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MissMoneyJenny

How did you decide you were ready to take on doing a Ph.D?

15 posts in this topic

I'm currently in a Master's program in a field I am very passionate about. It's a course-based Masters, although I will have a research project at the end of it (although it is more heavily weighted towards being a fairly comprehensive literature review with a small sample size study tacked on), and while I am enjoying my classes and am interested in the topic I really wish I had embarked on something more related to my personal interest in doing research. Unfortunately my undergraduate grades didn't really allow for me to take on that option immediately, but I think it is possible I could finish this degree with Merit or Distinction so that will be helpful for me in the future if I want to embark on more intensive schooling.

 

Basically I think I want to do a Ph.D., but I'm not 100% sure yet. I'll be working between graduation and when I decide I am ready to take on the task, but I am curious as to how everyone else decided "Yes, I want to do intense research for the next 4-6 (or more) years and come out with a doctorate in the end." 

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When I finished my masters I said i was never, ever, ever going back to school.

to make a long story short:

decided i wanted to study demography. i have a degree in sociology and loved every minute of it.

i believe in signs. i decided that if i could go through this process (applying, GRE, getting recommendations, etc) and get accepted, that field (demography) is where i'm supposed to be.

if i went through this and didn't get accepted, it would be a sign that i needed to stay on the track i was on.

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I worked for seven years between my masters and starting a PhD. I realized it was time to get a PhD when I started thinking of my own research questions and couldn't pursue that research until I convinced a faculty member that it was worthwhile. Having a PhD will let me cut out the middle man.

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I took a lot of time off between undergrad and my Master's program and used it to explore a number of options in Psychology.  Then I started to gain more interest in research, largely because I was asking my own questions and frustrated that I either couldn't find the answers or the answers I did find weren't enough.  I have been using my Master's program to explore further and can't wait for even more.  I don't want to wait for someone else to find my questions interesting and run with them, I'd rather get my own answers and share that information with everyone.

 

Recently I went to a panel discussion led by a handful of PhD/PsyD Psychologists and an audience member asked how you know a PhD is right for you and what the workload is like.  A member of the panel said something like this:

 

PhD students on average work about 60hrs a week.  At any given moment you're juggling at least 3 research projects which likely include you helping a professor with their work, your own independent project that may or may not relate to your thesis/dissertation, and you helping an upper level student or other professor with their work.  We also expect you to publish and present so you're constantly submitting/revising manuscripts, preparing posters, and applying for grants.  On top of that you're taking at least 2 courses and are expected to get a 4.0 and you're TAing and expected to conduct study sessions and hold office hours to help undergrads.  So all of that is about 60hrs a week and if it doesn't sound amazing to you then you're in the wrong place.  There are plenty of options at the Master's level that will allow you to make a decent living, love what you do, and have a more manageable work load.

 

Now mind you as she was talking I was on the edge of my seat bursting with excitement over how great all that sounded.  That is a good indicator a PhD is something I'll enjoy doing.   

 

Another thing I've observed when researching PhD programs is how much the students are doing things outside of the requirements of the program.  They may do interdisciplinary research just because it interests them or for added experience.  They may join a reading group that meets regularly to discuss recently published research.  If in Clinical or Counseling Psych they may take on additional practicum hours.  They may design a "minor" to have an additional specialization.  Those with Master's degree's may teach a class at a community college for additional experience (and extra money).  Some serve on academic or professional committees.  They attend conferences not just to present, but also to network and learn what others are doing.

 

So I would say ones willingness and desire to take on any of that extra work speaks volumes as well.  If you're thinking "No way do I want to do more work, especially if it isn't required!"  Then I would say a PhD probably isn't a good fit.  I on the other hand am thinking "Great!  If only I didn't have to bother sleeping, then I could cram even more stuff into the day!" 

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I disagree. I don't understand why anyone would want to work 60 hrs/week at all. I can see myself tolerating it, but I don't see myself enjoying sitting in front of my computer on a sunny Saturday.

 

Back in undergrad, I would spend the first half of the week running experiments and worrying about my research. I couldn't care less about my engineering homework. By the end of the week, other's are struggling midway through a hard problem, and I haven't even started, because I've been in the lab all week. I enjoyed working with my hands and using my brain at the same time. I enjoyed learning more about polymers. And even though the journey of repeating the experiments and long hours sucked, the end result was worth it. It's that feeling of excitement you get when you accomplish something that's been a long time coming, and when something doesn't work for the 100th time, you persevere when others may throw in the towel. For me, that's what research is all about.

