Should you undertake a PHD after many years in industry: why, when and how?
My colleagues of many years are intrigued by my choice to undertake a PHD late in life. Some see it as inexplicable, some as madness and perhaps they are right on both counts. But I also know it was always in my wiring and something I had to do and my doctorate was created inadvertently and subconsciously over many, many years… decades in fact.
For those who are contemplating a thesis progression path through honours, masters and then PHD, this might be of interest and here is how my journey ended up like this..
I completed my PHD at UNSW Built Environment in 2015 at the tender age of 60 on the property development mechanism and its part in the growth of cities. My passion and 35 year industry experience was for high rise buildings and their dominance of the city skyline. I started gazing at them as a young construction cadet with some awe and wonder at the also tender age of 18 with a site visit to the construction of the MLC Tower ( Sydney CBD) being built by Civil and Civic/Lend Lease in the early 1970s. Mystified by the experience, I eventually started to actually write about this in my first thesis as an MBA student at MGSM in 1992 at the age of 37 as I was becoming a young father of a small family.
My topic morphed from there over many years into ‘City Growth & Development Dynamics’ and in particular how dead (dormant) city areas are brought to life. This occurred strangely by accident along the way for I had precipitated a property development in Townsville which was ‘planted’ in the semi-dormant city street of Palmer Street and became what I found was a catalyst project for the resurrection of the precinct .
This dormancy theme and the high rise love from earlier in my life resulted in two research projects during a period as lecturer at Western Sydney University in 2016 at the age of 61 and that was ‘The State of Contemporary Property Development Structures‘ and ‘The Outer West Dormancy ( Sydney Basin) Research Project‘ . ( See City Whisperer Banner above ). The latter obtained a seed grant and then an ECR Fellowship ( Early Career) grant. I got a kick out of that label.
I am now creating a Night Economy Research Initiative after being invited to chair the ANZ Night Time Economy Forum in June 2019 at the age of 64 and as a follow on from the prior research and its emphasis on precinct activation.
While all this occurred and to put bread on the table I created a research and advisory consulting group called Optimum Search in 1993 at the age of 38 fresh and naive from my MBA and have kept the doors open since that day despite some quiet times and some employment interruptions. This vessel is my career/business life blood and life boat and it has its ups and downs but it is the vehicle I always return to. I am even told by recent events that I am part of the Gig Economy which gives me a renewed sense of place.
I was inspired to create this life boat by many writers and industry role models but none more so than Antony Jay and his book ‘Corporation Man‘. Antony is known more in the mainstream as the creator of the BBC series ‘Yes Minister’. However Antony’s key message was to divide the institution into two sectors The Hunt and The Camp which drew on a primal theme.To hunt was to bring business into the group and the camp provided the administrative organisation that delivered the product or service.
Extending this to an agile existence now in the modern era has some relevance it would seem, so to divide your career/business existence into two parts and parallel paths might be a good strategy given the rising transience of work, the ‘under employment’ and gig economy and the digital divide that places people with digital smarts into a new elite and even dare I say a rising intellectual aristocracy.
Why am I telling you this? Because:
We are living longer to 80 and 90 years of age so I may have 30 years to live which is both exciting and daunting. Meanwhile at the ANZ forum a statistic was noted that the work force held only 4% of people 64 years and older ! I have felt this tide for many years now and all the more reason for my creation of a life boat in the form of a company vehicle that morphed and changed over a quarter of a century from advisory to research to entrepreneurship and back again as the tides came in and out in different zones both geographical and sectorial.
So how do you deal with this twilight zone in your life or is it too far away to think about. If you are enjoying life and your career and creating families, I know one thing. Time is fleeting so it might help to give this era a thought every now and then.
If you need mentoring on your thesis and doctoral path please feel free to contact me or Learn More
Dr Jonathan Drane ( circa age 60!)