Instructors Share How Online Ph.D. Students Can Succeed

Earning an online Ph.D. can be a great way to further your career. No matter the subject, students participate in advanced research as well as take on a demanding course load. Although many will face challenges throughout the program, the reward can be well worth the effort. This article will analyze how students can best succeed in an online Ph.D. program as well as look at some of the common causes of failure.

To succeed in any online Ph.D. program, you need to be organized. Keep track of your assignments, know how you will pay for your degree and be prepared to balance your education with personal responsibilities. In life, there can be many unexpected surprises such as having a baby or relocating for work, which is why having structure in your education is key.

“The single best thing you can do to succeed is properly manage your schedule,” said Dr. Jason G. Caudill, a professor at the University of Tennessee. Creating a routine that works well for you is going to be essential if you are to handle your daily duties. With less time in your day for hobbies or errands, it's wise to determine which activities take precedence. For example, if you enjoy playing tennis, basketball and video games, you will need to find an appropriate time for each activity or give one of them up while you are working toward a Ph.D. online. Try to construct a schedule that allows you to enjoy your favorite hobbies without sacrificing study time.

If you have never been enrolled in an online degree program before, something you will immediately become aware of is that distance learning demands that you work well independently. For those who are not the strongest readers or writers, constantly looking online for answers to questions can grow tiring.

“With no personal interaction, giving your full attention to a computer screen all the time can make it hard to concentrate, and as a result, there is a lack of focus,” Caudill said. However, for those who learn to become comfortable with this innovative learning style, there is room to quickly excel.

Another pitfall is that some students lose the drive that was present at enrollment. Increasing family or work demands can spark this change as well as a lack of personal contact with professors or classmates. Other life responsibilities can take over your study time, and instead of working harder in the following weeks to make up for any lost progress, you can become less enthusiastic about your course work. Although being able to work from anywhere certainly has its benefits, it can also be challenging. Your home or office can be filled with frequent distractions and temptations. Online Ph.D. programs that feature low tuition also may prompt students to become less devoted because they have not invested a lot of money, and withdrawing won't cost them much.

“The challenges of an online format are the same as that of face-to-face,” said Dr. Becky Takeda-Tinker, a professor at Colorado State University. Takeda-Tinker says the instructor is just as responsible as the student for engagement in the material. Teachers need to be approachable and attentive, she says. They also should effectively communicate class work and participation expectations to ensure that students understand what it will take to progress. She requires every student in her Internet courses to share their “perspective and learning in the online classroom, so there is no ‘hiding' in the back of class.” This allows her to monitor whether every student is learning the new concepts.

Online colleges strive to assist their students as best they can, but ultimately it is your effort that will determine whether you successfully complete your Ph.D. program.