Making the Most of Your Doctoral Experience

How would you like to get an edge on others in your field? Do you want to move to the top of your profession? There are many ways that you can enrich your doctoral experience.

Making contacts- online networking

Your doctoral experience is different in many ways. One important activity should be to make connections with others in your field of study. While reading the current literature is critical to your success, it is also important to know what is happening in your field. What are other professionals reading, discussing, and writing? LinkedIn is a professional social networking site that puts you in touch with others from various professions and educational backgrounds. It is one way to share information about professional experiences, current topics, and events. It can help you stay connected to others in the field but more importantly, it can provide you with “people” contact, something that can overcome the isolation that you will experience when starting on your dissertation or thesis.
We all know about and possibly have joined Facebook as a way to socially connect with our friends and family but it can also be a way to become more closely connected with our academic interests. There are many professional and special interest groups that have established Facebook pages, providing one more way to share with others of similar interests.

Local Student Organizations

Many university departments have student organizations that focus on particular student academic interests. These organizations will have a faculty sponsor and in most cases, are funded to some extent by the University student government. Most will plan events throughout the year to recruit new members or to bring scholars to the campus for conversation sessions or more formal symposiums. Organization officers will contact key authors in the field to invite them to participate in these events and for symposium events, there is usually a keynote speaker who is a well-known and respected scholar in the field. The symposium also provides a venue for student presentations about their work and is usually patterned from professional society conferences to give students a “feel” for presenting in a more formal setting. There may also be a publication generated from the symposium presenters’ work.

Society memberships

Every academic area has at least one society associated with it. Becoming a part of that professional society can open many doors for making professional contacts as well as sharing your ideas and getting feedback about your work. Some of these are discussed below. Most societies have student membership rates and welcome student involvement in society activities.

Conference Attendance

Every professional society will have conferences. If the society is a very large one, there are most likely regional conferences as well as annual national or international conferences. Conferences provide a means for professionals in the field to form both professional and personal associations. While scholars have their personal areas of interest, academic research and writing are still to some extent, a collaborative experience. Conferences provide a way to do that. Interestingly, some of the most valuable interactions at conferences can be found outside the scheduled activities. I recall one opportunity I had to spend a few minutes with the author of a book that was a key part of my dissertation. I needed clarification on something that he had written and gone away with a better understanding of his meaning. More importantly, I felt more a part of the community of scholars researching that specific area. One last note: many societies provide conference travel grants to interested students and will provide instructions for applying on the conference or society website.

Conference Presentations

There are many opportunities for presentations at conferences. Most societies encourage student scholars to apply and present in one of many formats besides individual presentations e.g., panels, or roundtables. Remember that you are becoming a part of a new academic “family” and will contribute your research in this neverending attempt to learn more about different aspects of the topic. Everyone is rooting for you! Presenting at a conference actually benefits you more than the audience as you will get feedback that even the best Chair cannot provide. You will hear multiple perspectives about your work and begin to see your work in new ways. You will also see many varying perspectives about your topic.
There are many things that you can select for a presentation. You may want to share a key piece of your work to get new ideas and possible areas related to your work that you haven’t explored. It could be a class paper that you wrote or just an idea that you are developing. Early in my doctoral work, I developed a card game to help students understand the impact of oppressive social systems on those who did not fit the profile of those in the dominant group. I had no idea how it would be received but needed to know if I was on the right track with the design. It was a 4-day conference and my presentation slot was at 8:30am on Saturday!! I thought it would be poorly attended as it followed a Friday night but the room was packed and the feedback was invaluable. Later in the year, I presented as a roundtable and participants played the card game, again giving invaluable feedback about it. I decided to copyright the game and provide it to educators who could freely use it with their students. While that was almost ten years ago, I still get occasional requests for the files.


You may be thinking that you need to wait until you complete your dissertation to publish any scholarly works. Why? or better yet, Why not publish? Remember that you are in the process of becoming a scholar. This is not something that will magically happen at the instant that you successfully defend your dissertation! This is happening NOW! You are becoming an expert in your research about a specific, tiny piece of the larger puzzle that forms an understanding of the topic so why not share it? The result of my presentations about the card game led to a journal publication about it and why it is important. Thousands of scholars have read that article and many have incorporated it into their work in closely related areas.
Sharing your work through some type of publication helps make it yours; it is reaffirming and helps you become more confident in your research. It also benefits others who may have doubts or lack the confidence to “put it out there.”
There are lots of ways to publish pieces of your work. All have varying levels of immediacy for you so find your comfort level. The main thing is that you do it! On many occasions when I have been faced with some project, I catch myself planning but never doing. That is especially true when it comes to writing. One of the most frequently occurring blog tips for writers is to just start writing. Entire methods have been built around ways to motivate writers to write. Your takeaway from this is to start sharing your ideas with others who have similar ideas. You can do this in many ways, from creating your own blog page to submitting articles for publication in peer-reviewed journals.


Blogging has been around for many years and the ease with which a blog can be built has drastically improved. There is little or no coding required and posts can be made from computers, tablets, or smartphones. There are free sites with some limitations and hosted sites that provide more user control over formatting and structure. If you decide to create a blog, you will probably want to post with some frequency if you want others to subscribe and read what you publish. You can provide a place for the readers to subscribe and receive notifications of new posts. You can also provide a place for readers to comment and link the posts to social media sites. As an example, this is a relatively “young” blog but I have already had readers from all parts of the world. You can link your blog to a Facebook or LinkedIn account to publicize it and increase the reader base. You may also decide to work with other students and/or professors who can all contribute blog postings, forming a type of online community that can benefit many with similar interests.

Peer-reviewed journal publications

Should you decide to submit your work to a peer-reviewed journal, be sure to follow the guidelines posted on the society site. Note that you will most likely be required to do multiple rewrites should your initial submission be accepted. You will most likely co-publish with a faculty member and/or other students who are associated with the society that publishes the journal. Should you be interested in publishing an article, first go to the journal site and carefully read the submission guidelines. Consider contacting one of your professors for tips about submissions.
One note about journal publications. There are numerous “predatory” publishing companies who want to take your work and charge you publishing fees with little or no editing services. As you move through your doctoral work, you may receive emails from some of these publishers offering to publish your work. This list continues to grow as noted on the linked site and is now approaching 1,000 such publishers. The site creator, Jeffrey Beall updates the site on a regular basis so check there before choosing a publisher.


As you can see, there are many opportunities for you to become more involved with your work. I think two key questions that you must ask yourself is why you decided to pursue this level of education and what you want to do with it once you have finished. So, we are back to the original questions. How would you like to get an edge on others in your field? Do you want to move to the top of your profession? Only you can answer these questions but this post will hopefully provide you with options to consider. Enjoy! 🙂