Should We Encourage PhDs To Be Entrepreneurs?

PhD programs offer a wide range of opportunities and benefits in the working world, including the ability to create your own enterprise and manage your own assets. To highlight the successes of those who have completed a PhD program and who have started their own, thriving businesses, first we will be taking a look at some famous entrepreneurs who are also PhDs. In addition, before we begin delving into some of the lives of these individuals, it will prove useful to outline the definitions of an entrepreneur and of the word “famous.” 

First, being an entrepreneur means creating a product or service of your own to share with others, and creating an organization, and getting monetary compensation in return. Second, the word “famous” should be understood as being the leader or facilitator of a community of individuals and/or having an influential role in the arts and/or entertainment sectors. It will be crucial to keep these definitions in mind as we talk about famous entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship as a whole. 

This post was written by Isabel Inoa, BA (freelance writer) on behalf of Dr. Dave Maslach for the R3ciprocity project (check out the YouTube Channel or the writing feedback software). R3ciprocity helps students, faculty, and researchers by providing an authentic look into PhD and academic life and how to be a successful researcher. For over four years the project has been offering advice, community, and encouragement to students and researchers around the world.

Famous entrepreneurs with PhDs 

The following people have done some really wonderful things in their respective fields, and it is enjoyable to highlight them as influential figures. Alok Kanojia, also known as Dr. K received an MD from Tufts University in 2014 and shortly began his residency in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School’s McLean Adult Psychiatry Residency Program. He became a Twitch streamer in 2019, where he gained a following by talking about a wide range of mental and spiritual health topics in addition to speaking with a variety of well-known streamers. With the help of his Twitch community, he was able to raise enough money to start a coaching program called Healthy Gamer, which seeks to assist people who struggle with gaming addictions in various areas of their lives. 

Charles Geschke received a Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University in 1972. John Warnock earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Utah. Geschke and Warnock are the co-founders of Adobe Systems. bell hooks was an American scholar – who prefers her name be written with lowercase letters– and who, unfortunately, recently passed away in December 2021 at the age of 69. She received a PhD in English literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1983, and is well-known for her written works including All About Love, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love, and Ain’t I a Woman. She has inspired so many people through her feminist theory, and a part of her legacy will continue through the consumption and discussion of her engaging and incredible writing.

It is wonderful to see the ways that entrepreneurship can foster really amazing communities and discourse. While these scholars have done quite different things in terms of their careers, they have also dedicated time to cultivating communities based on their genuine passions. Check out this blog post on the importance of education: Does Education Matter? It Changes You. 

Skills that make PhDs excellent entrepreneurs 

Completing a PhD program not only fosters expertise in a particular subject area but also the construction of a skill set that will be useful beyond receiving a doctoral degree. First, through the process of doing your own research, you can learn great project management skills while in a PhD program. Due to the fact that a successful research project has so many steps and details, PhDs are great at creating frameworks for projects in order to best execute them. 

In addition, PhDs are great at working alone, because their research requires it. In order to form original research topics and ideas, it is crucial to work independently during a PhD program. Fortunately, this independent mindset is a good one to have when first starting as an entrepreneur and before you begin adding people to your team or begin building a community. 

Also, since one of the central aspects of PhD programs is research, this can really help throughout the process of creating your own enterprise when you need to find reliable sources of information. Finally, completing a PhD program can make you an excellent problem-solver, which will prove very helpful when you run into roadblocks during project planning and execution. Check out this video on advice for frustration during a PhD program: Being Anxious and Angry Because of PhD Research. 

Furthermore, since the nature of research is to expand one’s knowledge in their respective field, they must ask and answer challenging questions throughout the process. Even if your PhD research doesn’t directly relate to your entrepreneurial passions, it is still critical to gain experience working through tough questions. 

Check out this video for advice on choosing a PhD program: PhD From A Top University: Are They Better? 

Building connections and the utility of social media  

After receiving a PhD, it is useful to consider the expansive opportunities available on a wide range of social media platforms. If you have something that you’re passionate about, you should consider starting a YouTube channel or something similar. Although the possibility of a sustainable income should not be the first reason you keep making videos, as this may quickly lead to burnout, with a large enough following you can start monetizing your internet content. Even though running a successful social media page or channel is entrepreneurship in and of itself, creating a positive community can also be a jumping-off point for new and exciting business ventures.

