PhD at a Distance: Resources Please?
August 21, 2010 7:33 PM   Subscribe

PhD at a distance: I want to earn a PhD, but because of family commitments and work, I'm unable to attend a school in person. Some resources please...

I want a research PhD, and my subject area could potentially fit into programs relating to science and technology studies, public engagement with science studies, science communication or (possibly harder to make it fit) education.

I've been searching online for information, but keep running into directories whose sole purpose seems to be to run endless ads for University of Phoenix or Walden etc.

(Yes, I'm aware of the value of being *at* a place with respect to networking and collaboration, but that's simply not feasible now or in the near to medium future. Also, with respect to facilities, I don't require a lab or anything, simply access to university library/publications databases.)

I'm already aware of Athabasca (EdD there, but as noted, not an easy fit) and Open University (where I was disappointed to learn they don't do distance PhD programs, only distance masters)

Any good directory links or links directly to a program would be quite welcome. Thanks!
posted by Zinger to Education (47 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Well, if you are willing to do two weeks in the summer then Texas Tech maybe what you are looking for. The program in Tech Comm is decent.
posted by jadepearl at 7:36 PM on August 21, 2010

It just isn't possible. (IMHO)

PhDs are all about mentoring through coursework and socialization. This just isn't possible from a distance.

Is there a local uni or maybe a distance MA program?
posted by k8t at 7:44 PM on August 21, 2010

And what's your end goal?

Having a famous/well-known/respected advisor and program means a lot in terms of job placement. An online program will not help for jobs.

A PhD has essentially 1 outcome - becoming a professor.
posted by k8t at 7:47 PM on August 21, 2010

All the Ph.D. programs I've ever been aware of have had a residency requirement of two to three years.
posted by mcwetboy at 7:50 PM on August 21, 2010

FWIW, I know people that do grad school with multiple kids. It is doable.
posted by k8t at 7:53 PM on August 21, 2010

First of all such a thing is not possible in the US. Almost all programs require a certain amount of coursework (a year at least) regardless of what preparation you have already had. I went into my PhD with two masters degrees under my belt but I still had to take a year of coursework and jump through a bunch of hoops.

If you are willing to spend at least a year taking required coursework, writing a proposal, taking your qualifying exam(s) and defending said proposal and successfully become a PhD candidate, then you can take off and go live anywhere you want and work on your dissertation. But trust me when I say that you should not plan on doing much else that first year. Your program may have additional requirements such as teaching etc and some courses that you are required to take may not be available that year. Many of my peers had to deal with 2+ years of requirements before becoming a candidate.

Even when you move away, you would have to pay tuition and remain registered (a requirement of PhD programs). In my old program they allowed people to take a max of two quarters off for personal reasons and one off for writing but any longer and one would have to re register. So depending on how you are funded, it may not be possible to be away from campus. All of this would be easier if you had your own fellowship/funding.

You may want to look into programs in Europe or Australia that require no coursework whatsoever and ones that will allow you to just go visit once, register and work remotely with a supervisor.

Also, I'm curious why you want a PhD. A distance based PhD, if such a thing existed, would be absolutely worthless.
posted by special-k at 7:57 PM on August 21, 2010 [5 favorites]

Physics PhD here. YMMV for education or policy. The model at the time I earned my PhD was an apprenticeship. The coursework played a role, but mostly the PhD was about collaborating on research with my thesis advisor, his collaborators, and to a lesser extent, my reading committee. And that was a huge value -- there is no way I could have done it without those interactions, as I got stuck or derailed plenty of times in my research.

