To Be or Not To Be…Adventures in Research – 6

Also known as…You’re Considering a PhD? Are you Nuts?

It’s no secret that I periodically toss around the idea of getting my PhD. In fact, about a year ago, I had decided I was going to do it and that’s all there was to it. Fast forward a year, and here I am…no PhD (well, duh! it takes longer than a year)…and to be honest, I haven’t even retaken the GRE (although that’s mainly because I disagreed with having to take it to get my MS and I resent having to do it again to get my PhD…but I digress).

So, when looking for today’s research article, I was pleased when I this gem came across my screen. So, without further ado I present, the 6th installment of Research Tuesday. Read the compilation of everyone’s article reviews here.

research tuesday

Title: Survey on Perspectives of Pursuing a PhD in Communication Sciences and Disorders

Davidson, M., Weismer, S., Alt, M., & Hogan, T. (2013), Survey on perspectives of pursuing a PhD in communication sciences and disorders. Contemporary Issues in Communication Science and Disorders. 40, 98-115.

Background: There is a critical shortage of PhD students and faculty in the United States as evidenced by the increasing number of unfilled faculty positions. This shortage creates future difficulties as when vacancies go unfilled there is rapidly approaching a time when there will be no one left to teach incoming students. In addition, there will be limited people to provide the evidence based practice we require for our work. The purpose of this article was to attempt to understand why students do or do not consider pursuing a PhD in communication sciences and disorders (CSD).

Question: The article asked the following question(s): 1) Out of the student sample, how many are considering pursuing a PhD, and what concerns/motivations push that decision. 2) Do student’s perceptions of faculty career/lifestyle match what is reported by the faculty? 3) How do these responses compare to those of a previous study?

What they did: The researchers created two online surveys. One directed toward faculty and the second directed to students (MS-SLP and AuD). The faculty survey was to designed to ask about aspects of career and lifestyle. The master’s/AuD survey was designed to compare student’s perceptions to faculty experiences as well as to determine what concerns student’s had about furthering their education.

The surveys were sent to three universities. Participants included: University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) 14 faculty and 91 students; University of Arizona (UA) 16 faculty and 65 students; and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) 15 faculty and 78 students.  The article breaks down all the results including how many faculty were full professors, association professors, assistant professors, and when they received their PhD. The student breakdown included how many were in which year of graduate school (1-4 years).

Results: Basically, there were 55 students in all who participated (10 AuD, 45 Master’s). Of those 22 were not interested in pursuing a PhD, 21 were, and 12 were undecided. Of those students who were interested in a PhD, 38.1% said they planned in 1-2 years; 33.3% said 3-4 years, and 28.6% said >5 years. Of the AuD student’s 70% said NO to a PhD.

Forty-five percent of the students reported they believed there was a shortage because of the appeal of clinical work. Faculty agreed clinical work was appealing, but also stated they believed that a lack of knowledge about PhDs, lack of funding, and the length of time to gain a PhD were obstacles.

Interestingly, students believed it was beneficial to have at least 4 years of clinical experience before pursuing a PhD. While the majority of faculty reported clinical experience was relevant for both teaching and research, the researchers stated most faculty (27.8%) only had two years clinical experience.

The majority of students  (81%) reported they could not pursue a PhD without funding. While the majority of faculty received funding for the entire length of their PhD program. [as a complete aside, I’d like to know what funding means exactly: tuition? tuition plus stipend? There’s a big difference between the two.]

When discussing research, the majority of faculty reported they enjoyed research and spent greater than 50% of their day in some aspect of research. While 49% of students reported having to develop research projects as a deterrent. Interestingly, of the student’s who responded positively to the question of pursuing a PhD, ALL of them had research experience opportunities as either undergrad or graduate students. Of the students who reported maybe to a PhD, all but one reported they had some sort of research experience.

The surveys also looked at salary of faculty which fell into three ranges $60-70K (31%), $80-90K (25%), and $100K (43%). When asked about weekend work, 41% reported they worked 2 weekends a month, 35% reported four weekends, and 25% worked three weekends.

Ultimately, everyone ranked 14 reasons for not pursuing a PhD. The students’ top three were: 1) length of doctoral program, cost, and family obligations. The faculty’s top three were: lack of financial aid, lack of research interest, and family obligations.

