It's D Day! Well, PhD day anyway:)
November 30, 2010 2:55 PM   Subscribe

Hoping someone can offer some insights on pursuing a PhD. under there circumstances????

I am a special education teacher, and have taught in the same district (various positions) for roughly 12 years. I completed my masters in 2001 (only 3 years after my BA), so I am sitting at a pretty good place in the payscale and looking at a pretty good retirement (if I stay put). I also have a dream to earn a PhD. I enjoy research and feel that I would like to learn more about my field (answer specific questions via research), and share that with the special education community at large. To this end, I actively pursued PhD. applications in 2005/6. At that time, I applied to 4 programs, traveled for interviews, even interviewed for jobs in the states (all 4 schools were out of state). There were some good prospects, but nothing was quite "right". My masters advisor strongly suggested that I NOT pursue any program which would not at least fund me at 50%. Remembering back now, I was accepted at 3 of the 4 programs. However, one was not offering funding, and the other 2, did not have a strong faculty background in my research areas. It simply did not work out in the end (but not for a lack of trying). I was in my late 20s at the time, and felt that I could still try for it again in the future, so I let it go...still, it has ALWAYS been in the back of my mind to pursue the option again. However, as life has a way of doing, things have changed a bit in the past 6 years Some good, some bad...the good: I have gained more experience in the very areas I want to research. I also have been teaching as an adjunct at a local college and got some experience working at the college level (loved it!). The bad: I am in my mid-thirties now, and while I don't have a family, I do own rental property. I never intended to still have my properties (2 small buildings) but with the real estate crises, selling has not been an option for most of the last 3 years (due to a significant dip in value). That said, the only reason my homes have not foreclosed is that I am supporting the mortgages, with my salary...

Which brings me to my "D" day question. This past year, I learned about a GREAT opportunity to earn a PhD. The program is fully funded and provides a stipend (this stipend is about 1/3 of my current income). The program is designed for persons interested in my research areas, so there would be sufficient support. All applications materials are dues at the end of December (which is a month from today), in the next month, I would have to apply (letters of rec, application statement, retake the GRE, etc.)...I think that is feasible, but not exactly stress-free. They will notify re: acceptance by March. The bigger issue however, is, can I really pursue this in light of the fact that I can's afford to sustain my properties on a stipend, nor to I want that stress looming over me as a PhD. student/candidate. I have scoured the metafilter threads on PhDs and a lot of folks really advise against pursuing them. Most of those discouraging others seem to say that the job market is dismal, and that you typically have to relocate. For me, I hope those things will not be an issue. For one, I am relatively sure I have a good chance at a job in academia when I finish. 2) I have no problem relocating. I do have a concern about walking away from my current "comfy", secure teaching position, now that I am in my mid-thirties, to pursue a dream, that ultimately could fail? Further, I understand that the rate of professor pay is pretty similar to what I make now, and likely, even with a stipend, I will have to take out additional loans...Finally, and perhaps the biggest issue, is how to keep my houses afloat if I voluntarily take a dip in salary. So truthfully, there are so many variables regarding if I can really make this happen and I am really on the fence. There is a part of me that feels I should go ahead with the application process, and work toward it as if everything will work out (there is also a chance I will not be accepted which would void the opportunity entirely). Still, I don't like the idea of going into it with so much uncertainty, but I am not sure I am ready to give up completely. Thoughts?
posted by mdn31 to Education (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm confused as to why you're looking at Ph. D. programs rather than Ed. D. programs; the latter seem more in tune with your experience and goals, as I understand them. Am I missing something, or are you not seeking a degree related to the field of special education?

That aside, are you saying that your current rental properties are vacant? Or that the monthly rental income doesn't cover the mortgage? Are you way underwater in equity and having trouble finding reliable renters? Because none of that is going to go away if you are in grad school (though you might find that you have more time to manage the rentals, which might make it possible for you to keep up the tenancy rate).

I feel like you've given us a ton of information, but not the information we actually need to help you make a good decision. What's your negative balance each month re: the rental properties? What's the degree to which you're currently underwater vis-a-vis equity? What are comparable properties currently selling for, and how much of a hit would you have to take if you sold them (if it's less than what you're currently paying over the course of a year, it might be worth it for you just to sell). How would getting a Ph.D. have a positive impact on your income in the long run?
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:05 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am relatively sure I have a good chance at a job in academia when I finish.

