So you want to get a Ph.D.

It’s that time of year when students are making decisions about where they are going to go for graduate school and others are thinking of applying to graduate programs in the next round this coming fall. In CSD there is a severe shortage of new Ph.D.s to take on faculty positions. So for me it’s important to recruit and train future CSD faculty. I’ve worked with a number of students who have completed the degree and have gone on to successful careers as faculty and leaders in the profession. As you may know I’m now at the University of California, Irvine and Lisa Bedore is moving to Temple University. We both remain committed to helping to train the next generation of Ph.D.s in the field. Below, I give some of my thoughts about the Ph.D. and finding a program that is right for you and your interests.

How is the Ph.D. different from the M.A.?

One important thing to remember is that the Ph.D. is not simply more advanced courses in CSD. Rather, in many programs in CSD you take very few courses in the department. You should expect to take coursework in statistics and research design. These courses will help you learn about how to set up a study and to complete statistical analyses. You need statistics in order to evaluate results of your study and to report them in published work. You may take other methods courses such as single subject design, informatics, eye-tracking, fMRI, and so on depending on the tools you will need to complete your research. You might also take courses in cognitive science, education, psychology, human development, or linguistics depending on your interests.

What is probably the most important thing to know is that there are expectations for doing research during the entirety of the program. You will work with your major adviser(s) on research and write up results of studies for publication. At UCI for example, students complete 2 research projects in their first two years as milestone requirements toward qualifying for the dissertation.

The dissertation is an independent data-based project. Students present their prospectus (the background and proposed methods) in the third or fourth year of study. The final document includes the entire document (background, methods, results, discussion). At UCI, students have the option do 3 studies (incorporating their first two papers) as the dissertation.

Students in a Ph.D. program are expected to take 2-3 classes a term and work on their research projects. This doesn’t seem like a heavy load, but Ph.D. students spend most of their time in research, some supervision (of students in the lab for example) and in teaching. The “products” that really count are your publications. I like my students to have 2-4 publications by the time they are on the job market. In addition to the two projects they do before the dissertation, students can get involved in other projects as well. They can take the lead or be a contributing author. Being involved in leading your own study and collaborating on other studies at the same time helps to build the CV.

How do I find the right program?

I usually tell prospective students that the most important thing in selecting a program is to find the right mentor or mentors. As a student you will get directly involved in the research that your mentor is working on. You’ll help run the lab, maintain data integrity, help develop different aspects of studies, and actually help collect the data. You may help to train undergraduates or MA students to test or conduct interventions, and supervise to make sure this is done with fidelity. This is all part of the training. Because you are so immersed in the research, you want to find a person who is doing the kind of work that you are interested in learning about and extend. This doesn’t mean you won’t do your own work. You will, but often it’s an extension of what is already done in the lab. It could be a new twist on an old question, or implementation of a new method. My point is that you need to find someone to work with whose interests align well with yours.

Another thing you want to take into account is funding. In CSD there is really no reason for you to fund your own Ph.D. At UCI, we currently provide full time support for 5 years to students accepted into the School of Education. Programs will fund your studies through your work as a teaching assistant, research assistant, and some scholarships. If you have your CCCs, you CAN make more money working as an SLP half time than what you’d be paid as a TA or RA. But there’s the cost of tuition to think about. All in all I think it’s about the same (when the cost of tuition is factored in). But, I think you miss out on research opportunities and teaching experiences that you need in order to get that tenure track job. So, as tempting as it is– don’t do it! Working outside the university setting can slow down your progress.

In CSD, if you have your MA and your CCC, I think that you can get a Ph.D. in CSD or in a related field and you’ll still be competitive for a faculty job. If you get the Ph.D. in a related area, you might need to work to make sure your research is relevant to the field. You can do this by getting involved in Asha, presenting at the Asha convention and specialty conferences in your area of study, and by publishing at least some of your work in Asha journals.

This is all for today. Next time, I’ll write more about the Ph.D. in CSD as compared to other fields. And I’ll compare the Ph.D. with the SLPD. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about that over the last year or so. And, let me know if there’s something else about Ph.D. programs I can tell you about.




5 thoughts on “So you want to get a Ph.D.

  1. This is very helpful! Currently a MA student at UT and seriously considering a PhD in the future. As I am a first generation grad student, the process feels overwhelming. Both my parents are from Mexico. My dad never went to school and my mom was pulled out of school in the 5th grade and nobody else in my family has gone to college. This post helps me focus my research on PhD programs. Much appreciated!

    • Glad you found it helpful. Use the MA as an opportunity to think about what your interests are and go for it!

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