Is a PhD TESOL a Good Choice For You?


There are many possible reasons for taking a PhD TESOL. These may include interest in learning more about a specialist area of teaching or learning, an opportunity to enter academia, a chance for promotion, a better job, or increased salary at your university.

If you've been teaching English for long, and have already taken an MA TESOL or applied linguistics, you may consider a PhD TESOL, PhD applied linguistics, or you may want to branch out and take a PhD in a related area of education. Other options include EdD or the MPhil TESOL.

I imagine most people who are considering taking a PhD TESOL or one in applied linguistics are familiar with the difference of emphasis between the two. If not, see the article MA TESOL for information on the differences. A number of universities offer EdD courses. These are a mixture of taught modules, training in research methodology, and original research. They are more suited to professional working in education, who do not wish to pursue an academic career. The MPhil TESOL is basically a mini PhD TESOL. The PhD is for those who wish to become experts in a specialist area, and who hope to pursue an academic career.

Taking a PhD could be an opportunity to alter the direction of your career by moving from PhD TESOL to a PhD in education or other specialised area of applied linguistics, if you wish to. Increasingly, having a PhD TESOL or applied linguistics is a prerequisite to getting a university post, teaching English overseas.


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Current PhD Students Talk About Their Experiences


Soo Yeon Yim is taking a PhD in education at Exeter University after having taken the MEd TESOL there. She is in her first year of the program.

Why are you taking a PhD?

When I started the Master's 2 years ago, I became really interested in my topic of study, which led me to pursue this degree. I had already had plans to do the PhD as well, mainly to increase my chances of securing a teaching position at the university level, which is what I would like to do in the future.

What challenges have you faced so far?

Oh, so many! The process of getting funding was quite challenging, and the fact that I had to do the MSc in Educational Research as part of the 4 year programme. It was a difficult year, but looking back on it I think it was quite helpful. Finding a research topic seems to be the biggest challenge for every research student, and it was for me as well - not so much finding a topic (I already knew what I wanted to look at), but structuring the conceptual framework of the study, which is what I am mainly struggling with now. Practical issues like time-management and self-discipline are also difficult, as I am currently teaching part-time as well.

What advice would you give give someone hoping to do a PhD TESOL/Applied Linguistics?

If you have found something you're interested in, and are dedicated to doing the research, I would say go for it! If it's just the degree you're after, you might find it particularly hard-going. Doing a PhD is not the most difficult thing in the world, but I think you do need a certain mentality to tackle it.

What are your plans for your future, after completing your doctorate?

I'm really not thinking about this too much at the moment. The current plan of attack consists of 1 thing - FINISH THE THESIS. Ideally I would be able to work as a research or teaching fellow here in the UK before returning home and finding a teaching position there. We'll see how that goes!




Craig Watt is taking a PhD in vocabulary learning with Swansea University. He's doing this part-time while teaching English in a university in Taiwan.

Why are you taking a PhD in applied linguistics?

Many answers are possible for this. For me it's to do something interesting. Now that I've become used to teaching at university I have more time for other things. Also having a PhD marks entry into academia. It is like passing an apprenticeship; showing that you are capable of carrying out independent research.

What are the main challenges of taking a PhD TESOL?

The main challenge is choosing the topic to research.

What advice would you give someone interested in taking a PhD TESOL?

Check carefully the requirements of the university departments you are interested in, because they vary. Some universities require you to attend for up to six weeks in a year. Others do not have this requirement.




Hady Abdullah Ghalib is taking a PhD TESOL at Exeter University in England. His area of research is motivation, and the social and cultural factors which influence students learning of a second language.

Why are you taking a PhD TESOL?

I'm taking a PhD to increase my knowledge in research concerns and methods. Studying for a PhD explores different approaches and methods of being a researcher. It allows a student to compare and analyze what is the most appropriate methodology to be selected for a research study. Taking this course will build a strong research base which a researcher can start his research in his future research studies. Moreover, this course increases a student's knowledge in research philosophy. For example, a student studies methodological and philosophical assumptions which guide a particular study. When I intend to research a particular topic or phenomenon , then, I can anticipate which methodological and philosophical assumptions will guide my research.

What challenges have you faced so far?

In fact, the course itself is a challenge. However, the important thing is how a student can overcome these challenges.

What advice would you give someone hoping to do a PhD TESOL/Applied Linguistics?

A PhD student should take into consideration many things. For instance, he should read much about research approaches and methodologies. Then, he has to compare between advantages and disadvantages of each paradigm or approach. Also, I advice him to read about research philosophies.

What are your plans for your future, after completing your doctorate?

I plan to teach in universities and do research studies.

Your answers can be as brief - or in depth - as you like. If you have any other comments about taking a PhD, that would be good.


Make Use of Your Time as an MA TESOL Student


While you are studying for an MA TESOL/applied linguistics, take advantage to get to know the PhD students who are around you - sometimes it seems like they are hidden, but they are there. Speak to them and get an idea of the life of a PhD student. Ask them about their research and the challenges of taking a PhD.

Not only will they give you an idea of the life of a PhD student, but they are also valuable for their specialist knowledge in their chosen area of education or applied linguistics.









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