big questions, career, student loans

Of PhDs and Personal Finance

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So, I’ve graduated. There’s no graduation ceremony in January, which is fine because I’m not too big on graduation ceremonies anyway, but as of a couple of days ago I do officially have a PhD. All I have to do at this point is watch the mail for my diploma. And to mark the occasion, I thought I would tackle a question here on the blog that I’ve been attempting to answer for years:

Why? Why are you getting a PhD? What are you going to do with that?

This is a totally valid question. And, by the way, it’s not only a question that other people ask me. It’s also a question I’ve frequently asked myself. Even back when I applied to the PhD six years ago, I didn’t totally know why I was doing it, or what it entailed exactly, or what I was supposed to do with it once I had finished.

Plus, now that I’m all into personal finance and everything, the question “Why get a PhD?” has become even more interesting. I think advanced degrees are sometimes seen as a potentially questionable choice, personal finance-wise, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to try to demystify my own decision, as well as its financial motivations and consequences, as best I can.

By the way, the title of this post is rather misleading, as it implies that I totally understand the connection between PhDs and personal finance, whereas in truth I can only speak about my own experience. (I very much welcome other PhD-ers to weigh in below in the comments section though!)

So here’s the story of how this all started.

Remember 2009? That was not a great year to be looking for a job. I had just finished a master’s degree in a liberal arts field and had taken a position as a special education aide at a public middle school. The salary at the middle school—$18,000 a year—was far from ideal, but luckily my rent was super cheap that year, and honestly I felt fortunate to have a job at all.

Oh, and I owed about $28,000 in student loans.

Feeling distressed about my student debt and about the fact that I seemed to have relatively few marketable skills, I had been toying with the idea of getting a second master’s degree, this time a clinical master’s in a field with a very clear career path. However, I wasn’t sure I could handle the idea of taking out even more loans to pay for another degree. Even back in those days, when I thought personal finance was boring, this didn’t seem like a wise move. However, another possibility soon occurred to me:

Why not save some money by getting a PhD instead?

Ok, that may sound like an odd idea, but let me explain. It just so happened that at that point in my life, the majority of my good friends were either in PhD programs, applying to PhD programs, or already had PhDs. And I knew from talking to them that if you can get into a PhD program, your university will often pay you money (!!!) to get a PhD—in other words, not only do you not have to pay tuition, but you get a guaranteed paycheck for five years straight, plus loan deferment, plus you end up with an advanced degree at the end of it, and presumably a clear career trajectory. I suspect that I may be one of the relatively few people in the history of academia who thought a PhD sounded like an attractive option financially, but there you have it.

(By the way, the reason PhD students get paid is because as part of the PhD we’re doing work, either research or teaching or both, that’s benefitting the university. In many ways, it’s a lot like having a regular job.)

Interestingly, the clinical field I’d been eyeing for a possible second master’s degree also had an option where you could simultaneously pursue a master’s and a PhD. So in 2010, almost exactly six years ago this month, I applied to the dual program and got in.

Now, I don’t want to make it sound like I *only* applied to the program in order to get the steady paycheck. I was definitely interested in the field, and I thought doing research sounded cool. But I won’t lie—the paycheck and the student loan deferment were definitely compelling to me. It’s hard to see the light at the end of the recession when you’re smack in the middle of it, and I was afraid that if I didn’t take drastic steps, I could end up making $18,000/year for many years to come.

So those were the motivations. Now, here are some of the consequences, which I will attempt to list as objectively as possible:

Pros:

  • I did indeed have my tuition waived for both degrees, as well as a (relatively) steady, livable paycheck for five and a half years.
  • I had student loan deferment during that entire period as well.
  • I had student health insurance through my university.
  • I learned a LOT during both the master’s and PhD, including super valuable and transferable skills involving statistics and data analysis and giving presentations. No matter what I decide to do next in my career, these skills will serve me well. (Side note: why is statistics not mandatory for all high school students? In my opinion, it’s The Most Important Math There Is. I feel like I should write another post all about statistics and how it changed my view of the world.)

