Why I Didn’t Pursue a PhD

I’m a part of two groups on Facebook related to Academia: one called “The Professor is In”, which is is all about what it’s like being immersed in academia. The second called “The Professor is Out” is all about why people are leaving academia. (Another called High Impact PhD memes if you’re in Academia and need a good laugh, but that’s neither here nor there). The latter inspired me to share my story in case there are others out there who are on the fence. I hope that seeing reasons for why someone did or did not pursue a PhD helps you in your own process.

Today I’ll talk about why I did not.

Any one with a doctorate is a doctor, even if we associate the word “doctor” with medical doctors.

Shout-out to Dr. Ann Kring (UC Berkeley), Dr. Courtney Baker (Tulane University), Dr. Liz Raposa (now Fordham University), and Drs. Natoya Haskins and Cheryl Dickter (William & Mary, see footnote 1) for being great mentors. All of these mentors I highly recommend as strong researchers, excellent female mentors, and dedicated allies to diverse groups.

I decided to leave academia after completing my master’s. There are always personal reasons to leave a commitment. I originally entered my master’s program looking to apply to PhDs in clinical psychology. I went through the process in my second year interviewing at some really great schools and ultimately getting an offer.

Here’s what I learned in my decision-making process to turn down a PhD program:

This is a snapshot from NerdWallet’s on graduate student payments [7]
  1. Financial: Personal factors can make it impossible to live on a minimum wage stipend. Maybe you’re unwilling to commit to more student loans (the average borrower — which is about 13% of Americans, has $30,000 in undergrad loans, and potentially $70,000 more in graduate loans [2]). Getting a PhD in another country like Spain or Germany may actually be cheaper.

Recognition that my passion for research doesn’t have to stop.

I can always keep learning, and I will.

It’s okay to recognize and reduce your stressloads and prioritize your health.

Percentage of Doctoral Recipients Without Employment Commitments, 2014 from the Atlantic

5. The competition may be saturated: For the last 5+ years, articles [3, 4, 5, 6] have come out about the saturation of PhDs increasing. However, there’s one convincingly critcal article I encountered that disagrees [7]. I think this can be true if you’re hoping to continue in academia as a professor seeking tenure.
It is certainly not impossible, and the better you can make yourself competitive in your program, the better your chances are. If you’re not continuing in academia, as long as you can market your skills, there are many great industries PhD candidates (or even if you decide the best option is to leave your program, that’s ok too) can move on to, and very successfully.

For many the PhD route is the right route. For some, including myself at the time, it was not.

Either way is okay if you’re honest with yourself.

There is always hope, regardless of where you are in your journey.

  1. Dr. Dickter and I continue to do research together and are applying for an NSF grant with additional professors to further develop my master’s thesis on Cultural Competence.

References

  1. Mark at Pilot. (n.d.). Marie Curie & her world-changing Phd thesis. The Document Centre. Retrieved January 15, 2022, from https://www.document-centre.co.uk/marie-curie-her-world-changing-phd-thesis/
  2. Helhoski, A. (May 20, 2021). How many Americans have student loan debt? NerdWallet. Retrieved January 15, 2022, from https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/loans/student-loans/how-many-americans-have-student-loan-debt
  3. Malloy, J., Young, L., & Berdahl, L. (2021, June 22). Inside higher ed. How the Ph.D. job crisis is built into the system and what can be done about it (opinion). Retrieved January 15, 2022, from https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2021/06/22/how-phd-job-crisis-built-system-and-what-can-be-done-about-it-opinion
  4. Bloomberg. (2021, January 4). America is Pumping out Too Many PhDs. Bloomberg.com. Retrieved January 15, 2022, from https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2021-01-04/america-is-pumping-out-too-many-ph-d-s
  5. McKenna, L. (2016, April 25). The number of ph.d.s keeps rising despite bad job numbers. The Atlantic. Retrieved January 15, 2022, from https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/04/bad-job-market-phds/479205/
  6. Mervis, J. (2016, May 19). ‘Employment crisis’ for new ph.d.s is an illusion. Science — Careers. Retrieved January 15, 2022, from https://www.science.org/content/article/employment-crisis-new-phds-illusion
  7. Lane, R. (2021, July 14). How much do graduate students get paid? NerdWallet. Retrieved January 15, 2022, from https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/loans/student-loans/how-much-do-graduate-students-get-paid

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