I have one anecdote on something resembling a distance learning situation. My advisor sometimes rotated his students through another research group on the other side of the country; most came back after six months, but one student ended up staying on for about three years and then came back to defend his thesis. There was a lot of discussion amongst the reading committee; they finally decided to have him teach a semester long seminar on his research to vet him before they would allow the defense. And it wasn't like the other research group was unknown; all of these people knew each other. The point here being that one of your challenges is going to be finding an advisor and a committee who will be comfortable with a remote setup. When they sign off on your thesis, they are linking their reputation to yours, and they won't do that lightly.
posted by kovacs at 8:05 PM on August 21, 2010

Response by poster: Hi all,

As I noted above, I'm aware of the value of actually attending, but it's not physically possible, and won't be for some time, if at all, for various reasons. So, pretty please, don't spend a lot of time telling me why it shouldn't be done that way... if you know of some resources (or have better Google-fu than I)... show me what's available.
posted by Zinger at 8:12 PM on August 21, 2010

Zinger, I think we're all just explaining to you why there aren't any such programs.
posted by k8t at 8:15 PM on August 21, 2010

Indiana State's PhD program in technology management accommodates distance learners.
posted by carmicha at 8:21 PM on August 21, 2010

Worked in many manner of academic situations where PhDs are granted from state university to ivy league to private research institution, and I have never seen things work that way. I think the question people want you to answer pertains to the value of a PhD as compared to a Masters, non-matriculated coursework, or even personal research.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 8:22 PM on August 21, 2010

Zinger, people are saying that because it's the only way to get anything that can reasonably be called a doctorate.

There are basically two and a half reasons to get a phd.

The first reason is to become a perfesser. The hard part here is that at the end of the day, you need to be willing to move almost anywhere, and if you already have family commitments that keep you from moving... The half a reason is to do any of the various research-oriented jobs outside the academy, but these are rare outside of the sciences and public policy. Here, the quality of the program and the quality of your work make all the difference, and believe me when I tell you that an online degree will be at best equivalent to nothing, and probably worse than nothing. And for damn sure a whole fuckload more expensive than nothing.

The second reason is because you have one of those jobs, often in gov't, where getting a phd in pretty much anything levels you up. Here, the quality of the program or of your work is a distinctly secondary matter. Athabasca and any other distance doctorate program you can find will be pitched for these people, where the point is to pay a lot of money for a formal qualification.

If you do not have that kind of job, don't bother with any online/distance program.

So, again, what do you want a phd for?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:28 PM on August 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Nova Southeastern has a variety of degrees (including an Ed.D) which are available online. Honestly, for any sort of research PhD, though, as others have said, this is going to be very difficult.
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:36 PM on August 21, 2010

VCU in Richmond has begun a distance PhD program in English, which requires, I think, two (or maybe three) two-week stints in summer session to fulfill a minimal residency requirement. They may offer such programs for other departments, too, but I know only of the English one. I'd check them out to see if they have other programs or if they're considering them for the future.
posted by Philemon at 8:37 PM on August 21, 2010

A distance Phd in English? What a preposterous idea. A full-fellowship PhD in English at Yale or Harvard barely assures you of employment.

OP, the thing you seek does not exist in a form worth pursuing. That's the bottom line.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:59 PM on August 21, 2010

About the only low-residency doctoral program I'm familiar with is Pacifica Graduate Institute, but they don't offer the kind of degree you're looking for -- and honestly, if you want your Ph.D. to mean something, I can't recommend you try for a distance or low-residency program. No one seems to be seriously offering that yet -- if ever. The reason for this is that a Ph.D. is qualitatively different from just going to school for four-to-infinity more years. The doctoral student's primary job is to become an entry-level independent researcher in his or her field, not to keep up a high GPA. I have to explain this to a few students every semester. I think it's important because it's a transition that was certainly very important for me.

I'm tired so the best analogy I can come up with is this:

Undergraduate ~= seasoned business traveler

Master's ~= air host/ground crew (the effect I'm going for is "knows quite a bit about the inner workings of the air travel system")

Ph.D. ~= flying the Goddamned plane.

You're asking how to get qualified to fly the plane without any cockpit time -- can't I do it on a simulator? No, not really, and people who know the difference will not accept your distance / low-residency degree as meaningful (unless and until the simulators get a lot better).

Read ROU_Xenophobe's answer again. It's probably the best one in the stack so far.
posted by PsychoTherapist at 9:03 PM on August 21, 2010 [3 favorites] has a directory of online doctoral programs.