Cons:

  • The paycheck was steady…except when it wasn’t. For various complicated reasons, there were some spans of time during that five-and-a-half year period when I had a reduced income, or no income, which I sometimes responded to by taking out even more loans. (But twice I responded by asking for more money, which I am very proud of.)
  • Sometimes, again for various complicated reasons, I had to pay for conference travel out of my own pocket (once to Atlanta, once to Switzerland).
  • The graduate student stipend seemed crazy high to me when I started (because I was accustomed to getting paid $18,000/year), and while it certainly was livable, it was still less than almost any entry-level office job in the same city would have offered.
  • PhD stipends may be livable, but they do not offer any type of retirement plan. What I should have done, in retrospect, was contribute a small amount each month to my Roth IRA. But I didn’t do that.
  • As it turns out, it actually can be very anxiety-inducing to sit around for over five years knowing that you have a ton of student loans but not really being able to do anything about them. This caused me a lot of sleepless nights.

So that’s the rundown. If you or someone you know is considering a PhD and would like to talk more about possible reasons why this may or may not be a good move, consider this an open invitation to email me (theyachtless [at] gmail); I’m happy to chat. It’s a complicated decision, and like any type of life choice, getting a PhD is the right thing for some people but not for others.

Oh, and by the way…There was one other reason why I was interested in the PhD, one that I’ve been pondering a lot lately. I have to admit that the idea of participating in a pre-designed, predictable program with a clear end result is something that has always appealed to me, and getting a graduate degree is something that more or less falls into that category. But as comfortable as pre-designed programs can sometimes be, I’m very happy to be switching gears and moving beyond that, into the unknown.

Because in reality, life is pretty unpredictable, right? I have no way of knowing what I’ll be doing five years from now—and while that’s a little scary, it’s also incredibly exciting.

Thoughts? Reactions? Got a PhD? Know someone who has a PhD? Want to tell me what you were up to in 2009? Here’s your chance! 🙂

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41 Comments

  • Reply emeraldfootprint January 28, 2016 at 8:39 AM

    Congratulations on finishing! I hate having to explain why I’m doing a PhD. Funding in the UK and Ireland isn’t a given so I can’t say I’m doing it for the same reason but well done for giving a good honest explanation! You might enjoy my friend’s blog: beyondthedoctorate.blogspot.ie/ it’s all about honesty in the PhD process and what to do afterwards.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle January 28, 2016 at 1:20 PM

      Thanks! Yes, it does get a bit tiresome to keep explaining, doesn’t it? That’s interesting about the funding in the UK and Ireland — although aren’t PhDs shorter there, like 3 years? Not that that makes it a lucrative choice. I think some humanities PhDs in the US may not pay as much (or at all); I was lucky to be both at a private university and in a scientific field, so there was good funding for both those reasons.
      I will definitely check out your friend’s blog — thanks for the recommendation! 🙂

  • Reply Des January 28, 2016 at 9:13 AM

    Oh my gosh PREACH on the “predictable program sounds really appealing” thing! Every time I feel like I don’t know what to do with my life, my immediate answer is “You should probably go do an MBA.” Never mind that work experience is more important in my field than an advanced degree, the structure of a program is always my go-to option when things feel unsure! So you are so not alone on that.

    Also, I love how open and transparent you are about your decision process – I think a lot of this will be really helpful to a lot of people!

    • Reply Sarah Noelle January 28, 2016 at 1:17 PM

      Oh my gosh, ME TOO! Even though I just finished this program and should definitely definitely never ever go to school ever again under any circumstances, a little voice in the back of my head keeps saying, hey, maybe you could get an MBA. Lol. But I’m not doing it; I’m way too deep in debt already. Instead, I got “The Idiots Guide to an MBA” from the library and I’m reading it. I am NOT kidding about that last part.

  • Reply Mrs. Paradise January 28, 2016 at 10:14 AM

    I thought through a lot of the same dilemmas as you when in graduate school. It was a tough time in life, working crazy hours for almost no money. But in the end I’m glad I did it. It taught me to live like a student in a way that college with it’s giant cafeteria of endless food, free gym, cushy housing, etc., never could have. I know I put off earning more money for a while but I think in the end it improved my financial situation just for having gone through the experience. Plus, people call you doctor, so that’s nice!

