Pursuing a Ph.D. is not a trip that can be powered by passion alone. Aside from curiosity and doubt, passion is the third emotion that evaporates after engaging in extensive study.
The first is that you think you’re exceptionally bright, and the second is that you are. The pursuit of a Ph.D. is not like something out of Paulo Coelho, in which fate and luck align such that your experiments succeed just because you’re enthusiastic about life.
“Passion” for anything indicates that you haven’t tested yourself enough to see its negative aspects. You’ve never experienced defeat, and that’s a good thing. You like doing something because you believe you are excellent at it. You want the satisfaction that comes from excelling at something. To put it simply, that’s passion.
The Ph.D. program gives you a taste of defeat. It was a considerable amount. You come to terms with the fact that you’re not skilled in the perspective domain. You come to terms with the fact that you are terrible at it. One day, you’ll clench your fists, tear out your hair, and scream, “I HATE THIS,” with all the intensity you can muster. Your self-described “passion” is the greatest hoax you’ve ever told yourself.
A person’s level of “passion” should not be used as a criterion for deciding whether or not to pursue a doctorate. It’s a measure of how deeply you’ve settled into familiar territory. How quickly you’re going to fall flat on your face may be gauged by this metric. Only if you really want to make a lasting intellectual impact on the world should you pursue a doctorate.
Within the first two to three years of their Ph.D. programs, even the most “passionate” students find that their “passion” has evaporated. What’s the deal? Do they give up? Although a few stops, the vast majority go on. Why? Because they have learned humility.
A newfound humility fuels a relentless pursuit of knowledge and growth as one emerges from the cocoon of false passion. They no longer fool themselves into thinking they are competent in their field. However, they want to improve themselves and ultimately become great. They have completed a primary goal of their lives by earning a doctoral degree, but they realize this is just the beginning of their journey to changing the world.
Then, perhaps, a new kind of zeal is born: not the type of enthusiasm that stems from self-congratulation for trivial achievements and empty plaudits from those who don’t know any better, but rather an enthusiasm that is grounded in modesty and motivated by a desire to serve a higher purpose, such as expanding humankind’s store of knowledge and understanding of the world or creating novel technologies to alleviate the suffering of our less fortunate neighbors.
So, no, you don’t need ‘passion’ to pursue a Ph.D. since it will evaporate rapidly no matter how much you believe you have. Your successes will always be minuscule in comparison to the vastness of human ignorance and suffering yet unresolved. Still, you will be an excellent Ph.D. if you have at least a passing interest in being a part of a global intellectual struggle in which you will be constantly pushed and challenged. The road to a Ph.D. is long, winding, and may sometimes seem quite lonely.
In other words, you should care about the topic enough to tell yourself, “that’s what I want to concentrate on for the next three to five years of my life, and that’s where I want to make kickass contributions because I believe something is lacking to make it even more fascinating.” You will be challenged beyond your comfort zone; therefore, you should also be passionate about the intellectual growth of pursuing a doctorate.
Recognizing that there is much work to be done before you can graduate and be recognized in your profession, learning from the mistakes of others, and embracing rejection as a tool to better your research are all essential life lessons. Not being willing to take risks yet enthusiastic about the profession is not enough.