I hesitate to suggest this, because I don't think it's a great program, but Union Institute and University in Cincinnati, OH has a low-residency interdisciplinary PhD with several possible focus areas. One of their "successful" grads is Kaayla Daniel, who wrote The Whole Soy Story (but has never published a peer-reviewed journal article, as far as I can tell).

Old Dominion has a few distance PhDs.

Northeastern University offers an online EdD with 2 week summer residency.
posted by acridrabbit at 9:03 PM on August 21, 2010

BTW: Philemon: Really? That sounds like a fast track to unemployment or perpetual underemployment. Takes a lotta chutzpah to make that process "easier".
posted by PsychoTherapist at 9:04 PM on August 21, 2010

Response by poster: I don't want a PhD for job-related reasons, as I'm self-employed and intend to remain so. I may eventually wish to teach, but otherwise want one for several reasons, a few of which I'll note here: I intend to write both for academic purposes and mainstream consumption as (most likely) an independent researcher, and would like a reputable credential; I want a structured approach to the research I want to do and the discipline of writing a formal dissertation on that will provide that; access to university libraries/online databases.

Thanks to everyone who's posted some possibilities so far. Keep 'em coming.
posted by Zinger at 9:11 PM on August 21, 2010

I don't want a PhD for job-related reasons,

Then don't get one. Any program you can find will boil down to you volunteering to be a cash cow.

A doctorate from an online program would not make you a competitive applicant for any teaching position, anywhere, including most community colleges.

It would not assist you with academic publishing. Academic publishing does not require a phd. In journals, all that's required is passing the (normally blind) review process. In books, peer review is combined with the acquisition editor's sense of how it would sell.

It would not be an especially reputable credential in nonacademic publishing; it is difficult to imagine a publisher who was so irrationally snotty as to insist that you have a doctorate, but who wouldn't mind that it was an online program.

More to the point: you say you're looking for an online, research-oriented phd program. The one excludes the other.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:33 PM on August 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Zinger, in terms of structure, why not take some courses (MA or otherwise) in research methods. Heck, get an MA in research methods.

If you're looking to be an expert on a particular topic, you'd need the mentorship of a residential program.
posted by k8t at 9:44 PM on August 21, 2010

Response by poster: I appreciate everyone's concern, but as I said, I'm already aware of the issues and pitfalls. In an ideal world, I'd go attend a uni for this. Heck, in an ideal world, I'd also have a Tesla roadster and a personal chef. But since it's not an ideal world...

So again, please, if you know of a resource or a direct link to a program, post it here.
posted by Zinger at 10:01 PM on August 21, 2010

Zinger, I'm about to finish a PhD within the realm of what you're looking for, and I'm fairly certain the kind of program you are looking for doesn't exist. I'm not trying to be harsh, but if one did, it would be worthless for the many excellent reasons people have outlined already. I'm sorry.
posted by Maude_the_destroyer at 10:16 PM on August 21, 2010

I don't want a PhD for job-related reasons, as I'm self-employed and intend to remain so. I may eventually wish to teach, but otherwise want one for several reasons, a few of which I'll note here: I intend to write both for academic purposes and mainstream consumption as (most likely) an independent researcher, and would like a reputable credential; I want a structured approach to the research I want to do and the discipline of writing a formal dissertation on that will provide that; access to university libraries/online databases.

Of these reasons, only the last one is at all valid.
  • If you want to eventually teach, that would qualify as a job-related thing. The job market in pretty much every academic field is tight enough that a "suspect" credential (as a distance Ph.D. would be viewed as) is enough to disqualify you. You almost certainly will not be able to get a faculty job with an online degree.
  • Nobody checks to see if you have a Ph.D. when you're writing in academic journals, let alone in mainstream publishing. If you think you have something and original to say about a subject, there's nothing stopping you from writing it up and submitting it to a journal tomorrow.
  • A Ph.D. is by no means a structured degree; in most programs you're expected to provide your own structure and discipline. (This is one of the things I struggled with during my own doctorate.) If you have the discipline already, you don't need the degree. If you don't, you can develop it without dropping umpteen thousand dollars on a degree.
So your question, as I see it, boils down to "academic library & database access". But if you're asking for an online degree program, a brick-and-mortar library is irrelevant. And to be honest, I doubt that any distance programs will have nearly as extensive database access as a conventional institution will.

