Are you thinking of studying for a PhD within the humanities or social sciences?

As the highest academic degree granted by universities, undertaking study for a PhD is both rewarding and challenging.

Intelligence alone is not enough to reach the goal of successfully completing a PhD. Self-discipline, patience, ability to deal with criticism and setbacks, and strong motivation, are needed just as much. These capabilities will grow stronger with time, but it is crucial to be aware of the need to develop these skills from the beginning. At the same time, the period of your doctoral studies can form a very productive and rewarding time in your life. Besides becoming an expert in your field of study, you will learn a range of new skills and abilities. For example, you will learn to manage projects, to critically assess other research, to present your work in public, to recover from setbacks, to work independently and you will become part of an international network of scholars. Perhaps most importantly, you will learn to think critically, to solve complex intellectual problems, and you will become an expert in your field of study. There are several points you should consider before applying the right to pursue a doctoral degree:

1. Acquiring PhD degree is not only about writing a doctoral thesis. It also requires you to complete work that gives you study credits, and as importantly, you will need to take part in seminars, conferences and many other events that are formative to your becoming an independent researcher and learning to become a member of a research community. Research is social and public work, it is not simply isolated and individual work.

2. Doctoral studies are not a straight continuation from your master studies. You will have more freedom and accordingly more responsibility.  In addition, the main part of your doctoral studies consists of research and not taking courses. Research work is quite different from getting through exams and requires different levels of commitment.

3. Does a PhD fit your long term career plans? It has been calculated that only 10 % of PhDs can have a regular job at the university, but at the same time, the unemployment rate among doctors is lower than in any other educational background. The conclusion from this is that you cannot count on having a career as a university researcher or teacher; but you will improve your chances of regular employment.

4. For most PhD researchers, funding for doctoral studies is insecure and incomes are not very big, so be prepared for economic insecurity. Doctoral education is free in Finland but the costs of living can be relatively high. Information on living costs and other financial matters can be found here. Some information and links concerning funding can be found here.

5. How interested you are? It takes several years to finish a PhD project and you will very likely face setbacks, change of direction, have doubts and maybe even financial problems. Are you committed enough to push through in a reasonable time?

What next?

If you still think that PhD degree is for you after reading these cautionary notes, then here is what you should do next:

1. Try to get in contact with those who are currently doing PhD studies or have just defended their thesis and talk with them. There is an association for doctoral students, Helsingin Yliopiston jatko-opiskelijat ry, and it might be worthwhile to visit their Facebook page: Facebook page (see also their blog)

2. Get acquainted with the instructions offered by the doctoral programme you find suitable. Find a senior researcher who might become your supervisor. When you approach her or him, it is better that you have a tentative research proposal. You will find instructions on how to write a good research proposal from here (but be sure the check whether the specific doctoral programme you are interested in has got its own instructions).

3. Remember: it is not self-evident that you will be granted the right to pursue a doctoral degree. Your proposal has to be written clearly, it has to be possible to carry out your project in four years of full time work, there has to be good supervision available, and the number of rights granted per year is limited. Your application will be competing with other applications.