Still at Warwick: my reasons for choosing to do a PhD

Whether or not to study towards a PhD qualification is a big decision. A PhD demands a lot of hard-work, commitment, and motivation. What are some of the things to consider when thinking about whether to do a PhD? Manpreet Kaur shares some of hers.

I’ve wanted to do a PhD since my school days. When I settled on Chemistry during my GCSEs, I then had decided that I’ll do a PhD. I guess this was more to do with wanting to become a subject matter expert rather than anything to do with career related ambitions. I enjoy finding something I really like, and then reading around it and educating myself about it. To me, a PhD feels like the perfect route for this reason. I have found something I am interested in studying and playing with in the lab.

I like chemistry. I like my subject, understanding what is happening in the field, and knowing where chemistry is heading. I don’t always feel the smartest or most confident, especially now when I have only just started, but I like it, nonetheless. No wonder I am still at Warwick after doing my BSc and MRes here. I like Chemistry at Warwick, the people, the place, the subject, everything. I think Chemistry is the best degree, so diverse and yet one that brings many, if not all, other branches of STEM together to solve the big and small problems.

As I said, I did my MRes at Warwick. I also did a URSS project in my third year. My URSS project was in polymer chemistry, and so was my MRes (albeit in a different group). My PhD project is in physical chemistry, and very different from my MRes or URSS projects, but my time doing the URSS and MRes convinced me that I would enjoy research. I don’t have anything planned for what happens after this (and I don’t want to have to think about that until much later) but I think I am excited to see where this all goes.

Academia values reading and writing, and I enjoy both. A PhD isn’t just about the time spent in the lab for researchers. I like that I am required to read around and develop my written communication skills. A PhD isn’t just attractive to me for what it is as a qualification but a lot of my interests and strengths are compatible with the skills that are required for a PhD, and I get to develop the skills I personally value alongside, as I grow as a researcher.

I got a place! I’m grateful to my supervisor for taking me on. I got very interested in nitrogen-related chemistry due to its ties to fertilisers, agriculture, food security and climate change. I’m not saying this is what my current project focuses on, but nitrogen is front and centre in my project and I am very excited about this. I don’t want to present my project as 100 per cent green without fully deciding on what I am doing and how sustainable are all the components that go into the system, but I am looking at harvesting the sun’s energy to drive chemical reactions, and so clean energy certainly is a theme. Having my project tied to my interest in sustainability is something that my PhD has enabled me to do. I don’t know if I could have gotten this elsewhere, but I know I am getting to do this here.

I guess the advice I would give is if you are considering whether you want to do a PhD, consider your strengths and interests and whether they align with the demands of a PhD project. Is there anything you’re very interested in? Would you like to go away for a few years and do a PhD once you know what you want to do? Reflect upon your undergraduate experience. Research culture and lifestyle is very different to the demands of timetabled lectures, assignments and grades. There is a lot more independence, and teamwork, at the same time, and therefore responsibility as well. I am still learning though, so it is definitely not something you’re expected to be perfect at from day one. What matters is whether this is what you want. But even if you’re not 100% sure, it’s also OK as we often figure this out along the way, and a PhD is a life and educational experience which definitely helps in whatever career we choose. Good luck!

What are some of your reasons for choosing to do a PhD?… Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at libraryblogs@warwick.ac.uk, or leave a comment below.

by Manpreet

Manpreet Kaur is a first year PhD student in the Department of Chemistry. She has been at Warwick since 2016, and did her BSc and MRes here. Her research project focuses on the design of photoelectrocatalytic systems for the synthesis of nitrogen containing compounds. You can follow her on Twitter here and further details about her project and background can be found here.

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