Thursday, February 9, 2012

So You Want to Be a Doctor When You Grow Up: Tips for Educators Considering Doctoral Work

By Douglas W. Green, EdD

I find that have a number of Twitter friends out of 1500+ (as of this writing) involved in doctoral work or considering it. For educators contemplating this adventure, I offer the following guidance.

Know What You are Getting into: It is important that you do your homework on any program you are considering. Typically you will have to take some number of courses with a mix of requirements and electives. Try to download syllabi of required courses to get some idea of what is expected in terms of reading and writing. Some schools make it easier to get this degree but in general, the better the school’s reputation, the more work you can expect to do. Try to get to know some of the professors and see if you can sit in on some classes. At some point you will need to find a dissertation advisor and members for your dissertation committee. These need to be people you can work with and take criticism from.

Full-Time or Part-Time: I did mine totally part-time and it took nine years. I viewed it as a hobby and it meant that I had to give up some of my other hobbies. Just don’t give up attention to your family and friends and keep up with your exercise plan. The part-time approach wasn’t a problem when it came to taking courses, but it was trickier for collecting data during the research phase of my dissertation. You will need understanding colleagues and superiors. As a principal, my work slowed down in the summer, which is when I did the bulk of my dissertation writing. If you can afford to go full-time you can get this done a lot faster, but you should plan on at least four years.

Dissertation Topic and Approval: For most people this is the most difficult part of the process. Be sure to pick something you are passionate about. If you don’t you are less likely to enjoy the process. You might get some tips from your professors, but you might have to find your own topic as I did. Once you find a topic you will need to come up with a research plan and get it approved. Don’t be shocked if your first ideas aren’t accepted. Your proposal will include the questions you want to answer and the research methodology you plan to use. Be sure to take more than one research course along the way and pay attention. You will need to use what you learn. Once your committee gives you the go ahead, its time to do what you said you were going to do. It’s now time for the perspiration part once the inspiration part is finished. It can be difficult coming up with a big data set for a quantitative study so don’t be surprised if you do a qualitative effort. This is what happened to me even though I am good with numbers. The closer you work with your advisor, the less likely you are to get shot down.

The Support Issue: Don’t be surprised if you feel like giving up somewhere along the way. There are lots of people with ABD (all but dissertation) on their resumes. This where support from the people closest to you is essential. I might have packed it in were it not for the support I received from my wife.

Money, Money, Money: It shouldn’t be too difficult to determine the cost of tuition for your degree. Don’t forget to add in the cost of continuing enrollment during the time you are working one your dissertation, which in my case was five years. Look for scholarships and check your contract to see if your school district will chip in with tuition or enhanced pay for the additional coursework and degrees. Start by assuming that your new degree will gain you nothing more in the way of future compensation and you won’t be disappointed. Your doctorate can pay off if it allows you to move up the food chain towards the superintendent’s office. For me I was happy being a principal so my salary only went up a few thousand due to the impact of the coursework and the degree in my union contract. It has allowed me to teach college level courses and do consulting that probably wouldn’t have come my way, but if money is your motive, you may not be thrilled with where you end up.

You Better Be Intrinsically Motivated: The topic of motivation is one that all educators should attend to. I suggest you start with Daniel Pink’s book on the subject (“Drive”) or at least read my summary at If you are not into learning for its own sake, the grind of doctoral work may not be for you. Ideally you aren’t solely motivated by the idea of having EdD or PhD after your name, but I must admit it is pretty cool when people call me Dr. Green. I never introduce myself that way, but when it came time to pick a domain name for my blog, I found that variations of my name were taken but DrDougGreen.Com was available. By the way, EdD degrees tend to be more practical but I wouldn’t worry about which title your university uses. In addition to becoming a better educator, the experience should also make you a better person, which can enhance your life and those you touch in many ways. If you do take the plunge, I applaud you, I wish you the best, and I’m here for you if you want my advice. Good Luck.

If you find that you have additional questions, don’t hesitate to send an email to Doug@DrDougGreen.Com or you can find me on Twitter @DrDougGreen.

DrDougGreen.Com is all about Bite-Sized Self-Development. It focuses on book summaries that present the main concepts of important books in about 15 paragraphs. More than an expert online resource, Dr. Green has been an educator since 1970. After teaching chemistry, physics, and computer science, he became an administrator for the next 30 years with experience at the secondary, central office, and elementary levels. He has also taught a number of leadership courses for The State University of New York at Cortland and Binghamton University and authored over 300 articles in computer magazines and educational journals. In 2006 Dr. Green gave up his job as an elementary principal to care for my wife who had Lou Gehrig’s disease. After her death in March of 2009 he decided to see how he could use my expertise to help busy educators and parents hone their skills and knowledge.


  1. Mr. Deyamport,

    I hope that you are having a great week! I enjoyed reading this post. I have many friends and family that are pursuing doctorates, and furthering their education. I have heard that the dissertation process really is the most challenging. Pursuing a subject that you are passionate about makes sense, and really would make the process smoother. I am thinking about pursuing a Masters, and who knows...maybe a doctorate! Thank you again for your post! I will be in touch!

    -Lindsay Curtis

  2. Thanks for stopping by, and I am glad that Dr. Green's piece resonated with you. I can speak from personal experience how the dissertation is a beast to wrestle with. I am in the process of getting my study approved.

    Hope all is well. Take care and good luck with your studies.