I don't know whether other large institutions in your area have similar programs, but it might be worth your while to look for something like U. Chicago's Graduate Student at Large program, which is a non-degree program that allows you to take courses piecemeal and grants you library access. Hell, you can even apply for library privileges as a member of the community, without even being registered as a student. (Public universities are even more permissive with granting privileges to the public, as long as you live in the geographic area that they get their funding from.)

Don't get me wrong: I think it's admirable that you want to pursue academic research and scholarly writing. But if you can't pursue a conventional degree with residency and all, I think your goals as you've stated them would be better much suited by getting access to an academic library as a member of the community and doing independent research as, well, the independent researcher you want to become.
posted by Johnny Assay at 10:17 PM on August 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Open University (where I was disappointed to learn they don't do distance PhD programs, only distance masters)

This is not entirely accurate, the OU will let you register for a PhD and if you are full time obliges you to love within 8 miles of their Milton Keynes campus, HOWEVER, I did my PhD their and at least a third of PhD students are exempted from this rule for reasons such as family commitments. In my experience a number of students sign up and then complete their degrees at a distance. What it will require form you is a real commitment to a regular schedule of attendance for supervision. Actually passing inthis format will require a couple fo things and you need to be honest with yourself about these before you start. Are you able to work independently? Some PhD students like AND NEED lots of input, others like to find their own way and have the self-discipline to do so. you need to figure out whether you can really do this, and not just assume you are in the latter group.

In doing any PhD then the choice of supervisor is hugely important. You are going to need someone who can schedule regular supervision and will commit to providing proper feedback. Supervisors can have very different ideas about how regular meetings should be, from weekly through to 'you just get on with it, see me when you're done', academics can also be a little unreliable when it comes to availability. you need to find one that can be there when you need them but that will fit with your personal approach.

You need to plug into other resources besides your supervisor, would your commitments allow you to get to events in your field, because that's the sort of thing you need to do to up your familiarity with it, to increase insight and to meet people who know what's going on and can challenge your perspective.

Since you have commitments preventing physcial attendance, can we assume you wish to study part-time? The OU definitely runs part-time PhDs, and these are, effectively, nearly all distance learning (we had someone in Germany while I was there, plus others around the UK). I suggest you call them and focus on both f-t and p-t study without mentioning distance learning, which I think they can be keyed to say not to? Can I suggest you talk to a specific academic whose field you are interested in about the possibility of p/t study? Another big HOWEVER, the success rate for p/t PhD study is *low*, for various reasons. Students get demotivated, its difficult to keep up with developments, its difficult to get proper supervision, commitments get in the way, etc etc. PhDs are often demotivating even for full-time study!

Regarding your field, I did Science and Technology studies, and this is supported at the OU in various forms, particularly IT related and Environment tech related , there will be various options for supervision depending on how you wish to specialise, your key problem is likely to be finding a topic where you can keep ahead of the field if the whole thing is going to take a while, I took 4 years and I had to rewrite my four key chapters between years 2 and 4 as policy had changed so much in that period, doing this on a p-t basis would have been impossible. This is a field where there are jobs a PhD qualifies you outside the academic career path - I know a number of PhDs working in industry relating to technology policy.

