First, there is that little fact of between 60 and 90 more credit hours of classes. So more education is involved. Having three professors on the doctoral committee that personally meet with you regularly and direct the research is something most master’s folks never experience. A good doctoral committee will push a PHD student hard and make them see new ways to think and respond. These are typically the most brilliant professors in a department. The university does not want poor research to reflect badly on its standing so they put sharp folks on the doctoral committees.
So we have a couple of differences right from the beginning. Next add the fact that the doc student has to come up with original research that is peer reviewed. The typical master’s person spends most of their time in a class setting and some may have a small research project. The master’s degree may cost a third of the PHD so that is another pressure that the doc student has to contend with. As I have written in earlier posts, the money pressures can become great. Many folks could buy a home with the amount they borrow to complete a PHD.
Putting only these few items together shows you the real differences for a doc student. A mental struggle is overcome each day and goes on for week after week. Then the weeks become years. Imagine the stress overcome and the determination developed over years of fighting this type of uncertainty. This is what employers are looking for when new docs go through the company interviews. Yes, they will look at your research and your accomplishments. But they are also looking for someone who can find the next cure, develop the next drilling technique, improve the metal combinations, or figure out why something does not work. They do not need a quitter or a poser in this very competitive world.
We know some young men who went through Special Forces training. They do not say much about the training but some facts we could glean. They are put through freezing mountain training and dropped off in swamps for weeks. At any time they could say “I quit” and then be returned to their previous unit without a bad mark on their records. It seems like two thirds drop out each training rotation due to injury or just not wanting the goal enough. All of these are brave and talented folks deserving of praise.
But the doctoral process goes on for years. It does not involve alligators or climbing mountain peaks in the freezing rain. It does involve missed opportunities to make more money, debt always increasing, lack of time with family, sleep deprivation and constantly being told to redo parts of your research. So my response to the master’s folks is that you are not the same. You may be talented and well trained but your preparation and the way you look at life may not be the same as that of the PHD who is your supervisor or team lead. He or she may shrug off obstacles and overcome adversity in ways that you never could. That is why companies and governments hire PHD folks and pay them well.
I already had two master’s degrees and about 33 hours of post master’s clinical training before I started my doctoral program. In fact, I had started another doctoral program and after 9 credit hours resigned when I realized it was a bad fit. So I thought I was prepared and expected to breeze through as I had every other challenge in my life. I cannot impress upon you enough how wrong I was. This website exists to help as many of you as possible to prepare before you start a PHD program. It also exists to help those currently in a program to make it through and be successful. You are not alone and many of these techniques come from folks just like you. They were shared freely by folks in your spot at some point in the past. Even the people who failed want you to succeed. Many wanted you to know what they did not know so you can make it.
Read over the earlier posts on this site. I am also bringing articles over from my old website which much to my surprise, is still sitting there. Read each article three times over a period of time. You will pick up more of the nuances each time that you read it. Think about what you read and realize there are a lot of you out there. Send me your ideas, what works for you and what trips you up. Don’t worry I don’t use names I just slip your ideas into a new articles. My best to you!
Mind your goals,
Dr. Randy Parker
National Doctoral Students Organization