Frequently Asked Questions About Pursuing a PhD
When thinking about pursuing a PhD, you are likely to have many important questions. These FAQs are some of the questions that have been raised at the annual "Thinking about a PhD?" session at the ASHA Convention, so we thought it would be helpful to collect them all in one place for you.
"PhD program" refers here to research doctoral programs, not clinical doctoral programs (i.e., AuD programs, clinical PhD programs). The research PhD program prepares a person for a career as a teacher, researcher, and scholar, which may or may not include a clinical component. The FAQs have been divided into four topics of interest. Select each question to view the FAQs and answers within that topic.
Is a PhD for me?
Thinking about a PhD?
How do I apply?
What are career opportunities?
Is a PhD for me?
Why would I want to get a PhD?
A PhD is the terminal degree in many fields, and completion of the PhD prepares individuals for careers as researchers, scholars, and teachers. Persons with a PhD in communication sciences and disorders can pursue academic/research careers in colleges and universities or in other facilities where research is a component of their responsibilities. Thus, when a person chooses to pursue a PhD, he or she is typically choosing to pursue a career in teaching, research, and other scholarly activities.
If you want to pursue a PhD to gain more knowledge in a particular area yet you expect to continue solely in a clinical career, a PhD may not be a wise career decision. The structure of a PhD degree program is centered on preparation of individuals for careers in research, teaching, and other scholarly activities. Thus, when practicing clinicians decide to pursue a PhD, they may appropriately view the degree as a career change, from a focus primarily or solely on clinical activities to a focus on teaching, research, and other scholarly activities.
For some academics, clinical teaching and clinical services are a component of their job, but other teaching, research, and scholarly activities are critical components of their professional activities.
- For an academic, teaching can involve classroom teaching, clinical teaching, and research mentoring.
- Research involves the generation of new knowledge in a process of posing questions and answering questions and publishing results.
- Other scholarly activities involves a range of activities including writing book chapters that synthesize and analyze information in the field, writing textbooks for academic preparation of students, peer review of journal submissions, and presentation of continuing education.
What's the difference between a research PhD program and a clinical master's program or clinical AuD program?
The purpose of the master's programs in speech-language pathology and the clinical doctorate programs (AuD or clinical PhD) in audiology is to prepare knowledgeable, competent clinicians who will provide exemplary clinical services to children and adults with communication disorders. Clinicians apply knowledge for the benefit of patients.
In contrast, the purpose of the PhD degree is to prepare individuals for careers as teachers, scholars, and researchers. Teachers, scholars, and researchers convey knowledge to educate future clinicians and generate new knowledge by conducting research that addresses questions regarding the nature, diagnosis, and treatment of communication disorders.
The difference is in the outcome-clinical practice requires clinical preparation, whereas teaching and researching require academic and research preparation in conveying and generating knowledge.
What are the career opportunities once I complete the PhD?
The majority of people in communication sciences and disorders who have a PhD pursue a career within a college or university. Their responsibilities include teaching, research, and other scholarly activities. There are currently many opportunities for careers in communication sciences and disorders (CSD) within colleges and universities, and it is anticipated that openings in faculty positions in CSD will continue over the next decade and beyond.
The PhD Program Survey Results 2002 Executive Summary explains anticipated faculty shortages within CSD departments. Growth within the professions, the number of retiring faculty, and perhaps fewer doctoral students are factors that contribute to the anticipated shortages of PhD-prepared people in CSD.
Careers as teachers, scholars, and researchers can be pursued at many different types of universities and colleges. And the balance of teaching, research and other scholarly activities will vary across types of universities and colleges. In addition, PhD individuals may be employed at hospitals or clinics where clinical research is a part of the institution's mission. PhD audiologists may be employed in industry, for example, by hearing aid companies, for product research and development.
How long will it take me to finish a PhD program? What are the factors that could affect the time of completion?