 

 

 

 

 

I can tell you right now I don't like working as a process engineer. The most intellectually invigorating thing I get to do on a daily basis is maybe code a macros in VBA that'll let me complete a report faster. Aside from that, there's nothing scientifically rewarding about the job whatsoever. You learn about the specific equipments, take shit from the dickhead operators who have 20+ years of technical experience and doesn't like to be told what to do, try to come up with ways to increase production  and make money (oh this one drives me nuts), all that and walk around with a fake smile so people think you're happy there. Sure the money's nice, but I'm not cut out for this bullshit. There are people who do this well, and actually enjoy the day to day; more power to them. I want to use my brain for what it's actually good for.

Edited by child of 2

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I had an internship during the summer at a small software company. I LOVED the environment there -- the people I worked with were fantastic, smart, and really enjoyed what they were doing.

 

At the same time, I was working on an undergraduate thesis research project with a faculty advisor at the university. It was difficult and required an extra 2 hours per day of work on top of my full-time internship.

 

The big "aha!" moment for me was when I'd work a full day at the company, and then find that the highlight of my day was my afternoon advising meeting where I discussed research ideas and progress. I enjoyed the industry work, but I didn't see myself enjoying it as much as the people around me did. I am using my skills most effectively when doing work in which I am personally invested, and working in industry did not allow me to be personally invested in my work.

 

Finally, I read the following professor "job description" (from the CMU "grad school talk" document):

"If you choose to be a professor at a research university, your life will consist of the following tasks: (i) doing research on anything you like, (ii) working with graduate students, (iii) teaching classes, (iv) applying for grants, (v) flying around to work with other researchers and to give talks on your research, (vi) doing service for your department and school (like giving this talk). Note that I say “your life” rather than your job, because for new faculty, your life becomes your job. It’s a fantastic job/life for me because I love these activities, so I’m happy to work hard at all of them, but it’s not right for everyone. "

 

This sounded absolutely perfect to me. I could imagine going without a PhD, but I would never have the chance to work as a professor and have a job/life like this. 

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After working for several years at the Instructor level (and having my department totally support a promotion to Lecturer only to have the President smack it down because I was an international faculty member teaching in Asia at a partner campus), also after seeing that I was basically publishing as much if not more than tenured supervisors or other tenured colleagues who teach the same thing at the US campus, I decided I'd better use my nearly expired GRE scores and throw my applications in the pot.

 

Building off what Latte said above, yes, one measurement might be the amount of "extra" work you are putting in now doing research, writing, and publishing; if you're doing professor work, why not try to become a Professor?

Edited by judeobscurado

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The scientific world no longer recognizes merit. In my grandfather's day, a chemist could hold a bachelor's and -- so long as they did good science -- they would be able to rise up. Now, your experimental designs, your analysis, your thoughts, hell even your job title and paycheck depend entirely on what letters follow your name on your CV. I love what I'm doing now, but after just two years I've already "maxed out" the options with just a BS. I'm getting a PhD because, really, I have no choice.

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I disagree. I don't understand why anyone would want to work 60 hrs/week at all. I can see myself tolerating it, but I don't see myself enjoying sitting in front of my computer on a sunny Saturday.

 

It's not work if you enjoy it. I don't remember when was the last time I didn't work less than 60 hrs/week, probably half a decade ago or something. But I absolutely love the research that I do and it's very rewarding.

 

 

The scientific world no longer recognizes merit. In my grandfather's day, a chemist could hold a bachelor's and -- so long as they did good science -- they would be able to rise up.

 

But things are much more different nowadays. The world is more competitive, there are more advanced scientific methods to pore over, technological equipment to utilize, etc. It's very hard to do good science with just a bachelor's since we're cramming more knowledge that we're expected to know nowadays compared to in the past.

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I wrote a long reply to MassAppeal and it disappeared, but suffice it to say that unless your grandfather is very very old, that's not true.  Scientists have been expected to have PhDs since the beginning of the 20th century, and at least by the 1920s or 1930s most serious recognized scientists had a PhD.  And even before the PhD was the recognized credential, chemists (and other scientists) basically did the equivalent of one anyway - which is to say that they apprenticed with an established scientist and studied under them, sometimes for much longer than it would take a modern student to get a PhD.  The apprenticeship would involve listening to lectures from established scientists, getting tutorials with the advisor/mentor and also doing research.  That simply morphed into the modern PhD.  Not to mention that there's much more science to learn today than there was in 1832, so you have to take the master's level courses to get a good foundation in the field.

