Design your own PhD

I stumbled on this idea of creating your own personal PhD in a newsletter from David Kadavy.

I thought it was such a fun idea.

Most of us don’t have time or energy to put into a lengthy doctoral program that shuts down everything else in life. But why not create a personal degree that is suited to your time and interest?

I was once in a PhD program for organic chemistry when I was much younger. I could have floated along and finished the degree. It would have been a great little thing to put on the end of my name, but it would have meant absolutely nothing because it wasn’t taking me towards anything I wanted.

So why not dump the old way of doing things and make a new way.

Pick a subject

You do need a subject. What interests you most? What would you like to master? Think about what you would like to know a lot more about, enough to make it a long study. The great thing about designing your own program is that you can combine your favorite topics if you can’t pick just one.

The internet makes it possible to start learning nearly anything you want. The information is at your fingertips, waiting for you to look for it.

PhDs specialize

They choose a topic and go deep and narrow. That suits certain fields but not others. Your personal PhD doesn’t need to do that. It could be better that it does not because specialization makes you miss the forest sometimes. You need a wide range of knowledge and skills for today’s changing world.

PhDs take time

They gobble up the years. You can choose how much your personal doctorate is going to take. It should be a significant amount of time to develop some new ideas and gain knowledge and a deep understanding of your subject.

Focus, focus

Today’s world doesn’t make it easy on our brains to focus. The endless scrolling makes it impossible to devote more than a few seconds to any bit of info. That has a profound effect on your brain’s ability to focus on anything. It’s a skill we have to learn and relearn to get through something like a PhD.


You are familiar with the dissertation. It’s the mammoth research project that is written up based on research, writing and study. Usually the student makes some fresh insights into the topic, something that requires much time invested to be able to do this.

You can do your projects your own way, but you should do at least one meaningful project. It doesn’t have to be a written project. It can be something you make by other means, or it can just be your own collected wisdom.

So those are the main characteristics of a PhD. Which could you imagine adopting into your program?

If you follow through, why not add it to your resume?

You will likely get some questions about it. It shows initiative and creativity and the ability to do something that few would ever consider which makes you stand out.

Even if you never follow through with this, why not at least entertain the idea? It’s a way to get to know something about yourself and where your interests are.


You may lack the time or inclination to do a formal PhD program, but why let that stop you from developing yourself along these lines.

You can create your own program of study, original research, and dissertation project. Think of all the possibilities and fun you could have with something designed personally for you and your advancement.

Have fun and learn whatever you always wanted to. It’s your life, design the contents of it to suit yourself.