Typically, you will hear that a PhD program, completed post-master's, will require at minimum 3 years. Few people finish in 3 years, but many complete their PhD program within 4 years. This time projection assumes full-time participation in the doctoral program across those 4 years. For persons who combine a master's degree and a PhD at the same institution, 5 years seems to be a typical length of time to completion. With the AuD degree being so new, it is currently unclear how long a PhD will take after the AuD or the length of time to complete a combined AuD/PhD (research degree).
It is difficult to predict with certainty the length of any individual's PhD program because completion of the program entails course work, a variety of research experiences, qualifying exams, and the dissertation. Different people take different lengths of time to successfully complete these experiences.
Many factors influence an individual's rate of progress through a PhD program. If you are a part-time doctoral student, your program will necessarily be longer. Family obligations may cause a person to move more slowly through a PhD program. Completion of research experiences, including the dissertation, is influenced by the time needed, for example, to recruit appropriate study participants, to prepare stimuli for the study, and to pilot test procedures. When speaking with current and former doctoral students, ask about their time line through the PhD program. Ask potential advisors how long their students have taken to complete the degree.
I have a family, moving is not a likely possibility, and there is no PhD program close to me. Can I do a PhD through distance education?
The short answer to this question is no. A PhD program is an apprenticeship in teaching and in research. The course work of the PhD is only one component of the PhD experience. Daily interactions in the research lab and in the classroom require one to be present and active. Successful teachers and researchers agree that this apprenticeship would be impossible to achieve solely through distance education.
However, it is likely that some distance education experiences may be beneficial to an individual's PhD program, particularly if the distance education experiences cultivate knowledge and expertise that would be difficult to access within the home university. People with geographic limitations may wish to explore options of completing a PhD in a related field (if there is a possibility at a nearby university) with the intent of pursuing a career within a CSD department after the PhD.
Do I have to get a PhD in communication sciences and disorders? In what other fields might I get a PhD yet still pursue a career within communication sciences and disorders? What about getting an EdD?
Traditionally, one might think that to teach and conduct research in a communication sciences and disorders (CSD) department one needs a PhD in CSD. However, you will find that this is not the case. Many faculty members in CSD departments have a PhD from an interdisciplinary program or from a field related to CSD, such as psychology or linguistics. In fact, some persons may argue that for their particular area of interest, the interdisciplinary degree or degree in another related field provided the most beneficial training for the career teaching and researching in CSD. Some schools or programs award an EdD rather than a PhD. An EdD is a sufficient degree so long as the program is focused on research training.
How is my time spent during a doctoral program? Do I still take classes?
The years of doctoral education are quite different from the years of undergraduate and clinical graduate training, and many students do not know what their doctoral program will be like. In a PhD program, the doctoral student works very closely with one faculty member-the advisor or mentor-and the doctoral program is guided by a committee of faculty. Indeed, you should think of a PhD program as studying with a particular faculty member.
Let's assume that a PhD is finished in about 4 years. The first 2 years will include taking courses, many of which will be courses from outside the CSD department. The choice of course work varies by student but always includes several research methods and statistical analysis courses. The remaining course work is chosen to establish the student's expertise in one or more content areas. In these first 2 years, the student will also participate in research training experiences. Typically, these experiences will involve working in the advisor's or mentor's research lab along with other graduate students, often on funded research projects, and also some independent research projects.
Once course work and required research experiences are completed, the student engages in a comprehensive examination process that typically involves oral and written examinations. The purpose of this process is to establish the student's proficiency and expertise in the area of study. The specific nature of this process varies across institutions. Once this examination process is completed successfully, the student advances to doctoral candidacy and completes the dissertation under the guidance of the mentor. The dissertation typically takes at least a year to complete.
Thinking about a PhD?
What different steps/components make up a doctoral program?
A doctoral program includes many components that may overlap, but the components will be presented as discrete experiences here. About 2 years of course work is required (e.g., 9 credits for each of 4-5 semesters), with an emphasis on course work in an individual's area of interest and course work in research design and statistics. Supported research experiences co-occur with this course work and can include required individual research projects, research experiences on the advisor's funded research program, and rotations through the labs of various faculty members.
