Why am I doing a PhD?

It is often good to remember the reasons for doing something. It might be helpful during the process of doing it and in times of doubts. So, an important question for all of us ArcTrainees – and for all other PhD students out there – should be: Why am I doing a PhD?

Well. My boyfriend says that I am doing the PhD because it was the easiest way after finishing the Master program. You might be confused about labeling a PhD as an easy way: A PhD is a lot of things, but easy is not one of them. Still, there is something right in his way of thinking. What he actually wants to say is that, at least at first sight, the difference from studying at university is not that big. Again, there is a fixed period at – or at least closely-related to – the university, which will end with a written thesis to get a higher educational degree. Like it was in the Master program, and in the preceding Bachelor program. Doing a PhD is not a decision for a total change in life. It is close to what I did before.

Talking to my boyfriend was not the only encounter of this question. I was also asked this in several job interviews for PhD positions. When I was asked this for the first time, I directly realized that “because it is nice to have another three years fixed in what I am doing without deciding to leave university” might not be the appropriate answer in this situation. Actually, I also don’t recall the exact answers I gave during the job interviews since they are already a couple of months ago. But it also doesn’t matter. What matters is how I would answer the question to myself. My honest answer should be my motivation for at least the next 3 years that I’ll spend as an ArcTrain PhD student.

I am fascinated by nature and the world’s oceans and I want to learn more about them!
(Credits: Franziska Tell)

My biggest motivation is my high fascination of the complexity of the Earth system and my addiction to learn as much as I can about it. The more I learn, the more fascinated I am. And there might be no better time for learning than a PhD. Of course, during studies at university, you also learn quite a lot. But there, learning is limited to a set curriculum. As a PhD, I can decide on my project on my own. I can focus on a topic I am really interested in, and I can guide it towards directions that seem to be appropriate to me. I get in touch with a lot of scientists working on different topics since years and decades. So, I can learn a lot from them. About the Earth. About science. About how to do research.
Actually, I can already see this right now. I just started my PhD less than 3 months ago, and I already learned so much about the Ocean, the Arctic, foraminifera (tiny protists forming shells of calcite that either drift in ocean water or live at the ocean floor – at another time, I might give you much more details on them) and a lot of other exciting things.

I very much enjoy laboratory work – in combination with work in front of the computer.
(Credits: Franziska Tell)

After hours in the lab, after hours of reading various papers, I will hopefully be able to discover something new. I have the hope that for me, the PhD is not only the chance to learn about the Earth and its climate, but also to contribute to the present knowledge and help other people to learn about it.

Strictly connected to this is my concern regarding climate change. Reading about predicted changes, thinking about what might happen in the future, can be really depressing. Becoming active in a way of doing research, understanding changes, and communicating about it, seems helpful to me when being confronted with those concerns.

But my motivation is not only connected to all that theoretical stuff. It also has some very practical sides. The life of a PhD student is a very versatile one. In my field of study, it is not restricted to sitting behind the computer. Laboratory work is necessary. It might be necessary to go to the field. I will finally get the possibility to visit places I have never been before, like the Arctic Ocean, a part of the world I am also strongly fascinated by. I will finally see sea ice and arctic species with my own eyes, and not just in pictures and video clips.    

Last but not least, being a PhD student is the only possibility if you want to become a scientist. It is a necessary step on the career path in this field. I don’t know yet if I want to stay in science after finishing my PhD. But since I have not decided that up to now, doing a PhD is more than just a good thing to do for me.

And right now, I feel like being absolutely at the right place.

Franziska Tell

About Franziska Tell

PhD student from the 3rd ArcTrain cohort, working on planktonic foraminifera and the carbon cycle in the Arctic Ocean. @GruenEisBaer on twitter & instagram

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