Should I get a PhD?

If you are an educational developer, you may be debating whether you want to go back to school and pursue doctoral studies. In this post, I share my perspective and experience on that issue in the hopes that doing so may help colleagues who are grappling with the question of “Should I get a PhD?”

Early thoughts about getting a PhD

I started working as an educational developer in 2003 as I was completing my Masters degree in Adult Education. I deeply enjoyed my work at the teaching and learning centre but because I was employed there only 1 to 2 days per week it took me a few years to “get” what this field was about. By 2006, my work at the centre was more regular and I recognized that educational development was a profession I felt committed to.

Knowing that I wanted to pursue a career in educational development, I began to ask myself whether I wanted to do doctoral studies. My sense was that I would have more varied and interesting opportunities with a PhD and that, overall, this would lead to greater career fulfillment. Specifically, I remember feeling that the PhD matters in the world of higher education and that ‘having one’ would allow me to collaborate meaningfully with others more often.

Other issues I considered in my decision-making process

Even if I felt fairly confident that pursuing a doctoral degree would be a good career decision, I had many other things to consider before I submitted my application. These are the main issues I thought about/stressed over as I made my decision:

  • Mothering. I had two young children (ages 2 and 6 at the time). Could I mother them in a way that I felt good about if I did my PhD? That is, could I give them the attention, love, and time I wanted to while pursuing doctoral studies?
    • It turns out I could but only because I became extremely good at setting boundaries around a whole number of other ‘opportunities’. During my studies, I said ‘no’ to a bunch of tempting offers (i.e., service work, side-research projects, volunteer opportunities, projects etc) so I could give more to my children and enjoy them as much as possible.
  • Relationship. I had heard that the rate of divorce was fairly high in graduate school. I was in a long-time relationship and did not want ours to end up in divorce.
    • It didn’t. We will have been together 22 years this fall (2017).
  • Work. I wanted to continue working part-part time. Since my reasons for starting doctoral studies were strongly related to my career, I wanted to keep working as an educational developer.
    • The teaching centre’s director at that time, Dr. Gary Poole, and my supervisor, Ms. Janice Johnson, were highly supportive of my professional growth and I was able to continue working at the teaching and learning centre part-time while going to school.

Support from my family

My father, mother, and spouse were supportive of me going back to school and this was an important aspect of my decision-making process. My retired father, I knew, would provide as much help as he could with childcare; he also offered to help me financially (I accepted).  Both my parents had had academic careers and my father was ecstatic that I was considering a PhD. I was confident I could count on my spouse for emotional support; he’s my biggest cheerleader.

Has it been ‘worth it’?

I began my PhD in Education (with a focus on teaching and learning in higher education) in 2007 and completed it in 2012. There were many aspects I enjoyed about doing a PhD and, at the same time, there was a lot of stress involved.

Am I glad I did it? Yes, for so many reasons.

Has it been worth it, career-wise? Yes.  I had predicted that completing a PhD would lead to more fulfilling work and I believe it has. Within the context of the large, research-intensive university within which I work, I have been involved in various research projects, collaborations, facilitative processes, and consultations that I don’t think would have been available to me if I did not have a PhD.

Did it help me grow as an educational developer? Yes, yes, and yes because I gained so much by way of knowledge, skills, and experience during my years of study.

If you have any questions, please contact me! If you’d like to consider the “Should I get a PhD?” question further, read the interviews at Should I Get a PhD?


Photo credits:

Finger face with a question: https: //

Questioned proposal: https: //



  1. Hi Isabeau. Well happy to hear you felt it was a productive experience both from a personal and professional perspective. That being said, do you not think you could have learned what learned (about ED) informally? Although I share your thoughts on the matter, I have heard the counter-arguments, namely credentialism and that what can be taught formally can be learned informally. One need only look at all the professors who dabble in education research and yet have NO formal education in education.

  2. Hi Alp,

    Yes, I think I could have learned some of what I did informally. The truth is, however, that I would not have done the amount/breadth of reading, writing, reflecting without the structure of a PhD. I learned SO MUCH from my committee members, PhD cohort members, and other students. The PhD journey was the most intense experience of learning I’ve ever had.

    Thank you for taking the time to comment on my post.

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