When course work and required research experiences are completed, PhD students typically complete some sort of examination experience, often referred to as a qualifying examination. The format of this exam varies greatly across universities, but the purpose remains the same-examination of the student's knowledge and expertise in his or her chosen areas of interest. The examination may be written as well as oral.
Once the qualifying examination is completed successfully, the student advances to "doctoral candidate" status. The doctoral candidate then completes a dissertation, which is an independent, original research study focused on a critical question within the field. Satisfactory completion of the dissertation includes an oral defense of the dissertation to a committee of typically five faculty members.
I hear there is a doctoral shortage; are doctoral programs making it easier for me to get a PhD?
Doctoral training programs are certainly aware of the shortage of people with PhDs to assume faculty positions in CSD, and thus, these programs are taking steps to address this shortage. Some examples of these steps include securing grant funding to support PhD students, supporting student participation in programs such as Preparing Future Faculty, and examining their faculty and departmental capacity to educate doctoral students.
Despite the shortage, however, faculty and doctoral programs remain focused on the quality of students' educational experiences. They want to be sure that the students who complete their doctoral programs have been prepared adequately to be successful in careers in teaching (including clinical teaching) and research. In this regard, it may not be prudent to make it "easier" to get a PhD. In spite of the shortage, the field needs to and must prepare PhDs who can be successful in research and academic careers at a variety of universities and colleges.
When I apply, do I have to know exactly what I want to study or what I want to do for my dissertation?
When you apply for a PhD program, you want to have identified an area of interest so that you can find a doctoral program and mentor that will provide you with excellent training in your area of interest. You will want to work with a faculty member(s) who is an expert in your area of interest. However, you do not need to know exactly what you want to study or do for your dissertation.
The early years of your doctoral program will provide you with a rich set of experiences from coursework, research experiences, and interactions with faculty and other doctoral students. These experiences will serve to narrow and refine your original areas of interest. And don't be surprised if you become interested in new areas. Some people find themselves doing a dissertation they never could have anticipated at the beginning of their doctoral program. So, identify an area of interest and then look to refine and refocus your interests in your doctoral program.
What if I did not do a master's thesis?
Few master's student in CSD complete a thesis, primarily because clinical training programs are so time-consuming. Although the completion of a thesis provides an excellent opportunity for the master's student to learn first hand whether research is exciting, motivating, and interesting to him or her, there are other ways to accomplish this. Many universities have summer research programs for undergraduate students. As an undergraduate or graduate student, you may be able to assist a faculty member with research.
Most doctoral programs have a well-delineated set of research experiences that prepare the doctoral student for the dissertation phase of their program. Thus, there is little assumption that students enter a doctoral program with research proficiency. If you have the opportunity to complete a thesis in your clinical master's or AuD program, it will be good preparation. But if you completed your master's degree or AuD without a thesis, you should not allow the lack of a thesis to deter you from considering a PhD program.
I think I might like a career in teaching, but I don't know that much about doing research. How can I get more experience in research?
If you are an undergraduate student, talk with your professors about working on a research project with them. Many universities support summer undergraduate research programs in which students are mentored in research. Many of these programs are open to students from other universities. Some universities offer undergraduates the opportunity to complete a formal research experience in the form of a senior honors thesis.
If you are a graduate student, explore the possibilities of completing a thesis. Or talk with a faculty member about working on a research project with him or her. Perhaps you can assist on a project without taking on as much responsibility as a thesis would demand. Express an interest to your faculty about finding out more about research.
If you are a practicing clinician, you may be able to partner with university faculty to learn more about research. For example, school clinicians might work with a faculty member in the summer. You might find a faculty member willing to partner with you to collaborate on a research project. Volunteering to help locate research participants may be an initial way to make contacts with university faculty in your geographic area.
