Friday, October 03, 2008

Things I Seriously Considered Doing But Didn’t

Going for a Ph.D.

When I started working on my English master’s degree at BYU in August 1992, I vaguely had in mind that I would push onward and earn a Ph.D. The main reason I embarked on the master’s in the first place was because I didn’t know of any other career paths that interested me besides becoming an independent writer/novelist, and even at the young, dreamily naïve age of 26 I understood that I’d need a real academic job to support my writing aspirations.

However, after finishing one full-time year of BYU’s two-year program—a year that I enjoyed very much, by the way—I somewhat inadvertently got hired as an editor at the LDS Church's Ensign magazine, which represented the start of a real-enough career path for me. I spread out the final master’s year over four years, and by the time I graduated in 1998 I had two kids and was divorced with a $1,400 monthly alimony/child support payment, so obviously I needed to stay in the workforce.

I married Ann in 1998, our son Austin was born in 1999, and then I left the Ensign in 2000 and somehow got myself involved in the cushy, well-paying, nauseating MLM industry. Before long, Ann and I realized that we were having fertility problems. Ann was feeling increasingly agitated about it, but I’d never really loved the idea of having kids, and I began to think: Hey, if she’s not going to have to raise any more babies, maybe she can go back to work and I can look into doing something new, such as earning my Ph.D.

I started talking to professors and looking pretty seriously at Ph.D. programs. Utah’s only English Ph.D. is at the University of Utah, which is quite selective at that level and notoriously anti-Mormon, so I figured I’d have to go out of state, which I imagined would be a welcome change. The one thing that really turned me off is that a Ph.D. generally requires you to learn how to read in two foreign languages (for my master’s, I had to take a one-semester Spanish-reading crash course that was a complete waste of my time). Also, I was worried about testing requirements, since I’d done well on the general GRE—I’ve always performed well on standardized tests—but not on the English literature portion.

One professor I interviewed warned me, “Don’t just do a Ph.D. to do a Ph.D. You gotta know what you want to do with it academically.” I had to admit that I didn’t really know of anything specific that I wanted to do academically beyond writing a novel as a dissertation, getting into teaching creative writing, and perhaps doing some scholarly articles on teaching methods, creating literature, etc. But hey, maybe that was enough?

On Monday: The Ph.D. door slams shut


Chris Rusch said...

What's stopping you from doing those things (writing, teaching, and some other things you mentioned)? With a masters degree, you could teach at the community college level with a masters degree. Just a thought, though based on what you have written that might not be what you want to do.

Christopher Bigelow said...

Yeah, I already do teach freshman comp night classes at Utah Valley University, but mainly only for the money. I'd rather teach creative writing.