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Should I mention in my PhD application that I don't need funding? (and how to do that)


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I'm 40 years old and financially independent. I'm a writer receiving royalties from previously published books, so I don't need to work. Also, my husband has a good job. The only reason I want to get a PhD is to increase my authority as a writer/expert in my field (behavioral/evolutionary psychology) and also to be able to do independent research that will result in new books and consulting clients (of course, I can and do independent research without a PhD, but then I run into the "authority problem", so I'd rather have the degree). I don't want to teach or work in a lab. I also don't want to be forced to do it (because of funding). I'd rather do much of my PhD at home (I understand I'll need to take classes in person and show up for meetings. That's ok. I just don't want to WORK in any lab/department, participate in journal clubs and this kind of stuff). 

Is there any advantage to be in this position and reveal to the schools I'm interested in that I don't need or want any funding? Would this make me less desirable to top schools?

How (in which phase of the application process) should I mention that?

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I’m not sure how likely it is that programs would accept a student who does not want to do research and wants to work only on their own terms. It’s not how a PhD works regardless of funding status. 
 

Why not find an online program and buy your PhD? Or do a course-based masters? 

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Thanks for your input. I have considered online programs and something like that would actually be ideal. But as a writer, I have a public reputation and being "branded" as having a PhD from an online school is undesirable. Getting a degree from a top school or relatively good school would translate into better book deals (with big publishers) and better reputation. 

I am actually willing to do research and collaborate with others. TA work wouldn't be too bad either. What I wanted to avoid was an actual "job" at the university, something that would require me to have to go to the school almost daily, do chores for the department, this kind of stuff. Also, activities like journal clubs are just irritating (I've done that during my masters and hated the experience). I know that this is not a requirement, but I've heard that some PIs expect students to participate in such activities. I've been working at home for 15 years. I've gotten so used to it that I don't like the idea of getting out of my house for any reason. I know, it sounds so silly!

So I thought that by forgoing funding I would be able to keep my independence, doing what I want and feel comfortable with, instead of being forced to do things I don't want to do because of funding requirements. 

Maybe I'm just being silly and going through the process is not that bad. 

 

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If you are looking for greater independence, you may consider an institution that doesn't offer funding at all. You will sacrifice pedigree for independence, however.

I'm reading a lot about what you want from a programme and how you'd like to be exempt from certain requirements, but I'm not seeing what you bring to the table. What will you contribute? I see you want the programme to give you authority and reputation but you want to maintain distance from it, not become part of it.

When I read what you wrote, I get a sense that you feel you're "above" a lot of these things, due to your prior success and financial situation. Am I reading too much into it?

From this information alone, you don't seem invested in the process enough to be worth accepting as a student. You're obviously more than capable of doing all the learning and work by yourself. The degree is just a way of elevating your status. 

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Posted (edited)

To the author: I don't think what you wrote is bad and some people in this forum may just feel personally attacked.

To @Psyche007: Yes, I think you're reading too much into it. Like "what do you bring to the table..." Uhm... she or he or they actually brings a lot, and above the average undergrad coming in. This person brings years of experience and a different lifestyle that can add to the classroom/discussions. And they have published books which shows they can write well and is capable of publishing future work. In other words, I imagine they have a great CV (even if it may lack research). And from what is posted, I don't think what they wrote makes them appear above or entitled. I feel like you were just put off by what they wrote, which is just your opinion. But frankly, this person is stating the reality of what most PhD students have to do and they would like to not do part of that in order to manage the life they have built for themselves. So if they would like to disclose in the future that they do not want to do an RA-ship, but opt to do a TA-ship from time to time, why not? I have seen this done countless of times. I literally have a fellowship that pays me to stay at home and do my work (besides from going to class and staying on good academic standing; which is something that is unavoidable). And I am in a top-tier institution for my field. Personally, as long as a student goes to class, gets great grades and stay connected with their advisors, they are fine and motivated enough to get a PhD. And also to your point that they "want to distance themselves from the department, and not be a part of it..." Uhm... is academia a cult? To some, yes... to others, no. A lot of students do not like being required to participate in colloquiums because not all of them relate to their interests or even line up with their schedules. So this person bartering to not have to go to the ones that won't help them due to their work is something this person has every right to do (even if the department says no, at least they asked). And what is wrong with getting a PhD to elevate one's status? You made it seem like its wrong for them to want to do this. A lot of people who get PhDs especially in the sciences get their PhDs for better job prospects, not because they are passionate about learning or research. And to this part "From this information alone, you don't seem invested in the process enough to be worth accepting as a student. You're obviously more than capable of doing all the learning and work by yourself. The degree is just a way of elevating your status." You are really full of it. Who are you to decide whether or not someone is motivated or invested? Just because their motivations are different from yours, it does not give you the right to downplay their desire to obtain a PhD. The reason this person gave is GREAT and it makes sense. You know how many times I heard from students that the reason why they came to a PhD is program is because they didn't know what else to do or that they need this to get a job in their field (especially in the social sciences). And guess what, they still excel and do great. I understand that passion and love for research is what drives a lot of students to do well and get through hard days, but for some its how will this degree help them in the long run. And this person clearly wrote that. So I think, you need to check your bias and understand that there are different perspectives.  

Anyways, to the author of the post. Personally, I think you can say in your application that you have external funding that will cover the stipend/cost of living (once/if you get accepted you can elaborate). I say frame it like that so this way you can be offered a tuition waver. I also suggest framing it this way so that you don't let this matter take up the bulk of your statement since some departments may not care. So, in your statement, only three-four sentences is needed towards the bottom and you can explain the rest over the phone/in person/email if you are admitted.

