Greetings and Salutations! Winter has settled in for a few more bumps especially in the Midwest and East Coast part of the country. Just as snow keeps coming back to Boston so does the re-writes and challenges of the dissertation process. As one goes through an online program you begin to see the differences between your program and the “traditional” program. Being an online student I believe that there is no exposure in terms of academic colleagues (unless online), meet-ups, conferences, etc. I am a firm believer of joining professional organizations in order to engage with those who have the same research interest or methodology.
The traditional students are exposed to this information from their mentors and other faculty that are in the department and throughout the institution. My fellow colleagues, who were in my online program, did not attend conferences due to a variety reasons, cost, lack of knowledge, time, or did not feel the need. I went to several qualitative conferences that I paid for out of my own funds for it was worth the exposure to those who were in my field of research. At these conferences I presented twice and met some new people to network with. I found it very exciting learning about other peoples research, especially if I have cited them and get to meet them in person as well.
Conferences bring together a smorgasbord of intellects of all academic levels. I was a newbie in the research arena but they were more than willing to lend advice or give me tips to move along in the doctoral journey. Also at the conferences they would have a book sale and more often than not the actual authors were there. I had the opportunity to meet many of the ones who wrote my research books and it was a treat to meet them and even signed some of my books. I currently keep in touch with one of the authors and when I needed help with one of the methods in his book, he was kind enough take the time and give me some assistance when I need help, priceless.
If I had not gone to this conference I would have never met him nor the researcher who created some qualitative software that was just being introduced at the time, PRICELESS! Being an online student we sometimes do not have the amenities/opportunities that is offered to our ground or traditional students, at least I didn’t. I do feel that the online universities needs to looking into helping the scholar and presenting them with opportunities to network. It would be nice to see them implement something like a small stipend to those that have a great research plan and support them at a conference. Most traditional students have a grant that is attached to their mentor or something that they have obtained on their own.
During my tenure as a doctoral student, I joined several professional/academic organizations that were either qualitative or research oriented with regards to my discipline. Again, this was paid for out of my own funds, for I worked a full-time and part-time job while I was in school (and still do). Online schools do have their advantages but there is a tradeoff unless you work directly in the area of research in which you are pursuing your doctorate. When attending conferences, one might inquire to see if they are providing any funds to attend or wave the conference fee. Ask the academic institution to provide a small stipend (all they can say is no), maybe they have not done so before, and you could be the first.
Being an online student one has to become creative when looking for alternative resources in terms of funding, networking, and overall support from the institution. I know there is a lot on the plate especially if you are working, juggling a family, or just trying to keep one’s head above water. If just one person would try something, perfect it, and then recruit others, that would build a network of like-minded people. I hope this becomes a bit of “food for thought”. TTFN