In addition, consider attending a conference that is totally focused on research. The ASHA Convention focuses on research as well as professional education. There are many other conferences that are devoted exclusively to research in a particular area of CSD. For example, the Symposium for Research in Child Language Disorders (SRCLD), organized by the doctoral students, is held every June at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Conferences such as SRCLD provide better opportunities to interact with researchers in a much smaller setting (e.g., 200 or fewer attendees) than the ASHA Convention. Ask a current or former professor for suggestions about research conferences in your area of interest.
How do I find an academic program and mentor that fit my interests?
You will want to begin by looking at research in your areas of interest. You can review the ASHA journals to see who is doing interesting work in your area of interest. When you identify some researchers, do a literature search with PsychINFO or Medline, for example, to further explore those researchers' contributions in a particular area of study. You can find out more about the doctoral program at that researcher's institution by consulting Web sites, including Web pages of other faculty at that institution who are engaged in research in your area.
A department that offers the PhD typically provides strong doctoral preparation in one or a few areas but not all areas of communication sciences and disorders. You will want to narrow your search of possible mentors/programs and then contact faculty members who are possible mentors. For much more information on this topic, consult Thinking about a PhD? Finding a Research PhD Program [PDF], which provides an extensive discussion on finding a doctoral program.
When should I start contacting possible mentors and what is an appropriate way to make the initial contact?
Most PhD programs admit students only in the fall semester, and applications often must be made to the program by early in the spring semester. If you intend to enter a program in the fall, you will want to begin making contacts the preceding fall, or even earlier.
The ASHA Convention is a good time to make contacts with faculty; particularly because it may be possible to talk with several members of the faculty from the programs you are interested in and to current doctoral students as well. Initial contacts may be made by mail, telephone, or e-mail. Introduce yourself by providing some background information. Don't be afraid to say that you are in the initial stages of gathering information about doctoral programs so that you can make a decision about whether a PhD is for you. Before you contact a faculty member, make sure you have done some preliminary work by visiting the program's Web site and the faculty member's Web site, and by exploring the person's research through databases such as PsycINFO.
You can plan to visit potential programs in the fall semester before you apply or in the spring semester, once you know if you have been accepted. It's important to have some contact with the faculty, particularly with the faculty member with whom you wish to study, before you apply to the program.
How does one finance a PhD program?
The majority of doctoral students finance their doctoral education through funding they receive from the university that they attend. Students may receive fellowships from the university, or they may be employed as research assistants or teaching assistants. The university may have a training grant funded by the National Institutes of Health or the U. S. Department of Education.
Tuition is typically provided as a benefit from fellowships or assistantships. Additional funding can be sought from private foundations (e.g., American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation) and from grant funding from the National Institutes of Health. Be sure to ask about the particulars of funding as you talk with doctoral programs and with former and current doctoral students.
What research experiences are important in a doctoral program?
First, you want research experiences in which you receive adequate support from your mentor or advisor and gradually are allowed to become more independent on the project.
Second, you want research experiences that expose you to programmatic research (i.e., a line of research that unfolds over several projects). Participation on funded research projects (e.g., funded through NIH or the U.S. Department of Education) allows you to experience the particulars of working with grant funding. In addition to learning to do research yourself, you may want experience managing others as they work on research projects. For example, if your advisor has undergraduate or master's students working in the lab, you may have an opportunity to supervise their work. These experiences will be beneficial later as you manage your own research projects and research lab.
Third, you may want to participate on research projects that use varying research methodologies-for example, a project that relies on qualitative research methods and another that uses quantitative research methods.
I am in an undergraduate program; can I be accepted into a PhD program with just a bachelor's degree?
In many fields, it is typical for students to enter PhD programs directly from their undergraduate programs (e.g., chemistry, biology, or psychology). However, in speech-language pathology and audiology it has been far more common for students to complete an undergraduate degree and the entry level clinical degree (master's degree or AuD) before applying to doctoral programs. Many people return to a PhD program after a few years of clinical practice.
Some doctoral programs will accept students into a combined MA (AuD)/PhD degree. These students complete the requirements for the entry level clinical degree as well as the PhD. The Clinical Fellowship (CF) may also be completed during these years.