Also, the biggest lesson here is that your post can be interpreted in different ways. How you framed it didn't bother me but it appeared to ruffle some feathers... So watch how you frame it in discussions and in emails. I don't think what you said is wrong and if you were a identifiable man it would be thought as "highlighting" your experiences (I am unaware of your gender but the fact remains). I have seen people highlight their wants using their accomplishments over and over as a means to barter, especially white cisgender men. So do not feel bad or discouraged! Apply to a wide range of schools (top tier and lower tier). Ph.D. programs are hard to get into normally and our new economic crisis may even make it harder for the years to come. Now in terms of program requirements, there may be things you will have to do because they are required, that is the reality of any position. But I can say for myself that I received an prestigious external fellowship and I can basically do my own research that is not tied to my department, so I have more autonomy than my peers. I can decide to not go to certain department events and will not be judged as harshly as my peers. My funding can't be taken away, so there are benefits to having your own funding. However, even though you can "distance yourself from the department" (in terms of not attending colloquiums, working groups, faculty talks), it may also have an impact on how well you do there and who will work with you. Everyone and every department is different. But a top tier school (like 1-10 or 11-20) may not care that you have funding unless its prestigious or what not (in your case it's not), so I don't think you have an advantage but its also not a disadvantage. Personally your experience as a writer and author is beneficial. Research is important, and it doesn't sound like to me that you have a problem with doing research. And in my experience, I have done projects I wanted to do but there was tweaking and changes here and there (prompted by my advisors) and that is apart of growing. So if you are willing to grow and change, you will be fine. If you are not willing to grow, you will face problems. In terms of not wanting to work in the lab or department, it depends on the discipline you are in. With psychology, you will be required to do lab work. But again, I have seen in cases that advisors work with their students to accommodate their preferences (like doing lab work from home or coming in once a week for lab seminar).

This is all said to say, once and if you are admitted, speak to them. If it doesn't work with you, don't accept. But in your application, don't get ahead of yourself. Just relay 3 to 4 sentences about external funding. Once and if you are admitted you can speak to them about your preferences. The department functions may be something you can haggle (e.g. going to the ones that fall on the days of when you're on campus for class already). For lab, see if advisors had have students who do work from home for the most part, or ask if lab is held once a week or so. Ultimately, they don't need to accommodate your preferences but you never know if its on the table if you don't ask. 

Good Luck!

I wish you the best. 

Edited by CeXra
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As mentioned above, you can state your external funding at different stages of the application. If you reach out to potential PIs before applying, you can mention that in your interaction and see if there are different procedures. Admission policies vary; some admissions are entirely program decisions while in some other programs individual PIs may have more say in that.

Alternatively, would you consider programs in the UK or Australia? Even at top universities, funding can be scarce so they provide more flexibility to PhD students. Some may not require coursework to begin with (expected in previous studies). There are international students who work in their home country and only fly to the UK and Australia for more intensive supervision in addition to virtual meetings from time to time. It typically takes these students longer to graduate as it can be difficult to balance a full-time job and a PhD (which some people consider a full-time job), and some do not end up graduating. But it seems with your experience it may not be a problem. 

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Thanks so much for all the reply guys! I really appreciate it! @Psyche007, I may have come across as being only interested in the status, but I really do love psychology and the process of research. I had a blast doing my master's. I even consider that it's possible that I may choose a career in academia depending on how things go. I don't really want to "distance myself from the department". What I want to avoid is all the "fluff" that I hear many doctorate students complaining about and that they have to do because their funding is associated with it. I had a friend who couldn't find time to work on his own research because his PI would have him do chores, write grants, and help with unrelated tasks all the time. Also, I have become a home body over the years and hate having to leave my house, so the idea of doing something that would require me to go out several days per week is just unappealing to me... I feel silly saying this though and I'm sure that if push comes to shove, I'll just do what I have to do to get things done. 

@CeXra, you are right that there's more to it that I said in my post! My dream life is doing research and writing about it, so I really think a PhD is the way to go. It is good for my writing and consulting career? Sure. But I am passionate about the field and I do enjoy the research process. I also enjoy collaborating with other researchers and networking, so I don't expect the whole process to be miserable.

@transfatfree, yes, I would be willing to move overseas. My husband's family is from Germany, so that is an open option. We have EU passports, so mainland Europe is more likely to happen than the UK.

I still have a long way to go though, because there are many gaps in my application. I need to come up with a plan for the next 2 years or so to strengthen my application and be ready to start this process.

I'll start another topic giving more detailed information about my situation.

Again, thank you all for replying! 

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, CeXra said:

To the author: I don't think what you wrote is bad and some people in this forum may just feel personally attacked.

To @Psyche007: Yes, I think you're reading too much into it. ....

Wow, nice wall of text.

You're assuming a great deal. I am asking a real question: What does the author bring to the table? It's not an unreasonable question considering a valuable spot is on the line. How do you know they write well? Have you read their work? You may be right, but unless you have, you're making assumptions. 

I'm basing everything on what I was able to read. You may think it's an uncharitable take, and that's fine. But it's not unwarranted. I don't have the luxury of viewing a completed application, just a couple of posts on a forum.

It's not wrong to want one for elevated status, but it's probably not the most attractive quality in an applicant. I'm not full of anything: the author said "Maybe I'm just being silly and going through the process is not that bad." This indicates previous judgement regarding the process. I'm not making a decision, I'm reflecting what I see. I'm open to being wrong, but this certainly triggered you in the worst way.

