Thursday, November 13, 2008

In Defense of the PhD

I am working on my applications for PhD programs across the country and am navigating many feelings I have, along with feelings of others about working toward a PhD. I wanted to take a couple of minutes to explore feelings about PhD students and what happens after they become a doctor.

I read a blog by a Finnish Master’s Degree student who asserted that PhD students stay in school because they cannot handle life in the real world and cannot hold down real jobs (a statement I am sure her PhD holding professors would quickly disagree with). The student was complaining that PhD student’s presentations were too long and they gave too much information. I wondered if that is true. First off, Roger is getting his PhD in less than six months. He worked in the real world for 20+ years before recognizing his passion for education and realizing his need to get the PhD in order to have the most impact. I, too, have worked in the real world. I was a very successful Ophthalmic Assistant, a career that could have earned nice money for me, for 8 years. I enjoyed working with people, but felt an emptiness inside. I wanted to teach, to research, to work in the fields where I was most passionate. My decision to go to on for my PhD lies in the fact that I want to teach upper level classes. I want to advise students and be a Dr. Raisor or a Dr. Igloria or a Dr. Santo or one of the many other Drs that have impacted my life. I want that level of education in order to do my best work…in the real world. Upon reflection, I wonder if maybe the Finnish student is just in over her head. I will be starting my 4th PhD level class at ODU, and yes there is a much greater expectation than a first year Master’s Degree class, but I feel I am up to that challenge. I enjoy the interaction with the PhD students and sharing in their knowledge and their passions. I find that higher education has given me this gift of a perfect place for discussion and tension and learning. I think that you must be prepared for those classes to do more than expected; it seems to work for me.

Now, another discussion regarding my PhD plans takes a different direction. I have wonderful teachers and mentors that not only encourage me to go on for my PhD, but also have taken a personal stake in my decisions. I have been nudged in the direction of top Media and Culture programs across the nation: USC, UCLA, Northwestern, University of Texas-Austin, Wisconsin and many others. They are great research based programs with excellent faculty; I know, I quote them often in my own scholarly writing. But life is not that simple. As you know, Roger is graduating in May. He is in a limited field with only 70 colleges nationwide as members. He has worked hard and is passionate to start his career. In a heartbeat, he would put it on hold if I wanted to pursue my PhD in a place where he has no career opportunities. He can teach in a lot of places, but the field he is in has very few openings and many are not near large universities that house good PhD programs. It is quite a compliment from my professors that I can succeed in such challenging and great programs. It is a nice ego boost, to say the least. But, I must find the answer that is best for me, and my life with Roger. So, I have searched my soul for the answer, and am quite content that I have found one. I have found programs for English PhD’s where any media can be and is encouraged to be used as a text in a literature program. My passion is the story, the connections and the tensions that build around certain texts and stories. And an English program provides that forum for my study. I am excited about the prospects I am researching right now. My life is with Roger; my career aspirations are for higher education; I can and will find a program that fits both.

So, am I going for my PhD to stay in school because I cannot survive and work in the real world? Of course not. In fact, my desire for the PhD is so that I CAN work as I want in academia, hopefully along side my husband. Education has been a part of me my whole life. It will never end. By pursing my PhD, I hope to be a part of education for as long as I possibly can.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, just think, the first doctor in the Schmid family. Your grandfathers will be so happy.