Ph.D.? Research?

I often hear the question, “what is a Ph.D.”? Or when I tell someone that I’m doing my Ph.D. in Public Health, they ask me, “can you prescribe and see patients”?

No lol

I have to then explain that I’m not “that kind of doctor”. I’m not studying to be a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.).

Let me add that it is disrespectful to say “oh, so you’re not a real doctor”.

Rolling my eyes

What you mean to say is…”oh, so you’re not a physician”. Because if we’re going to be technical, doctor means teacher in latin. And what do many individuals holding a Ph.D. do??? Teach. And conduct research to inform. People often associate the term doctorate or doctor only with a medical doctor. But doing so is inaccurate. It belittles the profession of Ph.D.’s. But I do realize that a lot of people have no solid understanding of what getting a Ph.D. means.

But I digress. I digress.

Alright, let me get to it.

Ph.D. stands for Doctor of Philosophy.

The degree provides an individual with the foundation and training to develop a particular way of thinking in their respective field.

As a student pursuing a Ph.D. degree you are to complete a certain number of courses over a period of one or two years (varies by discipline and program). Upon completion of your coursework, students have to pass a qualifying/comprehensive exam to show that the student has reached mastery in the field. This examination will vary based on discipline and institution.

For instance, my program necessitates two full days of testing. You are in a room with a laptop and no internet access. All you can bring to the exam is you, yourself, and the holy spirit. If you pass, great! If not, you get one more chance. If you still don’t pass, you will be let go from the program.

Talk about pressure!

You will find that some programs will do one day of testing, take home exams/projects, oral examinations/presentations, or a compilation of some of these methods. With luck, if the student passes this portion of the program, they will move on to candidacy. It is THEN the student is considered a Ph.D. candidate.

Now, comes the fun part! The dissertation.

The dissertation is a longgggggggggggggggggg “essay” that focuses on a specific topic that the student chooses to dedicate their dissertation time to. It is usually a well-defined issue that has not yet been studied before in the manner that the student is planning to do. The purpose of your research and the final written product, your dissertation, is to contribute to the current body of knowledge.

But before you can begin collecting or analyzing any data, you have to first put together a dissertation proposal. This is a “short” document discussing your topic of choice and how you plan to go about conducting your research. Just think of it as an expanded outline addressing what you want to do, how you’re going to do it, and what you hope to accomplish.

Once your proposal is approved (after your proposal defense) by your dissertation committee then you can start your dissertation work.

In my field, you can usually do primary data collection or secondary data analysis.

Primary data: This is original research data that you, the investigator, has collected from a study conducted under your own supervision.

Secondary data: This is data that another researcher has collected from their research study. However, you may request to look at their dataset to analyze it in a different context than the original researcher had intended.

There is soooo much more I can say about the Ph.D., but one post seems a bit too overwhelming to do so. So let me leave you with this.

As researchers: We collect data. We analyze it. We present our findings. We write papers to report what we have found. We submit the paper for publication. Once it is published, that information is available for people to replicate, use as support, or to build upon and further scientific research.

In simple terms. Other people use what is found from research to improve or adapt to their own research, programs, interventions, or inventions. It’s like building a house. A contractor has to create a foundation, the base, for the house. Then other people build and build on that foundation to eventually construct a big solid house. And as we know, a house can continuously be remodeled and expanded. Likewise, researchers are continuously building on each other’s work to advance science. Everything we know is because someone researched it, reported it, and then other people added on to those findings to help construct ‘a big solid house’ of science.

All in all a Ph.D. provides you with the respect and prestige of being called Dr. so and so. Therefore, if someone has their doctorate it is “well-mannered” to refer to them by this title. The same way you refer to your physician as doctor.

I’m just saying.


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