There are indeed different perspectives. I offered an honest one. Right or wrong, it's acceptable to do, even if you don't like it and feel compelled to react in such a hostile and immature way.

Edited by Psyche007
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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, Belkis said:

Thanks so much for all the reply guys! I really appreciate it! @Psyche007, I may have come across as being only interested in the status, but I really do love psychology and the process of research. I had a blast doing my master's. I even consider that it's possible that I may choose a career in academia depending on how things go. I don't really want to "distance myself from the department". What I want to avoid is all the "fluff" that I hear many doctorate students complaining about and that they have to do because their funding is associated with it. I had a friend who couldn't find time to work on his own research because his PI would have him do chores, write grants, and help with unrelated tasks all the time. Also, I have become a home body over the years and hate having to leave my house, so the idea of doing something that would require me to go out several days per week is just unappealing to me... I feel silly saying this though and I'm sure that if push comes to shove, I'll just do what I have to do to get things done. 

Again, thank you all for replying! 

If anything, I hope my response serves as a way for you to gauge how not to frame it. I could only evaluate what was presented to me. I certainly believe that you have plenty to offer, but it just wasn't presented here.

I'm in my programme for a radically different reason than pretty much every other student, a reason that certainly goes against the grain of the mainstream. I'm also older than you are, by a smidge. I've gone about this the non-traditional way, too.

It might serve you to cultivate a relationship with the academics you're interested in working with, because you might be surprised how a programme could be tailored to your needs and interests, but that's a different conversation than talking about how being self-funded releases you from programme obligations. If you're already considered an expert in your field, it's going to be a significant consideration for anyone willing to supervise you.

I just think that waiting until programme acceptance to discuss this kind of thing seems like misrepresentation. While some people might feel like obscuring their intentions, a mature and honest person will work to find the right place for them with integrity.

Edited by Psyche007
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1 hour ago, Psyche007 said:

Wow, nice wall of text.

You're assuming a great deal. I am asking a real question: What does the author bring to the table? It's not an unreasonable question considering a valuable spot is on the line. How do you know they write well? Have you read their work? You may be right, but unless you have, you're making assumptions. 

I'm basing everything on what I was able to read. You may think it's an uncharitable take, and that's fine. But it's not unwarranted. I don't have the luxury of viewing a completed application, just a couple of posts on a forum.

It's not wrong to want one for elevated status, but it's probably not the most attractive quality in an applicant. I'm not full of anything: the author said "Maybe I'm just being silly and going through the process is not that bad." This indicates previous judgement regarding the process. I'm not making a decision, I'm reflecting what I see. I'm open to being wrong, but this certainly triggered you in the worst way.

There are indeed different perspectives. I offered an honest one. Right or wrong, it's acceptable to do, even if you don't like it and feel compelled to react in such a hostile and immature way.

Nah, you're response, although your opinion, was very undermining and judgmental. How are you gonna tell someone you don't know "You don't seem invested in the process." An ass hat statement.You were judging the individual and didn't really, in my opinion, try to give any real answer as to how the person can go about the way. I'm immature? If you say so. And yes I was very triggered at your responses, which was met with my "wall" that called you out. And again, you were obviously pressed or should I say, insecure, since you perceived the author to be full of his/herself based on her accomplishments and what she brings to the table, which again I don't know what you skipped over, but the person wrote some. Your statements, in my opinion, was condescending and judgmental and was met with a response. 

And again, your response didn't address how the author could go about writing it in their application AT ALL. Just your extra opinion on the matter was included, whether right or wrong. 

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I agree with @Psyche007. Just make sure you carefully word your emails & SOPs when you apply in the future. Of course, mentors aren't looking for drones, but I also think the majority may be hesitant to take on someone with a perceived "higher than thou" attitude (even if that's not the case). Also, a PhD program offers so much more than funding: mentors, connections, and most importantly, a higher education--a privilege most people can't afford. 

My answer to you is to be upfront with what you want, but think about how to word it so as not to put you in a negative light. I would also implore you to not think about PhD programs as "this for that," but rather an opportunity to grow, make connections, and think critically about the prevailing ideas in your field.

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On 5/22/2020 at 2:31 PM, CeXra said:

I feel like you were just put off by what they wrote, which is just your opinion.

Okay let's try to be helpful instead of responding to other people, because a lot of your comments are just an attack to others and not helpful to OP. You obviously were triggered, but the way you go after people is not OK. 

 

OP seems to want to do a PhD and people have their own reasons for doing one. I agree with @Psyche007 (sorry @CeXra) that OP may give the impression that he/she did not want to go 'all in' to get the PhD. OP nuanced that in the second post though, and honestly feels what a lot of grad students may be feeling (and professors). The comment about what OP brings to the table was IMHO prematurely formed, but 'perceived motivation' may be one of the strongest assets a potential student brings. However the response was disproportionate (Plus you also call someone full of themselves, how are you not doing the same thing back?!). I think the response were helpful such that OP can maybe see how talking about a PhD in such terms can really rub people, particularly in academia the wrong way. Is that right? No. But so many things in academia are not right and problematic, but it's also a matter of choosing one's battles wisely and getting in is a whole different discussion. Yes, many people don't do a PhD out of a deep passion for the field, but very few would express that. That being said, I don't think its wrong to ask people whether they're really want to do a PhD. There are a lot of undergrads that I work with who want to do a PhD who would probably have better options around to suit their needs and goals, yet are just really suck into this grad school mindset. I don't think its wrong to raise that question.

