Is a PhD in Education worth it?

Dr. Mitchell. It is what my students have called me for the past two years. And I am proud of it. I love the way “doctor” rings and I do feel good about the status behind the letters “Ph.D”. But let me tell you, had I known what I know now I probably wouldn’t pursue it.

Why did I choose to pursue my PhD? 

In hindsight, I chose to pursue my PhD because I didn’t not know how to stop climbing. Perhaps I didn’t think a masters was good enough. And I had some things to prove to myself. This was during a time where I defined my worth based on my education level. I am a woman, first-generation college student, and value education. At the time, I told myself I wanted to open doors to become a professor at a University, to become a school counselor district coordinator, and to become an educational researcher. I believed having a PhD was a necessary step to pursue these roles. So I told myself this is the way.

Having only a few years of school counseling experience at the time I started my PhD, another large bonus would be a significant pay increase. In Washington State, certificated educators are paid based on years of experience and their credits earned. For me, with few years of experience, a PhD would quickly put me on a much higher pay scale. To give you a good idea of this, the increases in my salary alone would be able to pay off my student loans from my PhD program in 4 years. Because I am money driven, this was another large incentive.

And I had always wanted it. I desired to have my doctorate from since a  young age. I had envisioned it, like a bucket list item. And with my cute little doctorate cap I believed I’d make a difference in the world and people would hear me.

Is earning a Phd worth it? 

On many different forums and Facebook groups people have posed questions of whether or not they should pursue their PhDs. They are wondering if its worth it. People are wondering if they should subject themselves to the long and tedious and grueling process in order to become a doctor. I too questioned this. At the time my answer was a definite yes! Career growth, pride, and more money was at the forefront of my mind. But now, I’m not so sure.

Let me back up. Really, who the hell knows what its worth. Worth is so subjective. Worth to me is different than worth to you. But here is where I am at. In todays world, you don’t need a Phd to offer value. Think about Rachel Hollis who has created a multi million dollar business with a high school diploma. You don’t need a Phd to be viewed as an expert. You don’t need a PhD to be successful. And you definitely don’t need a PhD to have worth. The truth is, I could pursue research, teaching at a university, and leading a district school counseling department without my PhD.

Working toward my PhD was the hardest most challenging time period in my life. There was a time period during my doctoral program where I literally thought my soul was being sucked out of me. As a Type A perfectionist who loves innovation and creativity, I suffered a lot in the process. For the first time my writing and critical thoughts would be challenged. I would no longer be able just to do things- I would have to really work at it. And no one was telling me what to do. You are completely and utterly on your own! And creativity was thrown out the window. I felt like there was no thinking outside of box during those years.

I finished in just about 3 years. But I wasn’t myself. During this time, my marriage fell apart and resulted in a divorce. I was constantly stressed and sick.  I had anxiety that was out of control. My school counseling practice suffered. My friends and family were constantly worried about me. And I couldn’t shake the constant “to do” lists. I felt like someone different. I knew it was all temporary but during the time it took all of my energy just to figure out how to get through it.

What was the program like for me? 

I worked full time as a school counselor, taught master level classes as an adjunct professor at the University, and at the same time did all of my doctoral classes, comprehensive exams, and dissertation in three years. Looking back, I must have been suffering from grandiosity. Who can possibly keep up with this schedule? My daily schedule included working from 7:30-4:00pm, working out from 4:30-5:30, quick dinner, then studying from 6:00-9:00 or so. The first two years I took classes on Saturdays from 9:00-4:00. On top of this, I was a wife and a homeowner.  While doing my dissertation I used the weekends for dissertation writing and data analysis.

I had no time for friends or family or anything fun. And when I did attend an event or hung out with people I loved, I was often a bit overwhelmed or stressed and was unable to enjoy it like I did before and I do now.

Working full time posed so many challenges. I couldn’t meet with professors because their schedules didn’t match mine so I literally couldn’t get support there. I couldn’t decompress when I got home afterwork because I had to read or write for doctoral level work. And ultimately, I was exhausted all of the time. No naps. No time to let your brain sit. I hardly touched the TV in three years.

When in the program, there were no real vacations or breaks. I was always constantly thinking and preparing for the next hurdle. If I had a work break- it was just an opportunity to get caught up on my doctoral work.

In summary, the program was painful. I don’t even know how people with children do it.

What were some benefits of the program? 

I sacrificed a lot. I gave up myself for three years. You have to ask yourself if you would be willing to make this sacrifice? And if so, then it may be worth it because the process of earning your PhD did not come without benefits. I have a lot to show from the growth I made during this time.

On a professional level I have a broader and more practical view of my field due to the knowledge that I gained from the doctoral program. I am well versed in doing different types of research, deciphering research and the field of statistics. I can keep up with conversations about theoretical orientations and methodologies. I have skills in teaching master level classes at the university level and supervising counseling students. I have become a far better school counselor in my own practice as a developing leader in my building, district, and field at large.

I have not pursued any of the career options I went into the PhD program for. This is intentional. I was burnt out from those three intense years and needed a break from climbing the career ladder. coupled with the fact that I still love working directly with kids. In time I see myself creating content to help support our school counseling field. I believe my PhD will help me do this effectively but the reality is that I don’t need my PhD to do this!

On a personal level, I learned even more. It was during this time I learned what kind of man I needed in my life- a partner! Unfortunately, my husband at the time crumbled under the hard times. What you have to realize is that pursuing a PhD will disrupt every element of home life including your partners, kids, and friends. I don’t know anyone who earned their PhD without a home life disruption. However, some partners and family members rally together in support. My husband didn’t. He supported the idea of a PhD but didn’t know how to pick up the pieces at home. And I began to realize that I needed a man who was strong, who was a partner on all things homemaking, and who could sympathize with the idea that this life was temporary.

I learned that if a man doesn’t step up to help with the laundry, cook dinner, or take care of the house while the woman is pursuing something greater than herself then this man will not be there when traumatic events and hard times approach them in life. I have since found that partner, a teammate if you will, but had I not experienced the chaos that envelops one life when pursuing a PhD I may never have learned this lesson.

Worth it or not? 

It was an experience like no other. A roller coaster. I wish I could sugar coat it for you. I wish I could tell you it was amazing- best years of my life. I wish I could give you a strong sense of affirmation and encourage you to do it. But for me it was traumatic really. I am still traumatized. Still coming down from the symptoms of trauma two years later after my defense. Im not sure when I will shake it. If I ever will. Because of this I have mixed emotions. It is worth it? I am still left without a clear answer.

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