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Studying a PhD vs. working at a company

Once you finish your master's program, should you continue your education and enroll in a PhD program or should you enter the labor market right away? In order to help you decide which path to take, we asked Virgilio Hermoso, a researcher who studied his PhD degree in Europe, to share his experience and knowledge about studying a PhD. Virgilio has been working on conservation and rehabilitation planning on freshwater ecosystems over the past years. However, you may apply his experience to any type of research subject you might be interested in.

Question: Virgilio, could you please explain to our audience what subject was your PhD about and why did you decide to undertake your research within that field?

Answer: After finishing my degree on Environmental Sciences I decided to do a master on Conservation Biology to complete my formation on this particular field that I was especially interested in. These studies opened a new door that I had not considered before, which is focusing my interest in conservation on research. I decided to focus my PhD on freshwater ecosystems given the traditional lack of attention that from a conservation point of view these systems have received. Freshwater ecosystems hold an incredible proportion of the World´s biodiversity but it is also one of the most threatened. This fact turned on the light on me, and I ended up doing a PhD on the “assessment of the ecological status and conservation planning for Mediterranean rivers”. When you start a PhD you think that you will save the world or fix the humankind problems, and somehow you do it. Solutions to big problems can only be faced by small contributions. Out of that PhD we developed a new method that could help monitor the ecological status of Mediterranean rivers and enhance the biodiversity they contain.

Q: What do you think are the advantages of studying a PhD?

A: I enjoyed being a PhD student, probably because of my enthusiasm for what I was doing. It allowed me to continue to develop new skills, which I think are valuable not only for the academic world, but also for future jobs. During the PhD I also had the opportunity to meet lots of people from all around the World, visit other Universities and learn from their experiences on my field. Overall, I think that the PhD let me feel personally fulfilled while keep advancing in my career. I decided to keep enrolled in research due to my personal conviction, but many of friends and colleagues got employed by private companies that valued their excellent knowledge and skills after finishing their PhDs.

Q: Now, what do you think are the disadvantages of studying a PhD?

A: Not everything on a PhD is so great. There are bad moments and finishing it requires lots of effort and personal commitment. As many others, the academic environment is highly competitive, and it demands time and dedication (I guess that anyone else working on any other field could say exactly the same, though). Unfortunately, there are also deep differences in the opportunities and the social consideration of research across Europe, which makes devoting your career to research a bit frustrating depending where you decide to do it. Finding funds for your research is not an easy task sometimes, which may force you move to a different country (or even continent as in my case!).

Q: What would you recommend to a student who is thinking about whether to study a PhD or work in a company?

A: I think that knowledge is an invaluable resource that sooner or later will help you achieve your personal goals, especially in these days. There is not a single way to get that knowledge, and a PhD is just one of the many of them that you could choose. If you feel really attracted for research, this is yours for sure.