Why do you study PhD?

Frequently, if not everyday, I receive emails inquiring position vacancy about MASc or PhD.  Some have very specific research targets, but a majority of them are mainly fishing emails, to which I rarely reply. 

Research position is always there, if you are good enough.  Seriously, if you are really good, even if I do not have research money right now, I will find research money for you.  So when you write, you need to tell me why you study PhD. 

By that, I do not mean to see only how you were inspired to do research.  You can mention it, but whether or not you are inspired can be told by how exactly you know the research problems you are interested in.  Therefore, instead of spending hundreds and hundreds of words explaining your childhood dream, it will fare better if you do a real adult’s talk, i.e., talk about the research questions you are interested in and how much you are prepared for it.  Some people would say, oh, I don’t know the questions; if I know, I don’t need your supervision.  This is a big misconception and let me explain to you why.

Have you heard this: Do not compute unless you know the answer?  Or similarly, do not do experiments unless you already have had a theory.  Analysis and research are the same.  We do not try blindly.  Similarly, if you do not have research questions in your head in advance, do not apply for PhD study.  

The reason is, research is all about passion.  If the research ideas do not come from yourself, but imposed by someone who is called a supervisor, chances are you would rarely enjoy it.  Even you can accomplish the job, it often takes you a long time to get the big picture.  Also, PhD study takes several years, 3 years, 4 years, 5 years, and even longer.  It can be torturing.  If you do not like the research problem and have no passion on it, at a certain point of the program you may start to dislike the work at first, your supervisor the second, and yourself — hopefully not.

So, when you inquire about research position, explain the research questions to justify why you would like to do a PhD study.

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