Pursuing your dream job is a journey of constant opportunities. Careers follow myriad paths, and you will have many forks in the road where you will have to choose which direction to go. One of these forks may be the decision of whether you should get/keep a job, or you pursue a graduate degree. This choice isn’t often obvious.
Following my Master’s degree, I returned to my home state and got a job that I generally enjoyed. I was making decent money, I could afford all my bills, and I was close to family. Despite this comfort, I immediately began asking myself whether I should stay where I was or pursue a Doctorate degree.
Wanting That Paper
I had wanted a PhD since I was in high school, before I had any idea what I wanted to do as a career. Education has always had high importance to me, and I’ve always loved being a student. Attaining the highest possible degree was an obvious choice to me. Certainly, part of it was based on ideas of prestige. Dr. Whitbeck. Rachel H. Whitbeck, PhD. Being able to introduce myself as such and have my qualification printed on a business card appealed to me.
While in my third year at college, I discovered that I really like teaching and researching, which brought me to the conclusion that my ideal career is to be a college professor. Being a professor typically requires a PhD, so earning a Doctorate was pragmatic for my career aims.
Ask yourself what your professional and personal goals are. What are your passions? What are your values? Obtaining a higher degree doesn’t have to directly affect your ultimate career plans if you’re doing it for personal reasons. Education is fulfilling in a variety of ways, but not for everyone. Do you want a graduate degree?
It Ain’t Easy
So, I wanted a Doctorate degree, but that couldn’t be the end of my consideration of the topic – wanting something isn’t sufficient. If I decided to pursue that degree, it would bring some significant changes to my life.
As I mentioned earlier, I was making enough money that I could afford my living expenses. Conducting doctorate research, of course, would mean that wouldn’t be able to work full-time. Reduced hours meant reduced income. Not only would I be bringing in less money, I would be spending more money. Tuition isn’t cheap, and I knew I would be paying it for a minimum of three years to earn this degree.
In addition to the stress of budgeting, doing a PhD is a lot of work. Although I can’t do paid work full-time, I would still have to work to support myself. This is in addition to the research I’d be conducting for my thesis. Instead of working 40 hours per week, I would be working 60 hours each week. That’s a lot!
Graduate degrees require hard work, and not just in completing assignments and research projects. You will have to consider where you would have to live and whether you’ll be far away from your support system, budgetary and other practical limitations, and how it will all fit in with the rest of your life. Your decision might also affect your loved ones, especially if you have less time to devote to them due to your education. It’s not a decision to take lightly!
There were a lot of negatives to pursuing a PhD, but I also had to consider the positives. The most obvious is that I would be accomplishing a goal I’d had for a decade. This is something that I’ve wanted since I was a teenager, and we all know that fulfilling long-term goals is incredibly gratifying. Additionally, although pursuing the Doctorate would be a lot of work, I knew that I would enjoy a lot of it. As I said, I love learning and researching, and that’s what doing a PhD is all about. Moreover, as a PhD student, I would have the opportunity to be a teaching assistant, which would give me experience related to my ultimate dream job.
Despite the fact that I would be away from family for my PhD, and the fact that doctoral research is a solo endeavor, meeting friends in a university is pretty easy. I would be able to find people with similar values and interests as me, and I would be able to create a support network.
These are just some possible positives to pursuing a graduate degree. Think about what is making you consider attending grad school in the first place and how doing so might benefit you. Being exposed to new people and opportunities, delving into a topic you’re passionate about, and earning an impressive credential are just some of the ways attending graduate school might bring positivity to your life.
Ultimately, I did decide to pursue my PhD, which I am working on right now. I’m in a great environment and have built a strong network of friends and peers. Living away from family is difficult in some ways, but this pushes me to build skills outside of my research.
Attending graduate school is a major, multi-faceted decision, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Weigh your options, goals, values, and resources when choosing your path forward. And as always, reach out to your colleagues, friends, and family for advice and help deciding. Whatever you choose, you’ve got this.
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Rachel Whitbeck is the Director of Content at Petite2Queen. She is working towards her PhD in Sociology at the University of Limerick in Ireland. Rachel uses her experience in writing, editing, and research to develop content that appeals to and is reflective of the diverse millennial woman.