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Is a Doctorate the Right Path?


Tue Oct 13 2015

Is a Doctorate the Right Path?-48e088d4e45f0bb2d8b8cd8ffb7f6b1be05840a4ad0934e5aa4950da297cd4ec

If you’ve ever considered pursing a PhD, you likely had many questions about the benefits (from a career perspective) and wondered whether the time and money it requires is worth it. You might ask yourself: Is a doctoral degree the “right” decision and how do I get started? Well, here are what some PhDs have to say about this journey:  

  • “A PhD is about pursuing knowledge for the passion of acquiring knowledge. If one is fortunate, one’s discovery/invention may even change society. Although academia is considered to be the most obvious path for any PhD holder, the degree also paves the way to a career in industries centered on research and innovation.” (Dr. Paul Tam, Chancellor, University of Hong Kong)

  • “A PhD degree helps you develop valuable transferable skills, which are held dear by employers. The very nature of the degree teaches candidates to be team players, problem solvers, have great presentation and communication skills apart from having an analytical mind and perseverance.” (Dr. Nathalie Mather-L’Huillier, Recruitment Manager, University of Edinburgh)

  • “Employers value the transferable skills which PhD candidates bring to the table and they take on PhD holders from a variety of disciplines. The process of doing a PhD is often recognized as a training in creativity, critical inquiry, negotiation skills, professionalism and confidence.” (Dr. Harry Kelly, GlaxoSmithKline)

As one who travelled the PhD path, here’s some advice to help you navigate your course.


Why, Where, and What

First, this degree is not for the faint of heart. It requires commitment, time, focus, and a desire to expand the field. I would recommend taking a serious look at why you want a PhD. Is it to get a higher position, to teach at a university, to become a researcher, to be called “Doctor,” to earn more money and so forth? Knowing your answer to this question will help you maintain focus as you move through the process. Indeed, just as with any goal, knowing your “why” will keep you resolute as you continue on this journey.

The next question is to decide which university system you want to attend, as well as if you prefer traditional classroom courses or if you plan to go the online education route. Both learning experiences have positive and negative attributes.

  • Traditional classroom allows you to learn first-hand and interact with the professor and other professionals (students). Be sure to consider the time constraints of this option, though.

  • Online programs allow you to learn at your pace, although some classes are still held synchronously via virtual classrooms. These classes are often structured similar to traditional programs, with some instructor-led webinars or videos, while others are more self-directed.

Once you’ve evaluated these factors you will have more considerations. For instance, how will you pay for school and how often you will need to plan your class and study times? Including your family in your decisions will make your life easier when you have to tell them that you can’t go “play” due to school work.

Finally, it’s time to dig into the material you will learn over the next two to eight years (depending on the program). In other words, what do you want to study? During your coursework, you will need to explore all avenues on the research subject you choose. Maintaining focus on your chosen course of study will help you complete the dissertation. Also, keep in mind that you will need to select committee members who can guide you through the dissertation and research process.

Putting Your Degree to Work for You

Okay, so now you’ve graduated and can add the PhD designation to your bio. But how does your degree affect your career opportunities? How you intend to use your degree will depend on your original goal and reasons for starting this journey.

  • Teach: Colleges and universities are always looking for instructors, but you need to decide if you want to go the tenured track or be an adjunct. Some sites to explore include www.insidehighered.com and www.adjunctnation.com, as well as job boards of schools and universities.

  • External Consulting/Coaching: Starting and running a consulting or coaching business is a great fit for someone with this degree. You will be the ultimate subject matter expert for your research area. There are many opportunities to grow your reach, both in-person and online.

  • Internal Training & Development: Facilitating discussions and giving presentations during doctoral studies presents a natural segue into the T&D field. Your dissertation topic can be a basis for programs and continue to build the bridge you started.

  • Organizational Development: This option involves helping improve the performance of organizations (and their employees). Your research can help facilitate change at a higher level.

  • Research: Companies need researchers in a variety of positions, such as business development, talent management, and market development. Companies that facilitate change often hire doctoral graduates to research their field to help discern optimal solutions that their customers need.

  • Writing: This can include blogging, writing articles for professional publications and magazines, authoring trade books, as well as editing or helping others going through the dissertation process.

Bottom line: Armed with this information, I think you now have a better idea of the doctoral process. From personal experience, it was a long but worthwhile journey. Now you have to ask if the doctoral path is right for you.

Join Alan De Back and Barbara Seifert for an exclusive students-only webcast on October 30, 2015, to learn how to make the most of your degree. Have your questions answered by career coaches who are intimately familiar with the field.

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