 

Anyway, I decided in my sophomore year of college that I wanted to do research as a career.  I started doing research with a professor in that year and loved it.  I continued junior year and only loved it more, so in the summer before my senior year I started to contemplate whether I wanted to go straight into a PhD, or work for a few years first, or do an MPH and then work, etc.  I decided that since at the time I was very sure that I wanted a research career, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do research on, that there was no point in working in some other field for 2-3 years when I could go straight into a program to prepare me for what I really wanted to do.

 

I planned a career in public health and most of the doctoral programs I wanted to attend required an MPH, so I applied to a few top MPH programs (I was fairly certain I would be admitted, since I had been preparing for PhD programs all this time) and one top PhD program that didn't require a master's but was my dream program.  I ended up getting admitted to that PhD...and I should finish this spring.  And my desire to be a researcher and even the broad area in which I want to do research hasn't really changed much, which is interesting because I tend to be fickle.

 

I did get burned out in grad school in the middle and sometimes I really wish I had taken a few years off - especially because I really wanted to go teach abroad for a few years after college, and eschewed that in favor of going straight to grad school.  But ultimately, I'm glad that I went straight through...not the least of which because I'll be 27 when I graduate.

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There was nothing I wanted to make a career out of more than what I'm pursuing, and a PhD was the only way to get there

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After High School, I spent four years working a series of crappy jobs which funded extensive travels in the Middle East and South Asia, during which I developed an interest in the history of the region. Decided to give college a chance without really knowing where it would lead, and things just progressed from there. Spent another year traveling after my BA, then decided to get an MA in Middle Eastern Studies. About halfway through that two-year program, I realized that I was consistently in the top three performers in the program, and there was nothing else I'd rather spend the next decade or so doing than continuing with my studies. That was over two years ago now, it's only in the last year that I've finally acquired the qualifications needed for a PHD, I'm 30 years old next May so it's now or never for me.

Edited by Conmel

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One of the big things that used to keep me away from a PhD program is the incredible commitment one needs as an academic after the PhD. I was not and am still not sure that I really want to move every couple of years for another post-doc or basically be willing to move somewhere for a tenure-track position (if I can even get one). Although I am happy to live in different places during school, I wanted to end up living in my hometown, close to my family. So, when I first applied to grad school, I wasn't willing to go to the US and commit 5+ years to a PhD program and I did a MSc first in Canada (normally we do a 2 year MSc followed by a 3 year PhD at the same school or a 4 year PhD elsewhere). Many Canadians who aren't sure about the "academic life" will do the 2 year MSc first and then decide what to do.

 

During the 2 year MSc, I realised that I really do enjoy doing research and I would enjoy a PhD program. But the real thing that changed about my previous hesitance to a PhD program was my outlook and approach to the uncertainty of life past the PhD--the part where we have to move around without a permanent job and little choice in location. Instead of feeling like academia will push me around, I reversed my mindset and decided that after my PhD, my spouse and I will consider what academia has to offer in terms of postdoc positions and then decide for ourselves if I want to continue. If the salary is too low, or the locations are crappy, at any time, we will just move back to our hometown and we'll find work doing something else. In addition, I realised there are way more academic positions than tenure tracked professors, and our hometown is a fairly big city with lots of opportunities! Living in or near our hometown is very important to us, so we made an additional promise to ourselves that if we don't find ourselves settled in a place where we would be even happier than in our hometown within 10 years from the start of my PhD, we will just move back. 

 

So, although it sounds weird, I think I felt ready to commit to a PhD (and what comes afterwards) because we decided on a plan that provides an "exit plan" from academia!

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I always knew I wanted to continue my education after I earned my Bachelor's degree. School is what makes me happy. I took this year off (2013-2014) to test myself and make sure I missed school as much as I thought I would. I definitely, definitely do. I wasn't sure if I would take only one year or possibly two years off before applying, but I felt completely empty almost immediately after graduation. I do work full-time in a job that could be a career for someone else but I just don't enjoy it at all. I dread getting up every day and I never felt like that when I was in school (even though I was working then too). That's when I knew I needed to make grad school happen this year. I can't wait to get back into the environment and get back to work.

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Wow, my real answer is pretty simple. I failed at a lot of other paths I tried. I realized I was good at this research thing and I really needed a big change in my life. So here I am giving this my best shot.

 

All the other reasons about career and research goals came after as support, but not what initially pushed me into this.

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