So You’re Thinking About a PhD…

In talking to my exploring major students on campus and other professionals in the field — I often share about my PhD experience and talk about what it means to be a doctoral researcher.  Often I am asked about my PhD program, my line of research, and how “I like it.” I often say I’m too close to it to really give advice, but I’m happy to talk about my experience and answer questions as I can or refer to others.

Last fall at the #nacada13 conference in Salt Lake City, UT, I was part of a doctoral researcher panel on this topic: 
How To Hack Your PhD: Being a Doctoral Student & Academic Advisor and a few #HackPhD Notes on Storify


It was a full house. Not surprised. There has been a growing interest among colleagues interested in pursuing a PhD. I am often asked about my PhD research, progress, and if others should get into the same program or even start a PhD. To be honest, I am not sure I have the answers to these questions. I am too near the subject right now…

I’ve read a great number of  of books on the topic of graduate work, PhD survival, writing, publishing, research, and more – but really, it was for my own inquiry and nerdy interest.  Like any good academic/career counselor, I usually ask those interested in a PhD about their own motivations and rationale for the interest in doctoral research.


So you’re thinking about a PhD? I have a 10 questions AND prompts for you! I am not sure it will help — but I thought I might as well put these “you wanna pursue a PhD” questions out there others who are considering the PhD track. Take these questions with you as you ponder your PhD goals, research potential graduate programs, apply to potential programs, and, even, start your first semester of your doctorate program:


  • What career goals do you have? List both your short-term and long-term goals in a statement. Write them out, read, and reflect.
  • How does your current work experience (resume/CV) relate to your career goals and interest in a PhD program? Reflect about your relevant experience.
  • How your master’s degree or other educational credentials relate to and support your career goals? Describe your academic experience and background.
  • If you were going to seek out letters of recommendation for your PhD program, who would write your letters of recommendation? Why? What might they say about you? List at least three individuals who would be your academic reference, and consider what they might say about your application to a scholarly program.
  • Do you have any scholarly or peer-reviewed writing samples? If so, please consider how they might be submitted and reviewed by a potential PhD program. If not, what articles or journals interest you in your area. Research!
  • What is your research interest? Often you will have to complete a “Statement of Research Interest” so  explain the areas or topics you want to study. If applicable, also consider for research:
      • Any specific theories or models of interest?
      • What seminal work in the field have you read?
      • What will you use to guide your research focus? Authors? Disciplines?
      • What is your preferred research methodology?
      • What is your research methods “worldview”?
  • What will you contribute to the doctoral research and your PhD program? Explain the unique knowledge and skills you will bring into a doctoral program as a potential student
  • What will you contribute to the doctoral research and your PhD program? Explain the unique knowledge and skills you will bring into a doctoral program as a potential student.
  • Where do you want to study? This question is for both geographic location and specific discipline home (e.g. education, sociology, economics, etc.).
  • How will your basic needs be met? Financial, emotional, and social support. It is important to think about your budget, personal relationships, professional objectives, and more when plotting for doctoral work. This will be a few years of your life — so be sure this how you want to spend it. Have this discussions with family, partners and friends in advance. Be informed about scholarships and funding costs.
  • When is the right time? I doubt this ever has a great answer – but you need to determine this for you after answering the above questions. Decide if the PhD route is right for you, and then if the timing is right or can be right. You can always make it work, if you want it. [p.s. Did I say you should WANT to do a PhD? That’s the only way to finish.]
Bonus Question: Who will mentor you through your PhD progress? Faculty advisors at your campus will be great, but who else will you consider as part of your doctoral experience. Peers? Colleagues? Researchers in the field? Scholars you admire/read?Doctoral candidates and early career researchers? Build your PhD learning network NOW.

4 thoughts on “So You’re Thinking About a PhD…

  1. Mike Smith May 5, 2014 / 2:17 pm

    Great advice for those of us foolish enough to be considering a PHd!

    • Laura Pasquini May 5, 2014 / 2:33 pm

      It’s not foolish… you just need to be wise when shopping for the right program, faculty advisor, and then some. 🙂 Good luck with your search – hope this helped!

  2. margaret garry June 25, 2014 / 2:32 pm

    Thanks again for giving me things to think about.

    • Laura Pasquini June 25, 2014 / 3:46 pm

      Happy to! Good luck with what lies ahead for you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s