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How does a PhD program work as opposed to a Masters program? What does it entail?

Hi, I'm an undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor's degree in English Literature and Spanish Translation & Interpretation and I'm interested in pursuing a Doctorate after I graduate. However, I've heard a number of different explanations of what a PhD program entails and I am honestly so confused. Do I pay tuition to be in the program, or do I receive a stipend as a PhD student? Is there an application fee? Will part of the program require me to teach at the university where I am receiving my education, or is that just a rumor I've heard? Will I have a regular, five-class schedule like in undergraduate school? Will I have classes at all? What are the answers to all these questions for a Masters program? I apologize if this is long-winded, haha! college professor graduate-school masters phd english-literature

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Seth Daniel’s Answer

Let's address the first part of your question about applications/admissions and financial support first. You will apply for a doctoral programs using the processes in place at the institutions you choose, and they may vary. I recommend simply going online and reviewing the applications for various doctoral programs that are available; if you come up short, just request two or three applications packets from the Graduate Admissions departments at schools you aspire to.

With respect to classes, the first part of PhD programs often require that you take a class schedule similar to that in a Master's program, assuming you do not have a Master's in the subject area. While in the part of your program, you can expect to pay tuition based on the fee schedule set forth by the institution. Once you complete your class work and start on your PhD dissertation, you become an "ABD" (all but dissertation) student. At that point, tuition may be significantly reduced because you are working with your advisor on your research and not attending classes every day. GOOD NEWS: depending on your level of financial need AND based upon your previous academic success, some PhD programs at traditional universities (not online) will often offer stipends, teaching assistanceships, paid research positions and other forms of financial aid to the most qualified students.

One strategy I have recommended to students is to review the research being done at the institutions you are targeting, the strengths of the faculty, and currently funded research being done by the department. For example, if the department has a strong quantitative focus and you have strong skills and academic performance in statistics, you will have a better opportunity for financial assistance than if your strengths are more qualitative.

The answer to your question is very complex, because there is so much variation among programs and how they want to "seed" their PhD programs. The more your areas of undergraduate success align with the focus or anticipated focus of your program, the more likely you are to be rewarded with financial assistance.

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Frank’s Answer

The answers are "it depends". In my master's program, there was theoretical work but most of my training was practical and hands on. My PhD training was different. You essentially read and write your way to a doctorate. PhDs do research and intend to add to the human domain of knowledge. There is a heavy emphasis on research methods and publishing. Stipends are both school and discipline dependent. I was a scholar-practictioner, so I worked in industry as I worked on my training.

Keep in mind, there are other types of "doctors". The PhD is the premier doctoral degree, but it depends on why you want a doctorate. My advice is for you to go to the best school you can but also have a research area of interest in mind.

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David’s Answer

Ah! Wind blows, water flows, fire burns, and your compound question grows deep in the recesses of my mind. Well, well, Lindsay, are you contemplating pursuing a PhD in English literature, else, Spanish Translation & Interpretation? Since you can't answer me, I'll assume that you are seriously considering entering such Masters and/or Doctoral programs. Didn't you have enough counseling in the particular programs offered to you at your university? I'm assuming you're going to remain at the school where you're studying for your bachelor's degree, and where you might earn either or both, your masters and doctoral degrees.

It appears that you're not well informed about your fields of academic pursuit, why? If you're going to pursue higher educational degrees, well, you should be busting down the pavement in the pursuit of local masters and doctoral candidates, asking them directly on the ins and outs of their individual programs at your university.

Anyhow, I may be able to help you, as I have been in several doctoral programs throughout the years. Indeed, after the great 1990 layoffs in engineering, due to the collapse Soviet Union, I entered a Physics PhD program at UTSI, Tullahoma TN.

At that time, I was financially broke and exhausted from the long unemployment period. I was spending lots of time, energy, and money, doing so big time, looking for work in areas where I was over qualified; else, no one wanted to hire a physics guy with experience in the Star Wars Program. What a funny predicament, after a decade of preparation!

But UTSI did offer a graduate research assistantship in the amount of $13,500 per academic year, with tuition waver; and yes, I took it. Why not? It was a good deal. But not everyone can obtain such graduate assistantships, it takes good grades, at least above A-. My physics masters degree left me with a grade point average of 3.85/4.00, but also broke; and because of good grades, I was pretty much in the PhD game for physics in the years 1994-95. Unfortunately, my stepfather died and I had to leave the program; however, I entered another doctoral program in Material Sciences at the University of Vermont.

Yet, two years into it, I left again due to another unforeseen obstacle, a liver disease needing interferon treatment. Again, after being treated for this nasty ailment, doing so in Canada, I entered the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema at Concordia University in Montreal, to pursue another graduate program, this time in film production. Here, I had to borrow monies through a graduate student loan, but the Quebec provincial government gave me free grants, which I didn't have to pay back, and this too was a good deal. And luckily, with hard work and perseverance, I got my MFA in film production (no PhD offered in film production, it's a terminal degree).

My personal experience in these matters, as described above, should be helpful to you, Lindsay; because I found that life isn't just about dragging yourself through these hermetic educational programs, other stuff comes around, and you need to deal with it.

Now, let's talk about the course loads in such programs. First, the masters is a quantum leap beyond the undergraduate program, and you got to rev yourself up for the very fast pace and highly competitive nature of such endeavors. If you're not prepared to work for 12-16 hours a day, well, it does not matter if it's physics, filmmaking, writing, or more to the point in your case, say, English literature, you're going to have a hard time in succeeding to a high level of competence, if not worse. Maybe you're a natural in this subject, so you may have extra room to move in and develop yourself through other important university or community activities; indeed, I'd go for it, for it's part of your overall education. Do you get my drift, Lindsay.

Finally, we get to the doctoral studies and here, you're competing against some of the top students from all over the world, as it was similarly in the masters program, but here the stakes are higher and the cost greater. Surely, if your grades are high enough, at least above A-, you'll be able to borrow the monies to live and pay your way through PhD school; yet, at some costly universities, you may not have enough cash to make it through the program, without additional funding. It is here, in fact, where you may have to teach others in the lower levels of your discipline, and I guarantee you that you will be teaching for, or assisting, some professor in his undergraduate course load or his own professional research. So be prepared, Lindsay, to work like a bat out of hell (excuse my wild simile). Good luck.