When I tell people that I’m getting a doctorate in English, I never know what kind of reaction I’ll get. Sometimes the word “PhD” dazzles, and they nod with widened eyes, impressed at my obvious genius – only super smart people get doctorates, right? (Not right). Others nod eagerly, and say, “So you wanna teach high school?” (Uh, no). My (least) favorite are the ones who immediately interrogate me about dangling participles and gerunds, and I gently explain I’m more on the literature side of things.
One common denominator, though, is that most people have no idea what I do, or why one even pursues a doctorate in the first place. (“What do you want to do with it?” is the most common question I get).
So here it goes. A short run-down of why I’m doing this and how it works.
First, though – reasons I am not pursuing my PhD.
1. To feel smarter. If you want to feel smart, pursuing graduate work is maybe the worst idea possible. Maybe you’d fare differently, but for me, joining a program with lots of other bright, driven students was a confidence check. Grad school is where just being a “good student” stops working, and I had to start working harder. The first semester especially, I felt like I was the least intelligent person in class most of the time. I love that I’m surrounded by smart people, but believe me, it does not improve my opinion of my own intelligence.
2. Because I don’t know what else to do. When I was in my Masters program, I toyed with the idea of going on to be a professor, but I had to try out some other stuff first. Office job: NOT for me. High school teacher: Getting closer, but still, not my life’s work. Thankfully I spent time in college interning and exploring other areas of interest (journalism, advertising) and I knew those weren’t for me, either. I’m getting a PhD because honestly, I don’t think I can be happy doing anything else. I love teaching and writing more than anything, and I’m here because I’ve explored all the other options that fit my interests and talents. The worst thing, though, is to go to graduate school because you don’t know what to do. I want this.
3. Because I want the prestige of being Doctor S. I will admit that I plan on using that title, because I’m working hard for it, and I won’t pretend I don’t feel a thrill at the thought of being Dr. instead of Mrs. – but no. Just no. I’m here because I believe this is my vocation, not because I want to impress anyone.