability to put wild hypotheses to the test, and/or to contribute to the wealth of human knowledge. To achieve these goals, and to be sufficiently recognised as a capable researcher, the time-tested PhD program remains as the only known path. Evidently, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Marie Curie, Alan Turing and other great scientists of our time have all completed a PhD prior to achieving their greatest work. This deep sense of fulfilment and…