I am little confused about the goal of PhD in the middle of my PhD. I used to think that PhD is equal to Research but in the middle of my PhD I find out that it is much more than only research. It involves TA work plus some other academic work and research also. Before joining the PhD my goal was to publish something revolutionary during my PhD but I believe that PhD is a process in which you do three things ( according to my seniors )

  1. Work on some problem you find interesting
  2. Write and submit to some conference
  3. If rejected again submit after modification

This is a typical PhD process. The above three steps will help me to get me a PhD, but it does not let me make a significant contribution which will help in finding job after PhD (postdoc, etc.).

Question: What is the "goal" of the PhD? Is it more than the above three mentioned steps? How to ensure that at the end of PhD I will have something significant research contribution? Do I only need to worry about this or my research supervisor also?

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    My opinion: A Ph.D should evolve you into a professional researcher. Having a Ph.D is an indication that you can successfully understand a potentially large research topic to that amount, that you can contribute to it and keeping it "move forward". It also makes you the worlds best expert in a very small topic(your dissertation) Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 16:12
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    To that I may add that a PhD is your formal first step towards being an academic. Of course, some may (and many do) go to private industries but for a large number of PhD students - it is with this goal in mind.
    – MHL
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 16:40

4 Answers 4


A PhD is about research. Of course, there are some other things - for example, in some universities you have to take classes because it is assumed that they help you with your research. TA is - in the universities I know - necessary to get money. Some supervisors also see their PhD students as their assistants and assume they help them with things not related to the research (e. g. with teaching, without compensating the student).

The goal of a PhD is to write and defend a PhD thesis. If everything is done correctly, this implies that the PhD student has substantial knowledge about her subfield and has made a groundbreaking contribution (but the ground that she breaks may be small!) Moreover, the student should learn in her PhD to be a professional researcher. This includes things like publishing, going to conferences etc. Those are then the things a PhD graduate will be evaluated on if she applies for academic jobs.

Your supervisor should, of course, also help you to become a successful researcher. However, it she does not care about you, the only thing you can probably do is to change your supervisor. However, you being successful is also good for her career.

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    What did I do wrong? Please explain, downvoter!
    – Udank
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 16:27

The goal of a PhD is to make a contribution to the body of human research. This involves, not only doing the actual research, but reporting it, too. And it can involve verifying the research of others, because any real research should be verified by peer review.

Writing publications is the process by which research is reviewed and reported. A series of smaller publications is less risky than one big one, especially for a new researcher, but it is not unheard of to present all the work from your thesis in a single peer reviewed publication.

You cannot always do research in a vacuum. At the end, to have impact, someone must at least read the research. Your PhD will be judged on your novel contributions to your field and these will be that much stronger if they are peer reviewed and published (or in the process of such).

Answers The aim of a PhD is to make a contribution to research. It is more than having papers submitted (accepted), your papers should report the results of your research so your peers can review your contributions. Peer review will validate your contributions, ensuring their significance and correctness (or plausibility). It is YOUR research and it will result in YOUR thesis and YOUR contribution (or publication list). But I’m sure your supervisor will correct you or point you in the right direction if you go astray. As far as a job afterwards is concerned, academics are judged on their impact factor, which is often based on their publications. Some (industry R&D) places will use a PhD requirement to narrow down the candidate list and ensure the ability to understand complex problems and educate yourself.

In my field (Computing Science), I’ve seen some thesis where each chapter has been published as a paper: a review paper plus two or three experimental papers. I’ve seen another which resulted in a single journal paper covering most of the thesis, but if you spend years gathering a dataset, the major contribution is the dataset itself, not the publication that describes it (although that’s important, too). Some advice has been to view the thesis as a series of sprints rather than a marathon and "publish or perish".

  • The goal of a PhD is to make a contribution to the body of human research. — I disagree. The goal of a PhD is to learn how to make a contribution to the body of human research. The purpose of a PhD program isn't to produce research but to produce researchers.
    – JeffE
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 12:31
  • I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.. A successful PhD thesis will make a worthwhile contribution to research while developing the student as a researcher.
    – Pam
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 13:06
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    Of course, it's impossible to become a good researcher without doing good research. But it is possible to produce good research without developing the knowledge and skills and habits required to continue as a good researcher. The goal is not to make a painting, but to become a painter; not to win one race, but to become a runner; not to kill one bear, but to become a hunter.
    – JeffE
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 18:50

The goal of a PhD depends on who you ask. From your advisor’s perspective it is to prepare you be a competent, accomplished academic that will be competitive on the job market - including research, writing, mentoring, teaching, etc. But, this need not be your goal. Perhaps you plan to leave academia for industry. Perhaps you plan to take a teaching position.

The reason the above is important is that it gauges what ‘important contribution’ means. If your goal is to run a lab at Harvard, your contribution (publications) will have to be very high caliber (and probably numerous). But this need not be satisfied in order to earn the degree - your department will have minimum criteria; some don’t even require publication.

Assuming you wish to stay academic, how do you ensure ‘significant contribution’? By identifying holes in the literature you think you can fill, doing a strong study, and writing a persuasive article documenting it.

It would be nice if your advisor worried about this too, but the onus is mostly on you to push forward.


My experience so far being a PhD student is the following that somewhat attempts to answer your question "What is goal of PhD?"

  • It is first step towards starting a career in academics
  • It is far more than just publishing articles in conferences and journals
  • It is the degree which builds your team skills, time management skills
  • Teaches to learn to have patience
  • Teaches how to handle rejection
  • Reduces unnecessary egoism (or sometimes egotism)
  • Teaches to think and express in clearer fashion
  • At the end, provides the satisfaction at the end of the day (!)

I think you would find the book Advice to a Young Scientist by Peter Medawar useful.

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