The thing to look at is whether it will really be possible to make a substantial enough commitment to actually getting the PhD, it can be difficult to actually have a good idea as to what a PhD will involve before you start, a lot of people go in thinking they wull do something world changing and that is not a realsitic goal. Basically, its more about getting a firm grip on an area and then delving very deep into a fairly small aspect of it, then studying the hell out of that tiny bit for some time, this can be quite wearing. It is not like writing a big essay that you can just get into right away and keep redrafting, you will not be able to knock it out quickly by being efficientand focussed, you will need to be focussed and efficient just to get it done in any reasonable timeframe. (Sorry if this seems to make assumptions about you, I am just trying to warn about some fairly common pitfalls.)
posted by biffa at 10:27 PM on August 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Well, I think OP is getting at, he wants the pHD for "mainstream publication". Does this mean making yourself seem like an expert to sell books or something? In this case, a distance pHD seems perfect for you, as your primary interest is in the credibility of a title. Yes?
posted by wuzandfuzz at 11:40 PM on August 21, 2010

And to be honest, I doubt that any distance programs will have nearly as extensive database access as a conventional institution will.

QFT. A thousand times over. I attended the #1 R1 university for my field and had access to practically every journal I could possibly want. Postdocs in my lab during that time found jobs in large east coast public universities. The minute they got there, the first thing they complained about was the lack of access to even half as many journals.

So any distance based program is simply not going to have a large enough budget to cover more than a few journal subscriptions.
posted by special-k at 2:56 AM on August 22, 2010

Best answer: is a good place to ask this question. It is a forum that is dedicated to discussing distance learning in general. (Disregard any ads you may see appear on their pages, though.)

My understanding is that some universities in the UK, South Africa, and maybe Australia all have a "research PhD" system available in which you do not do coursework, you just do the dissertation itself. If it is done properly, you are awarded the degree. These are not fly-by-night diploma mill degrees either, as far as I understand it -- they are from reputable universities. It is just that they often do things differently than they are done in the USA. This does not mean that it is a sleazy shortcut. If you are doing a research PhD, you can sometimes do them remotely, with only a few visits (or even only one or two) to meet with your advisor in person.

(I think there is also a "degree by publication" in which you publish a lot of academic work and are then granted the degree because you have clearly demonstrated your ability to work at the highest level and have made unique contributions to the subject, but I'm a little fuzzier on that one.)

There are folks on DegreeInfo who have more info on this. I've just been reading a bit about these programs; I haven't actually enrolled in one or anything like that.
posted by litlnemo at 4:09 AM on August 22, 2010

and would like a reputable credential


Even though you said twice that this is not the response you're looking for, this all sounds wrong. It seems from your second response like you're interested in a credential but not in doing the work and getting the training behind it. I would be very weary of someone with a "distance PhD" putting things out for "public consumption," whatever that means. I'm saying this, so you know how it sounds (to me anyway); I don't know you, and it's entirely possible that there is more to your situation than what you describe.

As for your other goals...

You can get a teaching job with a Master's in many (most?) community colleges and some small, teaching, liberal arts colleges.

Do the conferences and journals in your field require a university affiliation to publish there? If you want to be a contributor to a research community and don't have the time to acquire the exposure, experience and connections the old-fashioned way (assuming you have in-depth knowledge of your field), publishing as an independent researcher would be one way to go.

As for access to publications, in my school (a large state university) you only need an account to the university computers, and you get access by virtue of being on a university IP. You can be taking a single class on or offline for all I know to get an account... so if you have a university near you, that may be worth checking out.
posted by adahn at 7:41 AM on August 22, 2010

I may eventually wish to teach, but otherwise want one for several reasons, a few of which I'll note here: I intend to write both for academic purposes and mainstream consumption as (most likely) an independent researcher, and would like a reputable credential; I want a structured approach to the research I want to do and the discipline of writing a formal dissertation on that will provide that; access to university libraries/online databases.

I'll save my pile on for after the main advice: You won't get what you say you're after from an online PhD, but there are other ways you might get it.

I suggest you look into online master's or bachelor's degrees in STS. They are more common, offered by more reputable programs, and are more amenable to distance learning. You'll get the library access, the mentorship (of a sort) from real experts in the field, and you'll acquire a real familiarity with the field -- something you are unlikely to get from an online PhD program for various reasons. I know that's not exactly the answer you're hoping for, but I think it is the answer to the question, "How can I get the things I want?"

