Every fall, I explain to a fresh batch of Ph.D. students what a Ph.D. is.

It’s hard to describe it in words.

So, I use pictures.

Read below for the illustrated guide to a Ph.D.


Imagine a circle that contains all of human knowledge:

The Illustrated Guide To A Ph.D.

By the time you finish elementary school, you know a little:

The Illustrated Guide To A Ph.D.

By the time you finish high school, you know a bit more:

The Illustrated Guide To A Ph.D.

With a bachelor’s degree, you gain a specialty:

The Illustrated Guide To A Ph.D.

A master’s degree deepens that specialty:

The Illustrated Guide To A Ph.D.

Reading research papers takes you to the edge of human knowledge:

The Illustrated Guide To A Ph.D.

Once you’re at the boundary, you focus:

The Illustrated Guide To A Ph.D.

You push at the boundary for a few years:

The Illustrated Guide To A Ph.D.

Until one day, the boundary gives way:

The Illustrated Guide To A Ph.D.

And, that dent you’ve made is called a Ph.D.:

The Illustrated Guide To A Ph.D.

Of course, the world looks different to you now:

The Illustrated Guide To A Ph.D.

So, don’t forget the bigger picture:

The Illustrated Guide To A Ph.D.

Keep pushing.


The Illustrated Guide to a Ph.D. was created by Matt Might. It appears here under a Creative Commons license.