I have Bachelor of Engineering in Computer Science (full time 4 years). I have 9 years of Professional Working Experience in Software Development / Information Technology concentrated on Domain of Retail Industry. My future goal is to Teach IT to Undergraduate/Graduate Students in Public or Private Institutions. Am I eligible for PhD? What should be my plan and next steps? How many years do I need to spend in achieving this goal? Can I work full time while I am pursuing PhD? What is the requirement overall if I want to teach Students Undergraduate/Graduate?


--Goal Maker

Dear Goal Maker,

Thank you for your questions. There are quite a few of them here, but I’ll focus on the last one first, which is about the overall requirements for teaching in the IT industry. In most fields, a doctoral degree (either a PhD or a professional degree, such as an MD, JD, or MBA) is required to teach at the undergraduate and graduate levels. However, some fields allow individuals with a master’s degree and teaching experience (which you can often acquire while working on a master’s) to teach, especially at the undergraduate level. However, without a doctorate, these individuals may be more limited in the types of positions they are eligible for (e.g., they may be able to lecture but are not tenure-track faculty members). That being said, if your primary interest is teaching rather than research, these types of positions may be more appealing to you. Furthermore, pursuing a PhD if you are not interested in researching can be tough: Make sure to be realistic about the research requirements of what is ultimately a research degree.

In any case, fields can certainly differ in terms of their requirements for becoming a professor, so it’s important to find out how this works within your chosen field of IT. Also, keep in mind that there may be a number of other settings for teaching that you haven’t yet considered, and they may have fewer degree requirements, such as teaching at the community college or at the associate’s degree level. For your situation, a good first step might be to start asking people in your field who are knowledgeable about the requirements for the type of work you’d like to do. If you don’t currently know anyone to ask, try contacting faculty at a local university or at your former undergrad university to ask them for advice. Even if they can’t directly answer your questions, they may be able to direct you toward other people who can. You could also make contacts through professional organizations, many of which have student chapters specifically focused on addressing issues of interest to current and potential students.

Your other questions may be more or less important, depending on what you find out from this first step. Based on the information you’ve provided, it sounds like you could be an eligible candidate for PhD programs in IT; however, to be sure, it would be a good idea to research the requirements of programs that interest you. It is possible that you might need to go back and take a few courses to meet the requirements. PhD programs often look for their incoming students to have some research experience, as well. If you don’t have this, you could, again, contact local universities to see if you could work as a research assistant in their labs a few hours per week.

Industries can also differ between requiring their incoming students to already have master’s degrees or not have master’s degrees. For example, some industries have PhD programs that provide the road to a master’s degree in the same program or allow you to earn your PhD without requiring a master’s; others may require a master’s degree before applying to PhD programs. For the IT industry, specifically, PhD programs may expect their incoming students to have master’s degrees, but this may not be a universal expectation; that’s why it is, again, important, to research those programs. Networking is also invaluable: Talk to colleagues, former professors, or people you know who are pursuing careers similar to the one that interests you. They are a great resource for specific information about your field. A few articles about networking on our site include Building Professional Relationships and Low Pressure Ways for Grad Students to Network at Their Universities .

In terms of how many years you might need to spend working toward a PhD, this will also depend on a few things. Most PhD programs require about 4–5 years of full-time work, sometimes more. If you need to pursue a master’s degree before that, it might be an additional year or two. Working full time while trying to pursue a PhD is extremely difficult and would almost certainly require taking more time to complete your degree. Some programs allow students to pursue their degrees part time, but this is a rarity. Working part time while pursuing your degree may be more manageable than working full time would be, but many students find it difficult to balance the different responsibilities of work and school. Additionally, many PhD programs offer assistantships of various kinds that often cover tuition and provide small stipends. However, if you want to stay at your current full-time job for other reasons, negotiating with your employer about working part time might be a good option. As you research programs and learn more about their requirements, make sure you are realistic about the amount of time and energy involved because most grad students are not able to simultaneously work full time and pursue a full-time PhD.

However, if you find that you only need a master’s degree to teach the way you desire to, these degrees only take about 2–3 years of full-time work. Then, it may be possible to pursue a master’s degree part time while also continuing in your current job. To summarize, start finding out more about what is really required to teach in your field, and then look into the requirements for the types of programs that will help you get there.

Good luck in all your endeavors!

--Dana Nelson, PhD

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