5 Reasons Not to Get a PhD (And 5 Things I Hope to Do Instead)

Before starting this blog as a personal reward for paying off our house, I thought a lot about pursuing a Ph.D. in educational psychology.  Like many people, I could pursue both a blog and doctoral degree, but I’ve recently gained some financial insights about the impact of this future choice, and I thought I’d share those musings here.  

A Change of Plans

I know exactly what I want to study (systemizing and mental health in high performing individuals).  I even have my choice of colleges narrowed down to three graduate schools I could attend within the next several years.  

The possible thesis I have in place stems from my master’s thesis (Examining the Impact of Bibliotherapy on Systemizing, Empathizing, and Reading Achievement in Gifted Students).  I would love to expand on this subject with all the questions branching off from my first study.

Even with all of this in place, I have decided not to pursue a Ph.D. because it doesn’t make any sense at this point in my life.

1. Relocation

I’m not willing to move.  My husband and I live mortgage-free in an amazing small town frequently showing up on “best town” lists in major magazines.  

One of the grad schools I am interested in offers an online program. However, even if I complete the program, I’m not willing to move for a job.  Of course, there are always ways to teach online, but that leads me to my second point.

2. The Decision Would Take Us Further From FI

One of the more interesting concepts I have come across in the past few years is opportunity cost.  If I put the same amount of money it would take me to complete a Ph.D. into investment accounts (and I use the time on side-hustles instead), I will actually be farther ahead staying at my current teaching job while saving a third of our income for ten years.  

In addition, I have many teacher friends who could only be hired as adjuncts in higher education.  Consequently, they came back to full time teaching in public schools because they are paid better!

3. Wasted Credits and Failed Planning

In order to full-fill my continuing education requirements, I will be going to school in some form or another in the next five years.  The productive side of me always likes to be moving toward something (an endorsement, another degree) instead of simply getting recertification credits.  

I didn’t realize how much a master’s would not move me closer to a Ph.D. until I did some major research into specific programs. I would have been better off launching into those specific programs directly after finishing my bachelor's.  Back-tracking is not something I’m into since I already wasted 25 credits trying to transfer my associate's degree to my bachelor’s program. College is about utility at this point for me (and the credit system needs some major re-working for the benefit of everyone).

4. Bad Timing

I’m currently at the age where most people complete their programs on average (32), not the age where they start.  I often don't limit opportunities for myself based on age, but this pursuit is not as simple as it would have been eight years ago.

 In addition, the way to attend most programs affordably (or for free in fully-funded programs) involves living on or near campus while teaching and/or being a research assistant for at least 20 hours a week.  With a family, the health insurance option is a little iffy, the daycare issue even more so (we love our current daycare), and then there’s my husband's career to consider.

5. The Experience of Gatekeepers

The death of the middle man is an interesting phenomenon in many industries.  Don’t get me wrong, I think it is very important for certain professions to have gatekeepers.  I want the dentists, doctors, lawyers, and teachers in my community to pass through very specific benchmarks in their training in order to enter those professions effectively.

 However, when it comes to music, writing, and increasingly more tech professions, the old-world gatekeepers are gone. For example, I made more money putting my music on the internet and booking my own shows than people I know with record label experience.  My husband obtained his job through networking and bypassed the degree they required.

In addition, I found my past online educational experiences weighted down with tasks I didn’t learn anything from.  For example, I don’t want to check fellow students’ papers. I mean this in a literal sense. While attending an online class for my master's, I was editing other people’s work all the time in the form of the good-old “paper-swap.”  Of course, I have always detested partner work like this. I don’t need to sign up for several more years of it.

Part 2

I still want to grow intellectually and challenge myself. I still have a narrow interest in systemizing, creativity, and mental health.  In short, I still have a dream. What can be done?

1. Start a Blog 

As I said, I started this blog as a gift to myself after paying off our house and finishing my master’s with zero debt.  I purposely set this up as a reward for achieving my goals (and now I’m here)!

