Why I want to do a PhD

Inger Mewburn at The Thesis Whisperer asks what to say when asked “Should I do a PhD?”

The responses in the comments got me thinking about why I want to do my PhD. There are a whole variety of reasons given on the post for doing (or not doing) the doctorate. I think it must be a good idea to be honest with yourself (and probably others) about your motivations. I don’t think there can be one true motivation for doing it. We will have all sorts of reasons, some very instrumental or pragmatic, others much “nobler” or more intrinsic.

My motivations, as I am aware of them, are (in order!):
1. I want to build a career as an academic scholar because I love it and I think it makes a very fulfilling career. In order to do that I realistically have to complete my doctorate at the very least (a necessary but not sufficient condition!)
2. There is so much out there that I am interested in and want to read and digest and analyse. Doing a PhD gives me the time and purpose to do more of that. At the moment I am a hopeless generalist; the PhD would force me to narrow my focus and go deeper into a particular area of specialism rather than trying to keep up with loads of different areas of research
3. I would love to be a “Dr”! (I said I was going to be honest!)


Update: Well, I applied a few weeks ago to start a PhD. I’ve been accepted but “only” onto the MPhil at first, which of course I should have known, this is quite normal practice. So as of 1st Feb I should be enrolled on an MPhil, but I won’t be able to call myself a PhD student for several years, if ever! I think the MPhil will be quite enough of a challenge in itself.

I will continue to think about my motivations… :-)

I might post a summary of my initial research degree proposal at some point. It’s full of holes of course, but it’s a start.


8 thoughts on “Why I want to do a PhD

  1. hi

    this is by way of commenting on your phd decision.
    I Kant decide whether I think you should or shouldn’t do one.

    People in the playwork field (not me!) are, I detect, starting to fall out of love with university degrees in playwork.

    they are starting to question what exactly the playwork field gets from the universities.

    they are starting to question what exactly they, as playworkers, get from the universities.

    some say – ”well if I do a degree I’ll never have to pay it back because I’ll never earn enough as a playworker to have to so why not? 3 years at ‘yewni’ gerrin pist for free.“

    bet that makes the teaching staff feel fulfilled.

    some of the field thinks that ex- playworkers who went into university have sold out.

    (names often cited include the obvious,
    fraser brown, stuart lester, and the less obvious
    gordon sturrock, Chris taylor]

    I mention them purely as examples of ex-playworkers become uni teachers.

    now if a university lecturer is not an ex playworker, then the field would complain about teachers who don’t know playwork.

    so you can’t win.

    so which are you, Francis? or to put it another way – why do you teach on playwork courses?

    answer me that, then I can tell you whether you should

    do one.



  2. First it’s “Why do I want do a PhD?” and now it’s “Why do I teach on playwork courses?” Yikes.

    Well that’s a bit of a searching question, and I’m not sure how much of my answer is wise to post in public. I also suspect – sorry if I’m wrong about this – that you know the answer to your question already.

    I think there is a wider question implicit in your comment about the value of Higher Education generally. I’m convinced on this one, and quite happy to argue for the utility and value (two different things!) of a good university education. At Gloucestershire we challenge our students to engage with a variety of academic disciplines as well as with tools, ideas and theories that will help them to read, think and write critically about what they do and how they understand their professional work and how they understand the play of children. You know all this. So I’ll move on to your next point.

    I am in a very “interesting” position in that I only have a few years experience of yer actual playwork, and that experience, as well as being short, was not particularly intense or cutting edge in any case. However, I do feel that I ‘get’ playwork and I find the theories and poetics and dilemmas of it, as a way of being with children, absorbing intellectually as well as on a much more emotional, political and personal level. I’m not a total outsider, and I have no desire to change playwork or to see it co-opted into a wider children’s services or educational agenda. I generally think of myself as something of a purist in fact, as opposed to the more pragmatic views of some I have met; though actually the best purists I know are very pragmatic as well, so that opposition doesn’t strictly hold for me.

    If you see practice and theory as mutually supportive then you can’t seriously talk about people “selling out,” and I find it pretty depressing to see you writing about people like that. Just to add to Gordon Sturrock’s rather charmless tirade in Ip-Dip the other week, not that that is your fault.

    All my students have much more experience of being a playworker than I do, and I never try to hide that fact, though I regret not doing more playwork and keeping my hand in over the last few years. It’s a weird situation but it’s true.

    I hope that what I can give them is something extra to weave through their experience, by using all the tools and capabilities that I aim to bring to the job of lecturer.

    Play is of course absolutely fascinating as a phenomenon. Playwork is equally, if not more, so. Why wouldn’t I want to research and examine these things, given the opportunity?



  3. Hi

    Looking back over what I have drafted so far in response to your reply, Francis,

    (which I have preserved in a text file)

    I share your feeling that this blog is a bit public to be debating this.

    So I have copied and pasted to create a document we can use as a private blog discussion, containing all of the discussion comments so far, plus what I just now wrote and haven’t posted.

    if you want to, we could continue this in private. that would be good.

    we could then choose [jointly] what bits of it to make public on our blogs or whatever.