    • Reply Sarah Noelle January 28, 2016 at 1:15 PM

      Haha, yes, a lot of people are calling me Dr. Sarah now, to be funny, that’s for sure. 🙂
      I love your comment about living like a student in a non-cushy, non-undergraduate way. I made a lot of conscious choices when I started the PhD about how I was going to live, including NOT living on campus (or anywhere near campus), always going to my lab for a regular 9am-5pm shift (even though I could have gone in from 8pm-4am if I’d wanted to), and finding ways to to make friends with people who were not in my grad program. I was an adult, and I wanted to act like one, and that stuff helped a lot — other than people constantly asking me, “So, how’s school?” I really didn’t feel like a student at all.

  • Reply enancejividen January 28, 2016 at 10:18 AM

    Congrats on finishing! I was in a poli sci PhD program straight out of college and dropped out ABD when i realized I had absolutely no desire to do anything that required it and no interest in the topics that had once really interested me. (Good student, lousy scholar). I did eventually go back to school for an MBA, which I enjoyed much more but I’m not sure was the best decision from a financial point of view.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle January 28, 2016 at 1:10 PM

      Oh wow, Emily, I cannot imagine starting a PhD program right after college (though I know there are a lot of people who do this). I think one of the reasons I was able to make it through the PhD was because I had already been an adult for a while when I started, so I made conscious choices to do things like live in an apartment far from campus, find my own friends who weren’t involved in my program, force myself to stick to a 9-5 schedule — all these things made me feel more like a regular adult with a job, rather than a perpetual student. I don’t think I would have made it very far otherwise. I’m impressed that you made it to ABD! I’m also jealous of your MBA, but I’ve made a pact with myself that I’m never ever going back to school! 🙂

  • Reply Taylor January 28, 2016 at 1:38 PM

    Congratulations on finishing! I’m sure it feels amazing. I love how honest you are in this post. I think that a lot of us (myself included) are too scared to be honest with ourselves, let alone with strangers on the Internet! I’m exactly like you and Des in the sense that every time I hit a bump in the road or feel confused about my career path, I automatically think a career with a strictly defined path is the answer. It’s especially tempting because I work at a university and my tuition would be severely reduced! But in truth, graduate level schooling doesn’t really align my long-term goals. (even though I often wish it did! haha) Once again, congratulations on finishing! I can’t wait to see what you accomplish next 🙂

    • Reply Sarah Noelle January 28, 2016 at 1:59 PM

      Thanks, Taylor! Yes, it’s so appealing to have someone hand you a predesigned career path, isn’t it? 🙂 But I’m starting to think it’s better to just be open to the possibilities that are out there. Even though I assumed that I would stay in a particular path when I started the PhD (i.e. continue in academia), I am currently looking at lots of types of options. Predefined paths can be comforting…but also potentially limiting. Which is definitely a pretty new realization for me.

  • Reply Jennifer // Simply + Fiercely January 28, 2016 at 4:52 PM

    There is so much that surprises me in this post. Firstly, call me naive, but I had NO idea you could have a master’s degree in the States and only earn $18k a year! This blows my mind, you can earn more than this as a waiteress in Australia.

    I also had no idea that you were paid while getting a Ph.D. and that you didn’t have to pay tuition. With all this information I completely understand why you chose this route (and I’m also blown away by your persevere because I don’t think I’ve ever done anything for 6 years!)

    You made me laugh out loud with your comment about having a predictable program with a clear end result – I’m the exact opposite and this is what scared me about university (I studied off and on for 5 years and have no degree to show for it!)

    • Reply Jennifer // Simply + Fiercely January 28, 2016 at 4:54 PM

      *waitress … Sorry commenting on my phone and I have stubby fingers 😉

    • Reply Sarah Noelle January 28, 2016 at 5:09 PM

      Oh gosh, I actually can’t believe I stuck to it for six years either! I do like those predictable programs with clear end results…but I also have a bit of a short attention span. I had definitely never committed to anything for nearly that long before! So that in and of itself was an achievement for me.

