Though I often doubted, I’m pleased (and a bit relieved) to say that I am in the final weeks of Year One of my Ph.D. program. It certainly wasn’t what I expected, but I find myself feeling good about it overall.
If that sounds like an endorsement, though, let me clarify that it’s a very cautious endorsement, with lots of caveats.
I think the biggest thing I had to get over was the expectation that instructors would be, well, instructing in the way that I was accustomed to. Most of them don’t do the traditional lecture that was the norm in my previous college experiences. One professor explained that they “guide from the side” as opposed to being the “sage from the stage”, meaning they give steering and direction but that students have to do a majority of the learning on their own through reading, writing, and iterative assignments. Once I finally came to terms with that, and accepted that I’d [theoretically] be getting help from the instructors as needed, I found that my attitude toward the program improved dramatically.
Building relationships with some of my classmates definitely helped as well, as they’ve kept me sane and talked me off the ledge more than once. (More than a dozen times, but whatever.) It’s been hugely valuable to have sympathetic ears to speak with regularly, to share ideas and tips with, to double-check our understanding of the materials together, and so on. If you’re ever considering a Ph.D. program, definitely make sure you cling desperately to your classmates.
I certainly wasn’t ready for the time commitment, either. A guy found me on LinkedIn in the group for this program, and reached out to discuss my experience. I suggested that if he really wanted to get a feel for what to expect, he should go thirty days saying “no” to every social invitation from significant others, family, and friends, and then reach back out to me afterward to continue the discussion. (Still waiting to hear how that experiment turned out.)
The biggest caution that I would give, though, is that you shouldn’t consider this program unless you’re prepared to really geek out about the subject matter. This is not a program for someone who just wants to get a Ph.D. degree and thinks that a hybrid-online program is the way to get it done easily. If you don’t find yourself reading about something related to human capital, and then having that lead you down a rabbit hole of additional related topics out of curiosity that extends beyond the assignment you’re working on, then this might not be the program for you. If you don’t find yourself eagerly reading things that aren’t assigned but still fascinate you, this might not be the program for you.
Bottom line, if you don’t just love this stuff, and aren’t okay with feeling somewhat on your own to dig deeply into the subject without a lot of direct hand-holding from your instructors, and aren’t willing to give up 20-30 hours of your week for a few years to become absurdly focused on a very narrow research topic… then this program isn’t likely to work out for you. But if you’ve read this and aren’t scared off yet, then let’s talk.
I for one am enthusiastically looking forward to Year Two and beyond.