How do I know if obtaining a Ph.D. is the right decision for me?

Generally speaking, those who choose to make a career in academia have several things in common: they are voracious readers. If you don’t read in your spare time, academia may not be for you. As an assistant professor you’ll be spending many hours a week conducting literature reviews, reading student papers, and trying to keep up with the research in your field. You absolutely must thrive on reading. You also have to have a healthy curiosity. Some applicants have a good idea of what they want to learn about or research questions they would like to answer. Others are not as focused initially but may become advocates for a population and want knowledge about how to improve a program, a therapy, or make other important policy decisions. An academic is a bit like a detective looking for clues to answer questions, testing hypotheses…trying to get to the truth of the situation or phenomenon. You also have to have good time management skills and self-discipline to find quiet time to write your papers or research reports, if needed, on a weekend or a Wednesday evening. Being a procrastinator is not a good trait for academics to have and although there are exceptions, the majority of our Ph.D. graduates are affiliated with universities and either teach in a primary or secondary capacity. Thus, you should like people and enjoy classroom teaching. If you don’t want to teach or don’t like teaching, there are still positions as pure researchers but probably many fewer of these positions than those typically found in social work programs. Entering a doctoral program is a major decision that will change your life. If you have never taught before, you might want to teach as an adjunct or part-time instructor to see if it’s for you. Or, volunteer to teach one or two classes for someone you know.

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