All investments have a level of risk and reward. Whether it’s a blue-chip stock or a new tech start-up, both can be evaluated in terms of the potential benefits and drawbacks. Deciding whether to pursue higher education should be evaluated this way, too.
As a woman in STEM pursuing a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Purdue University, I am intimately familiar with the high cost of a graduate degree in the sciences. I’ve worried about the amount of time I’ve spent on my studies and my potential for employment after graduation. But I’ve also considered the rewards of earning my Ph.D., and I believe they are worth the investment.
Here’s why I ultimately decided to invest in my education.
Education and Salary are Connected
A study from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor shows an inverse relationship between unemployment and higher education. As education levels increase, unemployment rates decrease. Education also determines annual income. A worker with a high school diploma earns about $35,000 annually, compared to those with a bachelor’s degree who earn about $59,000. According to a 2015 Georgetown University study, graduate degree holders earn $17,000 more per year than bachelor’s degree holders.
Higher Education Provides A Higher Level of Fulfillment
Personally, education provides me a deeper sense of meaning and purpose. I am more fulfilled knowing I will one day be an expert in a field that I love and one that lacks women practitioners. I’ve been passionate about chemistry since elementary school, so becoming highly specialized in this field fills me with great pride and purpose.
I’m currently a fourth year Ph.D candidate focusing on using a method that I developed to investigate potential biomarkers for diabetes in human plasma. I would never have been able to engage in such a highly specialized area of research had I not pursued a Ph.D, which gives me great satisfaction.
Many graduate programs offer resources to help students both in school and in life. My graduate program offers academic resources, such as access to scientific journals, media, research technology, scientific databases, and books, which can cost thousands per year. It’s also worth noting that the fitness center at Purdue University, for example, offers cooking and fitness classes, as well as room rentals for organized activity. These are resources that I consider beneficial to my studies and my personal development.
Connection to Thought-Leaders, Movers, Shakers
My graduate work exposes me to a group of talented people who, like me, care deeply about science and its applications in the world. I am building relationships with highly accomplished people who are generous with their knowledge, life lessons, and professional insights. The relationships I build with these folks are enlightening, for sure, but will also help me find compelling research opportunities and, eventually, fulfilling work upon graduation.
I am aware that my graduate studies are helping me build an important professional network for the future. As Robert T. Kiyosaki, entrepreneur and investor, said, “The richest people in the world look for and build networks, everyone else looks for work.”
Grad school also places me in a position to attract and advise other like-minded women in STEM, enabling me to be a pioneer in opening up the world of chemistry to more women. I’m inspired to champion women in STEM because of my own role models. I’ve always admired my female professors, who both conduct research of their own and teach in a male dominated field. One professor in particular recently introduced me to a whole network of young women in STEM. We meet up together at events sponsored by the University to discuss the challenges and excitement of being women in science. We look to each other for advice and inspiration.
Indeed, choosing whether to go to graduate school or not is a big decision, and you need to weigh your options. It’s also really important to compare the different programs and schools so that you can take potential opportunities and benefits into consideration.
For me, the rewards of an increased salary, more personal fulfillment, and greater access to resources and professional connections far outweighed the risks. Ultimately, my education is an investment in myself, and I couldn’t be more excited for the future.
Elissia Franklin is a Ph.D candidate in the department of chemistry at Purdue University. Her research focuses on biological chemistry, researching potential biomarkers for diabetes in human plasma. Elissia shares her discoveries with her followers on a weekly podcast called “The Research Her.”