Thursday, February 2, 2012

Tips for Mothers Considering Pursuing an Online PhD

This week I'm happy to feature a guest post by Brittany Lyons (a blogger for Online PhD). Her initial query had to do with virtual poetry clubs, an idea I'd love to have her present for us in the future.

 I asked her if she had any other topics that might interest Feral Mom, Feral Writer's readers, and she came up with this article about the value of mothers pursuing online PhDs. We discussed running an interview with one such mother, but Brittany deferred to me there.

So I'm putting out a call right now to all of you online PhD moms. I'd love to run a companion post about the struggle in the trenches--I'm imagining the juggle: the frantic sprint to the computer once all the kids nod off, while the cupcakes bake, the cows yet to milk at dawn, etc. Just how did you pull it off?! (If you did…drop me an email). Update: Here's the companion post, in which Marlene Samuels answers Brittany's points one at a time with some rebuttals worth considering: Counterpoint to Tips for Mothers Considering an Online PhD. Hope you will read both posts!

Welcome, Brittany.

Tips for Mothers Considering Pursuing an Online PhD

If you are considering pursuing a doctorate degree, an online PhD program can be an excellent choice. There are many advantages and disadvantages of online degrees, but for a busy mother, earning your degree online can give you the flexibility you need to balance both family and academic goals.

 According to U.S. News and Reports, individuals with an advanced degree earn approximately $25,000 more per year than individuals with only an undergraduate degree. In the United States, doctorate-level degrees are either professionally oriented, such as a MD or DDS, or research oriented, such as doctorate of philosophy or education.

Tip #1 – Research Accreditation

One of the advantages of online PhD programs is that they are extremely flexible and often allow you to study around your own schedule. However, one of the major disadvantages of online programs is that they are still relatively new. As a result, many institutions are not yet accredited by governmental accreditation bodies.

Thus, if you anticipate your degree helping you to land a position a field that is government-related, you may run into problems. For instance, if you aspire to work as a hospital administrator, you may find it difficult to meet your career goals if you attend a school that is not accredited by a recognized accreditation body, since very often health care programs are associated with government agencies and require degrees from programs regionally accredited. When talking to school administrators of a prospective program, ask them about their accreditation and if there are plans for accreditation in the future.

Tip #2 – Ask About Access to Professors and Instructors

One of the common criticisms of online degree programs is their lack of classroom interaction. When considering an online PhD, ask how much time you will have to interact with the professors and instructors. Classes may be conducted online via video conferencing and you may also have access to professors through conferencing or telephone calls.

You should also ask prospective schools if professors and instructors have rigid hours of availability or if there is flexibility to consult with instructors during off-hours. Often, mothers need some flexibility in talking to professors, instructors and fellow students. For example you may find that the time you have available is during odd hours or that you need to work around your children's school schedule. Additionally, you may want to find out when you can access course work and class instruction webinars.

Tip #3 – Consider Time Constraints

One definite advantage of an online PhD program is the flexibility you may have in deciding when to study and work. However, you still need to find time to read course materials and research for papers and, ultimately, your doctorate dissertation. As a result, you may need to ask your children to contribute more to maintaining the house or ask your partner to take on more childcare tasks in order to accommodate your need for study time. Sit down with your family and outline what your needs are to complete your school work and ask for their ideas about how to help you.

Tip #4 – Ask Your Family for Support

Earning a graduate degree is not an easy task. Even students who attend a traditional graduate school programs, often find it can be stressful on the family and the student. Not only will you be working under deadlines, but you will also need to devote time to research projects and may need to occasionally meet with fellow students on class projects. For the distance student, this may entail traveling occasionally to talk to project members or arranging video conferences that all members can attend.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to have a set schedule for your family, so they know when your time is absolutely devoted to school. It can be even more helpful if you have a place in your home set aside for you to study. This may be an office where you also have your computer or a space where it is quiet and you will not be interrupted. If you have young children, you may consider using child care for several hours a week for devoted study time. You can also help your kids understand when you are in “study mode” by helping them make a sign that you can hang on your door to let them know you are unavailable.

Tip #5 – Consider Computer Accessibility

One thing you will definitely need to participate in an online degree program is access to high speed Internet. While dial-up Internet may be acceptable for basic word processing and other simple tasks, for a doctorate program you will need the ability to download research documents, often including video materials. You must also be able to participate in video conferencing. Generally, you cannot accomplish these things with dial-up Internet access.

To avoid competing with your kids for the computer, you may need to set up a schedule for shared computer time. Often, children, especially older kids, will want to use a family computer for downloading music or playing games. You may find that you need to set up specific times for when you have devoted computer time, particularly for video conference classes of consultations.

Earning an online degree can be an excellent way to continue your education. If you are considering a doctorate degree from an online program, carefully research before committing to a program. Also make sure that you have the support of your family and all the equipment and computer accessibility necessary to make your academic quest successful.

Brittany Lyons aspires a life in teaching, but decided to take some time off from perusing her online doctorate to help people learn to navigate the academic lifestyle. She currently lives in Spokane, Washington, where she spends her time reading science fiction and walking her dog.


Bradley Stacks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tania Pryputniewicz said...

Thanks Bradley, for the comment. Though I have to say that motherhood is such a big job, trying to add school from home has its challenges. For counterpoint, see Marlene Samuels' guest post about just that:

Thanks for stopping by.

lizabaker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shellydesuza said...

Amazing!! Motherhood undoubtedly demands full attention, getting back to studies is a major challenge, method of using Video Conferencing software is exotic. Reducing all pains of traveling neither the fear of reduced attention to the little baby!!!!!