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My answer to: "Why are you doing a PhD?"

My answer to: "Why are you doing a PhD?"

If you asked me two years ago where I would be now, I never in a million years would have said sitting at my desk every week day reading journal articles and writing a proposal for an 80,000 word thesis. But guess what? That is exactly what I am doing and even crazier – I enjoy it! 

Let me get back on track… to answer ‘why a PhD,’ I have to go back to the source of ‘why psychology.’ When I was choosing my year 11 subjects at school I had one spot to fill and it was actually my wonderful mum that suggested psychology. I absolutely loved psychology in both year 11 and year 12 and dreamed of being a clinical psychologist (at this point, that was all I thought psychology was). So, when I was offered my first choice at university – a Bachelor’s of Psychology (Honours) – that was what I went off to study.

The question – What do you want to be when you’re older – sends shivers down the spine of many high school students. However, for me it was worse - all through my last year of high school I knew what I wanted to do. It was not until I started studying psychology that doubt arose and I genuinely could no longer answer that question. Did I want to be a psychologist? A teacher? A journalist? All these options crossed my mind, so much so that I was going to transfer into journalism in my second year at university. But once again my mum had sound advice, suggesting that I stick with psychology for at least the first semester of my second year (the consensus was that my second year at university was much more interesting).

I am so grateful that I listened to my mum’s advice. I loved my second year in psychology and came back around to the idea of being a clinical psychologist. I still had no idea that research was an option. I actually remember sitting in a lecture presented by my now supervisor (a conservation psychologist) in my second year. I admired her and her job researching animal behaviour and humans’ influence on the environment (I had always loved animals). But, for whatever reason in my mind her job was neither attainable nor realistic.

Fast forward to the start of Honours year, when students have to choose a research topic for their thesis, I was still in the mindset that I would eventually go onto complete my Master’s and become a practicing psychologist. But when I looked over all the research options I kept gravitating towards the conservation psychology topics. I vividly remember standing in my kitchen trying to decide which topic I should choose as my first option (as I was thinking clinical-related topics would be most beneficial) when I realised something really obvious. The reason I was hesitant to choose a conservation psychology topic was because I thought that it was a cop-out (I thought choosing a topic that I would find fun and enjoyable was a cop-out). How stupid! I realised then that this is the exact reason why I had to pursue conservation psychology, the words of Marc Anthony ringing in my ears - “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Going on to start a PhD became an obvious next step. Starting my Honours degree opened up the world of research and I realised that pursuing a career in research and academia combines the three careers I was tossing up in my first year: psychology, teaching and journalism with my personal passions for animals and conservation (funny how the world works out, huh!).

So, I guess my main takeaway message is that if you ever feel that what you are doing in your life is a cop-out because it is ‘fun’ and you ‘enjoy’ it, then never, ever give that up!


Brianna Le Busque (@BriannaLeBusque) or Dr. of What is a PhD candidate in Conservation Psychology. This story was published on June 1, 2016, on Brianna's blog 'dr.ofwhat?' (available here), and has been republished here with her permission.

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