Anyway, yeah I also got a nice sum of money backing me up, but still my department requires me to teach, do 'professional services' as they call it (100% mandatory, although not found in the grad handbook), expects me to come to colloquium and 'support' the academic community in other ways. This is 'despite' the money I have, such that my advisor has money 'to buy me out', but the department won't let him. Even if not official requirements on paper, I'm sure I'll get issues if I don't do these duties. And I'm at a top-tier too and transferred from another top-tier. And I HAVE seen students being booted out of the program for not being 'integrated in the department enough' and 'cutting corners' in such services, even if they HAD money. Some schools may let you get away with it, but it will still set bad blood with other advisors and/or students, who just may as much 'harm' or 'help' you. 

Do I like going to every colloquium? No. Am I expected to go and do faculty make issues if we dont? yes. It's really considered a form of respect or something. Are they program requirements, officially no. But the department still uses them as an evaluative standard.

OP may therefore really need to figure out what departments AND PIs do not have such expectations, and they'll probably be scarce. Such expectations may also be other things (e.g., who manages undergrad RAs? Who does certain paperwork), is there a lab manager who could take duties of?

Having money doesn't mean one is always able to use it too, some places have (unofficial) requirements that they may still enforce. However, I've seen it in the EU a lot more often since you often won't take many classes and have fewer duties and expectations. That said, a Master's degree is required for mainland Europe, which will generally include more hours on campus. If you an EU citizen I would definitely look into places there and just start applying to things that interest you or see if there is any prof you can help to get into the academic network (lot more important there). If you were to common to the US or potentially another non-EU place, you'd also run into potential visa issues for family if you'd like to bring them and their ability to get a workpermit. Furthermore, getting a student visa is often contingent on proof of funding. Similarly, work on campus (TA etc) is often the way you don't have to pay tuition.

I would be very mindful of how you frame things, and also whether you let your previous experiences influence what you expect graduate school to be. It is not normal, and shouldn't be normal to do certain 'chores' for your PI. That says more about the PI and is not something that I have seen happen a lot. If your friend can't do research because of that, he needs to discuss things with his PI. This is not common.

 

Nonetheless, other things that have been raised. Academia may look like a cult, but I've been warned so many times by faculty and my advisor that it is really a small community in which everybody knows everybody (particularly evolutionary psychology, with their (in)famous SPSP party and so on).  The fields you mention DO function like this. Furthermore, part of being part of the community is doing services (e.g., unpaid peer review, etc.; organize symposium for which you even have to pay to attend). Bottom line, who do you know, who do you work with, who likes you (and who doesn't) is a big part. 

Another thing to be mindful of is also how you frame your future goals. Particularly in psych (and those areas in psych), many advisors expect their students to be the 'next generation' of academics (although I know some exceptions in Social Psych). Some people in my program strategically frame it to their advisors as not being 100% sure about academia yet, while most grad students know they don't have that interest at all. Even if the advisor is OK, the admission committee may also make a fuzz/problem. 

That being said, there are also good things about being on campus a fair bit. Other grad students can be the best collaborators, there are many interesting people to be met. Even if you don't like the colloquium, you may still learn something (and usually good food afterwards). 

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I think the fact that I, like @Psyche007, and probably others are getting a negative tone from this post is just a point of awareness I think we wish to helpfully raise about how things *might* come off. I wanted to echo this because I think it’s an important point that got driven off course by other posters. 
 

My two cents: if your current career isn’t going t substantially change by pursuing a PhD, why spend 4-5+ years of your life pursuing one? Will it change your earnings potential at all; if you are already established and writing, will “PhD” at the end of your title really change things? These are actually valid questions I’m curious about. 
 

There are programs that probably would take you on with no mentor, let you do your own thing, etc., but for what it’s worth these institutions are probably not viewed as legitimate by most academics. If academics aren’t your audience for your books, though, I doubt the general public will been keen enough to investigate your exact credentials. 
 

Tl;dr: why spend your own money unless it’s really going to change things financially for you? 

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Posted (edited)
12 hours ago, PokePsych said:

Okay let's try to be helpful instead of responding to other people, because a lot of your comments are just an attack to others and not helpful to OP. You obviously were triggered, but the way you go after people is not OK. 

 

OP seems to want to do a PhD and people have their own reasons for doing one. I agree with @Psyche007 (sorry @CeXra) that OP may give the impression that he/she did not want to go 'all in' to get the PhD. OP nuanced that in the second post though, and honestly feels what a lot of grad students may be feeling (and professors). The comment about what OP brings to the table was IMHO prematurely formed, but 'perceived motivation' may be one of the strongest assets a potential student brings. However the response was disproportionate (Plus you also call someone full of themselves, how are you not doing the same thing back?!). I think the response were helpful such that OP can maybe see how talking about a PhD in such terms can really rub people, particularly in academia the wrong way. Is that right? No. But so many things in academia are not right and problematic, but it's also a matter of choosing one's battles wisely and getting in is a whole different discussion. Yes, many people don't do a PhD out of a deep passion for the field, but very few would express that. That being said, I don't think its wrong to ask people whether they're really want to do a PhD. There are a lot of undergrads that I work with who want to do a PhD who would probably have better options around to suit their needs and goals, yet are just really suck into this grad school mindset. I don't think its wrong to raise that question.