Unless this assurance comes from someone who can and will give you a job, then I would say your surety has a really, really shaky foundation. Meanwhile, you really don't seem to have -- or, at least, state -- a clear reason for why you want to pursue a PhD. You do not need one to research your field, nor do you need one to contribute to it. Simply wanting one, like wanting a new car is a terrible reason to enter a PhD program.
posted by griphus at 3:07 PM on November 30, 2010 [7 favorites]

Also, on what specific basis do you come to this conclusion:

For one, I am relatively sure I have a good chance at a job in academia when I finish

and do you not understand that an assistant professor's job pays significantly less than a teacher with twelve years' seniority?

Getting a Ph.D./Ed.D. might represent a useful bump in your current salary (depending on your local rubrics), but leaving your teaching job for an assistant professorship is going to mean a significant cut in salary. Even if you could find one, and they're hard to find.

I would get the whole rental property business sorted out before I made any moves, if I were you. There's no rush. People generally get Ph.D.s or Ed.D.s in education well into their 40s if not their 50s.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:08 PM on November 30, 2010

This is a pretty dense question, but at its root is this: Your dream is to pursue a PhD and engage in novel research in your field.

Do NOT go to grad school in order to get a better job, secure better pay, etc. There are plenty of PhDs working below the poverty line in fields a world away from their research area. But if you've always dreamed of getting your PhD, don't let anything stop you.

Think of it this way: in 15 years, when you would have retired from your current job (or been eligible for benefits, whatever), would you look back and wish that you'd gone given up the steady job/benefits/income and gone to graduate school, even with the uncertainty of income and future that comes with it? If so, get cracking on your essays/GREs! If you're uncertain, grad school may not be right for you. It is the ultimate meat grinder, and the majority who begin PhD programs in my field never finish their education.

Oh, and your age is not a deterrent. My program had a couple of fresh-faced 22 y/os with freshly minted BA, but it also had a number of people who entered the program in their mid-late 30s, some with children or other responsibilities.
posted by arnicae at 3:09 PM on November 30, 2010

@ Sidehevel. Thanks for your response. Monthly rental income does not cover the mortgage. There is a good chunk of deficit (roughly 500/600 dollars). The mortgages are about 20% underwater. The market for duplexes is worse thatn that for single families, so most duplexes on the market have sat for a year or more and sell for much less than I would need to payoff my balance.

I did not want to pursue an E.D as I am most interested in the research component, and E.Ds are more practical.
posted by mdn31 at 3:10 PM on November 30, 2010

Right now whether or not to do the application is your real choice, whether to get a PhD is a choice you have to make only when you are actually offered the opportunity to do so. If you do the application it is one stressful month. It is a "dry run" on the whole process and a at least some of it (like the GREs) will be effective beyond this particular deadline. You can elect not to pursue the program even if you are accepted: there will certainly be someone in line behind you to take your place. In the intervening months you can work on what would really happen financially, what kind of hit it would take to divest your properties, etc. Whether you are accepted or not you will have a much better idea of whether you really want to go after a PhD after you go through the process. If you don't do the application you eliminate the possibility of the choice entirely. There are no major changes in life without major uncertainty.
posted by nanojath at 3:15 PM on November 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Simply wanting one, like wanting a new car is a terrible reason to enter a PhD program.

And if it's such a life goal that the simple act of doing/achieving it would be enough, then you ought to wait until you're able to retire from teaching - don't the pension plans kick in after like 20 years or something? There is absolutely no shame in going back to school in your 40's or 50's.
posted by Sara C. at 3:18 PM on November 30, 2010

I did not want to pursue an E.D as I am most interested in the research component, and E.Ds are more practical.

This doesn't seem like an accurate assessment to me, though of course this might vary widely by region. Around here, the Ed.D. is the gold standard.

In any case, there's no rush. You can take classes at the doctoral level as a for-credit nonmatriculated student and do research and publish papers right now--matriculation can wait until you sort out your financial situation regarding these rental properties.

Trying to live on an assistant professor's salary while discharging a bankruptcy or foreclosure is my personal idea of a horrible nightmare.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:19 PM on November 30, 2010

I have a PhD in an area of education and I am currently on a search committee for an education faculty member. The EdD is generally not as respected as the PhD.

