An important question marks the beginning of every successful academic career: Is a PhD the right choice for me? Even a structured dissertation at a German graduate school requires more than just discipline and resilience. If you want to devote your life, or at least the next three to four years, to science and research, your heart has to be in it. Because without the right amount of enthusiasm, the daily work in the archives or the lab will become an ordeal. Each aspiring PhD candidate should thus carefully think about the implications of this step before actually applying to graduate school. The decision to pursue a PhD will be worth it, if you are both committed and passionate about it or if your career goals simply require the title. For some, however, the PhD will be a dead end: It is no accident that a great number of PhD students every year abandon their dissertation for a career in the private sector.
When should I begin preparing for the PhD?
You cannot start early enough with your preparation for the PhD. Seek out professors you would like to work with while still pursuing your Bachelor's or Master's and get in touch with PhD candidates at your university or elsewhere. Learn about PhD opportunities both at home and abroad. Ambitious students who work as teaching or research assistants make a good impression, gather important experience and establish valuable contacts. Networking is incredible important because the world of academia is small. Divided into many sub-disciplines and specialties, there are frequently only a hand full of scholars who research a specific topic. And if you already know one of the experts in the discipline of your choice, you have a clear advantage in the race for one of the sought-after PhD positions.
It is also helpful to find an area of interest as early as possible and to familiarize yourself with that field. Attend as many advanced level classes as possible and learn about the state of research: What are current trends in your field and what are tomorrow's questions? Here, too, professors and older PhD students can help you develop relevant emphases that are worth pursuing. Ideally, you can start your research and answer some of its questions in your Master's thesis. This will get you started on the project and show others that you are capable of working academically. The goal is to end up with a set of questions that are both relevant to your discipline and mirror your personal interests. You can learn more on how to find the right topic for your dissertation here.