The PhD Manifesto
I’m leaving HIVERY to pursue a PhD in computer science, concluding a nearly 2 year engagement starting from an internship one seat to the left of where I sit today. I’ve been immensely privileged to have been afforded the opportunity of working at HIVERY - it is rare for a graduate to become a product lead in no less than two years. It has been a fun ride and I will miss it very much.
Yet at this moment it is a decision I am happy to make. This decision is supported by a multitude of factors.
I am dissatisfied with my current trajectory. Don’t get me wrong, I love the people I work with. The problems are relatively interesting from a technical perspective. The client is engaged and active in supporting our development. Unfortunately, I have no great love for the industry I work in. The FMCG industry contributes negatively to the environment (especially the waste created by single-use containers), and is a neutral contribution to human health (most beverages are unhealthy, but I contend that they still provide happiness at minimal health cost when consumed responsibly). I feel that I could be doing more with my current skillset to improving society at large.
I want to pursue research in an area that interests me. I have chosen healthcare as my field of choice moving forward, for two primary reasons. Firstly, I believe that healthcare contains many interesting and unsolved problems which will be intellectually satisfying to solve. Such intellectual rigor is something that I feel is essential for the day-to-day enjoyment of my future profession, regardless of the moral status of the job. Secondly, the problems I hope to be solving will have applications to problems which impact the livelihoods of people. Solving these problems will help improve the quality of life of society in a (probably indirect) fashion through improved quality of healthcare. Thus, healthcare is a field which is both intellectually and morally satisfying.
This decision is robust to whether or not I stay in academia. I recognise that academia is not the profession it used to be. Whilst I would like to work as an academic in the areas of healthcare, the odds are stacked against me, since there are simply more PhDs than such positions. The life as a tenure track academic will demand significant sacrifices in other areas of life (my personal health, relationships). Therefore, it is necessary that I am prepared for both industry and academic careers after any future study. The PhD I am pursing is in a field that is currently in high demand, and with luck will continue to be in high demand for the next 5 years. I hope to develop contacts within the healthcare industry that will enable me to pivot towards an industry focussed career if I so choose.
I want to work on myself. The PhD is an opportunity for me to develop myself intellectually. Working in industry does not offer the same, because the pressure in industry is to produce output. At present, I believe that at the conclusion of my PhD I can return to industry to continue where I have left off (subject to developing as a software engineer) and continue for the rest of my working career. Taking five years to fulfill a personal ambition is justified for the personal growth it will deliver.
Of course, such a decision comes with a cost. The detractions are:
Financial impact. It is possible that the return on investment on my PhD will not recover the lost income in the intervening 5 years. If I stay in academia, this is almost certainly the case. If I return to industry, I have judged that a PhD in machine learning is still necessary to progress career-wise, so it may open doors that would be closed with only a bachelor’s, making the impact less clear. At present, the financial impact is a trade I am willing to make.
Mental health. Graduate school is notorious for its deleterious effect on mental health. Students are placed under significant pressure to perform, are away from friends and family (especially if they have moved for grad school), and will be conducting research (which is beset with difficulties and failures). I will be taking steps to ensure that I can complete my degree without any impact to my mental health.
Lifestyle opportunity cost. By choosing a PhD, I have elected for a a more difficult and less comfortable life. Staying in industry would be less intellectually stimulating, but would provide more space to develop in other areas of life. I will be taking steps to ensure that I continue developing in all areas of life throughout the PhD.
I hope to revisit these statements as I progress through my PhD, to ensure that it still aligns with my vision.