Why a PhD Makes Me Feel Helpful

Michele Ponzelli (ESR12)

If at the end of my master’s degree, they had asked me if I would prefer to continue my studies, I would have answered with a sharp no.

I felt that I had studied enough, and I wanted to finally put into practice what I had seen so far only in books. And yet, it did not turn out that way. I earned another master’s degree in North America and then embarked on the double PhD path in which I am now.

But then, you may be wondering, what made me change my mind?

Why should I go back to studying rather than trying a career in a company?

Especially during this period of uncertainty, in Italy, the so-called Neet (i.e., young people between 20 and 34 years old who neither work nor study) register a record percentage of 27.8%, the worst country in the EU.

In my home country, doing a PhD is not seen as a step that will secure you a fixed position or a coveted position, quite the opposite. For the industry, your skills will always be too high, and they will prefer to rely on a master student, rather than raise the compensation of the position offered. People will judge you as someone who hasn’t found a job. And once you completed it, you will find it hard to find a position while pursuing an academic career is almost impossible.

So why did I choose a PhD? What really motivated me?

I wanted to invest in myself.

After so many years of study, I realized that the only things you really have left are the skills and knowledge that only education can offer you.

An example?

Think of the ability to speak a new language. The knowledge of a different language opens up a whole world of new opportunities for you. Getting to know and understand different cultures closely and thinking differently, starting from the simple formulation of a sentence. This allows you to see the world from another point of view, adding something to your cultural background.

Knowing more words is not only useful to travel but to understand the world. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”.

Starting a PhD for me was a bit like being born again. Being curious to learn, typical of children who realize they have a world to explore in front of them, but they don’t know what fear is.

Recently, after nine months of PhD, I discovered another reason why I’m convinced that doing a PhD is an unparalleled experience.

When we become adults, we are at a crossroads.

Is it better to choose a well-paid and unsatisfactory job, or to risk and embark on a less rewarding but highly gratifying work or study experience?

We do not immediately understand which is the right choice, we know it only after we have made the choice.

Beginnings, in any direction, are full of euphoria. Then, however, the excitement goes down, and normality takes over: at that moment, you understand if the decision you have made is the “right” one.

In this way, if you have chosen a job just for financial compensation, you will discover that this is only a palliative. The real engine that moves us, what makes us stand up every day, is feeling useful: being part of something that can contribute to change society.

If the reason for the position you cover is in line with your inner purpose, you are in the right place.

But how do you figure it out?

First of all, we must be clear with ourselves: we have to look deep inside ourselves and understand what we really want. Then, once onboard, we have to ask ourselves: if I had the chance, would I go back?

But what is the real benefit of choosing a doctorate?

It provides you with a method of approaching problems that you can adapt to your everyday life. It allows you to refine your critical attitude, to look at things from different points of view, to not be hasty, to confront yourself, to understand the value of time.

For example, taking a civil engineering course not only teaches you how to design a street or house but helps you understand how your work can improve society. Writing a scientific article expands your glossary, allows you to build complicated periods, and articulate your thinking and research in the field, while smoothly linking them.

Likewise, a communication course not only teaches you marketing but also involves your relationships, your leadership, your values and principles.

To understand what is right to do in our lives, we need to identify our purpose. Each choice is unique, and the decisions made by others must remain an example rather than a path to follow.

When we make a choice for the future, we must always bear in mind that our job should not only give us economic stability. First and foremost, it must enable us to be useful to our community.

Picture source: https://unsplash.com/photos/AndE50aaHn4