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Brian G

Am I insane to apply??

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I'm seriously considering applying to a school for a part time PhD program that's an hour away from my job and an hour and a half away from home. Moving closer isn't an option now. My employer provides $5k/year in education reimbursement but tuition is ~$1300 a credit (out of state) and I'd have to take six credits per semester to keep those pesky student loans at bay. I have almost completed my Masters, which will reduce the total required credits for the PhD program by 30, but it will still mean a good 3ish years worth of additional loans totaling ~$50k added to my already $36k. The other PhD programs in my field don't have a part time option and going back full time isn't possible financially.

I'm concerned about a lack of job advancement if I don't have a PhD. My field is immunology and vaccine research and unless you want to be a tech the rest of your days, you need 15 post-masters experience, or you need that PhD. Of course, there are exceptions but they're hard to come by and many people won't take you seriously if you don't have that degree.

Is $50,000 more in debt worth significantly more career opportunity in the future (job still not guaranteed)? There is also a significant personal driver too. Earning a PhD would be a major accomplishment for my life goals. 

 

 

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Honestly, why wouldn't you try to get into a fully funded PhD program where you'd get a stipend of $30K+ and be able to keep your loans deferred? Do you really think you can take two courses at a time and do research for your PhD while commuting an hour to work and working full-time? I'm asking because I think you need to be realistic about all of this.

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2 hours ago, rising_star said:

Honestly, why wouldn't you try to get into a fully funded PhD program where you'd get a stipend of $30K+ and be able to keep your loans deferred? Do you really think you can take two courses at a time and do research for your PhD while commuting an hour to work and working full-time? I'm asking because I think you need to be realistic about all of this.

I make $55K at my job with fantastic benefits and am comfortably taking 6 credits in a master's program now. My employer and the program director are open to the idea of a collaboration so that all dissertation work can be completed at my job. Besides, classwork and dissertation work don't overlap. Realistically, it would be difficult, but possible. I know several people who are already a year into the program and under the same constraints as me. I've gotten their opinions and now am looking for thoughts from those other than friends. 

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2 hours ago, Brian G said:

 Besides, classwork and dissertation work don't overlap. 

Are you sure about this? Most people start doing research for their dissertation while they're in the classwork phase. In the STEM fields, that includes doing labwork which later becomes part of the dissertation while completing coursework. If you are absolutely sure that you'll be able to count the things you're doing at work toward your dissertation, then it seems much more realistic/doable. 

(Also, it's worth considering what experiences as a PhD student you will be missing out on if you're a part-time student working far away from everyone else. Will you be missing out on valuable research experience/mentorship because you aren't in a lab on campus? Will you be able to present at conferences? Will you be able to attend department colloquia, get involves in service/leadership in your department or in the grad association, etc.? Will you be able to secure solid recommendations from faculty in the program for future job applications or other opportunities?)

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On 13.07.2017 at 3:49 AM, Brian G said:

I'm seriously considering applying to a school for a part time PhD program that's an hour away from my job and an hour and a half away from home. Moving closer isn't an option now. My employer provides $5k/year in education reimbursement but tuition is ~$1300 a credit (out of state) and I'd have to take six credits per semester to keep those pesky student loans at bay. I have almost completed my Masters, which will reduce the total required credits for the PhD program by 30, but it will still mean a good 3ish years worth of additional loans totaling ~$50k added to my already $36k. The other PhD programs in my field don't have a part time option and going back full time isn't possible financially.

I'm concerned about a lack of job advancement if I don't have a PhD. My field is immunology and vaccine research and unless you want to be a tech the rest of your days, you need 15 post-masters experience, or you need that PhD. Of course, there are exceptions but they're hard to come by and many people won't take you seriously if you don't have that degree.

Is $50,000 more in debt worth significantly more career opportunity in the future (job still not guaranteed)? There is also a significant personal driver too. Earning a PhD would be a major accomplishment for my life goals. 

 

 

Are you asking for an advice or it`s just only about speaking?