Now for the pile on: you can't get what you seem to want from an online PhD. You will almost certainly not obtain a reputable credential from an online "PhD" program, nor are you likely to acquire an expertise that other members of the field will regard as expertise. You will more likely be regarded as a dupe or a crank.

You may find that the readers of mainstream press books accord you slightly more respect as "Dr. Timecube, PhD", but that additional respect probably won't translate into sufficient additional sales to cover the opportunity cost of doing a PhD for 5+ years instead of writing more books. But this is not only a bad economic reason to get a PhD, it's kind of a shitty thing to do. Your readers will assume that the credential represents your acceptance as an expert among a community of experts, which it does not; and other experts will assume you're just another "Dr." Hovind, using a knock-off PhD to trade on the cultural capital they've spent their lives building into the PhD "brand." "It's just a piece of paper" is a fine approach if you want the PhD to move up a government pay scale, but it is the absolute wrong (and insulting) approach if you want to write a book in the subject of your PhD.

Further, if you are already familiar with the subject matter and capable of writing books on science, technology, and society, then you seem to already have the discipline for writing a formal dissertation. If you don't have that, you can hire someone to be a book coach for much less than you would pay for a PhD. Finally, you can get access to university library databases through subscriptions that, while expensive, are also less expensive than a PhD.
posted by Marty Marx at 8:28 AM on August 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Finally, you can get access to university library databases through subscriptions that, while expensive, are also less expensive than a PhD.

It's $100/year at the University of California if you're a California resident. Zinger, you owe it to yourself to see what the equivalent deal is in your jurisdiction.
posted by gum at 9:51 AM on August 22, 2010

If registered at a UK university then all the journals that are available electronically will be available whether at home or on the campus.
posted by biffa at 10:03 AM on August 22, 2010

Given the comments you've marked as best answers here, this thread has probably reached the point of diminishing returns. But I want to reiterate that you should take very seriously all the advice and explanation that's been extended here. The reasons you've articulated for wanting a PhD are not good ones; they don't seem to be based on a very good understanding of what the PhD is for, or of what graduate study will be like. This is very well explained already in the answers above by PsychoTherapist, Johnny Assay, and ROU_Xenophobe. Credential-seeking is among the worst reasons possible to attempt a PhD in any case, but in your case there's the additional problem whatever degree you end up with is unlikely to be a good credential, and to the academically well-informed it may even appear to be a vanity degree. Wanting to have "structure" imposed on your work by some attentive supervisor is perhaps an even worse reason than that, and also more indicative that you are really badly misunderstanding what graduate study is like.

What you really want can be obtained far more effectively — and more cheaply! — elsewhere, while you can continue to work as an independent scholar (which is a title you should embrace, not shy away from). Academic-library access for independent scholars can be gotten on a paid basis from many institutions, likely including many near you, as has already been mentioned. But most importantly, the supervision and structure you want can also be achieved far better outside of formal academic advising — there are many "research coaches" and similar more-than-just-editorial services out there, people with the academic background to offer good research supervision, who aren't academics with a thousand other time-sucking commitments but instead offer their research supervision as a service for a fee, and as a consequence will work much more closely with you than any actual PhD advisor.
posted by RogerB at 11:05 AM on August 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Zinger, do you have a bachelor's degree or a master's degree?
posted by pintapicasso at 12:47 PM on August 22, 2010

Response by poster: It seems from your second response like you're interested in a credential but not in doing the work and getting the training behind it.

Wow, thanks for the gratuitous insult.

As I said repeatedly upthread, if I could attend, I would. Circumstances won't allow that, so I'm looking for the best alternative. If it were the case that I didn't want to do the work, I'd simply buy a degree from a diploma mill, or get any old degree just for the letters from Cappella or some other joint. I've also said there are several reasons why I want the degree, only a few of which I've outlined here.


@pintapicasso, I have both a bachelor's and a master's, yes. Indeed, the PhD work will be picking up where I left off with the master's.