      The salary thing is an interesting one. I would say that if I’d had more know-how, and possibly some waitressing experience, I would have been able to find other work. But I was living in a really small, kind of rural community where there weren’t a ton of jobs, and on top of that, I just wasn’t very resourceful. I will also admit that I was offered a slightly higher-paying job at a company but turned it down because I felt like working in a school was more noble or something. So I really can’t complain about the $18K job. 🙂

  • Reply Maggie January 28, 2016 at 9:57 PM

    Congrats again on graduating! I agree a lot with your logic. When I graduated with my master’s degree in 2009, I thought immediately “what’s next?” Do I get a PhD because I can? School was a talent for me. I was good at it. I liked the predictability of it (and 6 years later, I can still say I sort of miss being in school…). But finding a JOB?! That was unpredictable and scary. If I hadn’t just had a baby, I may have gotten a PhD myself! (I’m not sure I would have survived a PhD program!)

    • Reply Sarah Noelle January 28, 2016 at 10:39 PM

      Yes, totally, school was a talent — that definitely resonates with me. I think what I didn’t realize going in is that getting a PhD bears very little resemblance to other types of school. Instead of going to classes, you report to a workplace and do projects with your boss and co-workers. So it was a bit of a transition in that sense. But in any case, I’m definitely ready for something else! 🙂

  • Reply Mortimer January 29, 2016 at 2:27 AM

    Congratulations on finishing! Looks like we were contemplating PhD programs around the same time. I was accepted into an English PhD program in ’08, and ended up turning it down because I knew soon-to-be Mrs. Mortimer would have hated the cold midwestern weather. And the career prospects seemed abysmal. But going into a science field with full funding would have been way more appealing. Given your options, I probably would have opted for the PhD too. Instead I waited another year and went to law school… A much more expensive proposition with probably even less certainty about after graduation income. Luckily it’s worked out (so far!) for me. I think part of my problem was that I didn’t have a clear idea of what the heck I was supposed to *do* after college. There wasn’t a career that was calling my name, and I liked learning. Staying in school seemed like a decent option. If my present self could have given my younger self advice, it would have been to take more risk. The more time I spend in the business world, the less tethered to reality I think academia is. And the more exciting the rest of the world seems! I’m looking forward to reading about what you do with your (pleasantly) unpredictable future.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle January 29, 2016 at 9:44 AM

      That’s so interesting about the PhD program you considered, Mortimer. I’ve definitely heard that PhDs in the humanities are pretty different from PhDs in the sciences, both in terms of grad school funding and in terms of career prospects.
      Also: your comment “The more time I spend in the business world, the less tethered to reality I think academia is. And the more exciting the rest of the world seems!” is basically EXACTLY what I’ve been thinking about during my job search recently. I’ve been looking into a lot of different types of jobs, and am really excited to discover that there are actually a lot of different options out there.

  • Reply Melissa January 29, 2016 at 2:39 AM

    This was so interesting to read because I was considering to do a PhD a few years back and ultimately decided not to do it. Funnily enough the financial side of things was a huge con for me (although I certainly found the free tuition and stipend appealing as well!).

    I had planned on getting a PhD, but, while completing my MA in Art History, I realized I did not like graduate school and I didn’t enjoy doing research full-time. I was also meeting many PhD students who had super bleak job prospects. There are fewer tenure-track positions available in the humanities and most curatorial positions (my previous dream job) are filled with no new ones being created.

    I considered the uncertainty about getting a career in my field to be a huge financial hurdle. I think perhaps if the career path had seemed more secure (as it seems to be in the clinical/scientific fields like yours) I may have went anyways. As it is now, I have a job in my field in an art museum working on exhibition development, so not having a PhD certainly didn’t prevent me from following my career aspirations 🙂

    • Reply Sarah Noelle January 29, 2016 at 9:48 AM

      Hi Melissa 🙂 I think it’s very cool that you really examined the possibility of a PhD from all angles and decided it was not for you. I didn’t do nearly as much of that type of thinking when I was making my decision. I love that you were able to be honest with yourself and recognize that you just didn’t like grad school/research, and choose something else instead. I was several years into the PhD before I even started to ask myself these types of questions. And it sounds like it paid off! That’s awesome that you got a job in your field without having to go through the process of getting a PhD.

