I was recently asked to discuss the best advice I had received as a PT and the best advice I had ever given. That took some thinking, since I have received a good deal of advice, and likely given much more than I've taken–which may or may not be a good thing!
In both instances my best advice related to doctoral education. I think it is timely to share some of my thoughts on doctoral education. In this instance, I am not talking about the professional doctorate–the DPT. I am talking about the research doctorate, ie, the PhD.
As a profession, we are increasingly seeing the results of the attention and support we have given to those who have sought and received the PhD. I believe earning the PhD is the most important accomplishment in my professional life. My doctoral education allowed me to think more critically and to participate in the creation of knowledge about, and for my profession. I recognize that not every physical therapist has the desire or fortitude to pursue the PhD, but clearly we all have the capability to accomplish that goal. So my first word of advice: never doubt your capabilities.
We start and raise families soon after completing our professional degrees. Balancing family and advanced education is probably the hardest task we might ever confront in our lives. Likewise, we are conditioned to practice the profession before pursing advanced degrees. Although this advice generally is good, we should not look down on those who move right to advanced education from their professional programs. There is no perfect time for pursing the PhD. My second word of advice: don't procrastinate about getting started; it is easier when you are young.
Many doctoral students are destined to enter a program that is convenient to their life circumstances, close to home and family, inexpensive, night classes, etc. Because the PhD is a research practicum, you will be gaining skills in methods of conducting research and will be taking those skills with you when you graduate. So how do you assure that you gain the skills you would like to have? Third word of advice: select a research advisor who can teach you those skills, not a university or school, when you decide where you should study.
As I noted, doctoral studies are challenging and difficult, even for the brightest and most dedicated among us. We all need support as we face the challenges and hurtles we must clear. Others who are also pursing the doctorate can commiserate when things are going slow or seemingly insurmountable odds are looming. Academic advisors can on occasion provide good advice that makes the journey easier. Finally, we all have heroes or individuals we admire or wish to emulate, that can provide inspiration when the going gets tough. So my last word of advice: find a cheerleader and a coach to encourage you.
Ann F. VanSant, PT, PhD, FAPTA