PhD as a selfish project

PhD is a selfish project. How come it isn’t? You think for yourself, you write for yourself, you read for yourself. All is devoted to the production of the final, ‘sacred’ document that you need to defend in the end—by yourself.

PhD is also about self-indulgence. You do what you like in the way you like. The supervisor reads and comments on your work for your own good. Your colleagues support you for your own good. As long as you accomplish the work.

Other jobs work for other people. A chef cooks for others, a driver drives for others, an auditor audits for others, and a designer designs for others. A PhD, however, works for him- or herself.

In fact, PhD has more similarities with artist. A pure, non-commercial artist, to be precise. An artist draws as a self-expression, as something that he loves doing even though no one would benefit at the time of creation, as something the he knows he must do even though he doesn’t know if he will make money out of it.

Well, that’s where PhDs differ from artists. PhD students know that there is money in return for doing the work (through salary, scholarship). Or that they even have to pay for it (the tuition fee).

Or maybe, the value of doing a PhD should not be compared to other jobs; that PhD is (still) something in the category of ‘student’. In other words, PhDs—like students—should not be expected to contribute anything during the process; that their highest value is in the learning as much as they can. But let’s imagine if a PhD is like a bucket in the process of filling. Isn’t there anything from the bucket, while in the filling process, that can be shared to others? Or should we wait three to four years later before we, the rest of us, can learn anything. If at all.