Some programs prefer not to accept students into a combined MA/PhD degree track. It is certainly possible at many of these institutions to apply for the PhD program while in the MA program and continue after the MA into the PhD program.
Undergraduate students, and students with a background in another area, who would like to go into a PhD program in communication sciences and disorders (CSD) are encouraged to explore options within specific programs. It is important to recognize that although many doctoral students became interested in a research/academic career only after working clinically in the professions, some undergraduate students are quite certain that they want to pursue an academic and research career. For this latter group, combining an MA and a PhD makes sense. Also note that it is quite possible to complete a PhD in a CSD program and not seek clinical certification.
I am in a clinical graduate program. Should I work for a while before getting my PhD?
There is no one answer to this question. You can find successful teachers and researchers who went "straight through"-they completed a PhD and clinical graduate program (MA or AuD) without working for several years. There are others who returned to school after several years of working as a clinician. Both paths can lead to successful careers in teaching and research.
However, it is widely recognized that it can be difficult to return to school after one has been working for several years. So, it may be "easier" for some people to go straight through (and, if desired, complete the Clinical Fellowship Year within the PhD program).
On the other side, clinical practice years can be invaluable-to focus areas of interest, to understand the nature of the clinical populations, to provide a clinical knowledge base for one's later teaching and research, and so on. Further, if you plan to participate in clinical teaching (e.g., supervision) or applied research, clinical practice experience prior to the PhD may be important. It's important to note that a doctoral program candidate with clinical experience is not viewed as a more credible applicant than a person going straight through.
If I want to get my CCC in speech-language pathology, do I need to have my CF completed before I begin a PhD program?
No, you don't have to have your Clinical Fellowship (CF) completed before beginning a PhD program. For some people, it is easier to complete the CF before they begin doctoral work. The CF can be completed during the years of a PhD and ASHA has made it easier to complete the CF experience during a research PhD program. Talk to your potential mentors about options for completing your CF within a PhD program.
If I transition out of a master's program into a PhD program, should I think about obtaining clinical certification? Why or why not?
Not everyone who is on faculty in departments of communication sciences and disorders (CSD) is clinically certified. Certainly, many academic positions require applicants to have clinical certification, particularly if clinical supervision and clinical teaching are part of the job responsibilities. But there are many faculty members in CSD who do not hold clinical certification.
The decision to seek clinical certification or not is clearly influenced by the direction you intend for your career. Are your research interests in clinical activities (e.g., treatment research)? Do you want to participate in clinical teaching? Are your interests in basic communication science, which will not require clinical certification? For some doctoral students, the time necessary to meet clinical certification requirements is not justified given their long-term career goals. Having said that, the majority of faculty do hold clinical certification.
Do I have to get a PhD in communication sciences and disorders (speech-language pathology or audiology)? Can a get a PhD in a related field such as linguistics, neuroscience, or psychology?
No, you don't have to get a PhD in CSD. In fact, in some instances there may be good reason to pursue a research doctoral degree in a related field or to pursue a degree within an interdisciplinary program. Ask your faculty members what their PhD is in-you may be surprised by what you find.
What if my undergraduate degree is not in communication sciences and disorders (CSD)?
There is no reason that someone with an undergraduate or even a graduate degree in another discipline or field cannot pursue a doctoral degree in CSD. Many people find that a background in education, psychology, linguistics, pre-medicine, and so on, provides a great foundation for graduate study in CSD. The PhD is quite individualized, so it is possible to tailor the program to a variety of backgrounds.
How do I apply?
Will I have to retake the GRE before applying?
The answer to this question depends on the requirements of the programs to which you are applying. Some programs will accept your prior GRE scores, but some programs will require you to retake the GRE if a certain period of time has passed since you took the GRE. Don't let having to retake the GRE deter you from a PhD, however!
What are my chances of being accepted into a PhD program?
