As a third year PhD student coping with the usual struggles of paucity of data, broken machines and the impending end of funding, it can sometimes be hard to remember why anybody would choose to do a PhD in the first place. But with around 900 Earth Science students in England embarking upon such a journey every year , there must be some attractions. I figured it would be good to give myself a timely reminder of just why I’m here.
The purest and most admirable reason for doing a PhD. Most PhD supervisors haven’t thought much about your project since the moment they doodled down the idea on the back of a beer mat, so it’s up to you to make it work. Yes, you do need tremendous willpower and tenacity, but as senior academics will be far too busy see you more than twice a year, you will inevitably be given total freedom to pursue the lines of research you want. And at the end of it all, you could well be rewarded with that Holy Grail of PhDs – a first author publication.
Possibly the best perk of being an Earth Sciences student. A quick straw poll of my office mates’ recent fieldwork locations reveals why geology >> any other science subject: Spain, Bahamas, Barbados, Kenya, Montserrat, Italy, USA, Mexico…(see Where in the World).
Another great travel perk! Conferences are held all over the world and give you a chance to see some fabulous cities whilst hobnobbing with influential scientists and subject specialists. Oh, and Earth Science meetings always seem to involve an inordinate amount of ‘free’ alcohol.
The student life
If you enjoyed the previous four years of not setting an alarm, surviving off tea and beer, going out on a Monday night and wearing nothing but hoodies, then a PhD might be for you. Want to roll into work at 10 and leave at 4? You can! Only problem is that now the hangovers are horrific, work guilt gets progressively worse, and you only have three years in which to achieve the impossible.
Most Earth Science PhD students are fully funded, either by research councils such as the National Enviromental Research Council (NERC) and the European Research Council (ERC), or by oil & mining companies. This means that as well as covering the annual £4,000 in tuition fees, the student receives maintenance costs of around £13,500 a year TAX-FREE. When you consider the average graduate job pays around £16,000  after George Osbourne has had his slice, it puts us on a roughly equal footing with industry counterparts. Plus we get three years job security, which in the current economic climate is not something to be sniffed at.
An Earth Sciences PhD is route one to doing blue skies geological research. Maybe one day you could be teaching all those pesky undergrads and publishing papers in Nature and Science. Or, if you’re lucky enough to do a PhD that has industrial application or multinational sponsors, it’s possible to transfer all those hard earned skills straight into a high-flying position in oil, gas, mining or environmental consultancy. Should all else fail, you can still apply for a graduate scheme knowing that the previous three years has hopefully adorned your CV with all sorts of amazing experiences to help you stand out from the masses.