Why a PhD?

by Holly

For me, I had a lot of questions that I wanted answers to after working in research labs throughout my undergrad career, graduating with my BS in psychology and working at the VA and Baylor for a year and a half. (It didn’t hurt that I was definitely that kid growing up that always asked the “why?” and “how?” questions). After working on a project involving spirituality and mental health treatment, and hearing a lecture on spirituality in psychology, my curiosity took over on how social workers integrate their clients’ spirituality into clinical practice and how social work education teaches students about this delicate area of practice.

So after a year of learning the evidence-based practice process under Dr. Danielle Parrish and spending two semesters immersed in an independent study under Dr. Andrew Achenbaum studying the amazing work that’s been done on spirituality, clinical practice and social work education, I was hooked. There’s really no other way to describe it. Everything I was reading and taking in caused me to ask more questions and fed my desire to understand more about how and why what I was learning was so important to social work practice and education. So I applied to the PhD program to learn how I could go about studying this area further.

If you’ve ever seen the Nicholas Cage movie, National Treasure, that’s sort of what my experience has felt like. You’re on a hunt – you have this curiosity, this hypothesis that something exists, and that you really want to uncover it, one layer or one clue at a time. The more you learn, the better you understand what you’re after and the clearer whatever it is you’re after becomes. Each of these new clarities somehow boosts your ability to solve the “clues” (or the little questions) to get to that treasure (or that one big question for researchers). As dorky as it may sound, the process is absolutely exhilarating!

I know that not everyone feels this way about research or the PhD venture, and that’s really ok. You certainly have to be ready (as does your main support system at home!) and have a strong desire to learn the methods, the previous research, and the statistics. I think the whole process is a lot like the MSW program, in that it’s really what you make of it and that we’re each designed to do something specific, but our job is to first find out what that is. If your inner guide leads you to the PhD program, definitely talk with students in social work PhD programs and programs in related fields, talk with mentors you trust, get involved in current research studies to see if it’s really what you want to do, spend time mulling over and studying the background research on the questions that you want to study, and discuss what’s ahead with your spouse and loved ones (probably one of the most important steps). And after all of that, if you end up deciding on the PhD route, get ready (with a self-care plan in hand!) for an incredibly unique journey!

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