Check out this blog post about things to consider before starting a PhD program: Things to do and Think About before Starting a PhD Program 

Besides using social media to share your content with others, it can also purely be used to connect with others. Building connections with people is equally as important as posting videos and other content. This is because connections can sometimes lead to a more holistic understanding of how to utilize a given platform, and it can also make way for a wide range of new opportunities. 

Benefits of entrepreneurial work 

Entrepreneurial work allows you to work without compromising your values because you are creating the enterprise and space you want to work in. This means that as your values change and evolve, so too can your business. You are rewarded with an incredible amount of autonomy when you become an entrepreneur, which also fosters endless possibilities for you and your business. By becoming an entrepreneur, you can earn a sustainable income by doing what you truly enjoy. It may also be less likely that you will suffer from burnout by becoming an entrepreneur or doing entrepreneurial work. 

My father received his PhD in Educational Administration and Policy Studies and works as an Associate Dean of a small liberal-arts college. Although he is extremely passionate about working with students, he also loves writing poetry. Fortunately, he was able to merge his interests through a series of autobiographical poems he wrote and titled, “English Tongue, Latin Soul.” Institutions including Dartmouth College and Fordham University have invited him to perform for their respective campus communities. Furthermore, through his engaging storytelling, he is always able to facilitate a sense of community in the room in which he is performing. Even if it is not your main source of income, it is totally possible and rewarding to engage in entrepreneurial work, especially if it aligns with your life’s passions. 

Additionally, becoming an entrepreneur allows you to manage your own weekly schedule. In some cases, you may even be able to work from home, which can be useful in a variety of ways. It is also useful to mention that it may be relatively easy to relocate if that is applicable to your living situation. Unlike a 9-5 office job, entrepreneurial work can look different every day, because of the nature of building a business and the flexibility that entrepreneurship allows. So, as long as you have a healthy relationship with self-discipline, where you can strike a balance between routine and relaxation, it could serve as a great career option.  

On a personal level, achieving success through something you envisioned and cultivated on your own is an extremely rewarding experience. All of the failures and hardships that you faced proved to be worth it in the end when you become an accomplished entrepreneur. It can allow you to build a legacy for yourself if that’s what you’re interested in, and it can serve as a way to create a space that you want to share with others.

Check out this blog on practicing leadership in your own life: Have Courage and Be Kind: Being a Leader in Your Own Life

Things to keep in mind if you’re considering becoming an entrepreneur

While there are many benefits to entrepreneurial work, there are also downsides you should keep in mind if you are seriously considering this kind of work. First, being an entrepreneur can be a lonely process, especially if you’re someone who likes collaboration throughout the process of executing a project. You have to handle all of the possible initial failures on your own, and that can be very disparaging to deal with. Not only that, but you have to learn to be resilient in the face of failure. Fortunately, if you are already enrolled in a PhD program or have completed one, you will be very familiar and definitely comfortable with this process which will give you an upper hand in the entrepreneurial sector. 

In order to create a successful business, you will need to invest a considerable amount of time and money to help facilitate growth. To ensure that you’re sustaining your business, you must constantly problem-solve and evaluate your progress and setbacks. It is crucial to note that this process will take up a considerable amount of your time and that it is essential to being an accomplished entrepreneur. It can also become a large financial pressure to be an entrepreneur, as it is a risk to dedicate yourself to your business while not being certain that you will earn the funds back from revenue. 

Speaking of uncertainty, it can also be difficult to pinpoint levels of success while doing entrepreneurial work. Since you’re constantly working independently, you’re not necessarily competing with other businesses in the beginning stages, rather, you’re working to make your best even better.

Check out this video on Entrepreneurial Self-Doubts: Is The R3ciprocity Project Worth It? Entrepreneurship Self-Doubts 

Entrepreneurship as the forefront for innovation and enacting positive change

Overall, it is important to note that while the chances of becoming a famous entrepreneur are quite slim, earning a PhD does equip you with the crucial skills you need to be successful in multiple aspects. It is important to note that even if being an entrepreneur does not provide you with your main source of income, it can also serve as an avenue to explore your deep interests while being rewarded monetarily. As the world moves further into the digital age, the more opportunities there are for sharing entrepreneurial work and ideas. With the autonomy and leadership skills that you gain from cultivating your own enterprise and having control over your community values, you truly have the potential to create a beautiful space, experience, or product that can leave a lasting, positive impact on the world. 

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