There are no statistics on the rate of acceptance into PhD programs. However, in ASHA's Online Guide to Graduate Programs individual programs have the opportunity to reveal number of applicants and number of acceptances for the PhD program for the preceding year.
What may be the more important question to consider is why people don't get accepted into PhD programs. Acceptance into a PhD program depends on many factors that are specific to the institution/department, as well as on the characteristics of the applicants. Realize that if you do not get accepted into a program, it may have less to do with your qualifications and more to do with insufficient funds to support you, or that the advisor you wish to work with does not have an available space, and so on.
Apply to the programs that you have identified as a good fit with your interests and needs, and if you do not get accepted into the program inquire as to why you were not accepted. You may need to consider re-applying to a particular program in a subsequent year.
What should be on my statement of purpose?
Some institutions provide explicit guidelines for the statement or purpose on the application, whereas others provide little guidance. When less guidance is provided, an applicant may be unsure what the program is "looking for" in a statement of purpose.
Some content the programs may be looking for in the statement of purpose includes the following:
- Why are you interested in entering a PhD program? That is, are you interested in an academic and research career?
- What has motivated you to seek the PhD?
- What are your areas of interest?
- What background do you have in research?
- What are your academic and personal skills that make it likely you will succeed in a research doctoral program?
Don't be shy about advertising what makes you a strong candidate! At the same time, make your long-term career goals evident.
Should I include a curriculum vitae (resume) in my application? What is a curriculum vitae?
In your application, you should definitely include a curriculum vitae (CV). Think of a CV as an expanded resume. For academics, the CV is a record of the person's accomplishments - employment, publications, professional activities including editorial review, professional presentations, and so forth. Inclusion of a CV in your application provides a clear, succinct presentation of your accomplishments and can highlight your strengths as a candidate.
Download Finding a Research PhD Program [PDF, 1.7MB] to see a sample CV and hints for preparing your CV. In your CV you want to highlight your accomplishments that are particularly relevant to your ability to pursue doctoral study and a career in teaching, research, and other scholarly activities.
What are the career opportunities?
What are the career options after I complete my PhD?
Remember that the purpose of a PhD program is to prepare individuals for an academic/research career. However, there is no "one" academic/research career. Across the more than 200 accredited master's or AuD programs (which may or may not also have undergraduate or PhD programs), there is great variety in the nature of the programs and the nature of careers that are developed within these departments.
Some faculty positions are strongly focused on research and research activities constitute the bulk of the professor's responsibilities. Some faculty positions are strongly focused on teaching and teaching activities constitute the bulk of the professor's responsibilities. And there are many variations in between. You can find faculty positions that include clinical teaching and clinical supervision, and those that do not. In addition, you can find clinical/research positions, for example, at hospitals that include research in their mission. There truly is an enormous range of possibilities; explore your options by talking to faculty at different types of universities and colleges.
What is a post-doctoral experience?
Postdoctoral training is very typical as a career step for researchers in the "hard" sciences (e.g., biology or physics) but it has been less common in the social and behavioral sciences. However, postdoctoral training is becoming more common in the social and behavioral sciences as it has become apparent that to be successful in a large research university (i.e., Research Extensive Universities) additional research training beyond the PhD is essential.
In postdoctoral training, the new PhD graduate typically goes to a university different from where he or she got the PhD and continues research training with a successful and grant-funded researcher. The postdoctoral training, usually 2 years in length, will typically involve working on some of the mentor's projects and beginning to develop an independent line of research.
Funding for postdoctoral training can come from the mentor's grant funds, from institutional postdoctoral training grants, or from an individual postdoctoral grant. The NIH provides post-doctoral funding.
In your PhD program, your mentor can provide guidance on whether postdoctoral training is a good choice for you and on how to find a postdoctoral training experience that will match your research interests and career goals.
What salary can I expect to earn as a brand-new assistant professor?
The American Association University of Professors collects information on salaries that can be particularly helpful. In considering compensation, one will want to consider the whole compensation package - salary; retirement benefits, health insurance, and other benefits; and typical raises (cost-of-living raises and merit raises) over the past several years.
