I'm considering applying for a part-time PhD in Education. Am I crazy?
October 1, 2014 1:33 PM   Subscribe

I am currently a high-school science teacher in the UK. I have recently had the crazy idea of pursuing a PhD in Education, part-time (and online) at a prestigious university (ranked top-5 in the world overall, if you are one to listen to rankings), while I continue my work as a teacher.

It is in a research area that I have been interested in since I decided to become a teacher almost 5 years ago, and I would potentially collect data for my research at the school where I teach. I want to be involved in classroom research, but don't feel that I have the research background to undertake it (Ben Goldacre wrote a short essay about the type of research I am interested in here), and I feel having a PhD would give me the skills I need to pursue this type of research in the future.

I feel that my work as a teacher would complement the research I would like to pursue, and vice-versa. I recently contacted a professor with a 4-page research proposal, and he seemed receptive to the work I am interested in pursuing. I have completed a research masters in the past (in physics), so I have some experience with research, but I also vividly remember how stressful the situation was (exacerbated by loneliness and a demanding supervisor).

I may just be crazy though. I have a girlfriend who I live with, and I like to go out some weekends, and generally enjoy having a life. The school suggests the program takes 3-7 years to complete, so I understand it's a huge undertaking. I also understand that I can be involved in classroom research without an advanced research degree, and it may not necessarily be compatible with my career goals (helping bridge research with classroom teaching is what I have in mind, so my end goal is not necessarily to become a professor, though I won't rule it out).

So, am I crazy? Is this reasonable? Is this feasible?!
posted by marcusesses to Education (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I would first investigate what the ways are that you could get involved in classroom research now, or gain the skills you need to do so without getting the PhD. This is especially the case if you don't have a particular reason for needing the credential. My experience with the PhD was that there were a LOT of hoops to jump through. If you can get where you want to without those hoops, that seems like the way to go!

I will also say that I think it would take a heck of a lot of self-motivation to accomplish actually getting an online PhD. It is already REALLY REALLY REALLY hard and isolating and crazy-making to complete an in-person PhD, where you are theoretically surrounded with various support structures. Without those, and with holding down a full-time, emotionally intense job like teaching would, for me anyway, be impossible. Obviously people do it, so it is doable! But I would realistically try to assess whether you are really "all in" on this and whether you think you have the intrinsic motivation to see things through some seriously tough periods of self-doubt and intellectual struggle in order to make this happen.
posted by rainbowbrite at 1:54 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm not saying it's not possible, but I will say that the idea of completing a PhD (even a UK PhD) in 3-7 years part-time, while working full time, and while enjoying an active social life, strikes me as totally implausible. You know the old chestnut that they bandy around about undergrad: "social life, grades, sleep - pick two"? For the PhD, it's more like "Pick 3/4 of one". I'm at the tail end of my PhD, and I have found it incredibly stressful (and I had prior experience with graduate work through a master's). It's less about the difficulty of the actual work or the number of words, and more about the stress of designing and executing an original project completely on your own (depending on your advisor's involvement, which, if you're long distance, I am imagining is going to be on the slim end). I have found it to be isolating and anxiety-producing like nothing else I have ever experienced before. Additionally, I have done a lot of research abroad for my project, so have been removed from my university, and that makes it much more difficult to get time with your supervisor, build networks and contacts (both academic and social), and just feel present with your project and your research. Also, I imagine the part-time aspect would include an added layer of difficulty, trying to juggle the intensity and stress of research with holding down a real job. Personally, before signing up for this, I would do a lot more investigating about where you want to go in your career and whether or not this PhD will get you there. If the PhD is really that crucial, you might want to just bite the bullet and do it full-time.
posted by ClaireBear at 1:57 PM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

I guess it all depends on your ultimate aim.

As a one day aspiring Dr Middlemarch, most of the appeal of a PhD for me lies in the opportunity to get on my own intellectual hobbyhorse, and the desire to get my perspective into the academy, but also the sheer challenge of it.

If you're up for it and think you can spare the time and effort and have the masochistic edge to succeed with it I'd say go for it.
posted by Middlemarch at 2:01 PM on October 1, 2014

Also, could you clarify whether or not you'd be funded at all (either fees or living expenses or both), and what the approximate cost would be if not. That would definitely influence my recommendation. You would be risking little (except your sanity) if you kept your teaching job and started a funded PhD part-time: you could drop it if it got too much and be in the same financial shape that you're in now. If it's unfunded, especially if the tuition is expensive, it becomes much more of a risk.
posted by ClaireBear at 2:08 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have known a few p/t PhD students. My impression is that support tends to be a lot worse for then than for f/t, because you are only occasionally on campus, you have to actively take a trip to see your supervisor, and this has to fit with periods when you have been working (as inevitably there will be periods when you don't move very far forwards (or at all)). Your supervisor will certainly not be chasing you if you are p/t. A PhD can be disheartening at the best of times and my impression is that p/t is worse than f/t.

A UK PhD represents the equivalent of ~3 years research work. There are equivalents for 1 year (MSc/MRes/BPhil) and 2 years (MPhil) - again double up for p/t. Perhaps you might consider trying out one of those. You could ask a potential supervisor (or admissions dept) about doing one of those on a p/t basis where it would be set up so that it could easily segue into the longer research programme. A lot of places insist you register for a 1 year programme ahead of the 3 year programme so this is not unusual. Doing the shorter programme p/t would enable you to find out how much of a fit it is and maybe still get something out if it isn't.
posted by biffa at 2:23 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I really don't know much about this field, but my understanding is that an EdD is a doctorate-level degree equivalent to the PhD that has more of an applied focus, and so may be a better fit with the fact that you are a hands-on teacher, but want to conduct a doctorate level research project (as EdDs do conduct research). Anyway, just wondering if anyone has mentioned that as an option (and please someone correct me if I have mis-described the distinction bw the two!)
posted by NikitaNikita at 3:34 PM on October 1, 2014

In the US, it is very common for working educators to get a Masters, EdD, or PhD going part-time (evenings, online, summers or some combination). My EdD program is 54 college hours beyond the Masters. Going straight through, it is supposed to take about four years plus dissertation.
posted by tamitang at 5:50 PM on October 1, 2014

I worked full time while I got my phd. I worked forty hours a week and took roughly two classes a semester. It took me about four years to finish up the course work and then I took off from work a year during my residency and 6 months of my dissertation year. Then for some insane reason I went back to work with three chapters to go. Writing the last few chapters in twenty to thirty minute blocks on my lunch break was insane and I pretty much spent every waking moment writing.

I was fortunate that I worked on campus while doing my coursework, but I moved out of state and did the residency and dissertation via email mostly.

It was hard as fuck and looking back, I have absolutely no idea how I did it. It can be done but if you make it through with most of your pre-existing relationships intact be prepared for a freaky weird let down after graduation. I've been done for 2 years and I only recently got back into research and writing again. It took almost 8 months before I could read nonfiction for fun again and I still haven't revised my dissertation for publication.
posted by teleri025 at 8:22 PM on October 1, 2014

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