As someone with years "in the trenches" you will be very desirable as a faculty member. Take out some student loans to supplement your income and go for it.
posted by mareli at 3:54 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Think seriously before you abandon your job with its nice retirement plan. Universities -- especially public universities with schools of Ed. where you might end up post-PhD -- have seriously scaled back their benefits in the past few years; and faculty at most schools are not unionized, so benefits are scantier than those of public school teachers to begin with. Also, if you did quit your current job to do the PhD you would be losing some of your prime years of retirement-plan investment contributions.

If I were in your place, I'd put in my years in the district, collect my retirement at the earliest possible date, and then do the PhD.
posted by philokalia at 4:08 PM on November 30, 2010

This may seem like a small detail, but are you sure you can get all your letters of rec in in time? A month is not long, and you may effectively have closer to three weeks given end of the semester (and recommenders being away from offices and/or email).

If you decide to go forward I would try to get information from current students in your desired programs about how many of them work outside their stipend positions and how it is received.
posted by ninekinds at 5:16 PM on November 30, 2010

Just cross the bridge right in front of you.

Step 1: Take the next 3-4 weeks to really focus on the application and do the best possible job.

Step 2: think about your property and how to deal with it. (you will need to do this regardless). Is a short sale a possibility? Are you taking in the most rent possible? Could you get the guy from HGTV to do a renovation and improve your "income property"? (kidding, sort of)

Step 3: find out if you get into the PhD program, and then decide if you will go for it.

(I think it's worth the risk if it's your dream - if you don't get a job in academia I'm sure they'll take you back as a teacher)
posted by rainydayfilms at 6:19 PM on November 30, 2010

Sidhedevile—Harvard is a fluke. 99.9% of EdD programs are not research-focused. OP wants a PhD.

OP, the “OMG, don’t go!” is primarily for humanities and a lot of social sciences. Like mareli states, Special Ed is relatively ok. You still have to hustle to prepare your CV, you have to move for a job, you need to go to a good school with a good advisor, etc. But it's definitely not abysmal, especially with K-12 experience.

I wouldn't accept an offer unless I figured out that real estate thing. But if you go ahead and apply then you'll have those GRE scores and fresh letters to call upon for the next five application cycles. Plus if you get an offer, you might be able to defer a bit.

If it's what you want to do and you're not endangering your chances of EVER retiring, then go for it.
posted by parkerjackson at 7:50 PM on November 30, 2010

Aside from the timeline for application...

It's fully funded (you're making a little over $60k/year now, the stipend is around $20k?) and unlike a science PhD, it's not necessarily a "publish enough, we'll eventually let you graduate" so you're only locked in for 3 to 5 years.

If it's what you want to do, it sounds like it's the right window of opportunity to get it done. Also jobwise with a PhD involving special education, you'll learn of a lot of alternative job opportunities than the ones you envision now. Stay flexible about what you want to do.

Student loans should be doable but do ask your potential supervisor/department secretary what the timeframe for graduation is, and the placement rate for their graduates. If it's less then 5 or 6 years, the loans - even private loans - may be worth it. The potential supervisor's response (what percent of their students go on to do x) is going to be a really important piece of information. If they can't account for every student they had in the last 10 years, watch out. If a lot of their students went into a post-doc, but they can't say what the students ended up afterwards, another warning for bailing out on this potential supervisor.

Bon chance!
posted by porpoise at 8:06 PM on November 30, 2010

- fully funded - does that include summer support (otherwise you're going to need to save 3-4 months of living), conferences (easily $1-2k each) and research costs? 'Fully funded' often isn't.

- subject is a match but how do you feel about the program's methodology?
posted by k8t at 9:04 PM on November 30, 2010

Okay, so you'd receive tuition and $20k/yr? How does that compare to your annual living expenses? Worrying about the rental property question in isolation makes no real sense; it's the same as if you were paying really high rent or had a child to support or something. It's a question of income vs. outflow. Then, to cover the shortfall, you can either save up ahead of time, or get student loans. For example, in the US you could seek a Stafford loan (see annual amounts and lifetime limits here).

+1 that if you're close to receiving any sort of pension or retirement package, hang in there for that.
posted by salvia at 12:50 AM on December 1, 2010

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