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To PhD or Not to PhD
September 9, 2010 - 10:00pm

Aliens, pumpkin pie, birds, solar energy, language, coffee, football, traveling, new shoes, Kon-Tiki, walking my dog, weather, doing P90X , cooking lasagna…there are so many things I like to think about. Mary Churchill’s recent post made me wonder if I’m cut out for research and academia. She writes of not wanting to "unplug" from looking at life through her academic lens (and loving it), even while on vacation. I, on the other hand, am far too fickle to look at any thing in any way for too long a time. I know that a dissertation means just that and I have my doubts.

When I think about where I want to be in five years, I can imagine a few different scenarios, and one of them involves getting my PhD. It seems like there are many more reasons why this wouldn’t be my best choice. I have no interest in fighting for tenure, I am worried that I might not be able to sustain the focus necessary for a dissertation, and I don’t see myself as a college president in the future.

So, why should I go on for a PhD? What are the benefits? In what circumstances does it make sense? Officially, a PhD would demonstrate my competence in research. It is also a valued credential that would offer prestige, and possible financial gains. Unofficially, it would feed my ego and boost my credibility in certain circles. Getting a PhD would offer me the opportunity to have a mentor, learn from peers, and even take a few classes that are genuinely exciting. Most compellingly, a PhD would allow me to become intellectually engaged in the study of a particular field.

Perhaps I’ve watched too much TV. Maybe I am shallow, or it’s because I am a Pisces. I need to unplug from my work. If I don’t, there is no way that I could go back to work the next day. I begin to feel battered by the constant email and the blinking of my phone, showing me that there are new voice mail messages from faculty, students, and other administrators waiting to be heard.

I wonder if I belong in academia. I love my career, but I also love the moments that I don’t have to think about it, whatever unidentified lens it is through which I look at life. When I go to a new place, I look at the lampposts, the blades of grass, and inhale the new scents in the air and let them carry me away. Perhaps if I had the research, training and background of a PhD, I will be able to see some of the more frustrating aspects of my work in a more nuanced way and think about the larger picture. I would have more perspective to step back and analyze the situation.

Another scenario I envision is becoming an entrepreneur. I wonder if I am cut out to build my own business. I could sell a college education to aliens, pumpkin pie for dogs, and lasagna to football players. Or maybe it is just time to take a vacation.

Meg Palladino is the Creative Director and one of the Founding Editors of the University of Venus blog.


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