Find a PhD: how to choose the right doctorate

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

Take your time

A doctorate is for life not just for Christmas, so avoid making rash commitments in the heat of the moment.
Don’t rush into it, but if you’ve been thinking about it for some time there is probably more to it than just the desire to be called doctor.
he idea of doing a PhD might have sneaked up on you or it might have been loitering with intent for a while.
One way or another you need to figure out how to move from “thinking about it” to “doing something about it”. It’s not that difficult, but it not necessarily obvious because you’ll need to understand how academics think.

Choose your quest

Choose a topic that genuinely fascinates you. This will sustain you in the bleak mid-winter of your doctoral quest.
Your doctorate has to be like a quest. It should be about something that you really, really want to figure out. That might seem straightforward but most people without a doctorate struggle to articulate their quest in a way that would get them a doctorate. Typically, applicants paint their quests with far too broad a brush. Something like :”I want to do a doctorate in strategy” or “I want to study social inclusion” can be simultaneously true yet woefully inadequate as a starting point for a doctoral proposal.
Doctorates are awarded on the basis of contributing something new to our existing knowledge base. Given that we have been researching and producing doctorates in management for decades and in the social sciences more generally for a lot longer, such novelty usually comes in modestly-sized packages. You’ll have to do some research in order to figure out what to research.

Try before you buy

Take multiple doctoral topics out for a first date then choose wisely. It’s a lifetime commitment.
Even if you don’t have access to a university’s library database, the wonders of GoogleScholar should allow you to dip into the literature and browse published research on the topic of your quest. Do this for four or five variants of your potential topic. Make sure to check that the academic version of your noble quest still intrigues you and that heavy research articles on the topic don’t bore you to tears. 

Mind the gap

Having chosen a broad area, identify a specific gap that is not yet fully explored in the literature. 
To pass your doctorate you will need to contribute new knowledge about your chosen topic. That means you need to be able to establish what is usually referred to as “a gap in the literature” -. something that has not yet been researched. You need to be able to articulate what previous studies have shown and use this as the means of pointing toward things that are not yet known. Helpfully, academic papers often conclude with a call for further research on something or other. This might be a useful starting point.
However, you shouldn’t rely on others to solve your problem. Whenever you read anything – an article, a book, a chapter or a thesis – write out your own summary of what they’ve told you and what you still don’t know.

Start with a researchable question

Avoid rhetorical questions or ironic provocations – make sure your question is clear, crisp and entitled to a question mark.
Good research questions help by (a) structuring your thinking and (b) suggesting ways of building a way of answering your question.

Imagine your ideal supervisor

Do you want somebody inspirational and argumentative but vague, or a highly-structured project manager who will nag you into submission?
A supervisor to supervisee relationship which will run for three years or more is fraught with potential problems and pitfalls. You don’t need to be best friends, but you do need a productive working relationship. This rest is at least as much on you and your preferences as those of a potential supervisor.

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