Okay, you all can have your opinions but I stand firm on what I posted. It is not okay to state "you don't seem invested in the process enough to be worth accepting as a student." As an academic that is for inclusivity, I was obviously triggered by the disrespect my peers choose to insert. That's a full of it sentence that was fueled by that person's bias on the OP's motivation to enroll in a Ph.D. program (which was not the OP's reason for opening this forum page I will add). And it was plain disrespectful. If you all think that type of language is alright or okay, than that is on you all. I am tired of the narrative or perspective of "one type" of graduate student. The reality is there are different motivations so why downplay or shame others people for having different motivations. And yes the OP clarified that they are very passionate about psychology and research, but even if they weren't it shouldn't have matter. They laid out a clear plan and reason as to why getting a Ph.D. would be useful for them i.e. to help their current career. So I disagreed with that person's opinionated remark that reflected his/her bias who also did not at the time answer the question the OP provided, which was to find out how to format or go about the funding inquiry. And yes, even I agreed with you and stated "Also, the biggest lesson here is that your post can be interpreted in different ways. How you framed it didn't bother me but it appeared to ruffle some feathers... So watch how you frame it in discussions and in emails." So again, the bulk of the people in this forum stating they agree with Psyche007 honestly baffles me because that person did not answer the OP's original question nor stated that the OP should be careful on how they frame this matter because it can rub some people the wrong way. We are clearly saying the same thing but okay then. I am triggered? Sure, I will take that because I am tired of people being disrespected. And I provided a response answering the OPs question: Anyways, to the author of the post. Personally, I think you can say in your application that you have external funding that will cover the stipend/cost of living (once/if you get accepted you can elaborate). I say frame it like that so this way you can be offered a tuition waver. I also suggest framing it this way so that you don't let this matter take up the bulk of your statement since some departments may not care. So, in your statement, only three-four sentences is needed towards the bottom and you can explain the rest over the phone/in person/email if you are admitted. And I continued to write two more paragraphs addressing the OP initial question. But go off. 

And yes, to your remark "how are you not doing the same thing back?!"... so its a problem now to call someone out on their disrespect? So aren't you now (by your own logic) being full of yourself? So let us honestly not do that. Again, for those who did not completely read my response to Psyche007, I have no problem with their opinion that they feel the OP (based on what they wrote) feels above or entitled or may rub some people the wrong way. Many of you feel that way and I didn't directly respond to you all. My problem lies with the clear disrespect of his statement. Who is that person to decided who is "worth accepting as a student." Who is that person to decide if someone's motivation is not good enough (what he/she really means, moral enough) to get a Ph.D.? That is not that person's job to decide. That is what I was originally upset about and yes upset and that is OKAY.

And to your point "Yes, many people don't do a PhD out of a deep passion for the field, but very few would express that. That being said, I don't think its wrong to ask people whether they're really want to do a PhD." And why is that very few would express that? Time and time again students are shamed by professors and their peers instead of listened to when it comes to their reasons for pursuit. And its alright to ask questions to see if a Ph.D. is something a person truly wants. I never said it wasn't. And that is not what Psyche007 was doing. The OP clearly (multiple times) explained why a Ph.D. from a accredited institution is best for them as opposed to an online certificate or a purchased Ph.D. but for some reason that answer was not good enough. The matter of the fact is that the OP gave a good reason (and they did not have to give you all any reason) that was not only disregarded by Psyche007 but it was also put down as if the OP is using or taking advantage of academia or something. That was my only problem and I called it out. And I stand by it. 

Its alright to have different motivations if they make sense. But the OP did not originally ask for anyone's opinion over their motivations to pursue a Ph.D. So once the OP gave it, whether or not you agreed with its morality, it shouldn't have been questioned disrespectfully or put down, which yes that person did. So I addressed that person, while also providing a thorough response to the OP's original question. 

And to this remark: "but the way you go after people is not OK." Do not generalize my response to this one person about this one matter as an indicator of how I reply to comments. I was upset at the disrespect this one person showed and I responded in a manner you do not agree with. It's within your right to respond to me but lets be fair now because how he responded was not OK. 

Last thing I will say on the matter. 

Edited by CeXra
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And I would like to apologize to the OP about this whole back and forth with other users. It was not my intention to stray away from the topic. I just had to speak up about something I saw that didn't sit right with me. I do hope you got some answers to your question and found a way to frame it in your application!

 

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I wanted to thank you all for the great advice! I realize now that I need to be careful when framing the issue of funding if I decide to mention it in my application because it could rub people the wrong way. However, after all this back and forth, I realize that maybe I should not mention self-funding at all. 

As I learn more about the process of a PhD, I realize there is much more to funding than just support the student in exchange of cheap labor. I thought that if that was the case, I could just fund myself and have less commitments, since I hear people complaining all the time about how boring or "useless" some of these activities can be. But these impressions come from my ignorance about the process. 

Although I am not completely sure that a PhD is really what I want, I do believe that it would be beneficial. I love psychology as I stated previously, and I do enjoy the research process. I believe I can contribute to the field, but I don't agree with the idea that unless I'm selfless about it I don't have any business chasing a PhD. Let's not fool ourselves here! We all have a background in psychology and should understand the human psyche enough to know that we all look to fulfill our own needs and interests before we think about contribution. It's not uncommon to see individuals who contribute heavily to the field but have strong selfish motives (in academia this is more likely to be the norm than the exception). I have seen so many people embark on a PhD without the slightest clue when it comes to purpose or even the desire to contribute to the field. I'm not on either end of the spectrum. 