      • Reply Melissa February 3, 2016 at 1:19 AM

        Well my dislike for full-time research just kind of smacked me across the face so I was kind of forced to be honest with myself haha! I have also always been a bit of an over-thinker as well. All this to say – I think my reasons not to go are equally as valid as your reasons to go. In the end it paid off for me; just as I am sure your PhD will pay off for you. Sounds like you got lots of great experience and have multiple options for directions to move with jobs 🙂

        PS: As I should have mentioned in my first post – Congrats!

        • Reply Sarah Noelle February 3, 2016 at 8:19 AM

          Thanks! Yes, hopefully I’ll be able to use the skills I learned in some capacity. I admit I have gone back and forth for several years about whether or not I truly like research, but since I generally felt that there were some enjoyable aspects to it, I decided to stick with it, at least until I finished the degree. Thanks for the encouragement! I’m glad your choice has paid off for you. 🙂

  • Reply Fehmeen January 29, 2016 at 2:08 PM

    Congrats on becoming a doctor!! Very few people in my social circle have a PhD so it’s a pretty big deal, and one of the people who did get it was on a scholarship, so that worked out nicely. What’s your field? I have a feeling I missed that. And just a quick question about loan deferment…were you not allowed to pay back your loans even if you had the money? That sounds kind of unfair

    • Reply Sarah Noelle January 29, 2016 at 6:17 PM

      Hey Fehmeen. 🙂 Actually I was totally allowed to pay off my loans while in school — it’s just that I didn’t have to, and so didn’t choose to. If I had gotten interested in personal finance earlier in my degree, I definitely would have reevaluated my salary and spending and started paying off the loans while in school (I wouldn’t have been able to make a ton of progress given the low PhD student salary, but some progress is better than no progress). However, I unfortunately didn’t think of this until I was almost finished.
      As for my field, I actually haven’t shared it on the blog because it’s super specific and I’ve been trying to preserve some anonymity. But basically it has to do with neurological rehabilitation.

  • Reply Vic @ Dad is Cheap January 30, 2016 at 2:12 AM

    Congratulations Doctor Sarah!

    I’ve realized that there is no such thing as a predictable career. I know English majors who own their own businesses to Art majors that are CFOs at companies.

    I wish you all the best! Welcome to the real world? I hated when people said that when I got out of school 🙂

    • Reply Sarah Noelle January 30, 2016 at 8:46 AM

      Hahaha, thanks Vic! And thanks for the encouragement. It’s definitely easy to feel like because I got a PhD, I have to follow in a specific career path. It’s good to keep in mind that there are lots of possibilities out there. 🙂

  • Reply Generation YRA January 30, 2016 at 6:44 PM

    Congratulations, Sarah!! Finishing a PhD program and becoming a Dr. is awe-inspiring. I remember attending my graduation for just my bachelors degree and literally having my jaw drop when the PhD students received their final diplomas. That takes so much dedication and work that I can’t help but commend each & every person who finishes a PhD program! School always provided a sense of predictability for me as well. In 2009 I was embarking on my freshman year of college. Come 2012 in the spring before graduation – I applied for a Masters program at OSU where I received a full ride & GTA position, and was also offered a full time position for a large corporation I interviewed for. I honestly was torn, and kept wanting to stay with the safe harbor of school (I LOVE school and still miss it dearly). Inevitably I chose the job, and was heart broken to leave all of my close friends and professors I made in undergrad that were moving on to the same Masters program. I can only imagine the enhancement of education, skills, worldview, and positive habits that have come from your completion of your PhD! I have no doubts that the next chapter you will be fully equipped and prepared for. 🙂

    • Reply Sarah Noelle January 31, 2016 at 10:05 AM

      Oh wow, Alyssa, that is such an interesting story about having to choose between a fully funded master’s degree and a regular job. I can totally see how that would have been a really tough decision. I think you were super smart to choose the job though. I bet if I had been offered a job in 2010 I would have taken it instead. One of the problems of being in academia is that potential employers sometimes think you don’t have as much “real-world” work experience, so I think it’s cool that you went in a direction that gave you more of that experience. By the way, wow, I’m so impressed that you got it together to start a blog in your early 20s! You must have started it too not long after college, if I’m interpreting your timeline correctly. I never would have been able to really stick with anything at that age. That’s awesome! 🙂