    Good idea? let me know. Then I’ll send you my 1500 word reply!

    Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year

    Best wishes
    Arthur Battram


  4. Hi Francis,

    I realise that by not posting a reply here, I might be leaving you with the impression that I am accusing individuals of selling out, and that I am being disagreeable.

    Let me assure you that is not the case.

    I am enjoying this discussion hugely in a spirit of positivity.

    hope that encourages you to take up my suggestion.

    Best wishes


  5. I rather assumed (always a dangerous thing to do – donkeys and all that) that your hydroponics post on your blog was the gist of what you wanted to say to me on this topic.

    Why do I want to “do” a Phud :-) ?
    Why do I want to “get” a Phud?

    (Just watching a formation of swallows fly past as I think about this. All relevant.)

    Well … and, forgive me, this, like everything I post on here, is provisional and probably full of holes (but if we waited till we knew, we’d rarely write anything… I write to discover and to represent where I am) … I don’t want to “get” a PhD, like I might want to get a cake from the cafe. If you could buy them, nobody would want them. (Actually you can, and some people would, but anyway. I have never seen the point of honorary degrees, bit like OBEs or … good old Fred Goodwin, or to give him his full title, Fred Goodwin).

    Do I want to “do” a PhD? And if so, why?

    Can I complete a PhD? I don’t know. Completing and defending a doctoral thesis is a challenge; “Because it’s there”? Perhaps. Would that be good enough? No?

    Do I want to “do” a PhD? And if so, why?

    I don’t know. I *think* I do.

    Do I want to stress myself out, damage my family relationships, my physical and mental health, experience doubt, despair and destitution? Well, no. But I am sure I will, as part of the process.

    Will “the process” also give me great highs, a chance to explore ideas, knowledge, and new places and perspectives, to talk to people, and to develop my skills in research and writing? Yes.

    Do I care about the product, the “membership card”, the extra letters before/after my name? The expected answer is “no.” My answer is “yes”.- I have to be honest about that. People can think what they will about that attitude. Of course it’s not solely or even primarily about that – see my comments earlier. The process has intrinsic and extrinsic value.

    So, I think that overall it will do me good. Will it do “the world” good? Will it “help children play”? Will it raise extra funding for employing playworkers or building playgrounds? Will it increase the overall happiness and well-being of the country?

    I doubt it. But it might be part of a network effect that does one or two of those things.

    I wonder what one does have to do in order for one’s research to be clearly worth anything, per se. Franklin, Crick and Watson might have a claim there, and a few others. But most don’t. Sigh.


  6. hi FB

    you hang in there don’t you? fair play to you sir.

    no my hydroponics pieces aren’t really about phuds,

    they’re about 2 things [mainly] I think:

    1. the disconnection (of playwork teaching in HE/FE from the work of playwork,
    2. the nature of playwork itself. – edge. if we accept that playwork is an ‘edge’ activity [discipline, whatever], then it looses its edge status as it moves into the mainstream [obviously and indeed, axiomatically, or at least definitionally]. I think I make this point in hydroponic 1, reasonably well.

    the northern dance orchestra (a bbc house band) on radio 2 once played a version of ‘saucerful of secrets’ by pink floyd. I heard rick wright talking about it and he added that they had also played all the bum notes.

    a different kind of mainstreaming to that practiced in local government EO practice.

    although I said, (in hydroponic 2 I think), that the disconnect will happen to anyone who is fulltime lecturring and zero playworking, I am being a bit glib – it is avoidable, with effort I suppose.

    in your case FB, I’m not seeing your phud as being majorly connected to playwork. I think it is possible for you to fashion an incredibly worthwhile piece of pure research for yourself, but as you imply, that may not connect much, in a governmenty outcomey way, to better play for kids on streets. I’m not that bothered, because as you have reminded me, pure research is worthwhile of itself and to paraphrase Mitchell: ” You don’t what it’s worth till it’s done“.

    Trouble is most research isn’t pure. and also let’s not confuse pure with ‘lone boffin in lab invents neat thing’. Watson and Crick and Franklin were one team competing in a race against 2 or 3 others. It might have been pure research but it mattered to a large scientific community. And the rules have changed hugely since then. The research councils [or whatever they’re called, I remember the good old ESRC] have been targetised a fair bit, and the chances are that if one did go off piste and discover some really neat stuff, it would turn out to be unfundable under the terms of one’s original sponsorship.

    So I’m not applying my hydroponic lattice to your phud particularily, because you aren’t making any claims for its relevance to playwork. remember you started this with your public doubting and uncertainty about the thing, and respec’ to you for doing so. I hate it when people want the right answer from me in training sessions. I love uncertainty in a thinker. ”… I write to discover and to represent where I am “ as you say.

    Me too – I used to do this in face to face discussions (when I had a proper job) and I miss all that. I started my blog as a way of thinking out loud [and collecting items for me scrapbook] and it’s sort of working for me.

    it would be nice if your phud could throw some light into the overheated debate about evil video games destroying our yoof debate, though, that would be of real benefit to all sorts of folk that work with junior humans.



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