On the other hand, this discussion made me reflect if a PhD is going to significantly make an impact on my life/career to justify the investment of time and effort, as @Clinapp2017 suggested. I still don't know. I write mostly self-help books. My original career was in business (BA in business, MBA). I briefly worked in business consulting, but I soon started to write about personal management (personal planning, time management, goal setting, personal branding, etc.) and got established as an author. So that's how I developed an interest in psychology. I went on to get a BA in psychology and a master's mostly focused on evolutionary psychology (the reason why is a long story). I have developed a profound passion for the field and this has slowly changed my writing. As I talk about more "serious" topics in psychology (anxiety and mental issues in general, evolutionary roots of behavior, etc.) I get called out for "not knowing what I'm talking about" because I don't have a PhD. I'm not a "real" psychologist (this happens mostly with my U.S. audience, since in America to "be" a psychologist you must have completed a doctorate). Of course, this impression could be just a factor of where this feedback is coming from (social media, blogs, YouTube) and people can be really mean in these platforms. But when I heard from my publisher than a PhD would be a big plus if I want to write about more complex topics in psychology, I started to think about it more seriously. He said that if I want to write books that translate complex psychological concepts and current research to a general audience, he would rather market me as an "expert", and in this case, an expert is someone who has a PhD. He dropped names like Daniel Kahneman and Daniel Gilbert. He said he would love it if I could write something like "Stumbling on Happiness" or "Thinking, Fast and Slow" (and yes, this is the style I'm going for and I realize I don't really need a PhD to write these type of books). So I feel pressure from my audience and from my publisher, but the question is still up in the air. Will the effort pay off? I still don't have an answer. 

A program overseas, as someone has mentioned, would probably work out better if that meant that I could just work remotely and fly occasionally to meet my advisor. To be clear, I am an American living in Boston, but I also have Portuguese and German citizenship though ancestry and marriage (this caused some confusion). So it would be relatively easy to move to mainland Europe because my husband and I have EU passports. 

Nevertheless, as I think about my situation to elaborate it to you guys here, I can't help feeling like I'm trying very hard to complicate my life needlessly! 

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@Belkis

This adds a great deal of colour to your position and makes a lot of sense. A general audience may well be more impressed by an author that includes PhD after their name, although I admit I don’t know how much attention a general audience pays to academic pedigree outside of the Ivies.

Personally, I tend to be skeptical of authors that do that, because it communicates an appeal to authority. Of course, I am not part of your target audience. The experts that write books I read don’t include their education after their names, but granted they’re not self-help. That genre may have a ‘credibility issue’ as you’ve already mentioned.

I don’t think ‘selfless’ is the right way to conceptualize the approach for earning an PhD. Like I said earlier, it is a two-way investment. There is more to a lot of these tasks than cheap labour. Some is tradition, hazing, and life lessons. Those of us with life experience don’t always need them, but there is other value involved. Ultimately, it sounds like earning a PhD is marketing tool that will also enrich your personal knowledge.

TL;DR: I think your best bet is to cultivate a relationship with an academic capable of supervising you in your area of interest. You’re bound to find someone who can support you in that way and won’t see you as future competition (as an author).

Although I am only vaguely familiar with how publishing works, if you haven’t already thought of it, perhaps you could approach this initially by co-writing a book with an evo-psych as ‘consultant’, especially to build a close working relationship. You’d have to do a cost-benefit analysis. It might be a decent intermediate step and could be valuable for crystallizing your future goals.

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On 5/23/2020 at 2:27 PM, PokePsych said:

OP seems to want to do a PhD and people have their own reasons for doing one. I agree with @Psyche007 (sorry @CeXra) that OP may give the impression that he/she did not want to go 'all in' to get the PhD.

....

I would be very mindful of how you frame things, and also whether you let your previous experiences influence what you expect graduate school to be. It is not normal, and shouldn't be normal to do certain 'chores' for your PI. That says more about the PI and is not something that I have seen happen a lot. If your friend can't do research because of that, he needs to discuss things with his PI. This is not common.

....

Nonetheless, other things that have been raised. Academia may look like a cult, but I've been warned so many times by faculty and my advisor that it is really a small community in which everybody knows everybody (particularly evolutionary psychology, with their (in)famous SPSP party and so on).  The fields you mention DO function like this. Furthermore, part of being part of the community is doing services (e.g., unpaid peer review, etc.; organize symposium for which you even have to pay to attend). Bottom line, who do you know, who do you work with, who likes you (and who doesn't) is a big part. 

Another thing to be mindful of is also how you frame your future goals.

....

That being said, there are also good things about being on campus a fair bit. Other grad students can be the best collaborators, there are many interesting people to be met. Even if you don't like the colloquium, you may still learn something (and usually good food afterwards). 

