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Wicked Smaht: ID PD as a branching path and not a ladder

It's a Boston thing...

Alright, this blog post has been sitting in my drafts for a while, since I am procrastinating writing that paper on video game preservation (a story for another blog), why no blog?๐Ÿ˜‚.

Now that the dissertation is done, and the doctoral degree is completed, I've been spending a little more time observing the ID-sphere on Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter and I have seen a fair number of threads that solicit feedback and advice regarding doctoral studies in the field of instructional design or something like educational leadership.  These two things come up often and it's no surprise given that that advertising for PhDs in ID and Ed Leadership come up even for me (including in Instagram where I basically mostly post nature photos!!!). It's usually certain for-profit universities that are responsible for the bulk of this advertising - at least for me, but I see certain names come up in the Facebook and Reddit threads as well. It's never your local state college๐Ÿ˜œ

Anyway, I digress. The advertising practices of certain schools isn't the issue here (maybe it should be, but maybe that's a thought for a different post). The issue is the lack of proper advising and mentoring during a Master's program that leaves graduates susceptible to the siren calls of such advertising, and potentially leading them to rough terrain and unpleasantly unexpected destinations.  I am not sure degree programs often prepare students to be lifelong learners; to enable them to wayfind their way through to new learning opportunities and to critically assess them.  I think that we need a kind of "all the questions you had about a PhD but were afraid to ask" requirement for graduates of our graduate programs, for their sake.

The three reasons why people give for wanting to pursue a doctoral degree are:

  1. Continued professional development, but they essentially want to still be IDers and they don't care about research;
  2. Continued professional development and they want to be professors (and may or may not care about research);
  3. Receiving inquiries and advice from friends and family, who are not in academia, acknowledging their mastery of a subject (aka "being wicked smaht"), and asking, unassumingly, when they are going to do a PhD, because for them education is a ladder to be climbed.

Let me tackle the third one first because I had experienced this. Back in 2010, when I finished my last master's degree, I did hear from friends, family, and colleagues.  They were impressed by my accomplishments and the natural next step, in their minds, was the doctorate (and perhaps becoming a professor). I suppose to some extent it is correct, the doctorate is a terminal degree in many fields, but I would say that most non-academics don't really know what a doctorate entails, what the degree prepares you for, and what the job market is like for holders of those degrees.  They mean well, but this kind of thing really makes for social pressure that is unhealthy, and perhaps exploited by certain schools.  

So, interested people start out looking at PhD programs, but they don't know what they are looking for, and how to compare programs, and that's where the issues become even greater. When I was shopping around for doctoral programs in early 2012 I made a spreadsheet comparing programs, locations, faculty of interest, degree requirements, and so on. After a lot of analysis I ended up where I thought would be best for me and my goals. I don't know if prospective students, ones that come from the ID field, do this. Most probably don't because it is a type of literacy that they may not be exposed to during their master's degree program.  Some might have believed the difference between the professional EdD and the more research-y PhD, but I've written elsewhere about why I think this is bunk, so I won't' repeat myself. The core idea is that all doctorates are about research and both research and research translation/application are important regardless of whether it's an EdD or PhD.

Anyway, this misunderstanding (or total ignorance that the doctoral degree is about research), leads prospective students down the wrong path, and you get comments like this one (paraphrased of course):

I didnโ€™t realize that a PhD was designed to make you a researcher when I applied. My friends were like โ€œyouโ€™re smaht, apply to a PhD!!!โ€ And, so I did! And I learned that it was about research when I got here. It was never my intention to become a researcher, yet here we are.

Another comment in the IDsphere was a bit like this:

I took me to year 3 (when all coursework was done) and my advisors sitting me down and was like... "we're training you to be a researcher! All the stuff you do around [school topic redacted] is great, but you're here to do research and hone your research skills." Well, here I was thinking that I was here to improve lives of students that I care about! Silly me ๐Ÿ™„

I think the onus lies partly on the student to know what they are getting into (especially when it costs money!) but there is a responsibility for institutions of higher education to prepare their masters graduates to seek out pertinent information about PhDs to help their alumni community avoid situations like these, and to avoid the siren calls of marketing folks. One such university lists the following careers as potential placement for graduates the PhD program (list concatenated and cleaned up since it seems to come from job tiles from the Bureau of Labor Statisics):

  • Instructional Coordinators
  • Instructional Designers and Technologists
  • Training and Development Managers
  • Education Administrators
  • Distance Learning Coordinators
  • Training and Development Specialists
  • Education Teachers, Postsecondary

Literally, none of these requires a PhD! But you might not know that if you don't have a support network already in the field to let you know!

You shouldn't be in Year 2, or Year 3 or Year 4 when you realize that it's all about the research!

Some comments elsewhere on the IDsphere talk about the desire to have different paths in doctoral programs. The researchers can have their cake, but PD should exist for the rest of us - or so their logic goes.  This is a relatively recent example that encapsulates this thought process:

I think we should have different paths in doctoral programs. If we did, I'd probably have finished the PhD I started; I basically finished everything except for the dissertation. A research-based dissertation doesn't interest me at all. I wanted the knowledge and experience that came with a degree. That's it.

Putting aside that the knowledge and experience of the degree is basically about doing research, this seems to be an odd position to take.  Until you realize that most US degrees throw 2-3 years of coursework in front of students before they start engaging with research, thus potentially obscuring the ultimate goal or outcome of the degree. College websites (even state colleges these days ๐Ÿ™„) are pretty opaque about what the degree entails unless you know to look at a graduate catalog and determine what the degree requirements are.

In any case, my point here is that you don't need a doctoral degree to continue your education.  It's not a ladder, but rather it's many branching and intersecting pathways that you can take. Yes, you won't be called a doctor once you're done, but your ultimate goal of further education will be realized.  You can, for instance, pursue another master's degree, you can pursue credentials like FHEA/SFHEA, ISTECPTD, CPT/CFT/CDT, CMALT, the various CompTIA+ certifications if you are into IT, PMP for project management, PSM, or CSM, for agile, CTS if you're an IDer who does AV, SHRM for those in IDers in HR, and so forth. Heck, you can even go back to your alma matter and take courses as a non-matriculated student to learn more about a topic that is of interest to you (I am doing that this semester with the Archives course I am taking).  There is no dearth of places to learn and credentials to earn.  They cost money, but so does a PhD. At least certification programs are short, and many require continuing PD to maintain the certification after 3 years. Depending on what you need, there are also free options.  Google, Microsoft, and Apple (for example) have free training options for educators.

At the end of the day, expecting learners to magically know all of this stuff on their own is a fantasy.  I think that, as professionals in higher education, we need to prepare MA students for lifelong learning, and if they are considering a doctoral degree, we should prepare them for the realities of PhD life.

Just my Toonie's [that's a Canadian thing] worth of thoughts on the matter  ๐Ÿ˜œ

Your thoughts? Leave a comment :-)



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