Most faculty members are on 9-month contracts and, if they choose, they can earn additional compensation for summer school teaching or funded research in the summer. Other faculty members are on 12-month contracts, and their salary typically exceeds a 9-month contract salary. Many universities allow, and may even expect. their faculty members to spend some time in consultation activities that provide additional compensation, such as continuing education workshops.
What does a faculty member do in his or her job?
Potential doctoral students typically understand the classroom-instructor role of a faculty member. After all, they have spent years in college classrooms. The other parts of the academic job seem to be less well understood. A faculty member's job responsibilities are usually divided into three categories: teaching, research, and services.
- Teaching can include typical classroom teaching as well as clinical teaching or supervision and supervision of student research activities (undergraduate research, master's theses, and doctoral dissertations). Most faculty members teach two classes per semester, though this number may vary (more teaching, less teaching) depending on other responsibilities.
- Research and other scholarly activities are part of all faculty members' jobs, but the amount of effort devoted to research varies across universities. When research is a major part of the university's mission, faculty members will engage in research for a substantial proportion of their time, and many faculty members will have extramural grant funding to support their research programs. These are the same programs where faculty members will devote effort to training PhD students. At smaller universities, research may occupy less of a faculty member's efforts, and the nature of the research faculty members engage in may be different. For example, at a small, liberal arts undergraduate institution, the faculty member's research efforts may be focused on providing undergraduate students initial research training.
- The services segment of a faculty member's job includes service to the university, to the department, and to the profession or the community. Activities can include, for example, advising students, serving on university and departmental committees, and peer-reviewing manuscripts for scholarly journals, including the four ASHA journals.
- The best way to learn about a faculty member's job is to ask a faculty member. You are likely to find many people who are willing to share the scope of their job with you. And remember that the profile of activities in teaching, research, and services that a faculty member engages in will vary by the type of college or university in which he or she is employed.
Are there differences in jobs at different universities?
Yes, jobs vary quite a bit across types of universities. PhD programs are at Research-Extensive Universities and, thus, what you see your mentor in your doctoral program do in his or her job may be quite different than positions at other universities or colleges.
The Carnegie Foundation classifies universities and colleges with respect to the mission of the university. You may find this classification helpful in looking at jobs at different types of universities/colleges. You can find communication sciences and disorders departments at just about every type of academic institution.
Exploring the different types of jobs can give a prospective doctoral student a good sense of the wide-range of opportunities available upon completion of the PhD. Contact your professors from your undergraduate program and master's program and ask them to tell you about their job. Ask them to refer you to faculty members at other institutions who can share their experiences at a different type of institutions.
Can I have a job where I do research but don't teach? What about a job where I combine clinical work and research? What about a job where I teach but don't do research?
You can find just about every type of job in communication sciences and disorders (CSD)! There are some people in CSD whose job is completely focused on research activities and teaching is not within their typical scope of activities. These people participate in service activities, just like faculty members who teach. There are also some people in CSD who divide the majority of their time between clinical activities and research activities. You are likely to find these individuals working at hospitals in which research is an important component of the hospital's mission. And you can find some jobs where teaching and service are the primary activities.
What about publish or perish?
Dissemination of knowledge is part of every faculty member's job, but the nature of this dissemination can vary depending on the university's or college's mission. The typical teaching of faculty members is part of dissemination of knowledge. Publications, whether they are journal articles, book chapters, or books, are important avenues for the faculty member's dissemination of knowledge.
The number and types of publications that are expected of a faculty member vary across types of institutions. Publications can include reports of research, tutorials on topics of interest to the professions, review articles that summarize and evaluate the current state of the art, and clinical application of research findings as well as assessment and intervention procedures. Presentations at conferences and professional meetings (local, state, national) also are considered part of one's publication record. As part of the interview process when seeking an academic position, job candidates will want to inquire as to the university and department's expectations for publication and presentation.
Will I lose my whole personal life to the job?
