Unsolicited Advice

Their thoughts on getting a doctorate

I spent a good chunk of last week peeing on their dreams, so the least I can do is direct you to Mare’s post and Teresa’s post, in which they each respond to my two entries on why it may not be a good idea to go back and get a doctorate (More on not getting that doctorate; Don’t get that doctorate).

As you might have guessed, they are two of the people whose plans inspired me to write those entries. Which is not to say that their specific plans and goals were what I was responding to, because at the time I didn’t know the details — only that they were thinking about it. For better or for worse, my own experiences filled in the rest.

More on not getting that doctorate

I’ve already gotten some feedback about my previous entry urging people not to do a doctorate. Not here — nobody ever comments here — but on Facebook and on my cousin’s blog (she’s one of the three people I was thinking of). To my great surprise, none of them wants to kill me (so far as I know; they all seem pretty devious to me, and could get me when I’m not looking).

I wrote that post quickly and not necessarily coherently, and I left some ideas out; the feedback has helped me think more clearly about my point. Let me try to restate it more cogently.

Getting a doctorate is something that involves an awful lot of effort, but not necessarily a lot of reward — especially if you can’t get a tenure-track position, or a job requiring a Ph.D. and paying accordingly. You don’t get a Ph.D. unless you are compelled to do so — you’re wired so that you have no other choice. From my perspective, if you already have a career, you’re lucky: in a way, you’ve dodged a bullet. What mystified me was the notion that someone who already had a career, one that paid well relative to a starting professor’s salary, would want to spend several years in poverty chasing a degree that wouldn’t necessarily improve their material circumstances or change their career path.

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Don’t get that doctorate!

Three people I know have expressed an interest in going back to school to get a doctorate in their respective fields. My private reaction in each case was: “Are you crazy?” These are people with good jobs, possibly even tenure and pensions — and they want to go back to eating macaroni and cheese?

From a strictly financial perspective, getting a doctorate isn’t a good idea. It takes you out of the workforce for at least five years; most people I know have taken eight (because they’re trying to earn a living while they work on their dissertation, which stretches things out even more).

That’s a long time not to be at full salary (for people making a teacher’s or bureaucrat’s salary, the best-case scenario — tuition waivers and full scholarships — would still involve a 60 percent pay cut) or not to be contributing to an RRSP. And I don’t believe that the first two years of a Ph.D. — the coursework and comprehensive exams — can be done part-time.

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The trouble with long-distance relationships

Recently I offered some advice on long-distance relationships to a friend whose significant other will soon be moving to another city. With three successive long-distance relationships in the 1990s under my belt, I have some opinions on this subject. Here they are:

  1. Everything in a long-distance relationship happens in slow motion. Especially fights, which in my case sometimes took months instead of hours. Distance makes communication harder, and I think that’s true even now, with Skype and cheap long distance, neither of which I had back then. (Hell, in my first LDR, we didn’t even use the Internet; we wrote letters. By hand. Yes, I’m old.)
  2. The distance has to be temporary. You’re not in an LDR by choice; it’s because of things outside your control: work, studies, immigration law. You’re making do until you sort those things out (find a new job, graduate, get a visa) and one of you relocates to be with the other. If you’re not actively working toward that end, or if the end is not clearly in sight, the relationship will gradually fall apart.
  3. You’re forced to get serious, fast. It’s hard to date casually over coffee and see where it goes when you’re half a continent away. Sometimes you end up skipping that stage if your relationship goes long-distance before it has the chance to get serious on its own. That’s not always a good thing. If you were heading in that direction anyway, lucky you, but you also run the risk of breathing life into a relationship that, if it wasn’t an LDR, would have run its course in a month or two. (And now that it’s an LDR, everything takes longer, and what might have ended in a month now takes a year for you to figure out. Bummer.)

Despite conventional wisdom, long-distance relationships aren’t necessarily doomed, nor are they always a bad idea. They’re just harder to do, and have pitfalls that typical, same-city relationships don’t. Because they require more of an emotional investment, and can take a long time to fall apart, it hurts more when they fail. And, with very few exceptions, they only succeed when the long-distance aspect doesn’t last very long.

Note: Entries prior to November 2003 did not have categories assigned to them, and are not included in category archives; please consult the monthly archives.