Why a Doctorate? Part 1 - Introduction and Downsides

Why a Doctorate? Part 1 - Introduction and Downsides

However, with good coaching and editing services, we can help mitigate those downsides to improve your overall experience.

By Dr Lonny Ness


The road to a doctorate is long, arduous, and paved with abandoned scholarship. Don’t start the PhD process before you consider all the obstacles (and rewards)“.
Why You Shouldn’t Get a PhD (2019)

There are many valid reasons why one should pursue obtaining a doctorate, or not. In this post, I will explore both the pros and downsides of obtaining this pinnacle of scholarly degrees, along with resources for further research.

I will begin with the reasons not to pursue a doctorate (PhD, EdD, DBA, PsyD, etc.) as the reasons not to likely outweigh those in favor of a doctorate. In fact, completing a doctorate often requires great sacrifice of time, money, relationships, and more, so one must be prepared and weigh the costs beforehand.


Money. As of 2023, U.S. student loans reached an all-time high at 1.7 trillion (Nerd Wallet, 2023). Student loans and debt can be overwhelming, which typically cannot be earned in one’s lifetime via a promotion or career change, such as teaching. I’ve worked with clients/mentees who owed over $100k+ and without a job prospect once their degree was earned, if successful. Others are pursuing their doctorate for advancement at their current job, or to retain their position, but at what cost? For what benefit? How long would it take to repay the cost, based on the job obtained/retained? If money is not an issue, or company-sponsored, that’s great, but still check out these other downsides to assess the total impact before deciding.

Time. Needless to say, a doctorate takes time – lots of time, and over an extended time. In my experience, a doctorate typically takes 3-5 years, with up to 7 years permitted by most online universities; however, according to O’Shaunessy (2012), the average student requires 8.2 years! This is confirmed by Gradeschools.com (2019) as most students require 5-6 years, with many between 7-9 years to graduate. As I often advise doctoral students, this journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Consider the race to be run before beginning!

Career. In most cases, pursuing a doctorate is for the purpose of expanding or improving one’s career; however, there are also negatives to consider. First, does your employer support your decision? How would “support” look to you? Eliminating overtime? Allowing use of the work computer? In my case, although the company had tuition reimbursement, my boss clearly stated that earning a doctorate degree would not benefit my job status whatsoever, so I knew I would be on my own – regardless of the outcome. In some cases, negative consequences have resulted from completing one’s research on their own company (which I do not recommend), in that, the findings uncovered aspects of the business that they did not like, or want published. It would be optimal to have a discussion with your supervisor regarding your intent to pursue a doctorate, including whatever expectations you have for their support. Also, be aware that personnel change, so whoever you have the initial discussion from – including any agreements for support, may change into your degree program, so consider obtaining written agreement up-front.

Health. Given the stress, health can certainly be affected, which is normal, so plan to eat healthy, exercise, get enough sleep, work in moderation – as possible, and maintain a positive attitude, throughout. However, if there are any health issues going into the doctorate, be aware of the added challenges that may have. Also, be aware that for certain conditions, schools offer academic accommodations for this with a documented disability, which will ease the burden somewhat by extending due dates.

Relationships. It is commonly known that the pressures of money, time, career, and health over an extended period of time can negatively affect relationships. Before deciding to pursue a doctorate, ensure that you have full support from family, especially if married. All those who are close to you will need to adjust based on your new schedule for studying, research, writing, etc.

In conclusion, while the downsides of getting a doctorate paint a bleak picture, there are still many reasons in favor of earning a doctorate (see Part 2). The key is to be informed of the downsides beforehand and make the best decision for yourself, family, and others. If you’ve reviewed these downsides and still want to pursue a doctorate – CONGRATULATIONS! Now, let’s get you through it! See Part 2 for the continuation of “Why a Doctorate”, focusing on the pros.


See Part 2 of “Why a Doctorate”

Go to Part 2 of “Why a Doctorate”


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Gradschools.com (2019). Masters Vs PhD: What is the Difference Between Masters & PhD/Doctorates. Retrieved from https://www.gradschools.com/get-informed/before-you-apply/choosing-graduate-program/masters-vs-phd

Hess, A. (2019). Here’s how much student debt Americans with PhDs have on average. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/13/heres-how-much-student-debt-americans-with-phds-have-on-average.html

O’Shaunessy. L. (2012). 12 reasons not to get a PhD. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/12-reasons-not-to-get-a-phd/

Why You Shouldn’t Get a PhD (2019). Retrieved from https://www.princetonreview.com/grad-school-advice/why-you-shouldnt-pursue-phd

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