Certainly jobs at universities and colleges are demanding positions, as are many other jobs. Seeking a balance between work and personal life is a challenge that seems to extend across the many years of a career, regardless of where that career is spent. You should carefully consider and plan how you will balance work with other personal goals and expectations.
What is tenure? What's the difference between assistant, associate, and full professor?
Understanding the hiring and rank system of universities is critical. Most universities hire faculty on "tenure-track" appointments. Tenure refers to a university's commitment to continue a faculty member in a faculty position at a particular rank, typically Associate Professor or Professor, until the faculty member voluntarily leaves or terminates his or her employment or retires.
Faculty members begin at the Assistant Professor level, without tenure. After a probationary period of several years (often 5-7 years), the faculty member hired on a tenure-track position is eligible to apply for tenure and promotion to Associate Professor. Each university has a specified process for tenure and promotion, as well as specified expectations for tenure.
When interviewing for academic positions, you will want to obtain information on tenure and promotion; this information is most often available in some sort of faculty manual and departmental documents. Faculty members are evaluated on teaching, research, and services to determine whether tenure and promotion will be awarded.
Promotion to Professor is considered, for the most part, several years after promotion to Associate Professor. Although in a tenure-track position it is mandatory to be considered for tenure and promotion to Associate Professor after a specified period of time, promotion considerations to Professor are not mandatory and have no time limit (nor any adverse consequences). If an Assistant Professor is not recommended for promotion and tenure following the probationary period and tenure review process, then the faculty member is given a terminal contract (typically for a year) and seeks employment elsewhere.
In the probationary period, faculty members usually receive an annual review and written feedback on progress toward tenure. In addition, there is usually at least one extensive pre-tenure review in about the third year of the probationary period. The Chronicle of Higher Education has published many informative articles on tenure.
What about having a family?
Balancing family and career is a challenge for men as well as women. Universities are becoming increasingly cognizant of the issues that confront faculty members as they address their family obligations. Some typical issues confronting universities and colleges include dual-career couples, childcare, and maternity and paternity leave, to name a few. The Chronicle of Higher Education and other publications have devoted much attention to these issues in the past few years.
Not only have universities and colleges acknowledged that these issues are of concern, but the issues have begun to be addressed at many universities. Extensions of the tenure clock are no longer unheard of and child care options on campus are increasing, for example. Importantly, there is a tendency for these issues to be seen as family issues rather than as women's issues.
When looking for a faculty position, you will want to carefully consider your expectations and think about fitting or matching your expectations with the university's expectations of you. Ask about how the university supports family issues. For many people, the flexibility of a faculty position can be a plus in balancing family and career demands. Although clearly the work needs to be done, the time of the day that the work is done may be flexible, for example. A faculty member may choose to teach classes at night so as to balance child care responsibilities with his or her spouse. Or a faculty member may choose to begin the work day later so as to spend the early morning hours at home, or begin the day early so he or she can be home with the children after school.
Will I have to relocate frequently?
Choosing to pursue an academic career can necessitate at least a couple of moves. Many people find it necessary to relocate to complete the PhD because they don't live by a university that provides doctoral training in their area of interest. Typically, once you have finished the PhD you will seek employment at a new university; very few people assume a faculty position where they have been trained.
If you undertake postdoctoral training, you will most likely do so with a new mentor, as the purpose of the postdoctoral training is to expand and extend your research skills. Some people assume a faculty position where they have done postdoctoral training, and some do not. So you may need to relocate after the postdoctoral training.
Many faculty members stay at the same institution for the length of their career, moving from assistant to associate to full professor. Because there are now so many job openings in communication sciences and disorders, we are seeing more movement of faculty from one program to another than is likely typical in other fields.
Faculty may move from one program to another for various reasons, such as to assume a position of leadership (e.g., become program chair), to take advantage of career opportunities that are specific to a university (e.g., several faculty working together in a particular area), to focus their professional efforts in a particular area (e.g., increasing research efforts; focus on teaching efforts).