PhD Student Meaning – What does it mean to be a PhD Candidate?

Obtaining a PhD degree is considered the highest level of academic achievement one can reach.

However, the journey to becoming a PhD candidate is not only about the intellectual pursuit; it can also involve a deeply personal and transformative experience that shapes an individual’s character, resilience, and passion.

The process of earning a Doctor of Philosophy often requires a significant amount of time, commitment, and sacrifice, as well as the ability to navigate the complex landscape of academia.

In this article, we delve into the essence of being a PhD candidate, shedding light on the unique challenges, triumphs, and personal growth that accompanies this rigorous journey, and offering a glimpse into the myriad ways it shapes the lives of those who undertake it.

What does it mean to be a PhD student? What to expect when you become a PhD candidate

A PhD student is someone who is pursuing a doctoral degree and conducting research in their field of study.

In addition to conducting research, PhD students may be involved in teaching and assisting in their department.

On a daily basis, PhD students may spend time:

  • analyzing data,
  • conducting experiments and original research, 
  • writing research papers and doing coursework (US degrees)
  • attending seminars, conferences, and meetings
  • teaching

To become a PhD student, one needs to have completed undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and have demonstrated strong study skills.

I want to share some unique insights into what it means to be a PhD student from my doctorate. 

I graduated with a PhD in Chemistry from an Australian university back in 2011, and although my experience was fantastic, there are five things I wish I had known before embarking on this journey.

  1. The relationship with your supervisor is crucial. A compatible and supportive supervisor can make your PhD experience enjoyable, whereas a mismatch can make it a struggle. So choose wisely.
  2. Academia is highly competitive. Not only will you face competition within your research group, but also externally, as the academic system rewards peer-reviewed papers, H-index, and even sometimes involves gaming the system to get ahead.
  3. The importance of peer-reviewed papers cannot be overstated. They ultimately determine the success of your academic career. The pressure to publish has significantly increased over the years, making it essential to be aware of this reality.
  4. Grant funding is another critical aspect of academia. Your career success, as well as job security, will heavily rely on your ability to secure external funding for research. Unfortunately, this can be difficult to obtain and may not always correlate with your skill level or qualifications.
  5. Finally, the uncertainty of outcomes in a PhD can be anxiety-inducing. Unlike undergraduate studies, a PhD requires continuous persistence and working towards goals with constantly shifting goalposts. Developing strong project management skills and self-motivation is crucial.

Being a PhD student can be both challenging and rewarding. Before starting your PhD, take the time to understand the supervisor and the academic culture you’re entering.

And remember, persistence and self-motivation will be your best allies on this exciting journey.

What does PhD stand for exactly? What is the origin of PhDs?

The etymology of “PhD” traces back to the Latin term “Philosophiæ Doctor.”

Breaking down the term:

  1. Philosophiæ: This word comes from “philosophia,” which itself is derived from the Greek words “philos” (meaning love) and “sophia” (meaning wisdom). Together, they translate to “love of wisdom.” In its early usage, “philosophia” referred to the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom across various disciplines, not just philosophy as it is known today.
  2. Doctor: The word “doctor” is derived from the Latin verb “docēre,” which means “to teach.” In this context, “doctor” signifies someone with the highest level of expertise in a particular field, qualified to teach others.

So, “Philosophiæ Doctor” or “PhD” signifies a person who has achieved the highest level of expertise in their field, embodying the love of wisdom and knowledge and being qualified to teach others.

Though the term’s origins are rooted in philosophy, it has since expanded to encompass various academic disciplines.

Who makes the best PhD Student for Doctoral Studies?

A PhD student is an individual enrolled in a doctoral degree program, working towards obtaining the highest academic degree in their field of study. They have typically completed undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and are now engaged in research, writing dissertations, and possibly taking on teaching responsibilities.

Personality types that may thrive in academia include:

Personality TypeDescription
Analytical ThinkersEnjoy delving deep into complex problems, possess a natural inclination towards critical thinking and problem-solving
Curious LearnersHave innate curiosity and passion for learning, constantly seek new information, eager to expand their knowledge
Perseverant IndividualsPossess determination, resilience, and a strong work ethic, more likely to succeed in challenging situations
Organized PlannersEffective time management and organizational skills are crucial for juggling various responsibilities
Self-motivated AchieversProactive and disciplined, work independently and set their own goals and deadlines
Effective CommunicatorsStrong written and verbal communication skills are essential for presenting findings and engaging with others

    It is important to note that while certain personality types may be more inclined to thrive in academia, anyone with the right motivation, dedication, and passion for their field can succeed as a PhD student.

    The journey towards obtaining a doctoral degree requires persistence and commitment, but it can be a rewarding path for those who are truly driven to contribute to their field of study.

    Wrapping up – What PhD admission means for you.

    Being a PhD candidate involves a transformative journey that not only expands one’s knowledge but also shapes their character, resilience, and passion. Pursuing a doctoral degree demands significant time, commitment, and sacrifice.

    A PhD student is engaged in research, writing dissertations, and possibly teaching. Success in a PhD program requires analytical thinking, curiosity, perseverance, organization, self-motivation, and effective communication.

    However, anyone with the right motivation, dedication, and passion for their field can succeed in obtaining a PhD.

    Before embarking on this journey, it’s crucial to understand the supervisor and academic culture, as well as the importance of peer-reviewed papers, grant funding, and project management.

    The pursuit of a PhD can be challenging yet rewarding, as it paves the way for making original contributions to one’s field of study.

    The Author

    Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.