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Costs and gains

Undertaking an advanced degree is a long journey with many personal challenges and implications. What are those costs and those gains?

Thirteen academic librarians (4 Library Directors; 9 librarians in various roles) were asked to respond to 5 questions about the PhD. Of these, 6 were LIS PhDs, 5 hold doctorates in a variety of disciplines (Higher Education, Art, Business, Political Science, and Education), and 2 are still in process (Communications Studies, Humanities).

In their own words, here are excerpts from their comments.

What are the personal costs and gains of further graduate education?

“The costs are enormous in terms of time and energy.”

– Colleen Cook, Dean of Libraries, McGill University

“I did a PhD for myself rather than career reasons, so personally I was happy to have completed that achievement. It did involve a lot of personal focus and sacrifice of other interests during a period of about 3.5 years.”

– Denise Koufogiannakis, Associate University Librarian, University of Alberta

The PhD “gave me the thorough grounding in research methodologies and experience in undertaking a major independent piece of original research. Aside from 1.5 years of study leave, the rest of the 8-year period required carrying a load that essentially felt like two full-time jobs (work and doctoral research/dissertation).”

– Rumi Graham, Graduate Studies Librarian, University of Lethbridge

“The gains are immense: obviously, a personal sense of accomplishment, but I think that the PhD also gives you (and your institution, or, in my case, prospective future institution) a competitive advantage for a wide range of opportunities.”

– Adam Lauder, former W.P. Scott Chair for e-Librarianship, York University, and currently Instructor, OCAD University


“In many ways there was a very steep learning curve because my MLS did not really prepare me for undertaking a doctorate. The gains, however, were worth it for me.”

– Margaret Law, Director, External Relations, Library, University of Alberta

“It affects your entire family in that if you try to do these degrees while working, something has to give. If you take time away from work you have to be so removed and focused that it affects all of your life. In a less tangible but important way, it also refreshes your thinking and helps you re-orient yourself to a focused research world. For me, in the academy, it was the right thing to do – as I feel that I just fit in better. It gives me more credibility at ‘some tables’. I’ve paid the same dues as everyone else at the table and I see that it commands a different respect in some circumstances.”

– A current University Librarian in Western Canada

“When I first started my studies I had no leave so I did use vacation days and lunch hours to finish my course work and since then I have used vacation time to work on my dissertation. This means I have had to sacrifice a great deal of personal time. Having caregiving responsibilities has radically changed the way I can structure my time. Furthermore, trying to come back to my career and the PhD work simultaneously was a challenge. The gains so far seem to be more personal than professional in terms of library work/career. This may be because I have not been in a traditional liaison or public facing role and have had less contact with faculty. At the same time I personally feel my studies have been very useful in relation to the work I do.”

– Stacy Allison-Cassin, W.P. Scott Chair in E-Librarianship, York University

“It’s a bit of a roller coaster from times of stress, isolation, self-doubt, frustration, the moments when you think you should give up, the toll on family life (for some people it can be a hugely negative impact), to times of extreme satisfaction and fulfilment, huge ‘ah-ha’ moments and blinding flashes of insight, experiences that are exciting, exhilarating, wonderful, mind expanding, mind exploding.”

– Nancy Black, Executive Director, Library, Nipissing University & Canadore College

“Doing a PhD, particularly when combined with working full time, is extremely time-consuming and requires a tremendous amount of dedication. There will be little time for pastimes (I don’t think I was able to read for pleasure for five years!) or a social life. If you are truly passionate about an area of research, doing a PhD provides you with the opportunity to pursue this to an extent that few people will ever be able to do. It allows you to become intellectually engaged with and develop expertise in a field of study at the deepest level. There are few other experiences in life quite like it.”

– Pascal Lupien, Research and Scholarship Librarian, University of Guelph

“Completing a PhD is difficult under any circumstances. It can be doubly so when also attempting to continue fulfilling one’s professional responsibilities. I often advise graduate students to remember that a PhD is something one does, not something one is. It is important not to lose one’s identity in the degree, not to lose one’s family, and not to compromise (at least permanently) one’s relationships.”

– Scott McLaren, Associate Librarian, Humanities & Religion, York University

“While doing my PhD, I was able to sustain a rich professional career, including a concurrent practice-focused research program, but I do feel that I had to pass up opportunities to ensure there was always enough left to keep the PhD afloat.”

– Selinda Berg, Head, Information Services, Leddy Library, University of Windsor

“I often must negotiate space with family and friends to secure long uninterrupted intervals of time to read and think. My cell phone is often buried in the bottom of my bag, unattended. This distancing carries with it the risk of others not understanding the need for solitude and reflection. A significant gain for me has been the ability to move beyond my own solipsistic bubble.”

– Andrea Kosavic, Acting Associate University Librarian, Digital Services, York University

“Work and family balance. Study and research take time, leaving not much for family and friends.”

– Vicki Williamson, Dean of Libraries, University of Saskatchewan


Michael Ridley is a librarian and the director of the First Year Seminar Program at the University of Guelph. The former chief librarian and CIO at Guelph, he is currently a part-time LIS PhD student at Western University.

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