I love the way blogging feels somewhat like school but with more freedom.  I can give myself assignments and deadlines. I can read other people’s content while fueled with a purpose and a mission to connect subject areas and generate new information.  Most importantly, I can learn at my own pace. Intellectual rewards don’t always pay the bills, but at least this scenario isn’t costing me thousands of dollars!

Also, I’m creating this blog with the goal to have a somewhat narrow niche, but as a blogger, I won’t have to repeat the same thesis in a redundant manner to various committees.  Since personal narrative writing is such a strong element in blogging, I can write as myself, and I can write using the word “I,” even though I once judged myself harshly for this.

"I" is the most frequently used word in the dictionary.  Facts like that tend to scare me. I... from the song "Not Big Words, Just a Lot of Words."

2. Create a Thesis Outside of Grad School

People interested in FI (and those who actually achieve it) seem to be higher systemizers than most of the population.  This seems to be the case regardless of their profession. High systemizing capabilities often come with unique social and mental health consequences.

I also wonder if FI pursuers are higher in both systemizing and empathy (and if these two traits fuel their creativity and drive for freedom as a central value).

I already have verified measures in place from my master’s that could help me explore the above ideas.  As many of you know, a lot of P.h.D. students don’t complete their programs and a lot of bloggers quit. One of those options has far more consequences for me than the other!

3. Collect Data by Having Guest Posts

This hinges on the participation of others but is an exciting option.  For my own curiosity, I would love to ask a series of bloggers about the role creativity and systemizing have played on their path to FI.  

I would feature this series on my blog with a set of interview questions and fully disclose to the participants that the data is being collected and used for a study.  I also have a quick survey for them to take disclosing where they fall along the continuum of empathizing or systemizing. Analyzing this data would be done after a substantial number of people have been included.

4. Write a Book About What I Learn

I would continue to blog about what I’m learning from interviews as they happen and the information from bloggers comes in, but I may also turn the results into a full-fledged book about systemizing, money, and mental health once I’ve gathered enough content.  I have written a book before, and I am aware of the enormity of this pursuit. Even so, it sounds like a fun way to spend the next several years, and I’m up for the long-term challenge.

5. Add Value to Various Bodies of Knowledge

My future dream can be summarized in this simple reality:  I would love to build more time into my life in order to learn at my own pace (and then write about what I’ve learned in order to help others).  I’d love to do all of this while not having to worry about whether I’m being paid or not.

Whether researching historical people and continuing to write songs about them, or researching peer-reviewed articles in order to put together a lengthy assessment of systemizing, creativity, and finances in the form of a book, I would be in my element.  I would especially be in my element doing both!

How About You?

If you desire to pursue a P.h.D, I wish you all the best and would love to hear your reasoning below.  As I said, higher education is still valid in many industries. I even have several friends who have fit a Ph.D. into their lives with grace. The situation discussed above is unique to me.

If you are still deciding what to do, I hope you put some serious thought into the opportunity costs specific to you.  Please share with me anything I may have missed (and let me know if you are interested in being interviewed for my study). 

4 Replies to “5 Reasons Not to Get a PhD (And 5 Things I Hope to Do Instead)”

  1. I really love how you broke this decision down! How you took a step back from your aspirations and looked at your whole life picture, evaluated the benefits a PhD would offer, and then identifying an alternative path to allow you to harness the benefits which you valued most.

    I also love how clearly you highlight that continuing education can be done in many ways, and doesn’t necessitate a formal setting or “program”!

    Your thought process builds a beautiful framework that can be applied to so many circumstances, helping people to make mindful choices, leading to more contented outcomes!

    1. Thank you for stopping by the blog Phia and I’m glad you got something out of this post. The more time goes on, the more I realize a PhD doesn’t make sense for me. I’m glad I went through all the details and implications for my specific situation. I hope my thought process out loud on the blog is useful to others!

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