  • Reply Jason January 30, 2016 at 7:49 PM

    Congratulations on finishing again. Well, I have a Ph.D. and am a university professor. I actually continued in my doctoral program because my chosen profession, being a speech/debate coach, had little stability without a Ph.D. So I went and found out that I liked research and I am pretty good at it. So I stuck with it. I guess you could say I was lucky because I went out on the job market before the financial crisis hit.

    However, now that I am tenured I still have feelings of the grass is greener. I made the mistake of taking out an additional $40,000 in student loans while I was in my doctoral program, even though I didn’t have too. All because I needed a lifestyle. It was an idiot move that I wish I could back and face punch myself if I could.

    Other than that I don’t regret the Ph.D. because it helped me get a job I love, but I sometimes wonder.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle January 31, 2016 at 10:08 AM

      That’s awesome, Jason; it sounds like you got a PhD for normal, logical reasons. 🙂 I think we all wonder whether the grass is greener, but it sounds like you’re doing really well with what you’ve chosen. And you’re even tenured, wow! Congrats!
      Regarding taking out extra student loans for lifestyle reasons, I actually wrote a post on that a while back. From what you say, it sounds like you and I may have had a similar experience with that… Here it is in case you’re interested: http://theyachtless.com/2015/10/27/the-mysterious-case-of-the-poorly-defined-living-expenses/

  • Reply Jen @ Frugal Millennial January 31, 2016 at 3:54 PM

    I pursued a master’s degree for similar reasons – the recession hit while I was in college, and I was terrified that I would have a hard time finding a decent paying job with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. I considered getting a PhD in psychology, but I was worried about taking on huge debt and about not being able to start paying off my debt for another 5 years.

    I then decided to get my master’s in HR (a 2 year program) because I believed that getting a degree in business (a more practical field) would help me to find a steady, well paying job. When I finished my master’s, I had $75,000 of debt and zero relevant work experience. My income was so low that 50% of my income was going toward my student loans. If I could do it all over again, I would’ve gotten just a bachelor’s degree in a more practical field than psychology (or maybe even just an associate’s degree). I love psychology, but with tuition costs being so out of control and the job market still being weak, I don’t think it was worth it for me.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle January 31, 2016 at 4:18 PM

      Oh gosh, Jen, it sounds like our experiences have a lot of similarities. It’s so easy to look back and feel like we should have made different decisions, isn’t it? I definitely have a lot of thoughts about what I would do differently if I could do it all over again. But I try to remember that I did get a lot of cool things out of my PhD on a personal level — like people I met who I wouldn’t have met otherwise, or cool random experiences I had that I never would have anticipated. Remembering those things helps me to feel okay about my decision. But yeah, it’s tough looking back and seeing the larger picture sometimes.

  • Reply our next life February 1, 2016 at 3:21 AM

    Hooray, Dr. Sarah! So interesting to read your thought process that led you to today, with all the decisions in between. Reading stories like yours, I just feel so super lucky that I never had an extended spell of unemployment. I *did* have a two entry-level jobs that didn’t cover the cost of living in the expensive city where I lived at the time, so that part I remember. But I’m thankful that the second one, which I still basically have, quickly turned into a better paid job. I hope you find something similar now that you’re super loaded with qualifications AND all the life experience you can only get by walking around on the planet for a few years. 🙂

    • Reply Sarah Noelle February 1, 2016 at 9:43 AM

      Ha, yes, I’m definitely counting on my years of experience walking around the planet to help me figure out my next step. I can list that on my resume, right? 😉 It’s funny how much of a role timing, particularly the timing of the recession, played in all of this. I think if I had been a bit younger or a bit older when the recession hit, or just in a slightly different place psychologically, I would have made very different decisions. Then again, I wasn’t very savvy about careers or finances at any point during my 20s, so maybe it wouldn’t have made that much of a difference.

