Grad school and Ph.D. programs seem to be on a lot of peoples radar nowadays, which is fantastic! Grad school is a serious commitment so it important to ask a lot of question throughout the process, even before you submit your first application. As someone who is open about their Ph.D. journey online, I get a lot of questions and it's really difficult to take the time to answer them individually. After receiving a lot of the same questions in different ways I wanted to put together this FAQ -
What is your Ph.D. in?
Currently, my Ph.D. is in sociology but I plan to specialize in race, immigration, and health. I’m interested in looking at ethics difference within the black population through identity, health disparities, and social movements.
How did you decide that Grad school was for you? How did you decide what you wanted to study further?
To be 100% honest I had no idea that I was going to go to grad school until my junior year of undergrad. I did a research internship through NSF and it made me realize that I actually like quantitive research. I think trying to figure out if you like doing research is an important step before deciding if you want to enter a program. I’ve mentioned this before in another post about grad school, but it’s important to have mentors in the field that you’re interested in pursuing.
I really enjoyed undergrad, I enjoyed writing papers and engaging in classroom discussion. I really enjoy learning so I didn't experience burnout after undergrad, I knew that I could continue my education without wanting to take a break. With that being said, I do think that breaks are ok too. If you're not 100% about what you want to do with masters or Ph.D. then I would suggest you figure that out before applying to school and committing to a program.
I feel like you never really know about grad school until you give it a shot because there are so many variables that influence your experience ie program structure, who you’re training under, the location of the school, the funding offered to you, etc. I will say it’s important to know that the degree is NEEDED for your field, don’t just get a masters or Ph.D. because it looks good. They’re huge commitments, financially and time-wise, so before you make the decision make sure the degree fits into your career goals.
Would you say a Ph.D. is worth it? No matter what the subject?
This is an interesting question because right now it’s a known fact that’s there are more people getting Ph.Ds then there are jobs for, and that’s across all disciplines. I knew this going into my Ph.D. program, but I’m truly committed to getting this degree because there need to be more black women studying black women. In my mind, this degree is necessary for the job that I want so I have to just suck it up and push through. If you’re wanting to get a Ph.D. to add new perspectives to the field as an underrepresented group then I encourage you to use that as motivation.
If you’re not sure about making the personal and academic commitments then I wouldn’t suggest getting a Ph.D. It’s never about being “smart enough” to get a Ph.D. because most people are. It comes down to being committed to being focused and diligent with coursework, research and teaching obligations for 6+ years, which is a huge commitment.
For me personally, I think my Ph.D. will be worth it, but I can’t tell you if it’s going to be worth it for you because your area of interests and career goals may be different from mine.
What do you want to do with your Ph.D.?
This is like the “what are you going to do after graduation?” question is undergrad... I hate it. I’m a year one Ph.D. student who would like to finish in 6 years so it would be really premature for me to know exactly what I want to do with my Ph.D. but my main goal is to write books and teach. I haven’t decided about the kind of institution I want to teach at; R1, teaching colleges or community colleges, but I do know that I really enjoy teaching and I love engaging in discussion with my students so I feel like that will still be the goal when I’m done in 5 years. I also have a plan B and a plan C in case my first plan doesn't work out, so its ok to be open to multiple options that all require a Ph.D.
How did you decide on a program?
I’ll be the first to say that I decided on a program in all the wrong ways. Hindsight is 20/20 because if I could go back and do it again I would do a lot of things differently, but being a first-generation college student I really had to listen to peoples advice, then do what felt right for me. I think funding and location are two extremely important factors when applying to programs. A Ph.D. program is not like undergrad in so many ways. The time and personal commitment are on another level. Be mindful of your support systems and make sure you’re close to them while going through this. I’m in a program 3,000 miles away from home and I really wouldn’t recommend that to anyone, it’s been rough.
I think when selecting a program it comes down to the combination of funding, location, and department fit.
I went to the school that offered the most funding but failed to take the other two factors into consideration. Don’t only look at funding, it’s extremely important, I don’t think about should pay for a Ph.D., but it’s not the only factor to consider.
Any advice for people considering getting a Ph.D.?
- Make sure you’re doing this for the right reasons. Don’t do it if you’re just trying to add letters after your name.
- Look into programs thoroughly.
- Asks your mentors 1,000 questions about the process.
- Don’t rush, gap years are useful if you use them properly.
- It’s ok to change your mind.
I hope this was helpful! If you’re interested in finding more resources I would say check out this post!
I was also featured in a list of students of color in grad programs so check out! I can only speak to my experience of being in a social science program, but there are other options out there.