" Just a Teacher” with a PhD
Much of the research on doctoral students’ experiences is reported quantitatively from national studies across disciplines or in the form of abstractions about ways in which institutions might improve graduate education (e.g., Golde & Dore, 2001; Nerad, 2004). Qualitative, empirical research exploring the reasons for doctoral graduates’ career choices is limited, especially for doctoral students in the field of education. Given that ~ 50% of doctoral graduates pursue careers outside of academia, it might be beneficial for institutions of higher education to prepare their doctoral students for the careers they ultimately choose. After teaching high school English for seven years, I decided to pursue a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction because I thought I might want to become a teacher educator. My experience in the doctoral program challenged my expectations, and after completing coursework, I returned to the high school classroom. This dissertation sought to understand the experiences of doctoral students who earned PhDs in Curriculum and Instruction and chose to return to or remain in K-12 settings as opposed to pursuing careers in academia. I applied narrative inquiry (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000) and autoethnography (Denzin, 2014) as methodologies to present an exploratory, multiple-case study (Yin, 2014) of six graduates (and one almost-graduate) from a Curriculum and Instruction doctoral program. Written narratives, individual interviews, documents, and artifacts provided the data for this study. Findings reveal the factors that influence students’ experiences in the doctoral program, as well as their ultimate career choices, which include: a commitment to and passion for public education, the financial implications of pursuing a career in academia compared to one in K-12 schools, the specific requirements of the program (e.g., coursework, assistantship, and dissertation), the misconceptions upon entering the program, and the ability to share new knowledge within K-12 schools. Participants overwhelmingly agreed that the knowledge and skills they developed during the program impacted their practice in positive and powerful ways.