The answers here have suggested that there's at least a few universities are getting into this. After following a couple of leads above, I've found a few good possibilities, including a flexible PhD at the University of Leicester, for anyone looking at this thread in the future. The available subject areas there are limited, at least going by the website, but another answer upthread suggests that some well-placed phone calls may present some more options than the official website policy suggests.

Of course, other links still welcome.
posted by Zinger at 1:35 PM on August 22, 2010

Hi, Zinger - It sounds like you're set on this, so I won't try to talk you out of it (although I agree with what's been said above as far as this being a less-than-ideal idea - I know it's frustrating to hear dissenting opinions, but they are 100% correct), but if you want this degree to be worth anything beyond getting to call yourself Doctor Zinger, be sure to research the heck out of the reputation of the program before you decide to attend.

I know in my field (and maybe others?) UK PhDs are not well received (I'm talking about the Phd programs offered by places like Bath Spa, University of Manchester, etc) mostly because if you are in the US, getting a UK PhD from a less-reputable school is a sign that you couldn't get into a good US program, which are generally more rigorous (they include coursework and qualifying exams versus the more independent study oriented UK PhDs.) Too, remember that a PhD is about professionalization as much as it is about training you to become a professor - so while you're missing out on all the professionalization that comes with doing a PhD, you might be able to make up for some of that by attending (and participating in) conferences, maybe teaching a class or two here or there as an adjunct, etc - again, I'm not trying to dissuade you, but to suggest ways in which you might make your online PhD more like a real-live PhD program. Remember too, that if you do an online PhD, that's not going to get you access to a real physical university library - I'm not sure how this works (maybe you can ILL all the texts you'll need to look at?) but it would still be worth it to scope out how your status as a student might make physical library resources available to you. And, again, since you'll be paying out of pocket for the degree (unheard of with non-online PhD programs) I would dig into what you can find out on graduates from the various programs to which you apply to see what they've done since with their Phds - since teaching isn't what you're interested in (and I doubt seriously those with online PhDs have found teaching gigs anyway) it would be worth it to see if they've been able to do what you're setting out to do - how many are involved in research, whether they got jobs in their field, if they've published, etc. If a program isn't willing to give you this information, I would suspect it's because they haven't had a good record. Since you're investing in this degree with a desired outcome, you should investigate whether that outcome has been possible for others who have completed the programs you're looking at.

Best of luck!
posted by drobot at 2:29 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sorry, no insult intended. Perhaps, I wrongly concentrated on a small part of your post and was very clumsy in my writing.
posted by adahn at 7:02 PM on August 22, 2010

I really think zinger has been treated extremely uncharitably here. It seems that the higher education field is changing so rapidly that, who knows, everyone's distrust of a distance Ph.D. may seem charmingly antiquated and superstitious twenty years from now.

Given that zinger does not want a tenure-track teaching position, I see no particular harm from getting a distance Ph.D. In fact, the rigor and discpline of the distance Ph.D. (if distance is her only option) may still be very beneficial to her. There's lots of middle ground between Harvard Ph.D. program and Capella University. There are countless crappy bottom-tier state universities offering Ph.D. programs to people who, for whatever reason, think they need them. If zinger puts her heart into whatever distance Ph.D. program she chooses, I imagine it will offer her considerable educational benefit despite others finding it spurious.

Lots of people with Ph.D.'s from esteemed programs are not able to find tenure-track jobs, and end up doing other things. If her distance Ph.D. forecloses her from getting a tenure-track job, so what ... that's the same situation as lots of Ph.D. grads. And at least she has a plan for her career that, for better or for worse, she thinks a distance Ph.D. will complement.
posted by jayder at 7:50 PM on August 22, 2010

Best answer: People seem to be sugesting some difference between distance learning and 'traditional' campus based study, but in the UK context there would be no way to tell the difference in the finished degree programme. The only apparent difference would be full time vs part time, shown on CVs as the number of years of study. The universities concerned with all be accredited and all will offer both options either for students regularly atending their campuses or those at a distance and with irregular attendance.
posted by biffa at 8:09 AM on August 23, 2010

I'm an EdD student at Athabasca U. I think, Zinger, there might be a better fit than you think. Please Me-mail me and we can discuss it further if you would like.

