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Is it Worth Doing a PhD in Architecture?


A PhD, or doctorate, corresponds to the third cycle of official university studies and leads to the acquisition of skills and competences needed for high quality scientific research. It’s the highest post-graduate qualification that can be obtained and gives its holders the right to be referred to as “Doctor”. The Spanish Royal Academy defines “doctorate” as “full, complete knowledge of a subject”.

The posts in this blog express different opinions regarding the PhD in Architecture. Some affirm that its research dimension is purely instrumental, justifiable as preparation for writing the thesis but reflecting no real interest in furthering knowledge of a given subject. Others say a doctorate has no impact on an architect’s professional activity outside of teaching, unless the specialisation accredited by the qualification is being showcased on the international labour market. Still others question the rigour of scientific publications – a sine qua non prerequisite for defending a doctoral thesis – on the grounds that they’re often based on reviews by other doctors who aren’t necessarily experts in the fields studied by other researchers. In this respect, however, there are also people like Carlos Camara, for whom the important thing is the expertise in scientific methodology that a doctor can contribute to research in general.

In view of such differing opinions,, and having just finished my own six-year doctoral research programme at the ETSA (University School of Architecture) in Madrid, including a two-year pre-doctoral placement at a university in Japan,  I would like to submit my own thoughts on the issue. They’re summed up in 3 main ideas:

  1. A PhD requires optimism.  Despite all the times you’ll be told that a PhD is worthless in Spain, that the future of a doctor in Architecture is far from secure, or that no company is going  to be interested in the qualification, and even though you may sometimes find it difficult, I think it’s important to remember that the PhD is something rewarding that allows you to study what you really love in depth. It’s an experience that will enrich you both professionally and personally.
  2. A PhD is useful.  In my case, one of the key reasons for choosing the subject of my thesis was the knowledge that when it was finished I’d be able to deliver a practical tool for promoting good architecture.
  3. In a PhD you don’t only learn about a specific subject, or pick up transversal research skills.  I like to say that a PhD is a personal journey: a path leading to a distant destination, that I set out on without really knowing why and which ended up giving me what I didn’t even know I was looking for.

Are you considering doing a PhD? Are you currently doing your research, or have you finished it already? Do you have a different point of view? Going back to the question in the title of this post: for me, doing a PhD is definitely worth it.  And very much so.

Text translate by Andrew V. Taylor
Arquitecto, Máster en Project Management, Máster en Construcción y Tecnología Arquitectónica y estudiante de Doctorado en la Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, interesada en la relación entre arquitectura de oficinas, productividad intelectual y eficiencia energética de los edificios. Aficionada a viajar, a la cultura tradicional japonesa y aprendiz del arte del Origami. Actualmente vive en Yokohama (Japón), donde compagina su actividad como arquitecto e investigadora en la Universidad de Keio. 

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