  • Reply Kate@GoodnightDebt February 2, 2016 at 1:17 AM

    I hope you aren’t beating yourself up about why you got a PhD. It’s late and I can’t ascertain your tone. Us humans do weird things for weird reasons, and I’d like to believe that it all works out in the end. Heck, I studied abroad in England because I missed the transfer deadline to move to the university closer to my family. I hated the school I attended freshman year and I was looking for any acceptable way out. England was not roses. It was probably the hardest year of my life. I was incredibly sick for most of it. But while in England, I went to Germany and discovered my passion for travel. 2 years later, I was at a bar near my new school and a cute boy started talking about Germany. This weekend marks our 7th year as life mates and travel buddies. If I hadn’t hated my freshman year of college, my life would look remarkably different.

    You are a doctor now. 🙂 Make sure to check all the doors. You never know which one will open and where it will take you.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle February 2, 2016 at 8:25 AM

      Ha, don’t worry, I’m not really beating myself up per se. Just trying to be objective about my rather odd motivations. I have gotten a ton out of this degree, even if I initially signed up for reasons that would not be particularly compelling to me today.
      That’s a pretty awesome England/Germany/meeting your husband story. You’re right, we never know where our decisions are going to take us. I’ll try to knock on all the doors. Thanks for the encouragement. 🙂

  • Reply Laura Beth February 2, 2016 at 7:35 AM

    Congratulations Sarah on your PhD!! What an extraordinary accomplishment. Sometimes we don’t realize what we have until some time later, when you look back at your cumbersome student loans and say, it was all worth it. Hopefully by then though, they will be paid off 🙂 Take care!

    • Reply Sarah Noelle February 2, 2016 at 8:21 AM

      Thanks, Laura Beth! Yes, my plan is to pay them off as quickly as possible! Thanks for your kind words. 🙂

  • Reply Hannah Rounds (@HannahLRounds) February 4, 2016 at 4:12 PM

    I actually encouraged my husband to go the PhD route as opposed to the Master’s Route because the tradeoff of time vs paying out of pocket vs getting paid seemed reasonable. He will be getting his PhD in Materials Science and Engineering (he just got the MSE last summer) maybe in as little as 18 months from now (more likely about 2 years).

    He was earning $40K when he started applying to schools, but jumped up to $75K when he found a new job. The math didn’t make sense, but we went with it anyhow. He’ll be re-entering the workforce around age 35, and probably have a degree worth $100K. He likely could be earning that by now, but I think he’s pleased to be getting the degree and the connections. We shall certainly see.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle February 4, 2016 at 4:26 PM

      Ah, interesting! Engineering definitely sounds like a cool field to be in. And I’m glad you know what I’m talking about with the master’s vs. PhD tradeoff issue. I definitely will not be making $75K this year, but I’m hoping my decision will pay off somewhere down the road. That’s really great that your husband feels like the degree was a good choice — connections are definitely always a positive thing! 🙂

  • Reply Mary March 21, 2016 at 3:33 PM

    I’ve wanted a PhD with a burning passion since my freshman year of college.

    I just stumbled upon you blog and really relate. I am a Boston-dweller who is about to finish my second masters – and was dangerously close to pursuing the PhD, which has been the plan for the last 10 years! I decided to pursue work because I need money, I seriously (very seriously) somehow did not think about this even two years ago.

    So I have a BA, MA, and another MA with no money – in addition to that I’m in liberal arts and have a very low earning potential. Somehow I did not realize this as I moved throughout my degrees. Now is different – I can’t wait to work. I am now super excited to work, get a paycheck, sit at my desk – everything! While I seriously still respect the PhD, I know that I am much more passionate about working than pursuing it. I can’t wait to make money and save it!

    • Reply Sarah Noelle March 22, 2016 at 8:21 PM

      Hi Mary 🙂 It sounds like our journeys have a lot in common! I didn’t really make the connection between graduate degrees and earning potential either, at least not until recently. It’s possible I could make a bit more with the PhD, but it’s hard to say.
      That’s great that you’re so excited to work! I was really excited to start a real job as well (I started earlier this month). When my supervisor showed me my desk I was like, I get a DESK?? And hooray for making money and saving it!

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