BEDA: What is a PhD?

BEDA: Blog Every Day in April.

I miss blogging. I find blogging a great way of sorting though the thoughts that I have at a given time. When I started at university I blogged almost every day, and over the years I have blogged less and less. With this new website I wanted the focus to be on my creative output like photos and videos, and tone down the emotional, bloggy, stuff. That’s mainly because I am a lot more confident about myself now, and wanted my creative products to speak for themselves. I also have a much closer network of friends now, which means I don’t need a digital bucket for my tears. It’s also hard to get back into something once you’ve stopped like I did, for a whole summer. I always intended the blog to only be a university thing – hence “Charles’ university blog” – but for one month only I think that posting every day will be a good discipline. Today, I want to give an insight into my choice to do a PhD.

For a start, my PhD is based at the University of Surrey, in the Electronic Engineering department. While that probably gives you an image of my soldering resistors to Printed Circuit Boards, you couldn’t be more wrong. While I was an undergraduate, I worked with John Collomosse on a project about identifying building landmarks using a mobile phone camera. The project worked out really well, and it introduced me to an area of Engineering called Computer Vision, that I found fascinating. Mainly because it bridged the gap for me between the traditional Engineering of solving complex problems, with the media intricacies of creative and visual, content. My project ended up getting 94%, the highest mark in the year. Along with my other results this meant I received four awards at the Graduation Ceremony, meaning a very embarrassing pause before I could collect my certificate as the speaker read out the names of all of them… The longest minute of my life.

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I really enjoyed working on the project, but when asked if I was interested in doing a PhD I initially said no. I didn’t want to be stuck in Guildford forever. And I didn’t much like the idea of getting into more debt. Plus I already had the offer from Sony to work for them. Life is full of decisions, and as they go, this was a big one. And the more I thought about it, the more I didn’t know what to do. So I did what any good engineer would do and made a pro/con list. Which I still have to this day. And it goes something like this:

PhD pros

  • It’s a better qualification, so better jobs could come out of it… in theory
  • Job security for 3.5 years… but on a lower wage, and (arguably) more work
  • Stipend is tax-free, still get student card, no council-tax
  • I know people who will still be at the uni, so lots of socialising
  • I like the sound of the research and it builds on my final project experience… but it is different in a lot of respects too… but that’s exciting… right?
  • It’s in collaboration with Sony BPRL… a reputable research firm who have a lot of faith in my abilities
  • Become a researcher in one of the fastest growing industries in the world
  • From my degree and dissertation results, it looks like I would be good in further research
  • I would probably not get an opportunity like this again

PhD cons

  • Would it make me overqualified?
  • It doesn’t pay as much as a graduate job (in the short term?)
  • There’s no guarantee of a job at the end of it
  • Would I be any good at research?
  • I could always choose to do a PhD later, but it wouldn’t be the same one and I might have more monetary commitments
  • Reserach potentially offers less day-to-day motivation because you can’t always see your ideas working in context like you can on a project
  • A PhD isn’t a golden ticket to a better life
  • Modern employers favor experience over education

I thought I’d post the list because I hope it will help someone out there who is stuck on what to do, God knows I was thinking about it for weeks – and all the possible permutations and reasons went around my head – but I ended up taking the long term road and choosing the PhD. A decision I sometimes question, but never regret. It gives me a lot of creative freedom, and that’s what I love about it.

Until tomorrow, take care, love you all x