Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Why Not to Get a PhD

This is a companion post to the last one. Here I’d like to mention bad reasons for thinking you might want to get a PhD in translation and/or signs that you are not suited to a PhD. These include, but are not limited to:

--You simply want “Dr.” before your name and “PhD” after it. Sorry, but a desire for titles is not a good reason to spend 3-10 years working on another degree. I’ve met people like this and I think they’re just wasting their time, because they don’t have the right sort of motivation.

--You aren’t interested in one particular topic. I know some people who are quite smart and engaged, but like to constantly change the subject they are engaged with. That doesn’t work in a PhD. Here you must be willing to work intensely on one subject.

--You don’t know what to do with your life, so getting another degree seems like a sensible option. Getting a PhD is a huge investment in terms of time, money, and effort, so actually, in many ways it’s not a sensible thing to do. I know people who’ve started graduate degrees because they didn’t know what else to do and partway through lost their enthusiasm. They ended up realizing that they wasted their time and money when they could have been finding a job they really enjoyed.

--You don’t enjoy translation theory or any sort of theory. If you’re purely a practice-based person – and there’s nothing wrong with you if you are! – then you probably don’t want to spend a number of years thinking on a theoretical level.

--You know you want to work solely as a translator and you already have a number of customers and/or a niche in the market. In this case, a PhD probably won’t help you too much, as you don’t seem to need much in the way of marketing your skills and services.

--You are the type of person who doesn’t like working independently. In this case, it’s hard to imagine that you will do too well as a translator, and you definitely won’t survive a PhD program, where you have to work on your own and be very motivated.

Again, as with the reasons for getting a PhD, these reasons can apply to many fields, not just translation.

See the next post for more on getting a PhD.


EP said...

I think what you said about theory makes good sense. The way I see it, translation is pure practice-based, as you put it. If you are interested in theory, and have the resources and the time to pursue a degree like that, great. I just don't see having one as being terribly "practical" in a practice-based profession.

B.J. Epstein said...

It's practical in that it can set you apart from other translators. You can also do a practice-based PhD (i.e. a creative-critical one). But obviously you have to want a PhD in order for it to be worthwhile!

Best wishes,