The number of PhDs has been exceeding the available academic positions since as early as the mid-1990s.
The number of Australian PhD graduates reached around 10,000 a year in 2019, twice as many as in 2005.
However, the number of PhDs has been exceeding the available academic positions since as early as the mid-1990s. In 2020, universities purged around 10% of their workforce due to the pandemic, and many university careers are still vulnerable.
Given these statistics, you might wonder if doing a PhD is still a good idea. Based on our discussions with PhD holders, there are still plenty of very good reasons, which is good news in 2021.
In June 2020 we interviewed 12 PhD holders from multiple disciplines for our podcast Career Sessions to investigate the question: why do a PhD?
Why do a PhD?
The PhD is a mechanism for developing high-level research skills, learning about rigours of science or the development of theory. It sets you up with project management, problem-solving and analytical skills that are meaningful within and beyond academia.
“It just taught me all those transferable skills, project management, and also now starting businesses. I'm amazed at how close starting a business is to doing a science project." – Dr Andy Stapleton
For our interviewees, the PhD is an opportunity to dive deeply into a topic they are passionate about. They also considered contributing new knowledge to be a privilege. The process taught them to be better thinkers, critical thinkers, and to view the world through new eyes.
“The mental fitness to work at a high level, to be able to think at a high level, to be able to write it […] The topic is less important." – Dr Gareth Furber
The PhD is a voyage of discovery to a better understanding of how things work. It gives them a credible platform from which their voice can be heard and respected, and they can contribute to change.
“I think it's definitely like a springboard or something. It launches you into a whole other place and it gives you […] more of a voice. It's a political act for me. It's about making change." – Dr Elizabeth Newnham
The PhD is a tough and sometimes painful journey, but ultimately rewarding. The extraordinary was tempered by frustration, and the experience shaped their lives, increasing self-confidence and leading to new self-awareness.
When asked whether they would they do it again, no-one hesitated in saying “yes".
“You will never stretch your brain in a way that a PhD forces you to." – Professor Kate Douglas.
The PhD is not necessarily a golden ticket to an academic career, but the experience and skills you develop will be meaningful for your future.
“What I'd done in my PhD gave me a lot broader sense than just my own personal experience. There were a lot of people that have heard me speak and a lot of that's been informed by the PhD. So it might not be direct, but it's informed who I am." – Dr Susan Close
Advice from our guests
Keep both your eyes and your mind open. Pick a topic you are passionate about. Speak to people both within and outside academia to find out where this could lead. Think about whether you actually need a PhD to get to where you want to be.
You'll have to make some judgement calls about how a PhD can fit into your life.
And find the right supervisor! They are the most important relationship you will have throughout your candidature, and they are a solid reference for what comes next. Finding the right supervisor will always enhance your PhD experience.
A PhD isn't right for everyone. Ask yourself, is it the right time for you and your research interests? Are you resilient? Mental health among PhD students is poor.
Our podcast guests have witnessed PhD students' struggles. The pathway of a PhD candidate is not linear. There are many ups and downs. You will meander in many unplanned directions and often take wrong turns.
When you have completed your PhD, the hard work is really just starting. It is a gateway, but there are a lot of PhDs out there. It is what comes next that really counts.
“It's a gateway. You're learning how to do research. But if you really want to be successful afterwards, you need to apply that, and be diligent about that as well, and have a good work ethic." – Dr Mark Krstic
A PhD in any field is an achievement. Even the most niche topics will contribute knowledge to a field that is important for many people. The reward is intrinsic and only you can identify how doing a PhD will contribute to your life. It gives you a great toolkit to identify the doors that are appropriate for you.
“The first paper was the most exciting thing. […] at that time I thought of papers as like a version of immortality. My name is on something that will last forever. I think this is my legacy." – Dr Cameron Shearer
Guests of Career Sessions podcast and what they are doing now. Author provided.
Tamara Agnew, Researcher, College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Flinders University and Stephanie Champion, Postdoctoral Research Associate, College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Flinders University
Companies can identify you from your music preferences, as well as influence and profit from your behavior.
- New research discovered that you can be identified from just three song choices.
- This type of information can be exploited by streaming services through targeted advertising.
- The researchers are calling for musical preference to be considered in regulations regarding online privacy.
