Online PhD Programs: Pros/Cons

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Online PhD Programs

Earning a PhD degree is prestigious and is a result of hard work over several years. While traditionally, you needed to work in a university / institute while pursuing the degree, in recent times, opportunities are being offered for students to pursue the degree online.

This means that you could work towards the fulfillment of the degree from the comforts of your home. While this flexibility might seem lucrative for some of you, some others might find it a little daunting.

Well, the fact is that online PhD programs have both pros and cons, and it is best to consider both sides of the coin before you embark on the journey.

Benefits of Online PhD Programs

There are numerous benefits of online PhD, some of which are discussed here:

i. Opportunity to Multitask

Being able to pursue PhD online enables you to simultaneously have a regular paying job on your platter. You might also want to later use your PhD degree to upgrade your current job profile.

In fact, several companies allow their employees to take a break for doing a PhD so that they can come back with greater efficiency at their duties.

Also, having a guaranteed job while working towards an academic degree, is a great assurance both financially and with respect to future career security.

If for any untoward reason, you fail to cope up with the degree requirements, you still have a fallback option to look forward to.

ii. Online PhD Programs are Cost-effective

Course fees for PhD can be difficult to arrange for some people, which is a common reason why people opt for online PhD, while arranging to pay for it by working somewhere else.

Having said that, online PhD programs which are not fully funded often have tuition fees on the lower range as compared to traditional PhD programs.

Additionally, students save up on travel and accommodation costs, as they can pursue the course from home.

iii. Online PhD Programs are Flexibile

Traditional PhD programs have set rules with respect to course timings, deadlines for completing assignments, meetings with supervisor and often require commitment to teach undergraduate students.

Most of these being absent in online PhD, it gives you the flexibility you might yearn for while carrying out research. At a point in life when you pretty much know how to organize your daily schedule, how and when you work best, it is a great opportunity to be able to plan your daily life while doing a PhD at your own ease and comfort.

iv. Long-term Soft Skill Development

In a traditional PhD, you might want to run to your supervisor or a dear colleague as and when you get stuck with a problem. In online PhD, you do not always have this luxury. And this limitation, in the long run, can prove beneficial to shape you up as a researcher.

You learn to troubleshoot your problems with little or no assistance from others. You get trained to face challenges, be independent and develop a sense of self-discipline.

v. Accessibility

One of the biggest advantages of online PhD is that you are not limited by your geographical location. As you are not required to relocate, you can choose your university/ mentor of your choice without worrying about whether you will be able to move to their location.

All you must worry about is steady internet access and a work/study environment of your choice.

Drawbacks of Online PhD Programs

While these are certainly some positive aspects of online PhD, it does have some cons to consider:

i. Online PhD Programs are Long Duration

It is no new information that completing a PhD is a lengthy process. Students in traditional PhD programs often find it difficult to finish the requirements of the degree within a stipulated period.

Those opting for online PhD additionally have a regular job (most often) to devote their time to. Also, since there are no strict timings, this flexibility might come in the way of completing work on time. This in turn delays the entire process.

ii. Lack of Interaction with Mentor and Colleagues

An invaluable experience during PhD is that of one-to-one interaction with a supervisor. The discussions with your mentor, as well as the round-table meetings with your labmates are something you will miss out on if you pursue PhD online.

This is not to say that you are completely isolated; you definitely have online discussion forums and email access to your supervisor, but that is an experience different from face-to-face conversations.

iii. Diminished Long-term Value of the PhD Degree

This is a sad truth that not all online PhD degrees are considered ‘job-worthy’ later in life. Employers often prefer candidates with a traditional PhD over those with an online PhD.

So, the degree is not recognized everywhere, thus diminishing your job prospects. This problem can in part be overcome by registering with an accredited course / university.

One complaint of employers is that working from home (during PhD) does not automatically guarantee a candidate’s ability to work on-site, which is why many accredited universities now offer certain on-campus experience for people pursuing online PhD.

Online PhD programs: Do You Want to Study While Working?

Like many other things in life, the decision whether to do online PhD Programs or not depends on what you are aiming for and what your circumstances are.

Do you want to study while working?

If so, online PhD is a great option. But then, not all streams offer online PhD. For obvious reasons, PhD in Biology, Chemistry, Medicine and such other subjects are not feasible to be done online, because you require exposure to laboratory routines.

Other disciplines such as Business, Psychology, Artificial Intelligence, Data Sciences etc. might be conducive for an online PhD format. So, depending on your area of choice, you can opt for online or traditional PhD Programs.

The choice also depends on how you work best. Some people love working amidst colleagues and friends, in a university setting. Restricting them to their homes might end up making them feel claustrophobic, lonely and helpless. Needless to say, mental health is a critical determinant of PhD.

In the stressful life that PhD is, it is extremely important to be able to work in a favorable setting to achieve maximum efficiency. We also have people who prefer to work in quiet surroundings, in their homes where they are not distracted by others.

They are able to concentrate and hence work better in such settings. People such as these are ideal candidates for online PhD. Also, as stated earlier, doing PhD online requires meticulous handling of one’s daily life, responsible time management skills and self-discipline.

If you are committed to monitor yourself and keep yourself motivated without constant supervision, then online PhD might work for you. Such programs require self- confidence with decreased reliance on others for problem-solving.

To reiterate, it is important to choose the university for online PhD judiciously. Doing it from a non-accredited place can end up wasting a lot of time on your part with the final result not at par with what you would have expected.

It is to be remembered that earning a PhD is difficult and demands a lot of dedication and time, so doing it the best possible way is a plus. As they say, a good beginning is half the battle won.

And the beginning of a PhD is to decide how you want to pursue it: traditional or online. One needs to decide with a conscious mind, judging based on both the pros and the cons.


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