Academia is an important institution in modern developed countries. Almost all branches of human knowledge, from humanities, to social, natural, formal, and applied sciences are academic disciplines. Universities are places where centuries of tradition often meet with progress, advancing knowledge, cutting-edge science and technology. Universities are at the same time museums, ancient libraries, modern buildings, advanced laboratories, nests of new ideas and technology, vibrant circles of students, scientists and dreamers. And unfortunately sometimes they are the hiding places of inconclusive, unproductive people. Nevertheless, many of us associate the idea of academia with virtuous values such as intellectual freedom and the human desire of mastering and advancing knowledge for the only pleasure of it.

Universities are so powerful that rich countries devote a relevant amount of public spending in promoting and funding academic institutions. For example the European Union funded research for 53 billion Euro in the quinquennium 2008-2013. Individual member states continues to fund their universities and companies do also contribute with grants to educate new students. But all this without any precise means to appreciate the return of such investment. A largely spread idea is that funding research and universities is a sign of progress. Countries that devote high percentage of their gross domestic product to research are considered virtuous examples. However, how and to what extent funding academia impacts our society is not well known. Above all, the internal governing rules of academia, those that regulate the creation of jobs, shape new laboratories, and eventually create and disseminate knowledge, are often ignored by the most part of us and often even by funding bodies.

One reason of our ignorance is that inspecting academia is not just a matter of a guided tour through the latest cutting-edge laboratory. Entering full time academia is probably a better way, but this also is not a matter of a simple job interview. It requires a long process and years of studies and dedication. It is in fact mostly young people that have the will to undergo this process. Once in, few leave, this resulting in a barrier between academia and the outside world. PhD studies are the first, often strenuous and lengthy step to enter academia. They intend to be a formative process and claim a large responsibility in shaping the future academic class. For this reasons, I hold that analysing and dissecting Ph.D. studies is the key of understanding the minds and formation of our professors, and in turn the framework and essence of academia. This work is my personal effort to draw general considerations and principles from my Ph.D. studies as I came to know them. PhdWhat is an attempt to uncover the introspective and often unspoken roots of academia.