Two People Who Aren’t Pursuing Doctorates

Dina Strasser isn’t and wishes she was:

In June of this year, I turned down the most prestigious scholarship for doctoral work that my local, nationally recognized university had to offer. It was as generous as you could hope for: full tuition, opportunities for stipends and grants. The gracious professors there, and others who helped me with my applications, spent hours of their own time walking me through the process, writing recommendations; they said, to wit, you were born to be a Ph.D. And I knew it, because I had figured that out for myself in third grade. It was the only lifelong dream I have ever had.

Paul Franz was and now isn’t:

So why give up the prospect of a cushy professorship for an uncertain career as an entertainer and artist? Because being a PhD student has made me miserable, and because I would rather be true to myself and take a chance at pursuing my actual passions than pursue a path which I know ends in unhappiness and cynicism.

Paul was a member of my grad program here at Stanford. Dina is the Terrence Malick of ELA bloggers. Both are thoughtful writers and you’ll find lots to learn from about life and work from both their pieces.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. My own experience, personal and vicarious, suggests that the most undervalued factor in considering a research degree is whether or not you have a research question. The Ph.D. students I saw that had a research question had drive and focus, those that came attracted by the methodology, the mystique of the PI, a compulsion to stay more years at university, or a sense that they were fulfilling their destiny as a latent intellectual leader, were prone to floundering painfully for a few years.

    To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with loving a research methodology; that love alone isn’t enough to get you through a research program.

  2. I am also not doing a PHD, although I seriously considered it….

    …until some calculations showed me what a horrible financial move it would be for me and, more importantly, my family. When I realized I would be consigning my wife and two children to at least 6 years of poverty, a PHD became much less important to me.

    Now, I am working on doing as much of the learning I can do that might be related to a PHD, including being involved in a (hopefully) high quality research project.

  3. I almost did not get mine at some point. It was a combination of being stuck on the dissertation, my husband working two jobs, my kid going through a gifted weirdness spurt… And the most important thing: I totally, totally did not want to search for academic positions. So I was subconsciously sabotaging the progress toward the time when I “had” to interview in academia. Once my husband helped me see that problem, and said, “Why don’t you just continue doing what you love, where you are?” – everything became unstuck. I got a coach for a couple of months to help with the logistics, simplified my framework enough to wrap up in reasonable time, and did the thing. The point is, a lot of yes/no about such a decision is in how you frame the experience. A lot of it is in the mind.