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How Do I Do a PhD?

written by: John Garger•edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch•updated: 6/15/2010

If you ever thought about how to do a PhD, there are a few things you should know first. Read this article about getting into a PhD program, finishing a PhD program, and what to do after you finish a PhD program.

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    Doing a PhD program is quite an undertaking. You will have to dedicate 4 to 6 years of your life to intense study of just one subject. The hardest part of any PhD program, the dissertation, is the part of the program most doctoral students dread.

    There are three parts to doing a PhD. First, you must actually get into a program. Second, you must finish the program by completing all of the steps as set forth by your professors. Finally, you must work toward tenure in a university by publishing papers in scholarly journals. Read on to learn more details on how to do a PhD.

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    Getting into a PhD Program

    Getting into a PhD program is a tough thing to do. You must convince an admissions committee that you are not only a good student with a passion for your chosen subject, you must also convince the committee that you are likely to finish the program.

    Doctoral students are expensive for a university. Most PhD students are awarded an assistantship where the student works as a teaching or research assistant in exchange for a modest stipend and a tuition waiver. As a result, one doctoral student over the course of 4 to 6 years can cost a university upwards of $100,000 to $250,000 depending on the school. That’s a huge investment considering that a large percentage of students who start PhD programs don’t finish. The point is that most committees are not willing to take risks on when it comes to admitting a student into a doctoral program.

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    Getting through a PhD Program

    Most PhD programs are split up into four main parts. These parts include coursework, teaching/research experience, comprehensive examinations, and the dissertation. Different schools focus more heavily on some parts than others depending on the major focus of the university.

    The whole point of this process is to prove to your professors that you capable of independent thought and research. Unlike undergraduate and even Master’s degree programs, you won’t do well in a PhD program if you sit around waiting to be told what to do. The doctoral process is one of independence and innovation. As strange as it may sound, some students who did well in a Master’s program don’t do well in a PhD program. It is hypothesized that this is so because someone who does well in a lesser program is someone who works well within a system of initiated structure. Remove the structure and the student cannot function.

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    What to Do after the PhD Program

    If you are like most people who graduate with a PhD, you will look for work as a professor in a university. Most doctoral students, however, are surprised to find out during their programs that teaching is only a small part of a professor’s job.

    To keep your university job and get tenure, you will need to not only have a good teaching and service record, you will need a good publication record as well. Criteria for good publishing differ from university to university, but for the most part you will need to publish scientific and other scholarly manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals. Such publications further prove your abilities for independent thought and justify guaranteeing you a contract year after year in the form of tenure.

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    Conclusion

    Doing a PhD program is a long and difficult task for a reason. First, there is a lot of work involved in a relatively short period. Second, as you move through the program, you will find that there is less and less structure to guide you to your goals. Third, once you finish doing the program, your work has just begun as you must once again prove your skills for independent thought by publishing scholarly manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals.






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