12 Incredible Ways a Doctorate Degree Makes You Smarter

Are you thinking of getting a doctoral degree, and wondering what the benefits might be? Considering the cost and time involved in getting a PhD – or Doctor of Philosophy – this is a good question indeed. If you’re going to invest so heavily in your education, it pays to know what the benefits are.

Advanced job opportunities, teaching positions, thought leadership and career enjoyment all come immediately to mind as perks of earning a doctorate degree. However, one aspect of graduating with a PhD you may not hear about often enough is simple and powerful: It makes you smarter.

While this might seem rather unbelievable (aren’t we all born as intelligent as we’re going to be?), it’s not. Studies show over and over again that “intelligence” is heavily predicated on exposure to a wide range of ideas, topics and skills. Staying in school for an addition 4-5 years, therefore, is bound to increase your intelligence and abilities. How, exactly?

Here’s a list of 12 incredible things you get to do every day in graduate school for a doctorate, and how they increase your brain’s capacity.

#1 Explore

Part of becoming more intelligent is getting the option to think in new ways. A doctorate degree encourages this in the extreme, because inherent in a PhD is the expectation that you will produce a dissertation comprising an original contribution to your field. That means lots of exploring, including research, exposure to the ideas of others in the field, and exploration of your own thoughts and beliefs.

#2 Experiment

Part of being intelligent is being willing to experiment. Those who try new things over and over become more adept at a huge range of skills: thinking critically, thinking creatively, analyzing, evaluating, vetting ideas, and more. These components of intelligence, when strengthened, improve your brilliance overall.

#3 Practice, Practice, Practice

Have you heard of the 10,000 Hour Rule? This popular idea, which has recently been somewhat debunked, holds that to become a world-class expert in any field, you simply have to practice for 10,000 hours. While new research indicates that it might not be as simple as this, there is no doubt that practice makes perfect. Practicing the skills that lead to intelligence will also build new and stronger neural pathways, which will in turn enhance your acumen.

#4 Gain Access to Experts

Without doubt, access to other intelligent people is one of the best ways to improve your own intelligence. People who question how you think, expose you to new ways of thinking and teach you important skills are bound to bring your overall IQ up.

#5 Fail Forward

Failure is a huge component of intelligence. That is to say, the ability to fail and learn from it quickly, then put that knowledge to use, is a classic characteristic of the most intelligent and successful people. Failing shows us what we do know, what we don’t, where we went wrong, and what we can do better next time.

So what exactly does failing forward mean? In a nutshell, it’s the idea that each time you fail, you advance your neurology, career and life in some way. Because failure is much richer with information than success – which only tells you that this one way works – you should expose yourself to failure as much as possible. Luckily for you, a doctorate program does just that, requiring new and innovative thinking all the time.

#6 Solve Problems

Closely related to learning to fail successfully is problem solving. When you do fail, you have to be able to pinpoint why. Was there something wrong with your experiment? Did you overlook an important concept when writing your research paper? Did you forget a crucial study when conducting a meta-analysis? If you can spot problems, then identify their answers, you become much more intelligent. After all, being smart is frequently a matter of understanding the world around you and identifying what is true and what is not.

#7 Generate Ideas

There are, of course, many kinds of intelligence, and creativity is one of them. The most intelligent people are able to think outside the box, generating and promoting ideas no one else has ever thought of. The better you get at going outside the guidelines, the better you will be at thinking overall.

#8 Learn New Skills

Again, research points to the fact that intelligence is merely a matter of being able to do or understand skills and concepts. A PhD program offers many new skills, such as researching, teaching, evaluating, communicating, using technology and more.

#9 Analyze Evidence

Whether you’re a researcher performing actual experiments or a thinker collecting the work of others and synthesizing it into new ideas, you need the ability to analyze evidence. Your PhD program will undoubtedly provide lots of opportunity to spot patterns, disregard erroneous information, locate biases and more.

#10 Vet Others’ Ideas

It’s important to be critical of your own ideas, but vetting the ideas of others can also be an excellent way to train your brain. In a PhD program, you’ll get plenty of exposure to the work of professors and colleagues, and the opportunity to draw conclusions about how valid it is.

#11 Improve Intuition

The Pentagon is currently conducting research into the sixth sense, or intuition, and how humans can put it to use in combat. You don’t have to enlist in active duty to hone your intuition, though. A PhD program means exposure to new situations and stimuli, as well as the repeating patterns in which you’ll engage while teaching and researching. Gaining expertise at these types of knowledge and skills will help you hone that intuition, learning to spot the signs of erroneous assumptions, coming breakthroughs and so on, all before you even realize you’re doing it.

#12 Evaluate Conclusions

Evaluation is one of the most important aspects of intelligence. Humans are wired with a built-in ability to assess a situation and decide how it maps with their preexisting notions and understanding of the world. Some people are very good at this, easily discerning truth or falsity in situations, questioning assumptions and honing conclusions. Others are not as good. If you’re currently less adept at this skill, a PhD is a great opportunity to learn to evaluate conclusions – both yours and others’ – and thereby increase your smarts.

Still thinking about earning a doctorate degree? More power to you. Armed with these assurances about increasing your intelligence, you’re bound to work hard and emerge from your program stronger and readier than ever to conquer the world.

Additional Resources