The top three reasons students wanted to pursue a PhD were: desire for knowledge, to contribute to field, and an interest in higher ed. The top three reasons faculty cited students should pursue a PhD were: research interest, interest in higher ed, and a desire for knowledge.

Discussion: It doesn’t surprise me that students wanted to teach or do research. It also doesn’t surprise me that the length of time is daunting and that the lack of financial aid was a problem (heck that’s what stops me from doing it…I like to eat and pay my bills! Well…okay, maybe I don’t LIKE to pay my bills, but you know what I mean).  It did surprise me that having to create a research project was problematic…for me, it’s more of who to choose to be my mentor (I mean, seriously what happens if you pick the wrong one????).

The article goes on to compare the nuances of the survey – and is really quite interesting. I strongly urge you to consider reading it yourself. Particularly if you would even remotely consider a PhD. Some of my qualms were laid to rest…others were raised. Bottom line, in all honesty, is I question if I’m ready to take tests again (ugh!), the whole idea of an oral exam scares me to death. But even with all of that, it’s the finances that scare me off. I have to be able to support my daughter – and that unfortunately means a paycheck. I can go on reduced pay if tuition were covered – but I’d still have to be able to support her and frankly, I can’t do that on student loans (again).

The article was great. Go read it. Then come back here and tell me if you’re considering a PhD. If you are, what would make you decide to go for it? If you’re not, is there a reason why? I can’t wait to hear your responses.

Until then…Adventure on!


7 thoughts on “To Be or Not To Be…Adventures in Research – 6

  1. HI Mary,

    That is an interesting article 🙂 I am almost 4th year Ph.D student. I wasn’t planning to go that far because English is not my first language. It is hard but I managed… I am here if you want to ask any questions.

    Thanks for posting the article 🙂

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  3. You don’t need to get a PhD to do 2 of the 3 things that students mentioned were reasons they wanted to get a PhD.

    1. desire for knowledge – that just takes motivation and discipline
    2. to contribute to field – blogging, advocating, improving profession
    3. an interest in higher ed – if you want to be in college the only thing that will satisfy that is being in college

    I’ve tossed around the idea of a PhD before, but really if I were to work at a university it would be doing clinic supervision, teaching undergraduate courses, etc. and my MS works just fine for that.

    • Good points Rachel. Having a PhD is not the be-all end-all of the profession. There are certainly many things we can do without one and a love of learning doesn’t mean that you have to get one. Thankfully, one of the great things about our profession is we are always learning!

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  5. I was happy to come across this posting as I am in the midst of deciding what my next steps will be. I finished my Master’s degree in 2011 and decided to take the leap into a Ph.D. program practically right after I received my MS degree. While I was finishing up the craziness of comps, practicum hours, NESPA, I was applying to Ph.D. programs. I was accepted into my first choice (with full tuition only-no stipend); however, I decided on my bottom choice only because of logistical and financial reasons (plus I had a job lined up so that I could complete my clinical fellowship year). The program I decided on was not in speech-language pathology, but educational psychology (this was the program my mentor received her Ph.D. in), as I wanted to learn everything there is know about how individuals learn (I am really interested in cognition) and the research process. So while I was working full time I was also taking courses (the program accommodated part-time students; however, without any funding opportunities). Talk about being overworked: I was working to pay off my MS student loans and at the same time paying for my Ph.D. courses). Fast forward to three years later, and here I am not knowing what to do. I believe I probably tried to rush things. In hindsight I should have waited before beginning my Ph.D. In the course of my studies, I discovered that the program I selected is not meeting my needs (in terms of faculty aligned with my research interests). I wish I would have enjoyed being a practicing SLP, first and foremost, without the pressure of working and going to school. I also wish I would have thought more clearly about the program I selected, instead of trying to rush my choice. I am now in a position where I want to dedicate myself fully to research, but I am at a disadvantage in the program I selected in terms of funding opportunities and I can’t afford not to work. I, therefore, decided to take a leave of absence from my program and rediscover the joys of being a practicing SLP, knowing that I can engage in research without necessarily obtaining a Ph.D. Who knows what the future holds, there may be better opportunities waiting for me!

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