1 What is a PhD?
1.1 Thoughts on a PhD
Entering students often think of a PhD as a ‘magnum opus’, a brilliant research project culminating in a great work. This is rather a demanding model, and few students win Nobel Prizes as a result of their doctoral studies. More realistically, a PhD is research training leading to a research qualification. The PhD is a passport to a research career.
There are other views of a PhD, as well. Getting a PhD can be a ‘rite of passage’, prerequisite to admission into the academic ‘tribe’. It can be a deep, specific education in a discipline, preceding a post-doctoral period of on-the-job training. It must make a contribution to knowledge, and so it can be viewed as one's entry into the research discourse.
There are certain things that you are demonstrating through your dissertation:
mastery of your subject
respect for the discipline
capacity for independent research
ability to communicate results and relate them to the broader discourse.
These reflect competence and professionalism, rather than greatness. Importantly, they are as much about comprehending others’ work as about doing one's own.