What you should know about pursuing PhD in the US

There are basic personal and professional questions that can help you determine whether applying for a Ph.D. program in the United States is the right choice

Dr Aditi LeleUpdated: Sunday, October 02, 2022, 01:57 PM IST
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The United States has always been a favoured destination for Indian students to pursue higher education. The most recent Institute of International Education (IIE) Open Doors report shows there are currently 9,14,095 international students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, and non-degree programs in the United States, where almost one out of every five international students is from India. 14% of all the international students in the United States are enrolled in doctoral programs, which are popular, given the state-of-the-art research facilities, advanced infrastructure, and support provided to students. This article aims to explain what a doctoral degree can offer you, how you can research to find the best program for you, and how to plan and apply to U.S. universities.

Is a Ph.D. the right choice?

There are basic personal and professional questions that can help you determine whether applying for a Ph.D. program in the United States is the right choice. To begin, ask yourself whether you are a person who is motivated independently to answer questions you find interesting, whether you want to contribute to the larger field of your interest, and whether you want to build expertise in a particular field.

Once you understand your overarching career goals, you can ascertain whether a Ph.D. program can help you achieve the same. Pankhuri Aggarwal, a doctoral student of psychology at Miami University, says, “I decided to apply for a Ph.D. program because of the availability of funding, the broad range of schools and programs to choose from, and the broad range of career options that the program could lead to, i.e., research, teaching, and clinical work.” She adds, ‘The real question is if you like to research and can you tolerate research. If yes, then a doctoral program is the right choice.”

Doctoral programmes in the States

Now let us understand what a Ph.D. degree in the U.S. offers you. The structure and the length of the Ph.D. program can vary depending on the field of study, the respective department, and individual university requirements.

Doctoral programs are designed to train students for significant research and articulation in the field of study so that they can become experts and conduct in-depth research to offer new perspectives in their fields. Though some universities offer integrated Ph.D. programs that allow students to apply right after they have completed their undergraduate bachelor’s degrees, the most common program accepts students after they have completed a Master’s program.

There are broadly two types of doctoral programs: research-oriented Ph.D. programs and applied doctorates, which are more like professional application degrees. Research-oriented Ph.D. programs are commonly called Doctor of Philosophy degrees. Applied Doctorates include Doctor of Business Administration, Doctor of Health Administration, Doctor of Pharmacy, and Juris Doctor degrees.

Structure of your programme

The typical structure of the program involves building the foundation, expanding the knowledge base, researching, and defending your research. Ph.D. programs generally begin with preparatory and research-focused classes, which are based on your area or field, electives, and dissertation courses.

The research classes prepare you to develop research methodology and experimental design, writing methods, analytical classes, colloquium courses, and courses in qualitative and quantitative analysis. You are also required to take classes in areas of focus outside of core classes and can choose courses from a pool of electives to have a well-rounded worldview of the field.

Depending on the structure of the program, your foundation coursework is followed by working on your dissertation. Every Ph.D. student has an academic advisor and an academic and dissertation committee that oversees the student’s progress and guides the student toward a successful completion of the dissertation. The last stage is to write the dissertation and defend it publicly, while presenting the findings of your study.

Applying for your Ph.D. in the U.S.

Applying to Ph.D. programs can be challenging because it requires careful research to find the right program and the right universities, as well as time planning to compile a quality application. University websites are the most authentic source to find detailed information about Ph.D. programs. Students should begin searching for a variety of Ph.D. programs offered by accredited U.S. universities at least 12 to 18 months before they wish to begin the program. We encourage students to thoroughly research the structure of the program, the core requirements, electives courses, the research facilities accessible to students, the application deadlines, and other requirements for international students.

Another very important factor is to look up faculty profiles to understand what research is underway at the university, how many faculty members are conducting research in the area of your interest, what flexibility the program offers, and the sources of funding for faculty research projects. You can also investigate how successful the department is about placement of graduate students and how the students add to the overall field of research in terms of publication, the practice of management, and earning tenure.

Dr Aditi Lele

Dr Aditi Lele |

Researching the right program is just one piece of the puzzle. While you are searching for programs, it is also important to build other components of your application such as acquiring your master’s transcripts from your university in your home country, soliciting relevant letters of recommendation, developing a statement of purpose, taking standardised tests and an English proficiency test, developing a writing sample, and finally filling out the application forms.

The author is an EducationUSA advisor at the USIEF Mumbai

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