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Coulda Shoulda Woulda

Victoria Hay, Ph.D.
Retired academic; owner of The Copyeditor’s Desk, Inc.

Profile photo for Victoria HayThe Ph.D. may (or may not) be worth pursuing…if you have an independent source of income.

You need a working spouse or an inheritance to keep a roof over your head and food on your table while you’re “pursuing” the Ph.D. Otherwise, you’re certainly not going to be “productive” or generate “output” from your research, because you’ll be too busy working two full-time jobs: one to support yourself and one to generate credit toward the doctorate.

Would I do it again?

Huh…let’s think about that…

  • I got a great job at Arizona Highways Magazine after I’d finished the degree. But that was only because the boss was impressed with academics. For him, it was a grand ego trip to have a someone with a doctorate on his staff. The job I landed was in journalism; it had nothing to do with academia.

Most employers are not that easily flamboozled.

  • I got a nice ego trip of my own when my dissertation was picked up by a prestigious publishing house. Does it matter that I’ve never seen a penny from sales on that book? Meh! Probably not: again, because the flamboozled boss thought that publisher was so awesome that he wanted to hire me.
  • Eventually, I got three books published through respectable presses.

All very nice…except I’ve never seen a penny in royalties from two of those books.

  • Later in life, I got an academic job.


One of my academic colleagues and I did a little pragmatic research and discovered we would be earning more cleaning house for a living than the university was paying us at the associate professor level. In fact, we seriously considered going in together to start a house-cleaning business.

  • Would I do it again?

Hmmmm…. Probably not.

If I had gone whole hog into magazine publishing starting the minute I finished the bachelor’s degree, I would have had more fun in life; I would have had a lot more people reading my published words; I would have been paid a helluva lot more than I earned in academia; and I would never have been tempted to think about starting an enterprise as a cleaning lady.

4 thoughts on “Coulda Shoulda Woulda”

  1. I don’t blame you. I can’t imagine how anyone who isn’t independently wealthy earns a PhD. these days. I don’t know how people earn bachelor’s degrees without grants or scholarships.
    I have a younger friend who got his master’s in digital film making. Does he earn a living with that degree? Is he up to his eyeballs in school loan debt? The answers are No and Yes.

    • Well…I pulled it off because I had a lawyer as a husband. Even if I hadn’t taken on an underpaid adjunct faculty job, he could easily have covered all those graduate years of tuition.

  2. When I was an active adjunct faculty member in science, I estimated that my hourly wage was the prince(ss)ly sum of 9 dollars! However, I only worked at that noble calling part time. Have entertained the notion of earning a PhD in retirement though.

    • That’s pretty good, actually. One day I made the same calculation and found I was earning less than minimum wage. On the other hand, my degrees were in English language & literature, a far less lucrative calling than any of the sciences. 😉

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