Agreed, that top bit was honestly how I was reading this- which takes it to the point of being careful how things are framed. Well said Poke 🙂

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@CeXra If you actually read what I said - I said I agreed that the OP may give the wrong impression BUT that I also agree with you that the opinion of worth and other things being said may have been prematurely formed by @Psyche007. Nor do I see anyone making assumptions about worth other than Psyche007. I do think the language was too strong for my preference and the judgement too harsh, but such judgments are commonly made in Academia (e.g., who is 'worth' of funding is a central question). I don't think it was Psyche007's job to call on people's worth, but I do think he/she/they raised something else important to which people primarily responded. I think most people felt OP may give the impression he/she/they don't want to fully commit to the PhD (i.e., invested enough), including the annoying parts that come with any job. Given that OP initially indicated he/she/they didn't want to do the 'fluff', people were questioning if he/she/they were really committed to a PhD. I don't think that is a weird response that people then question whether OP is 'motivated' enough, since a PhD comes with many downsides. Thus, rather than the right motivation, as you frame it, I think this was more a question of whether OP wanted to really commit to a PhD, including the bad parts that are sort of a requirement (i.e., motivated enough). Some people may have issues with OP's motivation, Psyche007's comments seems suggestive of that. Most people who responded did not seem to raise that. I don't see anyone else make it about 'morality' or the right motivation.  Furthermore, knowing the Evo psych field quite well, they're very tight-knit AND some of the parts OP objects against will not sit well with this community - which in turn will harm their likelihood of completing a PhD (unhappy advisor = problems). He/she/they should be made aware of that. Similarly, asking whether a PhD is the right route for OP to complete his/her/their goals is not weird - and again, this is not necessarily questioning OP's motivation.
Just because I don't go in a full-blown attack on someone and start calling people full of themselves and all sorts of other things doesn't mean we don't agree. Nonetheless, the way we say things is just as important as what we say - this goes for most things academia (including writing, presenting, and so on). There are many things wrong with our field/area of research but its just how it works unfortunately. I don't like it nor agree with it, but personally choose to confront people in other ways. There are ways to call people out on their assumptions and biases. It's not wrong to call people out, yet there are ways to do this in a more constructive way. I also don't think anybody said you didn't have a valid point - I think people have issues with the way you communicated it. Plus, the way you respond takes attention away from the very valid fact that you make that academia is not inclusive - however OP should be aware of that IF he/she/they want to get into a graduate program.As I literally wrote 'is that right? No.', because it isn't. But we all play the part until we get in, and then choose or battles wisely to try to change the system. 

 

@Belkis I would recommend looking into programs and their requirements. Usually their handbooks. You'll see that Europe usually has fewer and more independence, although the application processes tends to be very different. Evolutionary psychology is still a contested and delicate topic - you may still end up being called not a 'real' psychologist given how the field sits with the rest of psychology (particularly now recently a lot of its theories have been called into question - never a boring day in evolutionary psych). I also wouldn't use social media as leading - people who want to criticize mainly go on there. Plus, you may face the issue again that you don't have a 'clinical' PhD or whatever. I also don't think Kahneman and Gilbert are good comparisons AT ALL - Kahneman has a Nobel prize after all, Gilbert has developed some pretty good theories and has yeaaaaaaaaars as a professor under his belt and is rightfully a leading expert in his area of expertise. It's unlikely you'll establish yourself in that way during your PhD. These are also people with years of professor experience, tons of papers, won many awards and so on. It's unlikely that will happen during your PhD itself or that you will be seen as an expert in that sense (people may write but OP is not a Professor, etc.). 

You may want to also look into some advisors who have written books themselves in this area (e.g., Mark van Vugt, Mike McCullough, etc.) as they'd probably more open to this avenue. 

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Your situation is very similar to mine. I'm also a writer of self-help, we're about the same age, and we followed a non-traditional path starting with a degree in business, so I would like to give you my perspective and tell you how I got to the conclusion that a PhD is not the way to go (for someone like us).

 
I'm also a writer that talks about "issues" in psychology. I had success self-publishing on Amazon and that attracted the attention of a real publisher. People have challenged my "expertise" over the years. I've heard things like "do they teach self-esteem in business school?" and the classic "You're not a psychologist! Shut up!" and all kinds of variation of this criticism. And yes, people on social media can be very mean and many do question your authority on a subject, especially if they happen to disagree with you or you make a controversial claim (like many arguments in evolutionary psychology). Basically, if they don't agree with something you said, they will pick you apart and use whatever weakness they perceive in you to attack you. You can't really let this get to you.
 
My publisher also suggested that I should pursue an education in psychology if I wish to continue to explore this field in my writing, and hinted that a PhD "would be nice". But the reality is that this is mostly rubbish. You should keep in mind that publishers (or more specifically, the individuals that deal with us in a big publishing house) usually only have a college degree. Some have certificates and master's degrees, but not all. They don't have a good perspective on just how involved a doctorate program is. In their minds, you could just go and sit in a classroom for a few years and you come out on the other side with a PhD, which would enhance your status as a writer and theirs as a publisher. If you're such an intelligent person, capable of writing good books, then why not get the "ultimate expert" degree to boost your CV? They really have no clue...
 
My point is, ignore your publisher. He/she doesn't really know what he/she's talking about. 
 
You can definitely write books like the ones you mentioned without a PhD with the knowledge and expertise that you have. Basically, the trend in psychology books is to pick a very narrow topic, a point of view, an argument and cite studies and stories to argue for it and illustrate it. I believe when your publisher mentioned Kahnemann and Gilbert, the suggestion was about the STYLE, not the best-seller status or anything comparable to the authors themselves. Even Daniel Goleman (what's up the name Daniel and academia?!), acclaimed for his Emotional Intelligence books, did not write about his own experiments in the field, he just followed the same formula and talked about other people's studies. He didn't even coin the term himself. 
 
