I'm thinking about pursue my studies and doing a PhD in information technology. My problem is that I would like to create something new (== write code), and focus my thesis on how this new technology works (each component and global interactions), what it can do, and how it can evolves / be improved.
I'm not against doing research, reading books and work on theory - but I want to be more practical than theoretical.

I'm starting to think that a PhD is not a valid option if my goal is to develop something new instead of conducting pure research. Am I wrong ?

About my cursus: I will receive my master degree soon (~= 3 months). I come from a highly technical background, with 5 years of programming and project management.

Edit & more information
My university doesn't offers PhD courses, thus my supervisor don't care about my choices. Another consequence is that I have no other choices than to go to another university.

  • @EnergyNumbers My university doesn't offers PhD courses, thus my supervisor don't really care about my choices... About the why I want a PhD: I like to learn and to stay awake the whole night trying to understand why things doesn't work and how to improve them. I also like to teach. Working in the industry is not exciting.
    – JPC
    May 29, 2015 at 9:18

3 Answers 3


To be awarded a Phd, you can't just build something: there has to be some sort of novel research component. PhD's are all about asking (and answering!) questions, not just engineering solutions to a problem.

However, there is absolutely nothing wrong with creating something new as a part of your PhD, so long as it helps you answer a research question. For example:

  • Does this algorithm improve the speed/reliability/accuracy with which this data can be proccessed compared to existing techniques?

  • Does this new collaborative learning tool improve a student's ability to learn a language compared to working individually?

  • Does this new system for visualising a data structure affect the way in which users perceive/engage with it?

Note that these are far too broad to be used in practice, but they might give you an idea of the types of questions that can be asked.


Yes, a PhD can in principle be based upon practical work. For example, some people study laboratory-based chemistry. However, it's all stuff that no one has tried before, and there is usually some significant work to do in order to model and understand what we see. That is the crux of a PhD: do new stuff. Whether your PhD is just crunching equations, or throwing stuff into a vacuum and then figuring out what on earth just happened, it doesn't really matter.

Your idea sounds (at least to a complete non-expert) to be far too broad, and I'm not sure it's very novel. This is what a PhD is like. If you think you can do that, start by talking to a few professors in your department. You may not end up working for them -- and it's often a good idea to do your PhD at a different university -- but you know them, they know you, and you should get some solid advice.

  • I understand the problem about how I explained my idea in my question, and it has been edited ( I didn't want to go out of subject by describing my thesis project here).
    – JPC
    May 29, 2015 at 9:05
  • "My supervisors don't care" – does that mean they don't even want to give you advice!? Unless they actually feel unqualified (i.e. what you want to do is too far outside their field of expertise), that seems rather unprofessional.
    – Moriarty
    May 29, 2015 at 10:23

What you've described doesn't sound like what my institution would consider a PhD. Or even research. And a PhD is a research degree. As is an EngD, so it's not that either. There are some doctorates that are given for a portfolio of original work, such as the DSci : a decade or two or world-class work in your portfolio might get you that.

If you're deadly serious about developing the theoretical grounding of how it works, what it can do, how it can be extended, then that make up a doctorate.

But it's probably worth stepping back and asking why you want a further degree at all. From what you've written, it sounds more like you just want to write code and document it.

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