As you read these writeups you wonder, is there any good reason to get a PhD?
Actually, I can think of several.
- You thrive on intellectual stimulation in an academic context. It's true you don't always learn what you want to, but if you're in a field you enjoy, you'll learn a bunch of stuff that is really exciting for your mind, so you'll take pleasure in that part of it, at least.
- You're a good writer who can churn out the pages without excruciating pain. This is very beneficial, because you have to write a thesis to get a PhD, and as anyone who's been through the process will tell you, this will the most difficult writing project of your life so far. It doesn't matter if no one ever looks at your thesis after it has hit the dusty library shelves; for you, it's your first weighty tome, and you want it to be great, like the greatest node you ever wrote, the one that will truly survive the ages. (This is the dream, anyway. Usually, if you actually finish the thing, you just feel exhausted and rather bitter, and never want to look at it again so long as you live.)
- You're tired of being a waiter, and you want a better career. This works best if your field is something practical like computer science or civil engineering. Or if you want to be a university professor, because in North America, at least, you need a PhD to be a prof these days. Be warned, though, that a PhD is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for becoming a prof. You also need to be aggressive and ambitious, and it helps if you know when to be a toady.
- All the stuff I've mentioned sort of fits, and you don't know what to do with your life, and you don't want your parents and friends to hassle you about when you're going to get a real job. This used to work better when graduate school was a lot cheaper, though. Now that tuition fees are so high, you may have to get a real job anyway, just to keep you supplied with CDs and beer while you twiddle your thumbs and node away, avoiding your thesis.
- You want to be called "doctor" but don't ever want to have to look at blood and guts. A PhD works really well for this, unless you study the ebola virus or something like that.
I don't regret getting my PhD nearly as much as I would have regretted not getting it once I'd started.
I do feel queasy about the debt I've accrued. But I also feel fortunate to have escaped the shark pit of academic politics with all my wits, and limbs, intact. And I usually feel a little silly, but in a good way, when someone calls me doctor.