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On 7/12/2017 at 5:49 PM, Brian G said:

I'm concerned about a lack of job advancement if I don't have a PhD. My field is immunology and vaccine research and unless you want to be a tech the rest of your days, you need 15 post-masters experience, or you need that PhD. Of course, there are exceptions but they're hard to come by and many people won't take you seriously if you don't have that degree.

What do you mean when you say "job advancement"? Do you want to be a boss? Do you want to make more money? Do you want to have more say over the type of work you perform (more challenging, more important to the field, and so forth)?

The answer doesn't need to be this or that. But  if you figured out  your priorities there may be other options than getting a doctorate to get you where you want to go. For example, would working as a project manager allow you to check off enough boxes on your list to make a doctorate unnecessary?

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I second what @Sigaba said about thinking about your long term career goals and whether or not this PhD program is necessary (or helpful) to get there.

As @rising_star also points out, there are huge disadvantages of pursuing a part-time PhD program and you need to consider them. To put it another way, and to be blunt, you will be disadvantaged compared to people who graduated from full time PhD programs. Therefore, if you haven't already factored that into the benefits of having a PhD, you should.

Since you wanted opinions from other people, here's my third-party opinion. You say you have a comfortable job now with steady employment, but you want to improve your future career chances. I think that if you have a sure thing lined up after your degree program, then this PhD might be worth it. I would think about it as career advancement / professional development. What I mean is that if you are planning to stay working with your current employer and that this extra credential represents a pay bump / promotion then it would be a great idea to take advantage of your employer education benefits.

However, if you were planning on this PhD program as a way to change career paths and transition to a more "traditional academic career", then I don't think this is a good idea at all, personally. I don't think a part-time PhD program will provide the support and resources you need to pursue these types of positions. I'm not saying it would be impossible, but your chances would be a lot lower than people with full time PhDs. If you really want to go this route, I think it would make more sense to leave your job and pursue full time graduate studies. In your field, you can definitely find fully funded programs that will not require you to accumulate any further debt. It would pay less than your current job though. Also, you say that you are currently making $55k per year with good benefits. From what I know about my friends in your field, this is higher than many postdoctoral research positions (https://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-16-131.html). It's almost twice as much as much grad student stipends. So, if you are going the postdoc route post graduation, it will be many more years before you get back to the pay grade you are currently at. Money is definitely not everything, so I don't mean this as an argument against going this way, but to provide information to help you make the decisions that meet your priorities.

I think there are also some alternate options right? For example:

1. Since you are currently making a lot more than what grad students would make, perhaps your budget could be adjusted to pay for the credits without taking out more loans? Unless you are going to be also part-time at your work, meaning that your current salary won't continue. (In this case, I'd crunch the numbers in case that fully funded grad student stipends might actually be higher than unfunded part-time PhD + reduced work salary).

2. Will you qualify for in-state tuition soon? Maybe waiting until then to start the PhD program would make it more affordable and your employer's education benefit would cover more of the costs.

3. There's no rush right? You could work a few more years to save up more money so that when you take the pay hit to go to grad school, you can be a bit more comfortable. Or, maybe in the future you will be able to better determine whether or not a part time PhD program is necessary to advance in your career? I know that if you don't continue schooling, you'll have to start repaying student loans, but it might cost less than entering a part-time PhD program that might not get you where you want to be.

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Another consideration is the impact of being a part time student while working.

If an important project were to come along that could advance your career, would you have the bandwidth to turn heads and maintain your focus on your school work? Would you even be considered for this opportunity or would TPTB assume that it would be too much to put on your plate? Along the same lines, how will being a part time student impact your ability to qualify for performance bonuses? Will your bosses say that the cash they're forking over for your education counts as your bonus? What happens if you figure out that getting a Ph.D. isn't the way you want to go? Will your bosses say "Okay, but where's the money we invested?" Will they conclude, for what ever reason, "He didn't finish what he started...can we will he trust him with very challenging projects?"

These are the kinds of questions bosses can ask, even when they like you. 

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