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  • Writer's pictureclairevharley

There is never a right time to start your EdD

Updated: Aug 16, 2023

If you are thinking of starting an EdD, you probably have a pretty good reason for doing so; contributing to knowledge in your field, pushing yourself to your intellectual limits or simply just the desire to learn. It is, however, a big step to take both emotionally and financially, so I thought I'd share my experiences of applying and why I can say for certain that it is one of the best decisions I've ever made.

After I finished my MA at the University of Nottingham, I solemnly swore that I had achieved what I had set out to do and had enough of higher education. I spent enough money, I lost enough weekends and besides, I had achieved my goal of getting a distinction - the unspoken dream of a distinctly 'B' student all through school! For a few months I thought I had shaken the research bug, until I made the decision to read through my dissertation. It was OK. I am actually pretty proud of it, but there were aspects of the topic that I had not explored . Soon without realising it, I was putting together the methodology for my thesis.

I started bringing up doing an EdD in conversation with my family to test the water to see if the people who knew me best thought it was something that I could actually do. I'm lucky enough to have a partner who has undertaken a PhD and so had some advice that he has shared with me as part of the application process:

1. Don't get too stressed about writing your research proposal, you can change it once you get onto the course. The university is looking to see that you can communicate your points clearly and have a viable area of research

2. Don't be tempted to apply to a university for its reputation, but instead look at places that are within realistic travelling distance and have a decent course schedule

3. The most important thing is a supportive supervisor

Being the girly swot that I am, I looked at all the universities in the midlands and made a scoring system based on the aspects of the courses that would make them more manageable. The dropout rate on EdD courses is supposedly very high (I have no idea how high, every time people start talking about it I shut it out, hoping that by avoiding the statistic, I won't become part of it) and so making sure that you have made life as easy as possible for yourself is essential. Consider the following:

How far are you going to have to travel?

You might wonder why I have put this point above the more academic aspects I will discuss later but it really matters. On a cold weekend last year, I was sat on a rammed, delayed train and just burst into tears. I had been pushed to my intellectual limit and the horrible train journey and tuna sandwich eater next to me had just pushed me over the edge. You need to ensure that your commute to your seminars is well-planned, financially viable and simple. Everything else will be difficult enough, trust me! Incidentally, I stay over in Nottingham during my weekend sessions. In my head I call it my 'brain holiday' where I can go back to my hotel room and debrief before heading home.

Who do you want to be your supervisor?

When applying for a research degree, universities will encourage you to contact potential supervisors individually before starting your application. This gives you the opportunity to see who shares your research interests at the university. Sending that first email to potential supervisors can feel very daunting and it feels as though you need to rewrite it a thousand times, worried about your email tone and setting the right impression. I think the important thing to remember is that this is actually a two-way process. You want to appeal to them, but at the same time they need to reciprocate that feeling as this is someone you are going to be working closely with for a number of years. Do they share your philosophical perspectives on the purpose of education? Do they understand your role if you are still working in a school? Do you like them? Is this a person you can turn to when you are struggling? For me, it was a no-brainer. My university tutor during my MA was so supportive and we get on so well. I knew that I would be able to ask for help candidly and vent when I need to! The support I got from Andy during my MA is one of the key reasons I knew I was ready to take this step, so am pleased that we are still working together.

How much is it going to cost?

The government has recently introduced loans for postgraduate learners studying an MA, PhD or EdD. You can borrow up to £25,000 for course fees and maintenance which you will start to repay in the same way as an undergraduate loan in your third year of study. The team at student finance are really helpful and there is a special postgraduate number to call with your inquiries. The only thing I didn't like about the process is that the post-grad finance applications don't open until about June, so I was waiting for my loan to be approved after I had received confirmation of my place. Some universities charge over the amount you can receive through a loan per year and so you need to make the decision about whether you are willing to supplement this with your own income.

Does the course structure suit you?

There is no uniform EdD format and universities will each have different approaches to how they structure the course. As the EdD programme is aimed at those still working within education, most are scheduled for evenings or weekends. I really liked the course at one university, but would be travelling for over two hours on a school night almost every week. It was just too much and so I went for a course that was timetabled for the weekends instead. I am lucky enough to work for a MAT (multi academy trust) that really values research and so have been allowed to attend the sessions on a Friday that fall within term time. My face-to-face time with tutors is less regular than other courses and I have more reading in-between sessions. This suits me personally as I am motivated and enjoy working through my reading on a quiet Saturday morning at home.

Do you have the time?

The answer to this one is no! The EdD is time consuming and gives you a constant sense of FOMO (fear of missing out). You have to get up earlier, work harder and give more of yourself than you thought possible. You have to plan reading time as well as seminar preparation and also time to digest everything, let it sink in and really consider it. I love socialising and seeing my friends, but now have to plan which weekends I can be 'fun Claire' and which weekends I need to be 'work Claire'. One tip I would pass on is that if you are doing your EdD at a university a bit of a distance away then get a SCONUL card which will give you access to the university library nearest to you. My nearest is about 15 minutes out of my way home from work, so I try and go one night a week to keep my ideas fresh in my mind. Most importantly, your EdD is a real ego bruiser; as weird as it sounds, you need time for yourself to recover from the intellectual knocks you receive along the way.

Am I ready?

Again, no! But you never will be. If I haven't managed to put you off so far, then you are ready to start applying. It is hard and time-consuming, but it is thrilling and life-affirming. A brilliant academic once said to me that an MA is like overhearing a conversation between educationalists and recording their debate. Your EdD is when you sit down at the table and join in the conversation. You are becoming an expert in your field and are contributing knowledge to a field you are passionate about.

Overall, each person is different, but there are so many options and routes that you can use to start your own EdD experience. Take your time, listen to the little voice in your head that knows if this is a going to work... if it is, take the leap.

I hope this was useful and I wish you the best of luck!


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