Dr. Baros is a dedicated researcher, educator, and LGBTQ advocate. Her areas of expertise are proficiency-based language teaching and creating inclusive environments for LGBTQ students and people.
One of the most common questions I've been asked by other educators during my PHD studies is whether or not it's worth it or reasonable for them to get a PHD. My answer? It depends. Let's break that down - and feel free to ask me anything about my PHD experience!
Is the additional education worth it?
PHD or EDD?
First, it's important to note as educators there are multiple options and routes available to you. Without jumping into other program options (such as EDS, which I also have as part of my PHD program), there are a few things to consider. As an educator, you can select from two general types of programs, the traditional Doctor of Philosophy (PHD) or Doctor of Education (EDD). As a professional, both are equally valuable. The EDD prepares you for practical application of your expertise, including reviewing prior literature on a topic and facilitating your own research. The work you'll do is generally site-based, evaluating the needs of your own setting and implementing programs and initiatives. The PHD, on the other hand, is geared more toward higher education and especially research and publishing. Your research is intended for a wider audience through publishing peer-reviewed articles.
Keep in mind, though, you're not restricted to just those realms. In fact, the the PHD and EDD students in my program all took the same classes together, but the PHD took two additonal classes: one on theoretical frameworks (critical for effective publishing) and one on the publishing process, resulting in a manuscript submitted for publication to an academic journal. So, thus far, my experience hasn't been that different from the EDD students. Of course, this varies by program, so that's an important piece to check if you're researching where you might want to attend. As far as K-12 education is concerned, including conferences and workshops, they're both about equal in applicability. As far as higher education is concerned, it depends on the school - if a program is expecting you to conduct and publish your own research, they will likely expect the skills acquired in the PHD program and may not look favorably on an EDD. However, universities with more of an emphasis on teaching than publishing should consider the EDD equal with the PHD. Again, the big question is: Do you want to publish academic research in peer-reviewed journals?
Another important question is what you will get your degree in. My PHD is in Educational Leadership. There are a variety of other education-related areas that a Google Search will easily bring up. Again, this will be related to whether you decide to go the PHD or EDD route and what you want to do with it afterward - be sure to consider your goals and settings as well as how your particular area of expertise will contribute to them. Do you want to focus on your content area and become a subject matter or program expert? Do you want to develop a specific skill, such as educational technology? Do you want more generally rounded expertise such as educational leadership as a whole, which you can narrow down to your own areas of research?
I actually applied to two programs, one in Educational Technology and one in Educational Leadership. When was accepted to the Ed. Leadership program at NNU, I withdrew my Ed. Tech. application from the other school because I knew this was a best fit for me. I don't like being limited to one area and can easily get bored. I also want to be in student- and teacher-facing settings, whether as a professional or a researcher. I could customize the Ed. Leadership to my own interests and setting (I originally wanted to research the impact of proficiency-based teaching vs. legacy/eclectic approaches but then transitioned to LGBTQ advocacy) while also hearing about the amazing topics my cohort members were researching (black women who are administrators in higher ed, PLC's in international schools, the social-emotional learning of children in a preschool combined with a retirement home, etc.). The downside was that it was on me to become the expert in this area and seek out my own mentors who had expertise since my program was not specialized in my topic. At the same time, though, that was exciting and forced me to dig deep as well as reach out to others in my field, creating a network that I can now rely on as a professional and a researcher.
Most importantly, what are you passionate about? Because you're going to be thinking about it for a long, long time. Would a narrow field such as linguistics feel restricting or enlightening? Would a broad field such as leadership feel superficial or freeing?
How will I fit it all in?
This is largely dependent on the program you choose. Traditional full-time programs are just that: you will probably need to stop working, attend classes, possibly do a fellowship where you teach or conduct research with the university, and resume working after you're done. I have friends who I highly respect doing this and I can't wait to hear about their experiences.
This was not an option for me, however. I'm the primary earner in my home and quitting work or even going part time was not an option. I also couldn't move. Luckily, I wasn't required to do any of that because I knew the program at Northwest Nazarene University would be a perfect fit considering I'd attended NNU since 2011 (I began my EDS/PHD studies in 2015). Their model is completely online, but you're with a cohort so you still get many of the benefits of being physically present in class with your peers. In fact, I enjoyed this more as we were diverse students in diverse settings (we had cohort members in all US time zones plus Brazil and South Korea and at times South Africa and Singapore!), I could message them whenever I wanted to, and by the end of the program I knew every one of my cohort members' names and faces thanks to the quality and frequency of interaction.
