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"Life is the sum of all your choices." Albert Camus
When I was in high school, my electronics teacher had a silly, fortune-cookie saying to remind his students not to touch electrical wires with two hands and risk shock: "One hand in pockey, no get shockey." Like touching wires with both hands, there's a wrong way to do almost everything. For example, going down a park slide head first, throwing a paper airplane at your high school teacher, and not buying your twin brother a birthday present, instead claiming that you forgot his birthday, would all be considered by most as errors in judgment. I'll be the first to admit I don't always make the best decisions; but I've learned a great deal from my mistakes and, hopefully, you can, too.
Life, as we all know, is full of choices. Some choices are big (like where you attend college, who you marry, whether or not you have kids), but some choices are small (like which movie you see, whether you buy a microwave at Target or Walmart, whether you have a grande peppermint mocha Frappuccino or a venti chai latté at Starbucks). Some of the choices we make are good, and some are bad. However, the key to making any choice, especially the more important ones, is information. The more information we have about our options, the better the chance of making good decisions. And when it comes to getting a PhD degree, there are many options and many choices.
Choosing the PhD
Everyone is different, and naturally, people choose to get a PhD for a variety of reasons, including:
- For the pursuit of knowledge
- For the prerequisite to becoming a college professor
- For the love of research
- For future professional opportunities
- For the delay of getting a job
- For status and acclaim
- For fear of "the real world"
- For an ego boost (my favorite reason)
Ego is such a big part of the PhD that it should be spelled with a capital E. Despite what someone tells you is his or her reason for achieving a doctorate degree, there is always at least some amount of Ego behind it-there are tons of people in academia with big Egos. After all, it's pretty cool to be called "doctor." Let's face it: it makes you feel good.
Did you know that less than 1 percent of the U.S. population has a PhD? According to the Chronicle of Higher Education and National Science Foundation, 43,354 PhDs were awarded by U.S. schools in 2005 (their most recent data). Of these, 27,974 were awarded in science and engineering disciplines, and 15,380 were awarded in liberal arts and humanities disciplines. In the sciences, 7,406 PhDs were awarded in agricultural science; biological science; computer science; earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences; and mathematics; 3,647 were awarded in chemistry; physics; astronomy; psychology; and social sciences; and 6,404 were awarded in engineering (e.g., chemical, civil, electrical, mechanical, and other types). Sounds like a lot of PhDs hanging around, but these figures are actually quite small when you consider there are over 300 million people living and working in the United States.
These small numbers are one reason why doctors, whether they've earned PhDs or MDs, hold such a prestigious role in society today. People look up to them. Ego may not be the driving force behind someone's decision to pursue his or her PhD, but it's usually there if you look deep enough.