Getting a PhD. Is it worth it?

I did a bad thing last night.

Yesterday, before going to bed, I made the mistake of browsing through different PhD programs from all over the world. Instead of going to bed early so that I can get some much needed rest, I spent two hours looking at different websites that offered all kinds of PhD programs.

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I started with online programs offered by academically strong schools in the US. I then moved on to the Japanese universities in Honshu.

I finally found one offered by Hokkaido University that seems perfect for me:

  1. It is the cheapest one so far that I’ve seen. For a total of about USD$12,000, the program is a steal.
  2. It’s conducted in English and the barriers for entry into the program seem low. All one needed was a master’s degree. You don’t even need recommendation letters.
  3. Hokkaido University has a strong academic reputation all over Japan–and even the world, judging from the amount of international students it gets.
  4. Plus, it was not an online degree. It was at the campus in Sapporo–right where I live.

Unfortunately, it is in the environmental sciences. Yes, that’s a hard science degree–in a field that I have never even thought of.

Then I start thinking that I can swing it. I made excuses in my head that this is something I can do. Okay, maybe not excuses per se, but more like justification as to why this program would be something that I should do. Yes, my bachelors and masters degrees were in the social sciences, but I think I can make the case that in some way they were related to this doctorate degree. I can easily make it work. If we’re dealing with environment science applied to climate change, policy issues, and sustainable development, my previous degrees in political science and international relations could easily fit into this field.

Even when I turned off the computer and I was lying in bed, my mind was just thinking about that doctorate degree and all the advantages it can bring.

I want it.

I really want it.

And then I start to wonder why?!

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What triggered this desire to get a PhD, suddenly, yesterday?

I don’t even know.

With that said, I’ve always believed that the ultimate goal was getting a PhD for me–even when I was younger. It was a given. All this time, in the back of mind, I know that I want to have that degree. And it looks like there’s one right within my reach. I just never asked myself why was it so important to get.

Is it even worth it?

Then how the hell can I apply this doctorate degree in my real life? I will continue to teach English–most likely–if I live in Japan. That seems to be the career path that a lot of non-Japanese people fall into when they are here.

How will having a PhD affect me in the future? What is the return on investment on this degree? Like I said, I don’t even know why I would get it. Maybe I can use it to gain entry into teaching at a university setting. I could also do something with it if I leave Japan and work with international NGOs that deal with sustainable development issues.

On and on these things were running in my head as I struggled to fall asleep.

But now I am wide awake, and in the light of day, seriously thinking about applying to the program. If I do, it will be a huge time and financial commitment.

As I sit and think about this more deeply, I think I just wanted a degree to prove to the world that I am a smart, successful person. After all, having a PhD would prove to the world that I am intelligent. It would also be proof that I can go through the academic process and succeed in defending a dissertation. I think I just want to be acknowledged for that.

Or, maybe–just maybe, my current job is not as fulfilling as I think it is? Maybe I don’t feel successful in my capacity as a kids English teacher working part-time…

For ten years, I’ve been working primarily with children, teaching English. I acknowledge that I use different parts of my brain when I am teaching children. I think I’ve developed a lot of skills that can help me deal with different types of people. I also still find it intellectually challenging to come up with ways to engage my students.

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I think, though, that I am bored with this particular job. I think I am realizing that I crave the intellectual stimulation of working with adults. I don’t really get much of that at work, to be honest. There’s just not enough time to sit down and talk about other, more academic and non-English language teaching, stuff. This is why I’ve always wanted to work within a university setting.

There’s also the issue of learning for learning’s sake. I am curious about the whole process of getting a doctorate degree. Even if I don’t use the degree in any capacity from here on out, I still think that going through the process would be worth it.

But then again, I am also wondering if I am going through the shiny objects syndrome–after all, it’s something new and interesting. Maybe I’m just distracted by something that I’ve never done before. In any case, I’m going to wait and see if this feeling goes away. I’ll also look into other options and see whether there is some way I can make this work if I really end up going back to school.


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