The pointlessness of a PhD

30cfcab04496fb568887fa49a3fa1962To get a PhD or not, that is the question…

I am an alumnus of ICT, Mumbai, formerly known as UDCT. Rated as India’s second best university, after the Indian Institute of Science. Eat your heart out, JNU!

The record in ICT for obtaining a PhD … is twelve years.

Twelve f***ing years to get a PhD.

I’d rather not name that unfortunate gentleman who took that long. I lost touch with him twenty five years ago. I do hope he is doing well. At the least, I hope he is still sane.

I was a student in ICT for seven of those twelve years, as I studied for my BPharm and MPharm. And I watched that hapless PhD candidate become a nervous wreck. He had started his PhD work when I was still in school, and he got that PhD degree long after I finished my master’s at ICT.

A considerable portion of my 30 year career has been spent in training PhD’s in the art of analytical chemistry. And I have been questioned many times about my lack of a PhD.

How come I do not have a PhD, although I train PhD’s for a living? I do not own a doctoral degree for a very simple reason – I do not need one.

There is a common misunderstanding that a PhD is a higher academic degree. It is not. A PhD is a degree of specialisation. A doctoral degree endorses an individual’s expertise in one specialised area of study.

That does not make that individual more intelligent than his non-PhD counteparts. On the contrary, most PhD’s in India demonstrate an inability to think beyond their specialised disciplines, and an appalling ignorance of matters outside their immediate field of study.

What is more appalling is their refusal to admit that ignorance. The PhD’s I’ve met in India lack the one quality that distinguishes a truly learned person. That one quality is – humility.

So. Is a PhD degree not worth the trouble?  That depends.

A PhD is a useful degree to have – provided you are clear about why you want it.

A friend from ICT once told me that he struggled for years to get a PhD only because he wanted to be respected in his field. That’s a silly reason to obtain a PhD. You are respected for your work. Not for your degree certificates. Another ICTian friend joined a PhD program only because he couldn’t get a good job. After five years, he got his PhD, but still couldn’t get a good job because he was now over qualified!

There are two and only two reasons why you would want to invest five or more years of your life in obtaining a PhD:

1) A PhD is a regulatory or mandatory requirement for progress in your chosen career. If you want to spend your life in academics or in a government research institute, you had better get yourself a PhD.

2) You are so passionate about your field of study, that you want to devote the rest of your life to it. And you don’t give a damn about how much money you make or what others think about you.

Passion is a good reason to get a PhD. For believe me, the going will be really tough. There will be days when you will ask yourself why the f*** you opted for a PhD. On those days, passion (or sheer pig-headedness) will carry you through.

If you are clear about why you want a PhD, and how tough it’s going to be, then there are two crucial questions you need to answer:

1) Who will pay for your PhD?

If you don’t get a government fellowship or if you have some self-respect and you don’t want to burden tax-payers (like me), you will have to fund it on your own.

If you’re single, and living with parents or in your own home, you will still need at least Rs.3 lacs per annum to maintain a decent lifestyle. And this does not include costs of chemicals, reagents, travel, thesis printing and other hidden costs.  That means you will need a guaranteed sum of about Rs.20 lacs to cover your PhD program – in India that is.

If you’re married, think twice about that PhD, unless you’re very rich or your spouse is. If you have even one kid, then forget about that PhD – as I did after my daughter Sanjana was born.

You simply cannot manage a family life and a PhD at the same time. You will screw up both. I’ve seen it happen several times.

2) Who’s your research guide?

Remember, he or she will own your life for at least five years. What happens if he (or she) turns out to be an utter asshole? Many research guides in India are just that. After three decades of interacting with virtually every major pharmacy institute in India, I think I know what I’m talking about.

Do your due diligence. Research your research guide thoroughly. Talk to his former students. Google him. Whatever. But do your homework. Do not be dazzled by his reputation or research publications or awards. You need to be very very clear that he will let you go in five years. If you doubt that, then drop him, no matter how famous he (or she) is.

So. If you’re very clear about why you want a PhD and how you will get it – and more important, what you will do after you get it, then go for it.

Otherwise, don’t. Just don’t.

Nothing will happen to you or your career. Success in your career depends on your hard-skills, your track record and most important, on your people skills. An arrogant PhD is a curse to his employer, no matter how competent he may be. No one is indispensable, especially a PhD with a swollen head.

Out there, in private-sector R&D and in the real world, no one cares about an erudite but pompous PhD who talks a lot and publishes a lot, but cannot deliver a single viable product.

Getting a PhD is like getting married. If you’ve married the right person, life will be great. Or else, you’re screwed for life.

Better to be single, and better to have a good Master’s than be screwed for life, no?

Cheers … SK Srinivas, MASTER of Pharmacy. (From India’s second-best university, mind you).


8 thoughts on “The pointlessness of a PhD

  1. I stumbled on your page while searching for something else, and am hooked!! I love the sense of humor in your posts!! As someone with a PhD and married to another PhD, I echo all your sentiments. Both my husband and I wish we hadn’t done a PhD and had started our life sooner. 🙂 BTW I did a PhD just to prove to family that I could. Now, I happily apply my research skills to home management and child care.


    1. Thank you for reading my blog and for your nice comments, Triyakshana. To tell you the truth, I envy you. I always wanted to move to the US or Canada – and obtain a PhD from a university just like yours. I had more than one opportunity to do so. Gave it all up to stay back in India and take care of my parents. Paid an enormous price for my refusal to leave India. Wife left me to marry an NRI, and took my daughter with her. Haven’t seen my daughter in fifteen years. I’m told she is pursuing a PhD somewhere in the US. Of course, my ex ensures that I can never contact my daughter or vice versa. But I’m happy that my daughter will obtain the PhD degree that I could not. One hopes she builds a good career in academics.

      My personal grief notwithstanding, my sense of humor is still intact, although it does manifest itself as sarcasm sometimes.

      Cheers … SKSrinivas, Bangalore.


  2. Nice writeup Srini ! Echoed my thoughts!! one reason why I stopped pushing for a PhD. Dont see the point in spending so many years with arrogant people just to end up with a nervous breakdown! Thank you for this writeup!


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