Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Ask the Administrator: Too Many Variables

A new correspondent writes:

I currently hold a BS and MA in my field and teach FT at a private college as a visiting instructor. I get very good course evals am involved in as many things as they let me be and have even written my own course (and got it approved!). I"m in my second year there with a very strong promise of a renewal for a third year. 2 department members hold MA's, (includes the chair) and 2 have PhDs (one tenured, one might be next year). VPAA (who seems to have a final say in hiring) first said that he doesn't want me there long terms b/c I don't have a PhD. Now he's saying that's not going to matter, it's more my youth and lack of "political savvy". Chair told him that she'll mentor me in whatever I'm lacking (she does too) and how much I've been doing for the college and dept (that the possible TT member has not done).

I can get a PhD locally, where I got my MA in fact. I'm there for 1 course this semester, non matric. Problem is the time it'll take to finish, money and that they pretty much solely focus on research (R1 school), so I'm not learning much that I find directly useful. I considered getting a PhD in another field, but was told that doing that makes it harder to get hired teaching in my original field. I've also considered an Eed which would be free to me in F'09 (provided I get hired at current institution for that long), but have been told that that degree holds less clout than a PhD, and again would make it harder to teach in my original field.

Chair and mentor feel that they can find ways to keep me at current institution for the long term, and I'd like to believe them, but I can be pessimistic (or realistic, your choice). They also both feel the PhD is a waste of my time and money. Mentor feels EeD is way to go. I just want to keep teaching. Will an EeD hurt me? Should I stick with the PhD? Would a PhD limit my long term options (if I need to/want to get out of academics)? What about the fact I'd rather read and teach the research than actually do it?

Lastly, do I stick out the course I'm currently taking even though I'm not sure I even want this, just to save face? I have no idea what to say if I quit without burning a bridge. Oh, moving is not an option for the next few years, given my husband's situation.

My first thought is, that's way too many variables in one equation.

You need to reduce the variables.

If I understand the letter, you're place-bound for a while for spousal reasons. You have a Master's, and like to teach, but don't know if that will be enough to get you the kind of job you want. But you don't know what kind of job you want, so it's hard to say. The PhD available locally – which you're kinda pursuing and kinda not -- doesn't seem useful to you, but you don't want to lose face by walking away from it. A PhD in another field would be of limited relevance to your career goals. An EdD (or however it's usually noted) would be free, if you're still there, but you're not really sure what that leads to. Also, your VPAA says you're too young and lack political savvy, so you may not be there long enough to get the free EdD anyway. Unless you are.

Okay, time out. Deep breath.

It seems like you're trying to decide which road to take, but you aren't really sure where you want to go. Not knowing the latter, it's impossible to answer the former.

I'll throw out a few basics, ask my readers to fill in gaps that I've missed, and make a suggestion.

A few basics:

  1. There's no shame in walking away from your PhD program. You're in it on a 'non-matric' basis now, meaning that you're only barely in it anyway. If the program isn't for you, then it isn't for you. That's okay. A full-blown doctorate is a major life undertaking, consuming money both upfront and in opportunity costs. It is not to be undertaken for lack of a better idea, or because you don't want to lose face. (If anyone asks, just cite unspecified 'personal reasons' and leave it at that.) If you don't have a burning passion to do it, don't do it. Life is too short, and doctorates take too long.

  1. The same applies to the PhD in another program, or a 'free' EdD. (And there's no such thing as a free degree. Again, see “opportunity cost.”) Each has its virtues, but only if you really want what it leads to. If you don't, then either is a colossal waste of time and resources.

  1. You like to teach. You don't like to do research. A doctorate is a research degree. This is true of both PhD's and EdD's.

Rather than looking for the next external stamp of approval, I'd advise stepping back and giving some thought to what's actually important to you. Strip things to their essentials – I'm guessing that your teaching gig right now keeps you fed, so that counts as essential – and use the suddenly free space to reflect on what you'd like to be doing five or ten years from now. What kind of family life do you want? Do you want to still be in the same city? Is a long-distance marriage an acceptable option? Is teaching the only thing you enjoy, or could you envision doing something else? What do you do when left to your own devices? What can't you stop doing? Is there a way to pay the bills doing that?

(I had to laugh at myself recently when Recently Married Grad School Friend reminded me of a conversation we had over a decade ago in a parking garage in Grad School City. I had just discovered 'zines – this was the 90s, people – and was all atwitter about how cool it would be to do a higher ed zine. I just couldn't figure out how to make money on it. He patiently endured my uncharacteristic enthusiasm, which apparently made an impression. Now I blog at IHE, which didn't exist then. I write this stuff because I'm constantly thinking about it, whether it's useful or not. What do you do all the time, whether it's useful or not?)

Good luck. This isn't something you'll knock out in a week or a month, but you'll get there. You'll know you were right when, looking back, it seems inevitable.

Wise and worldly readers – any thoughts?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.