Why PhD?

I have recently decided to continue my academic journey through Princeton’s PhD Program.

After the initial excitement (and the bragging right that came with the offer letter), the looming anxiety starts to take the lead. While I’ve enjoyed my past 3 years of research, I cannot say this is a facsimlie of the PhD experience. I worked at my UG labs without pay, so I was more of a volunteer instead of an employee. For this reason, I didn’t need to meet a certain requirement, say, one conference paper per year for example. I was assigned to the projects that does not have a super high priority, serving only to support other PhD students’ ongoing work. Without a firm deadline (I’m not the one submitting the papers right?), I had the luxury of flexibility – I can work at my own pace and there’s no expectation – I can fail a project and the professor was fine with it – I’m only an undergrad.

PhD, in my opinion, is almost the opposite of the freestyle-ish of UG research. I am going to be paid for my work and my time – so the quality factor is involved. It’s almost like a job – I get paid (though severely below the industrial standard), have a boss, few colleagues, and an office. The only difference is the purpose of such employment – I get to “change the world” (if you believe it) through scientific research, not to help a company make more money (at least not in the duration of PhD program).

Am I going to develop revolutionary technology during my PhD years? I hope so but not likely. Then why would I choose to join a path that gives me little (current) capital gains and is demanding to one’s research capabilities? Maybe it sounds cool: “Dr. Lin”, or maybe I can make more money with a PhD degree, or maybe the title will help me find a girlfriend – I doubt that one. However, I think it all comes down to my intrinsic interest in my field of study.

“Things you are passionate about” is another way of putting it. I like to play around with circuits and pray that it does not explode when I power on. To be honest, I feel like PhD is somewhat similiar to this kind of tinkering – only in a more professional and organized manner. My past three years of research (at least partially) proved that I kind of like this trial-and-error workflow. The pleasure from the final success of a circuit is unmeasurable for me, and I believe such satisfaction will be the primary driven force that guide me through the grind.

Another reason of me joining the PhD program is the comfort zone. While many people claim to despise staying in this circle, I sometimes hold an opposite opinion: the name itself suggests that at least I will be pretty comfy staying in that zone. Even though I’ve mentioned similarity between the PhD and an actual job, I cannot deny the fact that such program is closer to the “college student” end. As a student I’ve done pretty decent from high school to undergrad, so I see no logic that forces me to leave the comfort zone. Granted, the PhD grind will not be comfortable, but at least I know roughly what to expect. It’s going to be a long struggle towards this degree, but I wish at the end when I look back of my academic plan, I see no better alternative than getting the PhD degree.

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