This is exactly what Malcom Gladwell has been doing for years with only a BA in history and a stint at The New Yorker. Has anyone questioned how could he possibly know what he's talking about if he doesn't have a PhD? I doubt it! Gladwell's books are more popular than Gilbert and Kahneman's by the way. Look, I'm not saying that you should strive to have Gladwell's success (or Gilbert's or Kahnemann's for that matter). As @PokePsych suggested, the chances that you'll ever become that well known or that your books/work will reach that level of visibility is tiny. My point is, even at the greatest level of visibility that an author can get, you have someone like Gladwell who gets by just fine with only a BA in an unrelated area. So, you definitely don't need a Phd if the problem is credibility or authority. Just make sure to consult primary literature to support your arguments to avoid the mistake that is so common in self-help that people will just say whatever they want even when there's no evidence to support their arguments (this is what makes the whole genre look so bad!).
 
I can quickly think of other best-selling authors who write about psychology/self-help or science who are just journalists or have college degrees in unrelated fields: Bill Bryson (I think he's a journalist), Tony Robbins (doesn't have any degree and probably has been the best selling author in self-help for the past 30 years), Stephen Covey (although he has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a zillion "honorary" PhDs), Aubrey de Grey, although he actually writes about science, this is a good example of a guy who proposed a new way to view the problem of ageing with only a college degree (then he received a "free" PhD from his alma mater). 
 
But I think Malcom Gladwell is the best example here. He writes books in the same "style" as the ones you've mentioned and the studies he uses to support his arguments come mostly from the fields of psychology and neuroscience, and yet he has no PhD, not even a master's degree.
 
I think it's very easy to end up in a bubble when you are surrounded by people who have certain specific expectations about you and then you start thinking that there's something wrong with you and that you need to change to fulfill these expectations. The reality is that from the point of view of having a successful career as a writer and consultant (which I assume is consulting in these areas you mention you write about) all you need is good marketing and efficient delivery. If you market yourself successfully, you get new clients and sell more books. Efficient delivery of what you promise results in repeat business and good book reviews, which in turn generates more business. Most people really don't care if you have a PhD or not. I'm sure most of my readers don't even understand what a PhD entails, they don't care that I don't have one. Occasionally, I see the random troll accusing me of not knowing what I'm talking about (I don't even think you would get this type of criticism because after all you do have degrees in psychology). I ignore these people. Naysayers are all over the place. On the other hand, one my best friends does have a PhD and is frequently accused (on social media) of being an "arrogant scholar" and similar things based on the fact that he does have the degree. It's like... you can't win for losing! 
 
For me, I made the decision not to get a PhD because I don't have any desire to go into academia and I'm already successful as a writer. 
 
Let's think about it: both of us already have the career that most people dream about: we can work at home, or wherever we want (certainly a big plus right now!), our source of income is not threatened by (possibly) anything at all (and if you have a large social media following I assume you have multiple streams of income, not just royalties). With a big following you have carte blanche to reinvent yourself and try a bunch of different things (write about different topics, put together video courses, life coaching, etc.) and your audience will likely consume it (if reception is negative, change is not costly). 
 
At 40, why would you want to plunge into the rabbit hole of a PhD? Based on the few things you said here, it looks like you're not yet ready to apply, so let's say you take 1 or 2 years to build a good application. Then 4 to 6 years to go through the program. You're almost 50 at the end of this process. Then what? What for? I agree with @Clinapp2017, you need to ask what you''ll be getting for all the effort. Will that really add a significant bonus to your credibility, value of your contracts, etc.? Honestly, I don't think so. 
 
In my case, I came to the conclusion that all the work and commitment of a PhD would drain me to the point that I would have less time to nurture my writing career and online presence. One of the problems we have today that writers didn't have back in the day is that we need to constantly engage with our audience online. Our publishers and the audience itself expects that. Now, this is very time consuming. Recording videos, podcasts, writing blogs posts, giving interviews, networking with influencers, participating in discussions and maintaining Twitter, Facebook, and other social media accounts, etc., can be a full time job. Of course, we don't have to do all that, but at least in my case, this engagement plays a big role in my success (and supports additional income sources, such as YouTube advertising). If I stop with all this marketing and engagement effort, all I would have is my publisher's marketing efforts. But since I'm not a "top" author, I doubt they would invest much (or anything) to market my books. My success comes from my own efforts, they just publish and distribute the books. I'm assuming you're on the same boat. 
 
I'm not sure you thought about it... it doesn't feel like work when I do all the things I do to maintain my writing career alive, but it actually is, and it is very time consuming. And that is work just to maintain my book sales and other income sources, not time to write new books. Other people (family members, friends) think I do nothing all day. Working from home gives others (and sometimes ourselves) the idea that we don't really "work", that we have a lot more available time than we actually do. When I seriously thought about it and calculated how I was going to manage the course load and responsibilities of a PhD with my current day-to-day routine, I realized that it wasn't going to work. If I put my writing career on the shelf for 4 to 6 years to go pursue a PhD, when I come back, the loyal audience that I have today won't be there anymore. A PhD would be an option if there was a massive benefit to getting this degree or if I had academic ambitions or needed to get a very specific job or go into a career that requires it. It's not my case and I suspect it's not yours either. 
 
That's my 2 cents. I hope my experience with this conundrum can help you make a decision.
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On 5/23/2020 at 3:27 PM, PokePsych said:

Academia may look like a cult, but I've been warned so many times by faculty and my advisor that it is really a small community in which everybody knows everybody (particularly evolutionary psychology, with their (in)famous SPSP party and so on). 

I was under the impression that the SPSP convention was a social psych thing... why is this an "infamous" party?

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16 hours ago, LilyAsh said:

I was under the impression that the SPSP convention was a social psych thing... why is this an "infamous" party?

It is - evo psych has a pre conference. Let's just say it's a good 'party' where usually 'something' happens.

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