PhDs worthwhile for educators in the long run

According to a 2009 report by the United States Census Bureau, the majority of U.S. citizens have some college or associate's degree. Multiple teachers at the high school are part of the less than ten percent who have a doctorate. GRAPHIC BY HALEY BAYNE/SAGAMORE STAFF

According to a 2009 report by the United States Census Bureau, the majority of U.S. citizens have some college or associate's degree. Multiple teachers at the high school are part of the less than ten percent who have a doctorate. GRAPHIC BY HALEY BAYNE/SAGAMORE STAFF

Zoe Videlefsky, Staff Writer

“It’s a universal experience that graduate school is hell,” said chemistry teacher Dr. Julia Speyer.

Brookline High teachers with PhDs said that getting their doctorate was a grueling process but ultimately worthwhile. A PhD is the most advanced postgraduate degree a student can get. Over the 3-10 year process, candidates study an original and highly specific topic in great depth. The process culminates in writing a dissertation and defending it in front of an expert panel.

Deciding to get a PhD is a huge commitment, but according to biology and environmental science teacher Dr. Bianca Brown, after teaching for some time, she decided to learn more.

“I just reached a point where I wanted to challenge myself some more, and I wanted to do some work that could have implications for policy on the many environmental issues out there,” Brown said.

Like Brown, social studies curriculum coordinator Dr. Gary Shiffman chose to get life experience before deciding his next steps. After traveling abroad for a year, he started a business with a friend selling sandwiches in the streets of Philadelphia. He said that he missed school and reading books, so the next step was graduate school.

“We were both bookish, ambitious, and I missed school and learning stuff, so we both agreed to sell the business, and I applied to graduate school,” Shiffman said.

Dr. David Lemmel, African American Latino Scholars Program Coordinator and Brookline High alumni ‘86, said that the process of getting a PhD changed him as a thinker and learner.

“I learned to think and analyze issues at a higher level and came to see myself as a rigorous and active learner, which was not the case when I was younger,” Lemmel said.

Brown said that she grew as a person and a scientist while getting her PhD.

“I think the process gave me a lot of self confidence in my work as a scientist and public speaking,” Brown said. “It also gave me direct experience with research and research methodologies to bring to the table.”

Aside from teaching skills, having a PhD offers benefits in the workforce. Speyer said that PhDs are essential in science, and having one helped her gain her industrial research job.

“The PhD is your gateway to scientific research. To get a good industrial research job or to get any research job, you really have to have a PhD,” Speyer said.

Lemmel advises people pursuing a PhD to surround themselves with supportive people because it is a long and hard process.

Anything worth doing takes hard work,” said Lemmel. “Never shy away from a challenge because that is where the most personal growth occurs.”