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Why A PhD? A Motivational Letter for Completing a PhD Program

written by: BMeredith•edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch•updated: 3/24/2010

This article discusses a thought process for why one should pursue a PhD. It is meant to stimulate thought and bring attention to the need for continuing the advancement of higher education.

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    The PhD: The Guide To Greater Understanding

    By now you have seen the commercials for the new era of education. From the advent of online learning in a more traditional environment to the integration of technology in todays secondary and higher education learning environments, what was once a singular mindset has become an ocean of possibilities. Coincidentally, those charged with the task of leading this environment must continue to look for new avenues to grow both intellectually and professionally. So why a PhD you ask?

    The movement to student-centered learning environments has led to some new perceptions and relevance within the learning environment. The new diversity of student populations and the advent of technology both in standalone and blended environments has changed both the way content is delivered and developed. Evans, Forney and DiBrito (1998) point out that “Educators must also respect the validity of qualitative approaches to asses development.” (pg 288) This can and is evidenced in the movement towards student satisfaction surveys and other qualitative assessments. So what does it all mean within the environment as a whole?

    First, the new diversity manifests itself in a multitude of student development models. There is the younger adolescent student who is dual enrolled in both high school and college thus finding their way through Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development or Chickering or Belensky’s ways of knowing. The mainstream traditional college student however, might find themselves in Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development. Finally comes the adult learner who makes their way through either Magolda’s Epistemological Reflection or King and Kitchener’s Judgment model. The end result here is that education is no longer a one size fits all and leadership must be as diverse in their approach as their culture and climate is in their specific learning environment.

    What does this all mean? Quite simply that the quest for knowledge and the need to pursue the PhD is grounded in the ideal that our diversity has demanded more from us both in the content we present and the way in which it is presented. While the university has always strived to require PhD’s of its’ working faculty there was a time when the Baccalaureate degree was fine for elementary and secondary education and the Masters would allow one to be a part of the junior college (now the community college) and four year college environments. In today’s world more secondary educators carry Masters degrees and the PhD has become a staple of all higher education and post graduate education. The models mentioned above and ones understanding or lack thereof makes this very point. How we strive to fit in this educational environment will most certainly be determined more and more by the level of our understanding and education.

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    The PhD: The Guide To Greater Understanding Cont.

    Teaching and instruction in partnership with this diversity, also finds itself looking for new ways to augment and integrate new models and ideals in their specific classrooms. Their own assessments now reach across both qualitative and quantitative tools and require a different type of collaboration. Moving discovery into cognitive understanding through reflective models requires a more cooperative learning and teaching style. The use of the traditional lecture may find itself giving way to more discussion and reflective essay and conversations. The role of the instructor becomes one of a helmsman steering the boat. The challenge is letting go of the rudder and allowing the boat to drift a little in the interest of collaborative discovery. The models discussed above allow for both reflective and morally directed discovery that makes the student more accountable for their learning. Yet within this accountability comes a sense of ownership which encourages new discovery and collaboration. In the end allowing this type of discovery is as King and Kitchener’s (Evans et al 1998) model asserts, “one of the most important responsibilities educators have is helping students learn to make defensible judgments.” (pg. 161)

    All of this leads us to teaching and learning in general. It is all part of an evolutionary process which is both cognitive and reflective. Lessons taught and lessons learned find themselves intertwined in both development and delivery. From the high stakes testing of secondary education through the knowing and reflective cognitions of post secondary education the educational journey is both collaborative and guided. Academic freedom within the post-secondary environment needs to embrace the idea that moving outside of the box is both advantageous and necessary for the continued development of both the student and the overall environment. The fact that more adults are returning to college via both the online and traditional routes has added a new dynamic to both teaching and learning. Advances in technology have changed delivery of content as well as overall development. Diversity in the climate in all demographic areas has moved change as well. Magolda (2001) states that, “Piaget described intelligence in terms of qualitatively different structures through which persons made meaning of their experience.” (pg. 16) It is this understanding that moves the various models within in learning environment and as such understanding in the development of the learning environment.

    Learning and teaching will continue to develop and transform themselves because the cognitions and development models will continue to develop and transform. Technology will continue to flatten our world and engage our educational practices. This in turn will augment and engage new populations of learners. Why then a PhD? As the complexity of our learning environments increase so do the skills needed in the everyday world for the individual to integrate and engage the diversity present. The new world of collaboration and shared practice will demand higher education from all involved. The end result may be a learning environment where the line between teacher and learner becomes less well defined. The teacher however, will always be there to steer our boat into a safe harbor and like Columbus into new worlds. The PhD can smooth the rough waters while engaging the learner in new and greater depths of understanding. Can you do it? Can you afford not to.

    References

    Baxter Magolda, Marcia B. (2001). Making their own way; narratives for transforming higher education to promote self-development. Sterling, VA. Stylus Publishing.

    Evans, Nancy J., Forney, Deanna S., Guido-DiBrito, Florence (1998). Student development in college; theory, research and practice. San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass Publications.