Creating Full-time Community in a Part-Time Program

By: Peggy Gesing, PhD, Old Dominion University

Many PhD programs have small cohorts that are often a mix of full- and part-time students.  As a full-time student, I consider myself a cohort of one with several part-time classmates at varying stages in their program.  While that seems like a lonely place to be, I have built my own ad hoc cohort, creating a support network that crosses cohort years and program types.  If you are in a similar situation don’t view your singularity as a disadvantage, instead use some of the strategies that I used to create a community of scholars that defies the boundaries of your area of study. These are some of the connections I have made as I built my ad hoc cohort:

  1. Connect with those who came before you: Adopting mentors who are one year ahead of you is a big asset.  Being only one year ahead, they can share best practices and warn you of pitfalls that may have affected them.
  2. Connect with students in other programs in your department: Students in other education doctoral programs may research different populations than you, but many of the problems they are studying may also be relevant to your student population.  Connecting with them to share ideas can expand how you view your research.
  3. Connect with students who have methodology expertise different than your own: Building a community where you can share methodology expertise will benefit all of you while in school, and as you emerge as scholars.
  4. Connect with part-time students: Many part-time students are working full-time in higher education.  Their hands-on experience can bring a just-in-time perspective to your coursework and research.
  5. Connect with the class coming after you: Pay it forward, and be the mentor that you adopted in step one.  Share what you have learned about the program and help incoming students navigate the doctoral process.

Even if you are in a larger cohort, adopting these tactics will help you to see beyond your individual research and coursework, helping you to connect the dots needed to develop your research agenda. Creating your ad hoc cohort within your department is the first step in building a community of scholars that will lead to collaborations and partnerships throughout your academic career.  As you emerge as a scholar, you can use these strategies to develop connections at conferences and professional events, expanding your ad hoc cohort even further.  You will find that expanding your definition of cohort will connect you with scholars that will expand how you think about your discipline.

Dr. Peggy Gesing received her doctorate from Old Dominion University, with a research focus on student global mobility and its relationship to workforce and economic development. She has published research in top-tier peer reviewed journals and regularly presents at academic conferences. Her academic training and experience working with international students at the postsecondary level prepared her to be an effective researcher and instructor. Her research agenda examines international students, student global mobility, and workforce economic development.

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