why a phd in (computational) design?

As part of my professor job, I review many applications to Carnegie Mellon’s PhD programs in the School of Architecture, and I field a fleet of inquiries about pursuing doctoral work in design.  Here are some of the reasons people apply:

1. I already have a master degree and I want to take the next step.

2. Everyone in my family has advanced degrees, so I should get one too.

3. I can’t get a job, so I may as well get a PhD.

4. I want to teach in a university and a PhD is required.

5. I have a scholarship that will pay for a PhD.

These are all understandable reasons to pursue doctoral studies, but they’re also terrible reasons. Entering a PhD program for the wrong reasons is likely to lead to misery.  As one of my advisors (Aaron Fleisher) said to me years ago: “It’s easier to get in to a PhD program than to get out.”  Think about it. To get in, you must only write a few page statement-of-purpose that convinces an admissions committee that you have the capacity to do the work.   To get out, you spend several years doing research and write a lengthy dissertation.  Too many people find themselves midway through a PhD program when they realize that they don’t really like it, but at that point, they’re too far committed —emotionally, financially—to drop out.

The best—perhaps the only good—reason to pursue PhD study is because you’ve found something that you deeply, passionately want to understand and work on.  It’s an itch you must scratch.