Getting Started in Your Doctoral Program

By Ben Vilkas, MEd

lecture room with students in it

Earning your doctorate, whether through a traditional program or through an online university, is anything but easy! In order to find success, you’ll need to hit the ground running, starting on day one of your program.

Set yourself up for success by following these helpful tips:

Get Organized

Create a schedule for success, just as you would if you were joining a gym, and stick to it until it becomes part of your nature.

My weekly schedule during coursework consists of:

  • Thursday: Post both discussion questions answers. Post answer to optional question or other student post if possible. Read.
  • Friday: Post one quality response. Read.
  • Saturday: Post one quality response. Writing day (minimum three hours).
  • Sunday: Post one quality response. Review paper. Submit.
  • Monday: Read ahead and/or read on my topic.
  • Tuesday: Read ahead and/or read on my topic.
  • Wednesday: Read ahead. Check in LoudCloud for any issues. Print off articles that relate to topic, and file these alphabetically by the author. Folders and boxes become necessary as you build your doctoral library

Start Working Ahead

Always work ahead, and schedule time for your dissertation topic. As I continued with my courses, I began to develop a “Day 1 Ritual” I now use every time I start a new class. This ritual includes downloading all course content and readings so that I have an overall picture for the course, and reading instructor announcements carefully.

Then, I read ahead as much as possible. My goal is to have all course readings complete by week four in class. I save a “discussion forum” document ahead of time, and make notes or create posts to use in future class discussions. I also write one paper a week until all papers for the course are completed.

Utilize All Learning Opportunities

During your doctoral journey, you have plenty of resources at your fingertips. Do you have a long daily commute? Use the time to listen to books on CD about leadership or other topics of discussion in your classes. If you have free time, check out YouTube or other sites to learn about statistical concepts and tests. Read other learners’ dissertations.

If you’re studying at Grand Canyon University, you’ll have access to the DC Network. Use this network to contact other people who have been successful in your program. They are great resources and can offer advice about completing the doctoral journey.

Have the Right Perspective on the Journey

The doctoral journey is rigorous, but rewarding. Earning a doctoral degree is about learning how to become a scholarly research. You are in charge of your own learning. Ask questions, use your resources, work hard and enjoy every step!

Want more tips for starting your doctoral journey? Check out this post on the differences between a PhD and an EdD. You can also visit GCU’s website for more information.

 More about Ben:

Ben Vilkas was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, but has lived in Arizona for the past 12 years. He was an elementary classroom teacher prior to joining GCU, where he taught online courses for the College of Education. He became interested in leadership, and completed all of his coursework in the Doctor of Education degree program at GCU. He hopes to complete my dissertation this year. His primary research interests are in online education and business practices that improve job satisfaction and organizational commitment.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.