This question has been at the forefront of my mind the past few weeks. It’s something that I have thought about since I was in college, but I’m starting to feel like I’m running out of time before I have to make a decision. It is a 4-8 year commitment, depending on how I do it. So I’d be in my early to mid thirties when I graduate if I start now. The reason I’m even debating is that it would change the employlment opportunties I would have. I already have a masters and I could theortically get most jobs in my field, so I don’t really need it. The problem is the work I want to do would lend itself to me getting a phd. I’m just afraid that I will be stuck doing the things I do now at work. I have almost no way of moving up the ladder at my current job without getting a phd. But my responisbilies would change dramatically (more management as opposed to doing what the current phds say).
I’m arguing with myself over a number of decisions related to this, so I want to flush them out, one by one. I’ve been trying to manage all this in my head and I’ve reached the point where I’m just going in circles and I want to just chuck everything out the window.
First Decision: Do I try to get my phd?
NO: My masters gives me ample opportunity to work in corporate/product development, and I could be a leader if I tried, but I’m not confident enough in myself. I’m trying to step up more at work, but there are alot of bright people there and I HATE smoozing, like some people to get ahead. I haven’t figured out how to get the attention of my bosses. My job is almost secondary compared to what we actually do. I’m like the support staff for the projects we work on. To be a real project lead, I should have majored in a related field.
I’m not sure I have the personality to be a successful phd. It requires a level of confidence and creativietly that I don’t think I have. I’ve spent my life doing what others have told me to do. I have no experience being an actual leader.
YES: I can get promoted at my current job, although I may not be a good fit there. I can get a job elsewhere, and with the phd, I would be more employable in what I want to do: research. I’ve definitely decided that I don’t want to be in the purely corporate world. I hate the stress, the mind numbing admin tasks and lack of control. I’ll gladly work in the R&D department of the same company. I don’t want to be a code monkey.
So assuming I said yes, to the phd (and if I have to debate this, maybe I should be saying no), there are a number of other questions that come up:
Do I use my current employer’s grad school plan or do it on my own?
Employer Pays: This would therotically be awesome. I get 4 years off of work and they pay tutition and most of my salary. But, it’s incrediablly competative and it’s unlikely I would get approval. Given conversations with my boss, I doubt he’ll be supportive. He’s alreadly expecting leadership type things from me and I haven’t quite delivered on them. Until I actually prove I should be promoted, I don’t think he’ll give me the funding to get my phd, since I’ll pretty much have to be, once I have it. Also, I’d have to prove the phd is in a field that would be useful to my employer. The problem is my research interests do not really coincide with what they do. It would be a tough sell.
I Pay: I’d have to do some of the phd part time at least, since I still need a decent income, but I may have to quit my job once the thesis work picks up. That terrifies me. I like the steady source of income, and if I throw that away, I may be making a huge mistake. On the other hand, this is the only job I’ve had after college. Few people my age stay with the same empoyer for their entire career. I have to take a risk at some point in my life.
So assuming I pay, then my options about where and what I study open greatly, along with the questions:
Do I stay in my location, or got to a university where the research is what I like (regardless of location)?:
Go anywhere: I’ll get to do the research I want! Assuming I even get accepted. I’ve never left home. I lived at home while I went for my BA/MA. Hell I still live at home. I don’t know how my family (read:mother) will handle me just picking up and moving. She isn’t supportive of me getting my phd (she doesn’t think I need it for my field, and she’s sort of right). Other than her I have no reason to stick around, but I can’t say I will want to live where the research is. I can’t focus on just the research. I need to worry about the rest of my life while I’m there. complete isolation from everyone I know will be a tough adjustment.
Stay Local: Some of the best schools in the nation are where I live. And it would be great to go to one of them, but my odds are acceptance are low, at least in my head. My grades were good, not great, and I don’t have the 3 recommendations I need to apply. However I did find two programs that have concentrations in what I want, and I could start part time with the coursework.
So I’m leaning towards staying local, if only for practicality reasons. The two schools I found offer certificates that I can do after work, and can be applied to my phd coursework if I get accepted. Even if I don’t apply to those schools, at least I’ll have more experience and maybe a few more recommendations if I do well.
Next question: which school do I go to?
One private, one state. I was accepted to the state school as an undergrad and was given the highest scholarship they offer, so I have few concerns about applying. The private school rejected me as an undergrad, but I belive it was because I tried to transfer, and they typically don’t take transfers.
The issue with the local schools is the research. They each have very small groups that focus in the area I want, but the work being done doesn’t really appeal to me. I like the private school’s classes (at least the syllabus looks good). I couldn’t get detailed info on the public school’s class content. The phd candidate qualifiers are much easier at the public school and I would have all but 2 classes completed after the certificate. I would be able to start on research right away, and I would be able to graduate fairly quickly. The research is really what is stopping me. It’s mostly robotics, which is tangential to what I want. I think it’s cool, but I’m afraid my thesis will dictate what jobs I would be eligible for. That may be a gross oversimplification, but it’s still a concern. Therotically, I should be able to do most CS things.
The private school doesn’t have much (interesting to me) research, but it seems much more organized. The private school has a better reputation than the public one.
So this is mostly where I’m at: doing it on my own/stay local/do the certificate part time/local school.
I keep osillating between the two schools and my head starts to spin trying to compare the two. Then I keep going back up the decision tree and trying out other, less practical/feasible scenarios. I should probably take a few days/a week off from thinking about it. I sometimes forget the big picture of why I want to do it.