Academic Redux: Is a PhD Still Worth It?

The holiday season is here! I enjoyed some downtime over the long Thanksgiving weekend. Now that 2018 is on the horizon, it’s time to look back on my projects for 2017. I’m reviewing my career transition plans since I earned my doctorate in 2015. Yes, I’ve wondered if my PhD was worth it. Was it really worth all the time, money, blood, sweat, tears, uncertainty, fear, worry, headaches, anxiety, and excitement?

Spark Plug

Every doctoral student has a personal story. Some of the most compelling stories come from the international community: students living under conditions of civil unrest and more poverty than we could ever imagine,  who somehow find a way to finish their doctorate.

What’s our story?  Patti Mason, DBA and I, Bessie DiDomenica, PhD started this blog because we want to help other doctoral students succeed. Dr. Patti is from a small rural community in the Midwest, and I’m a “military brat.”

But our shared a passion was education. Passion was the spark plug that kept us moving to finish our doctorate. Still, I wonder why we put ourselves through the torture of graduate school…

Why or Why Not?

For many PhDs, today’s job prospects are unsettling. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of a doctorate.

You should be very proactive before you decided to get your doctorate: talk to students, alumni, faculty, attend an open house for different graduate program. Then you’ll have a good reference point to decide if you really need graduate school.

Reasons to get a PhD:

  • To satisfy your curiosity, explore or make a discovery.
  • To expand your career options.
  • To challenge yourself and achieve a difficult goal.
  • To satisfy your thirst for knowledge and it fits you.
  • To improve your writing skills.

Your curiosity and drive are the essence of finishing your doctorate. The process will test your mental, emotional, and physical strength.

Be a realist about your talents. Remember that a PhD program is a very long-term, open-ended, skating-on-thin-ice process – a process to avoid if you’re risk averse.

Reasons not to get a PhD:

  • Peer pressure because your friends are doing it.
  • To keep your student visa.
  • To satisfy the ambitions of other people.
  • To rebel and avoid getting a job.
  • You’ve worked in the industry before.

If you think a PhD is your Plan B to escape from the doldrums of your job, you’ll likely drop out of your program.

A PhD program is exhausting and success means commitment. A doctorate is not an after thought when you can’t think of anything else to do with your life.

A Marvelous Leap of Faith

Still, there are days when Dr. Patti and I marvel at the fact that we earned a doctorate. As I’ve said, we didn’t get a doctorate to teach in academia. We’re looking for interesting work, a better salary, and different ways to apply our education.

During those last few years of my doctoral program, I stumbled around. I was trying to figure out my research topic. I spent long hours of reading, thinking, searching, and  understanding.

There were days when I wasn’t sure where I was going with my study.

But then one day, the light went on. I could see my way clearly and I knew I would finish my dissertation.

That’s the real marvel for me. I decided that if I kept writing, massaging ideas, and asking questions, then I would eventually finish my PhD. For me, it was truly a leap of faith.

In the End

We discovered that we are not quitters. Even when we hit the wall, when we couldn’t stand one more edit to our dissertations, Dr. Patti and I didn’t quit.

At other times, my curiosity kept me going. I just had find out what happens in the end: How would all the pieces of my research fit together? The only way to find out was to write and finish each chapter of my dissertation.

But in truth, I couldn’t tell if a PhD was worth it until I finished my program.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. I’ve discovered a strange comfort with uncertainty and protracted routines. I use my research and organizational skills to quickly find information and complete projects.

I was proud, happy and thrilled when I was introduced as Dr. Bessie DiDomenica at Commencement. It was a strange and exciting journey.

And I still feel an extraordinary sense of personal accomplishment.

Sources: Why do a PhD?

5 Reasons It Is Worth Getting Your PhD, After All

Is Your Doctorate Degree a Good Investment of your Time and Money?


Dr. Bessie

A well-educated mind will always have more questions than answers.
Helen Keller~~~



Author: Dr. Bessie DiDomenica

Food Policy Researcher • Resilient Agriculture Advocate • Public Speaker • Public Policy Wonk • Writer • Teacher • Social Entrepreneur • Associate Editor

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