While the focus on music piracy dominated the media for years, an equally important (and far less discussed) phenomenon occurred during the transition from broadcast radio to streaming. People were no longer beholden to the gatekeepers known as DJs. Today, listeners have the entire history of music at their fingertips. Each person is now their own DJ.
If it's free, you are the product
Though this might appear empowering, every advancement comes at a cost. Because listeners changed how they consumed music (namely, from radio broadcasts to personalized online streams), companies had to change their monetization strategy. Now, you are the product.
When you curate a playlist, you are inadvertently sending tons of data to different companies, with Spotify, YouTube, and Apple Music leading the way. As it turns out, according to a new study from Israeli researchers — Ariel University's Dr. Ron Hirschprung and Tel Aviv University's Dr. Ori Leshman — your musical tastes reveal more about your personality than you likely ever imagined.
Musical selection is a quasi-identifier
There are different ways in which you can be identified. Identifiers, such as your social security number, are highly specific and unique to you. But then there are quasi-identifiers — things like age, gender, and occupation — that can also give away your identity. The authors claim that musical selection is a quasi-identifier, and they argue that, as with other forms of sensitive data, our playlists should be considered when constructing privacy laws.
In their paper, they write, "[T]he combination of Big-Data, together with the availability of computational power — which is notoriously known for its potential of privacy violation — introduces a privacy threat from an unexpected angle: listening to music."
To prove their point, the researchers divided undergraduate students into four groups with roughly 35 volunteers in each. Every member submitted three songs from their playlist of favorite tracks. Then, the researchers picked five members at random in each group, and the remaining volunteers were asked to vote to determine if they could match the members with their playlists.
Photo: cherryandbees / Adobe Stock
Even to the surprise of the researchers, the participants were right between 80 percent and 100 percent of the time. Incredibly, these students did not know one another well and were not aware in advance of anyone's musical preferences.
There are many outward signs that mark us in the eyes of others: what we wear, what we eat, how we style our hair, our mannerisms and posture, and even where we stand at parties. Other people pick up on these subtle clues, which in turn allows them to predict our personalities. In this study, the volunteers were able to identify the musical preferences of strangers simply by observing their outward appearances.
Of course, companies notice similar things and are able to exploit what they learn about us. In a press release, the authors stated:
"Music can become a form of characterization, and even an identifier. It provides commercial companies like Google and Spotify with additional and more in-depth information about us as users of these platforms. In the digital world we live in today, these findings have far-reaching implications on privacy violations, especially since information about people can be inferred from a completely unexpected source, which is therefore lacking in protection against such violations."Musical preference isn't the only way in which you can be identified online. For instance, your browsing history can give away your identity. Listening to your favorite tunes while searching Google for a new recipe isn't as innocuous as you might think.
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His most recent book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
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Philosophers, theoretical physicists, psychologists, and others consider what or who is really in control.
- What does it mean to have—or not have—free will? Were the actions of mass murderers pre-determined billions of years ago? Do brain processes trump personal responsibility? Can experiments prove that free will is an illusion?
- Bill Nye, Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Michio Kaku, Robert Sapolsky, and others approach the topic from their unique fields and illustrate how complex and layered the free will debate is.
- From Newtonian determinism, to brain chemistry, to a Dennett thought experiment, explore the arguments that make up the free will landscape.
In-depth research suggests BDSM practitioners can experience altered states of consciousness that can be therapeutic.
- BDSM is an acronym encompassing a variety of sexual practices that include: bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism. The practice of BDSM usually consists of partners taking on specific roles in which one partner is dominant and the other is submissive.
- BDSM practitioners (individuals who frequently engage in BDSM play) can experience various mental health benefits from engaging in their scenes.
- According to the research, subspace is often characterized by the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, the release of epinephrine and endorphins, and a subsequent period of non-verbal, deep relaxation.
The psychology of BDSM
Many experts have weighed in on the significant mental and physical health benefits of sex:
- Lower blood pressure
- Stronger immune system
- Better heart health
- Improved self-esteem
- Decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Better sleep routines
However, there is an increasing interest in studies that explore the specific mental and physical health benefits of BDSM practices. BDSM practitioners (individuals who frequently engage in BDSM play) can experience various mental health benefits from engaging in their scenes. For example, one study suggests that being dominant in the bedroom can boost your work ethic. Other research in this area has suggested engaging in BDSM activities can boost your mental well-being and increase awareness of your attachment style in partnerships, which can ultimately lead to healthier relationships. Additionally, unhealthy stereotypes and misconceptions about BDSM have also been addressed by experts.
