Adventures in Higher Education Angst

Those of you on twitter or facebook may already know that I decided back in … April or so to pursue my doctorate. I was very excited about it and began studiously looking at various programs.


While talking about it, I was very surprised at the reaction I received from people. Not the support…there were a lot of people offering me support. But at the number of people who tried to dissuade me from pursuing a PhD. A number of people presented many arguments against pursuing the higher degree. The major argument was the significant lack of pay. Apparently, I can earn as much money with my MS in a few years as I can with a PhD.

What was very disappointing is the majority of the people trying to dissuade me were actually PhDs working in the university system. Don’t get me wrong, there were a few PhDs who were very supportive of my plans. It’s just that the majority of people who tried to talk me out of it were PhDs. I haven’t quite figured out if they themselves are disillusioned and burnt out or if it’s truly not worth pursuing.

So…I have some research to do. The idea of higher education is still very appealing. Recently people have been talking a lot about clinical doctorates. I’m considering whether this is something I should pursue. Whenever I’ve thought about getting a doctorate, I’ve been a bit … sad. I love the therapy aspect of my work. I don’t want to lose that option to do therapy. I’m very concerned that if I were to pursue a PhD that I would lose the therapy aspect of the work and I find myself wondering if a clinical doctorate would be the ticket? So…now I find myself researching clinical docs.

I’ve read a bit about them before. I considered pursuing one a few years ago. Apparently my alma mater (Minot State University) is considering starting a clinical doctorate program. I’d love to go back there – be a clinical supervisor – maybe even teach a class or two and work on my clinical doctorate (they don’t offer PhD or I’d do that). When I first started researching it, I was told to not even consider it…because it was considered “substandard” in the world of academics.

Recently I received a bit of clarification (not from the original person). I was told that a clinical doctorate isn’t necessarily “substandard” but that since it’s not steeped in research there’s very little chance of tenure and all the “niceties” a PhD garners (professor,ship tenure, etc.).

I’m finding the process of exploring higher education really rather disappointing and I’m being told that the work and expense of pursuing a PhD or a clinical doctorate isn’t worth it. What I’ve been finding really makes me wonder how many other people have considered pursuing it and have been talked out of it and how many have tried to find a program only to quit due to difficulty jumping through hoops?

This really makes me question the shortage of PhD level people in speech-language pathology. Is the shortage really happening? If so, is this attitude part of the problem? What can be done to alleviate the problem? Is it really that bad working in the university system? Is that the only place to work with a PhD? ASHA seems to think so, there’s a few different papers written on it and a town meeting was held at the 2011 ASHA convention to discuss the shortage and what could be done about it.

Have you considered a PhD or Clinical Doc? If you have (or are) how did you decide on your program? If you considered it and decided not to what prompted you to stop? Drop me a line, I’d love to hear from any of my readers…

Until then…Adventure on!


8 thoughts on “Adventures in Higher Education Angst

    • I recognize that’s not the only reason…that’s not even remotely why I’m interested in it (heck, I work in the schools and make less than $50K a year – come on…). However, if I make LESS as a PhD than with an MS with a few years experience, how am I supposed to pay for 1) the PhD, or 2) higher cost of living in a bigger city. The main reason the people with PhDs who were saying don’t do it was the lack of money.

  1. Hey Mary,

    Everyone is trying to talk me out of getting my phd but I know I want it so I am going to get it. You have to figure out if the cost is worth the end result. Remember a phd is anywhere from 200,000-400,000 dollars. That’s the cost of a house in some places. I think that there is a lack of speech at the phd level because as I just saw… I finished my MS in school leadership and administration, most speech teachers become supervisors or administrators in a school. They get payed very good money to do these jobs. Now they don’t need to be published and do a major research based study. So they do practically nothing and get paid great money. Whereas the average time it takes to get a phd is five years if not more…

    To me I want to change the world of education and what education means. To make that difference you need the phd. My aunt was a phd professor up until the day of her death. She created the website (before selling it to pursue other things) and started a further integration of technology into teaching. She toured around the world giving educational lectures.

    Now this is where I see my life headed. I want to make a change and in the world of education and how children with disabilities are looked upon. You need to make your choices based on what you want. From my understanding the clinical degree is like an M.ED. Which is not worth much in the field of higher education.

    I believe I’m going to my phd in educational psychology just because it is a well rounded phd. There is an another phd that is more administrative based but there is a lot to think about me. If you email me I can speak more, there is so much to this.

  2. I’m not interested in a PhD at this stage of my life, but maybe when both boys are in school, I’d reconsider. I’d definitely go the clinical route, though. Like you, I love the therapy too much to walk away!

  3. Mary, I’ve toyed with the idea of pursuing a doctorate as well and found myself stymied by many of the issues you bring up. I love working with kids in therapy so suddenly entering academia/research as a profession holds little appeal. I thought a clinical doc sounded perfect until I heard it roundly poo-pooed. So, for now at least, I’m happy with the letters I’ve got! I’ve even considered a degree in a related field…..(sigh) maybe someday.

  4. First, I think this topic of conversation is an important one! I’d like to share my personal story and then my advice for those of you who may be considering pursuing an advanced degree. Before starting a doctoral program in 2007, I had similar concerns. I loved seeing children and working with families but I was frustrated by the disconnect between research and clinical practice. So I looked for PhD programs with a focus on clinical language intervention research (for which there are few) and found Vanderbilt University. Since graduating in 2011, I now work as a faculty member and I conduct clinical research (see for more information). My day consists of: (a) supervising Master’s SLP students in their clinical placement, (b) writing manuscripts and research grants, (c) supervising the management of research grants, (d) teaching courses to Master’s SLP students and (e) providing language intervention to children in their homes and in the clinic. I love my job – I have one foot in clinical practice and the other in research. I get to be a part of cutting edge science about how to effectively work with children with language delays and teach the next generation of clinicians to work with children and families. I think the decision about what kind of degree to pursue depends on your ultimate career goal. For me, I wanted to research the most effective intervention strategies for young children with language delays. For this, I needed an advanced research degree (PhD). I would also like to add that many PhD programs are fully funded (i.e., the university or a training grant pays your tuition, health insurance and also a small stipend/salary), so there is little out of cost expense for the PhD student. I will also say that I just received money from NIH (National Institutes of Health) to repay about 50% of my undergraduate and Master’s student loans. I received this loan forgiveness because of the time I spend conducting research in communication disorders. Nevertheless, completing a PhD is a major commitment (albeit, worthwhile in my case), and I cannot stress the importance of: (a) having specific research interests and (b) finding a PhD mentor who is a good fit for these interests. If you have found both, I say “Go for it!”. Our field needs passionate researchers to develop and test effective treatment strategies across all populations of people with communication disorders.

    • Thank you for the reply Megan. This is more of the type of encouragement I had hoped for when I first discussed PhD options. I was disappointed to hear those individuals telling me it wasn’t worth it.
      One of the things that I’ve been trying to keep in mind is that I can definitely make a difference in the lives of the kids I see directly. If I do pursue a PhD and teach, supervise clinical students, etc. then I am making the difference in not only the lives of kids I see – but the lives of the kids THEY (the students) see as well. I like that snowball effect. 🙂

  5. I’ve also thought about pursuing a PhD. Therapy is something that I enjoy, but I would be perfectly content to live out the rest of my days in a college classroom. My biggest problem is that I have absolutely no idea what I want to research. Therefore, I haven’t even bothered with looking at programs.

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