|You said I can make $15,000|
per year for five to ten years?!?
HELL YEAH I'M INTERESTED!
If so, then you will probably be in for a bit of a shock when it comes to the salary of a PhD student. While I've heard of stipends for Social Science PhD students getting as high as $40,000 in very specific programs/cases (and that amount didn't cover tuition...), more realistic is in the $15,000-$25,000 per year range. This amount may or may not include summer salary, and may or may not involve 'actual' work (depending on if you receive a fellowship or an assistantship).
Still, assuming you won't have a sugar-daddy or sugar-momma supporting your PhD pursuits, don't have a string of income properties providing you constant rent money, or generous parents who will pay your living expenses, living on that salary may require some sacrifices or creativity. For me, entering the PhD program in 2006 (when stipends were even lower) meant I took around a 70% decrease in my annual salary.
|Also a holder of a Sociology BA degree...|
So, what does this mean for someone considering a PhD program in the Social Sciences? If you can't possibly see giving up the finer things in life that you currently enjoy in your well-paid job (e.g., eating out regularly, buying newer model cars, living in a fancy apartment, buying food that doesn't begin with 'top' and end with 'ramen', etc.), and you won't otherwise have a sizable stream of income aside from the PhD stipend while in school, you might want to reconsider getting a PhD, or at least reconsider going full time for it.
2. Do you want to be filthy rich when you 'grow up'?
|Notice that he was never|
referred to as Scrooge
McDuck, PhD... probably
one reason why he was rich.
For example, the median academic salary for a recent Social Science PhD graduate in 2009 was $55,000 (Source). Going into industry provided a somewhat higher salary, while being a Post Doc provided a somewhat lower salary. While this salary can provide for a pretty comfortable life, especially if you live in a low cost of living area like much of the midwest or south, you're not going to be a millionaire anytime soon because of it.
Further, if you have to take out student loans while you're in school to cover living expenses or other bills, those monthly payments afterwards can take a serious chunk out of your take home salary (more about funding and PhD programs in a later post). (NOTE: I firmly believe that you should not go into a PhD program if they do not offer you either full tuition remission or a comparably-larger stipend. Taking out (low-interest) student loans can sometimes be useful, especially to pay off other, higher interest debt, but don't pay tuition for a PhD with student loans!!!)
3. Do you like to leave your work at work?
|Oh how I miss |
that sweet, sweet
The PhD program is not like that. You won't be able to consistently show up for classes, work for an hour in your office afterwards, and then take the rest of the night off. You'll have homework (at least, at first), assistantship duties (which could involve grading assignments, prepping to teach courses, research projects with tight deadlines, etc.), studying for comps, and (eventually) work on your prospectus and dissertation. There will constantly be something you should be reading (whether for courses, teaching, or your research).
|You should probably get used to|
empty parking lots when you are
working on your dissertation...
|The wife and I were also going|
to run a small B&B in our spare
time... seriously, we bought
books about it!
This probably would have been
me driving to work had we
ended up in the "south-south"
|Sorry Memorial U.,|
I really did try and talk
my wife into living in
Newfoundland, but she
absolutely hates seafood.
|Dr. Fussy was able to live|
in his preferred area, but
had to make sacrifices.
|Beautiful, but flat as hell... are you|
willing to live here for 3+ years?
5. Do you have realistic job prospects?
Related to #4, do you have a realistic idea of what the job market is like? In 2009, about 73% of PhD graduates in the Social Sciences (including Psychology) had a 'definite' job or post doc lined up (Source Table 38). That means that more than 1 in 4 new PhDs did not have anything definitively lined up after they finished. Are you only interested in working at an R1 (very high research intensive) university when you graduate? Do you know how many of those jobs are posted each year? Do you know how many new PhD grads are competing for those jobs?
|Yeah, the job market is a little like that...|
|Not too far from the truth...|
Therefore, you need to be realistic about what type of job you're going to get upon graduation, and whether you'll be happy in less-than-ideal jobs (What if you had to teach 5 courses per semester? What if you had to adjunct for a couple years? What if you had to live in a 'crappy' area of the country (see #4)?). If you enter the PhD program with the 'R1 or bust' mindset, you might end up finding out what 'bust' really means.
6. Are you willing to devote 4+ years to the PhD?
In 2009 the median time in graduate school to earn a PhD in Social Sciences was between 7 and 8 years (Source - Table 28). That's a damn long time to be working on a PhD, so you need to be sure you really want this, and are willing to put in that time.
Side rant: Yes, there are some people who can finish their Social Science PhD in 3 years. You're probably not one of them (sorry). If you do not already have a Master's degree in a related field, I'm almost positive that you're not one of them (again, sorry). This is because for someone with a Master's degree, you'll likely take courses for the first year and a half, and then have comps to defend, a prospectus to write and defend, and then the rest of the dissertation to write and defend. Without a Master's degree in a related field, you'll probably be adding another 1.5 years of courses to that schedule (2.5-3 years of courses total). So, the question is whether you are willing to devote 4 or more years to getting your PhD? If you do finish in 3 years, great! But don't be fooled into believing that 3 years from start-to-finish is typical, because it simply isn't.
|This kid already has two AJS |
pubs and an in-press ASR,
and he defends next week.
|Publishing a paper from|
start to finish can take
longer than the gestation
period of a baby elephant.
7. Do you have a good support system in place?
My friend Sara recommended I add this one, and I think it's a great question. The PhD can be done alone, but it's much, much harder than if you have a support system helping you through, keeping your spirits up, providing non-academic outlets, and generally helping to keep you a) sane, b) fairly motivated, and c) from dropping out in disgust. I'll post more on building a support system in grad school in a later post, but you should be asking yourself who is going to support your decision to go to grad school, who is going to help you get through grad school (whether that means letting you bitch to them about the program once and a while, helping you proofread your dissertation, providing a person to bounce ideas off of, or simply helping to make dinner when you're exhausted from a full day of classes and teaching), and who isn't?
All of this may sound like I'm trying to talk you out of a PhD, but that would be far from the truth. All I wanted to emphasize with this post is that there are a lot of things to consider when first considering a PhD, let alone when you later choose programs to apply for (more about this later). Finishing a PhD is a LOT of work, and a lot of people don't ever finish. Further, even finishing a PhD is not going to guarantee you a job, nor will it guarantee you a high salary or the ability to select where you live. So you should consider what you will be giving up to pursue a PhD, what you want to do with a PhD, the realistic opportunities you'll have after graduation, and the type of life you'll lead as a PhD. Just make sure you're making an informed decision to pursue (or not pursue) a PhD.
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