A natural starting point for more research surrounding the mental health impact of BDSM practices is to explore what happens in a person's mind and body when they experience intense sexual activity. While physical reactions (such as arousal and climax) are quite typical, there is something unique that happens to individuals who participate in intense BDSM scenes.
What is "subspace" in BDSM play?
Subspace is defined as a state of transcendence reached by submissives through intense physical or psychological experiences with their partner. This can happen through sensory triggers (the use of paddles, blindfolds, restraints) or through emotional triggers (certain words or phrases, meaningful expressions).
This space, while experienced differently for many, can be described as a nearly-hypnotic feeling that takes over when the submissive partner is highly engaged in their role.
What is "domspace" in BDSM play?
Domspace is defined as an altered, elevated state of mind that Dominants (during BDSM scenes) experience through intense physical or psychological experiences with their submissive partner. This can happen through sensory triggers (using paddles or restraints on your partner) or through emotional triggers (expressing certain words or phrases to your partner, meaningful expressions, the notion that your submissive trusts you enough to be vulnerable with you).
While subspace can be described as a "hazy" or "blurry" trance-like state, domspace is often described (by individuals who experience it) as an intense, euphoric, and focused state of mind.
Are there therapeutic benefits to submission?
Experts weigh in: there may be therapeutic and relational benefits to being a submissive person in BDSM scenes.
Photo by LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS on Adobe Stock
According to the author of the study, Dulcinea Pitagora: "Because the BDSM community has been historically vilified due to stereotypes reinforced by negative media exposure and inadequate education, relatively little is known about the phenomenon of subspace outside of the BDSM community."
There is a proven connection between BDSM interactions and altered states of consciousness.
According to a 2016 study, there is a direct link between BDSM interactions and ASCs (altered states of consciousness) - the significant one, in this case, being that engaging in a submissive role during BDSM play can lead to transient hypofrontality.
Transient hypofrontality, a term coined by Dr. Arne Dietrich, is when the focused, thought-processing part of the brain is "shut off" by external triggers. An example of this is the difference between engaging in a competitive sport and running in a beautiful park. During a competitive sport, your brain will need to make a variety of complex decisions. While you're running a calmer path in a beautiful park, however, your mind can "let go" of that prefrontal engagement and you can experience an alternate (relaxed) state of consciousness. For a submissive, during BDSM scenes, this can result in reduced self-reported stress and increased sexual arousal.
Transient hypofrontality has also been used to describe severe "end-stage" addictions. This ability to "shut off" the thought-processing function in your brain can actually cause "involuntary" cravings for this feeling. This can be why many submissive practitioners become reliant on their BDSM activities.
The study explains, "In order to examine an alignment of transient hypofrontality with subspace, the authors collected additional self-reported data describing experiences of subspace; a comparison of these datasets confirmed that the characteristics of transient hypofrontality were consistent with those of subspace."
Experiencing subspace during BDSM play can activate the sympathetic nervous system.
According to the research, subspace is often characterized by the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, the release of epinephrine and endorphins, and a subsequent period of non-verbal, deep relaxation. This chain reaction can often lead the submissive in the scene to experience a temporary state of depersonalization and derealization (which are generally experienced as positive and pleasant in this context).
The key to experiencing this trance-like state is having a partner you trust, research suggests.
This state is highly sought after by individuals who identify as submissives in the BDSM context - and the key to achieving this state of being is having a dominant partner you can trust. This type of trust and reciprocal consent can provide an entry to subspace.
"Because the participant who identifies as the sadist, dominant [or top] in a given scene is generally charged with monitoring and protecting their partner, the [submissive] bottom in the scene might be better situated for achieving an altered state of consciousness and transcendence." - Rethinking Kink, 2010
BDSM could be used as a way to heal from trauma and benefit your relationships, experts suggest.
While there is no research to date that has sought to capture the specific experiences of subspace and how they relate to relationships and healing, many experts believe BDSM can in fact provide therapeutic and relational benefits to those who engage in the practices.
"Given the associations between ASCs and subspace described above, the authors' findings on ASCs can be extended to the analogous experience of subspace. The study suggested that symbolic action can have a profound effect on psychological processes and connected trance (a type of ASC) with the healing properties of the trance state."