The PhD Pipe Dream?

I stood in the doorway of my auntie Loretta’s small kitchen. She sat at her oval kitchen table sipping a cup of black coffee.

I want to get my PhD. I want to be Dr. Stevens, I told her.

She smiled. With that sign of encouragement, I unloaded this dream. She patiently listened. I was 11 years old.

My life after that point took many twists and turns. I traded being a history professor at a university to being an archivist. Two master degrees later, a mountain of student debt + a lingering dislike for reading, I buried that PhD dream.

At a MARAC conference in 2014, I was part of a social media panel. I presented on my job’s use of Facebook, what worked, what didn’t, and our internal process of creating content. I was in my element. The audience listened, laughed, and tweeted. It was surreal to see my words tweeted out.

After the panel, several people swarmed the table to talk to me and the panelists. I was prepared to pack up my bag and go. I didn’t expect that people wanted to talk to me. Me?

The last person was an professor from the University of Maryland. He chatted about my presentation. I answered his questions. As our conversation winded down, he handed me his card and asked,

“Have you ever thought about getting your PhD?”

I must have been taken aback because he followed up with compliments about the positive, forward-thinking contributions I could make to the archives field. 

To have someone see me shining and say you should (and can) shine brighter. Here is one way to make that possible.

I walked away from the exchange, in the simplest terms, shook. The experience revived that long forgotten dream. For several days, I thought about his words. Did some research on the information studies program. I saw the possibilities but I also saw the obstacles.

With what money?
How could I do this and work full-time?
Do I want to do this?

A still small voice said, “But this was your dream.”

Clearly, I didn’t do it. I can’t shake this dream. Every few years, like clockwork, it floats up to the top of my brain. This nagging dream. Most of the time, I’m not even thinking about it or seeking direction.

It’s like a career rubik’s cube. I’m trying to figure it out. Get all the colors on the right side so I can settle once and for all: To get a PhD or not.

The obstacles are still the same.

The opinions of others are evenly split. Some say do it because they’ve known how long I’ve carried this dream. Some say don’t because of the work (and debt) involved.

This most recent time, new questions popped up.

Let’s say you get it, what do you plan to do with it?
Are you going to teach at a university?
Are you saying your Masters aren't enough?

What would you right your dissertation on? Outreach? Social justice?

And a few new observations:

A PhD doesn’t guarantee more money (hell, still waiting on my two masters + experience to pay off).

Nothing is holding you back from doing the work you'd like to explore through your dissertation.

I don't know. Inevitably, I always come back to I don't know. I put the rubik's cube down and get back to the business of working but every now and then my brain picks it back up. I think the reason why this dream has returned at this particular time is I don't know what the future holds. I have no plan. The ambition is still there but the dream is in flux. I'm a goal-oriented person without a goal.

One the one hand, it is freeing. On the other, late at night, it's low key scary. 

What are you doing, Ashley?

What are you doing?