Start a degree program at American Public University.
By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Public University
Today, online doctoral degree programs abound on the Internet and the cost of taking classes for a doctoral degree can often be negotiated with your employer. Many online schools encourage their professors to pursue that final degree and will help fund the cost. The days of just having a master’s degree is not enough to secure that full-time position of professor at your preferred college or even a hometown community college.
Doctoral degrees are not easy to earn. They take a lot of time and money. Also, getting that doctoral degree involves a lot of stress for many working adults with multiple responsibilities. It may be hard for many people to balance work, school and family demands, as well as the vagaries of life that may occur in one’s life.
Many of my friends have three or more master’s degrees. But they still cannot get promoted to the rank of professor or teach those all-important graduate courses at their school. It takes a Ph.D. to teach graduate and doctorate level courses.
The Route to a Doctoral Degree Is Hard
Gaining my doctoral degree took five years of full-time work. During the final three years, I concentrated on that infamous research report, my dissertation.
I had to collect data to help define the boundary of the problem being analyzed. That work involved the use of over 100 approved references from multiple articles, books and journals.
I had a time range to meet as well. My doctoral degree advisor instructed me to find a start date for published data and information and then identify an end date where I would no longer read any newly published reports on my subject. She explained that it was not my job to write the definitive research on my topic, but to describe the problem and solution within a certain time frame, so that my dissertation became a pseudo-library shelf of published material as well.
My advisor told me to do the best job at deciphering what all those fenced-off sources were saying about my problem. My dissertation would then become one of many references on someone else’s bookshelf of research on that same topic.
She told me to stop gathering that data after two and a half years, since the data was constantly changing. That was a big lesson for me to learn.
Lessons from the Professors Who Reviewed My Doctoral Degree Work
The professors who were assigned as supportive advisors to read and advise me on my research direction, research scope, and final problem definition were brutal. There were times when each advisor would contradict something said by another professor. I often felt besieged or the unwilling victim of prejudice.
But as I found out by arguing with my main doctoral degree advisor, it was my job to find a way to appease each of these supporting advisors who gave me contradictory advice. I learned to listen. I learned to focus.
I also learned that my approach to research data collection was too broad and meaningless. I learned to focus minutely on a growing pile of data until it was like studying the atoms on the head of a straight pin. All of that was an important part of completing the journey to a doctoral degree.
Defending My Dissertation Work
In the final days of the dissertation, I had a standup inquisition that involved presenting my findings to a panel of supportive doctors of philosophy and guest doctors of philosophy. I had to defend each piece of my data that had been used to make some decision.
The members of the panel wanted to see the actual source document where the data came from. Also, they wanted to see where that source gathered the data in raw form before it was presented as statistical summary or as trend data used in my report.
In addition, the panel wanted to hear about all the data that I threw away and explain why it was not used – I had not even presented it. But they knew that doctoral degree candidates often cast aside data that does not fit a metric for a problem under study.
This review lasted only a few hours over a period of several days. Finally, my Ph.D. advisor told me to stop acting defensive. She advised me to tell the board that what I had found was all the data there was to find.
After the review ended, I was sent out of the room. Five minutes later, the panel called me back into the room and announced their approval of my research. I was going to graduate. I received my doctoral degree upon my graduation a few weeks later on December 17, 1995.
I have heard the stories of countless other doctoral degree candidates who earned their Ph.D. degrees with similar emotional scares. My compassion today toward my online and any face-to-face students reflects that training.
Today, my Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Jacobs, is a saint to me. She taught me to focus on my data and to have feelings for my fellow classmates and my students.
Research Methods Are Different Now
Will your doctoral degree story be like mine? It probably won’t be exactly the same.
Research methods are different now. My Ph.D. work was all in a face-to-face classroom and I had to be at the university six days a week; none of my sources were online.
Today’s world is just as hard in terms of problem definition, deeper thinking on issues, critical thinking, and the gathering of information and data. But the range of options for a better doctoral degree experience seems to have opened up over the years.
Since 1995, for example, the rise of the Internet has opened an almost unlimited range of databases, published reports, research reports and laboratory findings. The Internet also offers easy access to experts who can be interviewed via email or video conferencing right from your laptop computer.
Gone are the days of searching card catalogue files of index cards for books and magazines to be borrowed from a librarian or physical library. Doctoral program options are no longer trying to proves some arcane mathematical theory, but are an actual analysis of a social science problem such as how to improve coaching or even understand the cultural implications of coaching. The main improvement is near-total access to all published informational sources to help find relevant data to analyze your doctorial problem.
The Payoff of a Doctoral Degree Is Bigger than You Imagine
Doctoral degrees open doors. At the time of my degree, I held a position with the U.S. government as an operations research systems analyst, which meant I worked on complex problems for the Department of Defense.
I tried for several years to get a promotion to the executive level. My application was thick, full of accolades and awards. But I had no interviews.
Within a month of receiving my Ph.D., I got phone calls asking me to apply for certain positions. Since that time, others have come forward to say that personnel departments were seeking out people with doctoral degrees for hard-to-fill positions.
The personnel department was searching for candidates, rather than the other way around. You will find that there are organizations looking for you if you have a doctoral degree.
Coaching Others through Doctoral Degrees
If you already have your doctoral degree, how do you go about helping your fellow professors, friends or neighbors complete that final degree? Telling your story of focus and time management is often one message.
However, we do a lot of coaching these days. Advising a person in a doctoral program requires a lot of listening skills and giving advice.
But coaching others through their own doctoral degrees requires putting yourself back into the time management and stress that came with this degree. You must also make sure that you have built a relationship with your mentees.
You want to encourage the excitement that got them started along the doctoral degree journey in the first place, especially when they are in the dissertation stage. You basically become an informal peer coach.
For our doctoral students, it is easier to empathize with their life’s demands and needs if we have experienced all of the stress, excitement and effort of the doctoral degree journey ourselves. That’s why I say, “Get your Ph.D. now.”
About the Author
Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Public University (APU). He is the former program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. Dr. Hedgepeth was a tenured associate professor of Logistics and chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He has published two books, RFID Metrics and How Grandma Braided the Rain.