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Part 1: Corporate Executive Earns PhD Online

Michelle Seyfarth always wanted to earn a PhD and online education gave her that opportunity. For more than fifteen years, Michelle worked in the automotive and staffing services industries. In June 2009, she defended her dissertation and in August of the same year she graduated with her PhD in industrial and organizational psychology. With this knowledge, she founded Seyfarth Diversified Strategies, a coaching and leadership services firm that operates on the belief that every person has the potential to succeed.

Q. Why did you decide to return to school and get your degree and was it always part of your plan?

A. I love to learn and had always wanted to earn a PhD. It took me a while to decide what discipline I wanted to earn the degree in. I have a wide variety of interests and spent almost a year doing research and informational interviews with people in the disciplines in which I was interested. At the time, I also knew I wanted to write, teach, and own my own business. I thought a PhD would help lend some credibility to my experiences.

Q. With so many online schools available, how did you choose?

A. Initially, I thought I would go to a traditional college. However, having been in corporate America for almost ten years, that was not really a viable option for me. Choosing the right online school takes time. I spoke with a variety of schools and online students. I asked a lot of questions. I made my selection based on accreditation, the degree offerings, the specific courses, as well as graduation requirements. The particular school I chose had a requirement of meeting at least three times in a colloquia setting which provided face-to-face learning and networking opportunities.

Q. What were the advantages (and disadvantages) you experienced by getting your degree online?

A. The biggest advantage for me was being able to keep my full-time corporate position which required quite a bit of travel while keeping a full course load every semester. The flexibility of being able to enter the "classroom" 24-7 is a tremendous advantage. I found there to be much more interaction between students online than in a traditional classroom. Students had to read and comment on other student's papers and classroom postings. That often made for excellent exchanges of ideas and we were able to discuss our experiences, both past and present as it related to the concepts being discussed.

A potential disadvantage of getting an online degree is that the student must be very self-motivated and have a great deal of self-direction. If one doesn't have those traits, it may be a struggle adapting to the online classroom environment.

Some online colleges require face-to-face time through workshops or colloquia throughout the degree program. This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. It's an advantage because you are able to meet and network with your peers and instructors. For me, this was a huge advantage. I met some life-long friends at on-site workshops I was required to attend. It was an advantage when I had to select committee members for my dissertation process as well; I was able to meet them in person and interview them to ensure they would be a good fit for the committee. The disadvantage comes in because it required a week off work and travel expenses.

Q. What are some of the challenges you faced with respect to your degree coursework?

A. Initially, my greatest challenge was time management. For most of my classes we were required to post two papers to the classroom per week. They were short papers though it was still a challenge, in the beginning, to get them done and turned in on time. Another requirement that sometimes posed a challenge was that each student had to post constructive comments to at least two other students' assignments. That meant I had to read the papers of other students and sometimes I would read four or five assignments before I read one I had something to post about.

Periodically an assignment would not be clear to all of the students and depending on the instructor, it might be a few days before he/she makes the clarification available.

Read part 2 of the Interview with Michelle Seyfarth.

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About the Author
JoVon Sotak is a writer, community journalist, and photographer who enjoys living in the middle of nowhere. Her work has been featured on a variety of websites and throughout Nevada.

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