The NNU cohorts complete classes in 8-week blocks. Most of the time, you'll only be in two classes at once (unless you do the PHD program, which means there are two blocks where you'll have an extra class for one of the blocks). Generally speaking, you'll have a discussion post due on Wednesday, two responses due by Friday/Saturday, and some sort of additional assignment due on Sunday evenings. Occasionally, there will be a video conference, including virtual office hours, where everyone is able to attend at the same time and you talk to each other, your professor(s), and any guests. If you can't attend at that specific time, they're always recorded for you to watch later. The only mandatory on-campus times are for a weekend during the first October of your PHD program and two weeks during the second summer, during which you formally propose your study and receive approval to move forward. I defended my dissertation virtually and chose to attend graduation on-campus, which I highly recommend at NNU because it's SO worth it.
Finally, there's the matter of the dissertation. Traditionally, you complete all coursework and then are "set free" to do your dissertation within a given amount of time, usually a few years. You don't get the title of Dr. or PHD/EDD until you defend said dissertation, nor do you get the actual degree (the title and degree are actually separate from one another - I didn't know that until the week we all started defending!). This is where a lot of PHD students fall of the boat - life gets in the way and interest in your dissertation wanes, and eventually it's just not worth finishing to you. NNU doesn't allow that to happen - your dissertation is embedded in your coursework, so by the time you end up with the year "off" for your study, you already have a completely designed, approved, and defended study proposal - all you have to do is carry out the actual work. On top of that, the cohort model requires that you finish your study within one year and meet specific deadlines. At first, this was frustrating to me as it limited my options for the study I wanted to do. Now that I'm done, however, I realize the value in this: By doing a smaller, simpler study, I was able to GRADUATE. The best dissertation is a done dissertation! Keep in mind you'll never write another 150+ page dissertation again. Your dissertation proves you've done due diligence to earn your doctorate. After that, the letters after your name show you've done due diligence so you don't have to re-prove that. While you have to write somewhere in the neighborhood of 40,000-80,000 words in your dissertation citing every possible source to show you've actually researched all the topics and authors you should have, space is a premium in publishable articles which restrict you to 10,000 words and you really only want to cite the main authors relevant to your research rather than every.single.study. Plus, you're only going to get better at researching and writing (if that's what you want to do), so your dissertation study is only the beginning and after that you can do whatever you like the way you (ethically) want to do it. So, with all that said, I'm glad we were on a crunched timeline which restricted my study as it enabled me to graduate. And, by embedding the dissertation in the coursework, all that was left was the exciting part of actually researching and getting results from this passion project you've already done so much with. Finally, the cohort model and camaraderie we developed definitely gave me that extra push to keep up with my peers and be able to attend graduation with them!
If you are able to dedicate an hour or two each day to coursework/dissertation writing (or, alternatively, dedicate 6-8 hours each weekend), then the NNU program is practical.
What programs should I look into?
The faculty make every effort to set you up for success as well as redirect you when needed. I've heard horror stories about people going all the way through their defense just to be told they were not approved (evidently, it's not all that uncommon). That would be devastating and humiliating. That will not happen at NNU. If there are any concerns about your progress or ability to either propose or defend your dissertation study, you will know beforehand. In fact, they will postpone your proposal/defense until they are confident you are ready, communicating with you before and during this process. They give clear feedback on what needs to happen and by when. Of course, once you're into the dissertation each candidate's experience with their own study and chair is unique, but the common thread is that NNU cares and does not want to see you fail. If you put in your best effort, they will meet you halfway and help you get the rest of the way there.
BONUS: If you haven't done post-Master's work, then you'll actually start with one of the EDS programs first, complete it, and then apply to the doctoral program to do the more research-oriented work. While many of the doctors in my cohort transferred from other programs, I went this route with NNU and was able to reap the benefits of their EDS program. Mine was in Educational Leadership - Building Administration, which resulted in earning my admin license (it transferred to WA without any issue). I don't know if I'll necessarily use it, but it definitely made me a better teacher, enabled me to work more effectively within my district, and provided new perspectives which directly informed my dissertation. They now offer EDS programs in other areas as well, so I highly recommend talking to them about what would fit you best and possibly roll over into the doctoral program.
**As a side note, I'm not Nazarene and I don't think most of our cohort was either. This has been my experience throughout my graduate studies at NNU. While there is a devotional and often a prayer associated with each class/module, you are not expected to engage with the religious material if you choose not to. At the same time, the faculty do their best to embody Christlike behaviors and be servant leaders. Whether or not you are Christian/Nazarene, I feel the messages were universally applicable to my practice as a teacher who serves their students with love.
Do you have questions about pursuing a graduate degree in education, NNU, or anything else?
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