Is a doctoral degree right for me?

February 18, 2019

Are you interested in a doctoral program, but you’re not sure which direction to go or what to expect?

Here are two sets of questions to help you decide.

1. What do you want to do after graduation? Where do you want to be—in an academic or nonacademic setting? Will a doctoral degree help get you there?

           There are two distinct types of doctoral degrees: PhDs and professional doctorates. What you want to do after graduation plays a big role in deciding which one would be the best for you. There are two key differentials:
  • Type of research. Both types of degrees require research. However, PhD candidates will conduct original research that will contribute to the base of knowledge in their field of study. Students pursuing a professional doctorate will engage in what is called applied research, which connects original research to existing problems in their professional field.
  • Type of doctoral project. Both types of doctorates require a significant investment of time and effort exerted in a doctoral project. For the PhD candidate, that will be a dissertation, which they will research, write, and then defend in front of a committee comprised of faculty members. Professional doctoral students may present their project in one of a variety of formats, including a dissertation, but it could also take the form of a project, portfolio, journal articles, or professional presentation. Sometimes—but not always—these projects would need to be defended in front of a faculty committee.
PhDs are often focused on either moving into academia, to teach and train, or into research roles. Professional doctoral graduates are more likely to take their applied research skills into industry, where they can work in companies and organizations that need specialized assistance solving real-time problems.

There is overlap in the professional opportunities each type of doctorate can open up for a graduate. But if you have a strong inclination toward teaching at an advanced level or pursuing original research, a PhD would be a good choice. A professional doctorate, on the other hand, could help you launch a career in industry.

“The PhD helped me get my dream job, a full-time job at a university. I recently prepared and submitted a major proposal accepted to strengthen the rigor and quality of the program. That’s so exciting to me! I have my eye on a dean’s position someday. I love leadership.” Donna B, PhD*

2. How much time do you have to devote to a doctoral program?

           Many potential doctoral students already have full lives, with demanding careers, families, volunteer work, and other outside interests. A doctoral degree program is an intense and time-consuming effort. Do you enjoy multitasking? Can you handle multiple challenges and activities at the same time? Would you be able to tackle your research from another angle if your thesis was not accepted?

“Already in my DHA program, I’ve gained insights about how I can use this new knowledge in my day-to-day work. My hospital is very happy I’m doing this, as is the CEO, who is also working on a DNP at Capella. There’s a lot of growth and potential right here in this job, and I can use the DHA to expand into other areas.” Nicole W, DHA*

Set a goal for yourself for when you plan on completing your doctoral degree and work backwards. Try different time management strategies to see what works best for you. Be prepared for possible setbacks and temporary roadblocks, both personally and professionally. And whether you’re full time or part time, you’ll more than likely benefit from becoming best friends with your calendar.

Time and focus are two of the critical components in making your doctoral decision. Understanding what the two types of doctoral degrees are is the first step, and understanding the commitment both require is the second. Use the advice and information above to help you move forward on your doctoral journey.

“You have to be dedicated. You must be able to manage your time. Know that you’re going to need to earn your degree; it won’t just be handed to you. But the hard work you put in really does bring rewards.” Lisa D, DNP*

Learn more about the doctoral journey, and learn more about Capella University’s online doctoral degrees.

*Actual Capella graduates who agreed to appear in promotional materials.

Multiple factors, including prior experience, geography, and degree field, affect career outcomes, and Capella does not guarantee a job, promotion, salary increase, or other career growth.

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