When thinking about pursuing a PhD, you're likely to have many questions. How difficult is it? Will it put me further into debt? What are my career options when I graduate? Earning a PhD may seem daunting, but it's more achievable than you think.
A PhD program focuses on developing an area of research expertise and prepares a person for a career as a professor, researcher, or administrator—often in an academic setting. The job outlook for faculty in communication sciences and disorders (CSD) is positive, with a high demand for both new and experienced faculty in the discipline.
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With a PhD, you can have a significant impact on the CSD discipline by doing the following:
Individuals with a PhD have a multitude of career opportunities, including the following:
The majority of people who earn a PhD in CSD pursue faculty-researcher careers within a college or university. CSD programs often prefer to hire faculty with PhDs because of their research expertise in a specific area and their ability to teach and mentor students. The job market is excellent for individuals with PhDs: Findings from the annual CSD Education Survey consistently demonstrate strong demand for new academic faculty.
REALITY: A much higher percentage of PhD applicants are offered admission with funding support compared to master's speech-language pathology and AuD applicants. These funding opportunities can include the following:
REALITY: PhD coursework covers many of the same topics as a clinical master's or clinical doctorate program—but at an advanced level. PhD students also must take statistics and research courses as well as do independent research. But, don't worry! Many students enter a PhD program without statistics or research training. You'll work with your advisor to develop your program based on your research interests, previous education, and experiences.
REALITY: Although the pool of applicants for PhD programs is often quite competitive, it's a much smaller group compared with clinical graduate programs. Acceptance into a PhD program may depend more on finding a good match between the interest areas of an applicant and a mentor's research area than competition between applicants.
REALITY: Yes, you can! Many programs are flexible and offer options for doing a Clinical Fellowship (CF) or completing Audiology clinical hours during the PhD program. Be sure to check with potential programs to see if this is a possibility.
REALITY: Faculty members can achieve a good work–life balance and enjoy the following benefits:
Part of knowing if a PhD is the right fit for you means knowing how it differs from other CSD graduate degrees.
Do I need a PhD in CSD to obtain a faculty position in a CSD department? No. People with PhDs in other fields may teach CSD courses that are specific to their area of expertise, such as phonetics, psycholinguistics, psychoacoustics, speech and hearing science, and other nonclinical courses. However, these people typically aren't qualified to teach disorders courses or graduate-level clinical courses—those are typically taught by professionals with a CSD background.
Most CSD faculty members have a clinical degree and an ASHA Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC). However, you do not need clinical certification to be a faculty-researcher in a CSD program. Here are some advantages to obtaining a clinical degree and certification:
Some academic positions, particularly at research extensive institutions, do not require clinical certification.
This table [PDF] presents the different pathways for integrating clinical training into research training—and the pros/cons of each.
When choosing a PhD degree program, your primary goal is to find a faculty mentor who conducts research in your area of interest.
Start by identifying a topic that fascinates and inspires you. You may spend years or your entire career exploring the topic, so it's important to choose something that will continue to challenge and interest you:
You can take several steps to identify potential mentors:
After identifying potential mentors, you should contact each person before applying to the doctoral programs at their institution. You don't want to find the perfect mentor and then find out, after applying to their program, that they are not accepting new students. When reaching out, keep in mind that you're not just looking for someone who will guide your research. A good mentor needs to be someone who works well with you and who will guide your doctoral program in many ways, including building skills in teaching, grant writing, and manuscript writing.
Make initial contact by telephone or email. You can also network with faculty in person at the annual ASHA Convention. Before you contact a faculty member, remember to visit the faculty member's web page and read some of their research publications. Introduce yourself by saying that you're in the initial stages of gathering information about doctoral programs, and you're particularly interested in the faculty member's line of research. It may be helpful to ask for an informational interview either by phone or video conference to get a better understanding of the faculty member’s communication style, responsiveness, and future directions in research.
First, identify the requirements of the doctoral program, including the following aspects:
Second, identify available opportunities, which may include the following:
Third, reach out to current doctoral students in the program to learn more about the following:
Most doctoral students finance their doctoral education through funding from the university that they attend, often resulting in far less debt than students in clinical graduate programs. Students may receive funding through different sources, including those listed below:
Universities typically provide tuition as a benefit from fellowships or assistantships, such as tuition remission or in-state tuition for courses.
Universities may guarantee funding for the entire doctoral program or determine funding yearly.
Application requirements typically include the following:
Other possible requirements include a CV or résumé and/or a personal interview.
Applicants for PhD programs tend to be top-performing students and, as such, have competitive GPA and GRE scores. Aside from top scores, however, you can find other ways to be a competitive applicant, especially with regard to the writing sample or essay.
Having prior research experience is an advantage, but it is typically not required when applying to a PhD program. It's a plus if you completed a thesis in your clinical master's or AuD program because it will be good preparation for the dissertation, and it shows your potential mentor that you can successfully complete a long-term research project. Having authored or co-authored a peer-reviewed journal article is a definite advantage for preparing you to write scholarly articles.
Don't let your lack of experience in research discourage you from pursuing the PhD. Most research doctoral programs have well-delineated research experiences that prepare the doctoral student for the dissertation phase of their program.
The CSD Education Survey reports yearly data on the number of applications and number of applicants offered admission to PhD programs. Realize that if you don't get accepted into a program, it may have less to do with your qualifications and more to do with other factors. For example:
Most students finish the PhD program in 4–6 years, depending on an individual's rate of progress through the program (based on factors such as previous coursework, family considerations, or combined degree programs). In general, the academic plan for the PhD allows for more choice and creativity in coursework selection than clinical graduate programs. The four main components to the PhD program include the following:
Your advisor will guide you in forming a committee that will evaluate your comprehensive exam(s) and oversee the dissertation process.
Coursework requirements for the PhD can range from 50 to 90 credits (typically taking 2-3 years) but vary depending on specific credit requirements (e.g., academic vs. research credits, transfer credits).
Research training experiences typically involve working in the mentor's research lab along with other graduate students. Work progresses from the mentor's established research projects to independent research projects expanding on the mentor's research.
Students take the comprehensive examination once they complete the required coursework and research experiences. The examination is designed to establish the student's proficiency and expertise in their selected area of study. The specific nature of the examination process, however, varies across institutions:
After successfully completing the comprehensive exam, the student advances to doctoral candidacy.
The dissertation is an independent, original research study focused on a critical question within the discipline. Students typically take at least 1 year to complete it under the mentor's guidance. Satisfactory completion includes an oral defense to a committee of typically five faculty members.
Contact us at AcademicAffairs@asha.org with further questions about pursuing the PhD degree.