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May 2011 - To Get a Ph.D. or Not To Get a Ph.D.?

Lanay M Mudd, Ph.D.
To Get a Ph.D. or Not To Get a Ph.D. -- What Should I Do?

This is the question that most master’s students struggle with as they begin to wrap up their thesis and see the end in sight. It’s a hard question, and a lot of factors go into your ultimate decision. However, to help you determine the answer that’s right for you, it’s often helpful to ask those who have gone before “Why did you get a Ph.D.?” That is exactly what we asked several leaders within ACSM – here are their responses:

Jim Pivarnik, Ph.D., ACSM Past-President: “Because I wanted to be a researcher, and I learned that a Ph.D. would be necessary to achieve this goal.”

Melinda Manore, Ph.D., R.D., ACSM Fellow: I wanted additional credentials in nutrition and exercise, so got my Ph.D. in Human Nutrition with an R.D., but also planned to do nutrition and exercise research. Thus, I knew I needed another degree in Exercise Science, so I pursued a minor in exercise science… It was a great combination of degrees, which was quite unique at the time.”

NiCole Keith, Ph.D., ACSM Fellow: “I chose to get my Ph.D. degree because it gave me the opportunity to make a career out of being a life-long learner while positively influencing the lives of others.”

Kris Clark, Ph.D., R.D., ACSM Fellow: [As acting Director of Nutrition Services of a Cardiac Rehab program] I had a master's in health education and an undergrad degree in nutrition and dietetics.  No where in my previous curriculums had there been an exercise component.  For five years I worked with cardiac patients, counseling them on changing nutrition habits while I walked the indoor track with them or talked to them while they were cycling.  I became thoroughly engaged with the idea that nutrition and exercise were the dynamic duo in disease prevention and wanted to pursue my understanding of both.  To do that, I felt the next step was more education with a strong research component.”

From the above statements, one strong theme emerges – each had a passion for continued learning through research that drove them to pursue a Ph.D. To me these are the key questions to ask yourself – “Do I love research?”, “Do I want to learn something new for the rest of my life?”, “Is there a question out there that intrigues me? That I think there is more to learn about?” If you are answering YES to any of these, then a doctoral degree might be the right path for you. If you’re not sure about your answer to these questions, then it might be a good idea to pursue other options for now, and perhaps come back to a doctoral degree program later on. Of course, many other factors will influence your decision, things from whether jobs or assistantships are available, to family concerns, to finding the right mentor, to what city schools are located in. However, in the midst of all these other influences, the core of getting a Ph.D. is a love for learning and doing research and a desire to teach and guide others one day. Good luck on your quest to find your own path!

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