The PhD degree is the highest academic degree that a person can get in a higher institution of learning. It is usually a research-driven study that gives whoever achieves some set skills as well as a title. People get the PhD degree for reasons best known to them. For some, it is to enhance their career progression. This is especially common among people who teach in the universities. I have a common way I call people who are in universities without that degree. I call them “apprentice”. This is because no one accords them any respect either for their brilliance or hard work. Even, with the best of ideas, you are not duly respected.
In Nigeria, as it is likely to be in other climes, there is a certain level that one can rise to within a university system without a PhD. This accounts for why it is a matter of life and death for people in the academics to secure that degree. However, some other people choose to do a doctorate degree to earn skills and learn about initiating and executing a research project. Some do it for the title. They never have the intention to use to teach or research. They just want to be addressed by the title. To confess, there is a kind of self-fulfilment that comes with holding that degree! A larger number of people in Nigeria opt for a PhD because of the high rate of unemployment in the country. It is a common thing to see people go for their Master’s programme immediately after the first degree and then proceed to a doctorate. It is widely believed that when you earn a PhD, you have earned yourself a career insurance. And when one looks at the rate at which universities are springing up in Nigeria from both government and private owners, it might sound impossible that one will earn a PhD without having a job. Just like a source succinctly put it, there should not be a useless doctorate degree! Yet, holding a PhD is not an exclusive preserve of people in the academia. There are independent researchers who are in Research and Development sector who equally hold the degree.
For me, joining the race for a PhD was to advance my career. I have always loved teaching. And I “rose through the ranks” from being a primary school teacher pre admission for first degree to becoming a teacher in the university. That is why I tell people there is no level of education I have not taught in Nigeria. There was once a time that it would be difficult for me to visit any tertiary institution in the South West without meeting a student I had once taught. I found it easy to gravitate towards teaching after my first degree. I spent the first four years post first degree teaching and molding the younger generation in a secondary school. I also enrolled for a Master’s degree. So, when I was beginning to feel some kind of internal frustration, I quit. But, not without an M.A! My PhD journey started just with a phone call from my undergraduate class representative, Moshood Ajibola. In a nutshell, I had first and second degree and I knew going for a PhD would enable me get a job in a university. Did I? Yes, I did. My admission letter in 2013 was part of the consideration for my employment in that same year. A PhD is a good investment. It gives a candidate so many skills – research skills, project management skills, analytical skills, critical thinking skills, internet searching skills, human relationship skills. So many skills that you will not remain the same again after passing through the process!
Starting a PhD is as difficult as finishing the programme especially within a developing country context. What makes the commencement of the programme difficult is the choice of where to start from. For some universities, a PhD candidate begins with some coursework. For others, it is purely research. Selecting a working topic or problem to be investigated is usually an issue. In our context, a candidate may spend two years looking for a researchable topic. Understandably, arriving at a working topic might be an issue because a candidate has to look at the length, breadth and depth of what to do. While some candidates look for fundable topics, others would want to continue with their previous research work at Master’s level. However, whatever the choice is, it is critical to understand that any topic selected has to align with the proposed supervisor’s competencies, research interest and passion. My own supervisor has said that a good PhD is a combination of a good working topic, a competent and passionate supervisor and a hardworking candidate. I agree. Do you?