I also met someone doing a distance doctorate from Lancaster University who is very pleased with her program.

Obviously, I disagree with many of the criticisms of distance education. AU has 38,000 students (7,300 full-load equivalents) and 1,200 faculty and staff. Regards library resources, AU's library has online access to 7,000 academic journals, and all the major databases. Plus, AU's grad students and faculty have borrowing privileges at every major university in Canada, so we have access to all the brick-and-mortar facilities, too. AU is accredited with the American Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) as well as the usual Canadian federal and provincial regulators.

My program demands 6 courses, oral and written comprehensive candidacy exams, a dissertation, and defense. We are expected to publish in peer-reviewed journals and present at conferences well before our degree is conferred. As far as I know, this is all very similar to traditional face-to-face programs.

As for collegiality and collaboration, they are major features of all the courses. I worked on a project with a classmate 2,800 km away and the third member of our group 11,000 km away (Skype was our friend). I've worked on a number of other projects with classmates anywhere from 300 km - 3,000 km away. In my current course, the class meets online every two weeks, even though for one of our classmates it's 03:00 am in her time zone.

Finding the right program might be challenging, Zinger, but many online programs are at least as good as many top-tier face-to-face programs.
posted by angiep at 10:43 AM on August 23, 2010

many online programs are at least as good as many top-tier face-to-face programs

Citation needed.
posted by grouse at 4:29 PM on August 23, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks to all for your help. As it turns out, what I propose is not only possible, but doable at institutions like University of Cambridge (there's your citation, grouse). In fact, as biffa hints at above, and from what I've learned from reading degreeinfo posts, working at a distance for a research PhD is fairly commonplace in the UK. It simply falls under "part-time" studies, and requires regular meetings and/or communication with your supervisor. How that gets done (in person vs. something like Skype) probably varies from uni to uni and supervisor to supervisor... I will have to see.
posted by Zinger at 8:54 AM on September 9, 2010

From the Cambridge Graduate Prospectus:
The Cambridge part-time research degree is NOT a distance learning degree. You can expect the same standard of research facilities as a full-time student, and will be expected to play a full part in the academic life of the department. There are attendance requirements and you will need to live close enough to Cambridge to fulfil these.
Since the Cambridge part-time research degree is explicitly not an online or distance learning program, I'm still waiting for evidence that online programs are "at least as good as many top-tier face-to-face programs." A large number of students or journals is not that, nor is the existence of minimum standards that I would expect to be necessary for accreditation.
posted by grouse at 9:26 AM on September 9, 2010

Response by poster: Grouse, I never said it was a distance education degree. I said at many places, including Cambridge, it was possible to do a PhD at a distance, on a part-time basis. Clearly an institution like Cambridge would ensure that the part-time degree was as good as full-time.

I also noted that participation requirements and facilities, and how much distance was "okay" would likely vary from uni to uni. And as someone has already noted above, what the prospectus says happens in theory and what can be made to happen in practice can be two different things.
posted by Zinger at 4:38 PM on September 9, 2010

Zinger, you said it was "my citation," but I'm pointing out that it has very little to do with angiep's statement, which I still question.

Clearly an institution like Cambridge would ensure that the part-time degree was as good as full-time.

Since I actually hold a Cambridge PhD (which I obtained in a full-time course of study), I feel qualified to say that this is wishful thinking.
posted by grouse at 5:19 PM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: What that it's wishful thinking that the part-time degree would be as good as their full-time or that I'd be able to do it at a distance? If the latter, quite possibly, but it certainly won't hurt to see what's possible.
posted by Zinger at 6:57 PM on September 13, 2010

The former. As for the latter, I think you are right. It seems like it perhaps shouldn't be possible technically, but if the adviser is willing and the department chair looks the other way, no one else is going to ask about it.
posted by grouse at 11:12 PM on September 13, 2010

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