I’m getting close to being done with my M.A. degree and so I need to decide whether to continue on in the PhD program. I very conflicted about this. It’s difficult to get any honest advice from faculty. I shouldn’t really say that they lack honesty, it’s just that they are trying to be nice and not get too involved in my decision. I can understand. So far I have talked with three different professors but I don’t feel any closer to a decision.

My adviser was the most honest I think. In our field there are lots of jobs at the moment, so she encouraged me to take a break and work in an office for a while to see if I like it. She thinks I can always come back for the PhD. Unfortunately, I got some less than perfect advice when I started grad school and so despite having a graduate degree in my field, I don’t have a “professional” degree and as a result my ability to get a job in an office and eventually get a professional certification is in doubt. Basically, despite having taken the classes and gained the skills, the university won’t give me the piece of paper. Theoretically I could reapply to the university as an undergrad and spend a year and $20,000 to get the correct piece of paper, but I don’t have $20,000 and I’m not at all sure that I could get financial aid for a second bachelor’s degree. Right now, since Beorn is an undergrad, our main source of income is my salary from research assistant/teaching assistant positions.

On the other hand, the graduate degree adviser told me that I should be able to finish my PhD in two more years, since I’m taking three years to finish my MA. In his opinion that schedule would put me “back on track,” academically. Sounds great, except would I be able to find a job? At that point Beorn would be starting grad school and I would be starting an academic job search. How realistic would that be? Although I have been able to constantly find RA/TA work, I don’t have any funding for my research and it seems doubtful that I’ll get much help getting funding, so how much time am I going to have in the next few years to concentrate on getting published?

Professor #3, who gave me the bad advice at the beginning of my grad program, seemed convinced that I should pursue a PhD, but was totally clueless about the financial difficulties/sacrifices that this might entail. He said things like, “you do a PhD because you have a burning desire to find out something about the world.” Great, I know that I have lots of intellectual curiosity and that I can work hard, but I also want things like kids and a house and a decent standard of living. He also seemed to think that I should go elsewhere for my PhD because I have already gotten the benefit of the experience/knowledge of the professors at this U. and so I could go to another U. and learn more from other profs. If I had unlimited time and money I could spend the rest of my life in school, bowing at the feet of these intellectual giants. When I pointed out the difficulty of a household with dual academic careers he said, “what’s the problem, I know lots of people that have done that.” So because you know some people who have done it, it must be no problem? What about all the people that struggle and have trouble?

My problem with getting advice from these people is that they all have cushy jobs at a R1 university. They are the lucky ones. In fact, until recently professors in my field didn’t get PhDs, so two of these people don’t have PhDs. The other one has a PhD in a vaguely related field and had a professorship at Big Ag U. in that field. He decided that he liked this field better and managed to get his professorship transfered into this department. So he actually has a lot less practical/professional experience in this field than I do (he’s very well respected and productive on the theoretical side though.) Also, these professors come from privileged backgrounds, so I think they have little idea about struggling financially, or balancing work for money with school and family life.