A few weeks ago (Tuesday Sept. 6), I was sitting in my Experiemental Psychology class listening to our professor give a lecture about the field of psychology as a whole. One of the things that he said really struck me. He encouraged each of us who was interested in Psychology as a way to become a therapist to also look at degrees in Counseling and/ or Social Work. He explained that those paths require virtually no research, are much faster, and are probably better suited for many people who want to work in Human Services. I was aware of the things he was saying, but listening to him that morning struck me again as something I should carefully consider. Two days later I met with the two psychology doctoral students that I've been working with to score the TAT stories. They were talking about how their professor wanted them to spend even more time on school and less time on their outside lives. They were complaining about their heavy load: preparing for prelims, teaching classes, grading papers, preparing three papers for publications, working on their own research, working on their professor's research, and taking classes. As I listened to them talking I was taken back in time to the years between 2001 and 2005 when I was working on a Ph.D. in history at UM. At that time, I was so overwhelmed with all that was expected of me in school that I couldn't imagine being able to complete all of my work without living as a hermit and devoting every waking moment to school. And not sleeping very much, and drinking a lot of caffeine to stay awake. This was the lifestyle of most of my cohort, but my lifestyle, with a husband and two children, church callings, a household to run, felt impossible to fit into that doctoral program.
I have been nervous and worried about trying to do a Ph.D. again, now with 4 children instead of 2, but I've also been trying to tell myself that it will be better the second time because I've chosen a field that I'm much more interested in and more prepared for. But listening to Alex and Greg talk, it occurred to me that they were under no less stress and had no easier expectations than I had had in History. Their life sounded like a nightmare for me, one that I've already spent several years living.
As I continued to ponder these two experiences, I began to ask myself why I was insisting on the Ph.D. track instead of the much easier and faster MSW degree. I would probably be even more employable as a therapist with an MSW than with a Ph.D. because I would cost less. And my MSW training would all be practical, professional training, as opposed to the Ph.D. with its strong emphasis on training "scientist-practitioners", in other words, people who conduct experiments and do research as a primary focus, with some clinical work on the side, mostly to enhance their efficacy as scientists and researchers. I was willing to jump through the hoop of research, but that is not what I want to do with my career.
I came to see that the reason I was following the Ph.D. was because I had decided that I could not put the family into more debt. Ph.D. programs offer full funding, plus a stipend, while MSW programs cost money. And at the end, a Ph.D. will make more. But when I took money out of the equation, my choice was startlingly clear. I had virtually no desire to do a Ph.D. Sunday night I took this problem to Dan to discuss the possibility of us going into more debt to pay for social work school. He was fine with it! The more I talked to him, the more comfortable I felt about taking out a loan to pay for school, something I've never had to do before.
The next morning, I realized that if were really going to change my plan and pursue an MSW instead of a Ph.D., I would not need the class I was currently enrolled in, or any other classes, for that matter. When I got online to find out if I had missed the drop deadline, I was delighted to see that the deadline was that very day. I called and got a full tuition refund. Later I got a refund for my parking permit, I dropped out of the research project I had been working on (not relevant to social work school), I took back my library books about preparing for the GRE and the Psychology Subject Test (no GRE used in the admissions process for social work program). I was shedding unnecessary stresses, costs, time commitments right and left. It felt amazing to let all of those things that I was doing to prepare to apply to Ph.D. programs go.