While the subject matter is the same for doctorate as well as bachelor's students in child and adolescent development, the time invested in research is substantially different. Ph.D. students in this field are expected to ask critical questions and to challenge commonly accepted methodologies. A student may, for instance, raise questions about the failings of the methodological approaches assisting children and adolescents. Or they may delve into subjects like the course of depression and anxiety from childhood to early adulthood, or how personality and family impact late adolescent complex thinking.
Why a Ph.D.?
It makes sense to pursue a child development doctoral degree for students who wish to teach the subject at the university level, go into independent or clinical research. The beauty of the doctorate option is that there is great freedom to mould your education into what you want it be, as long as certain milestones are met. In fact, students are expected to take responsibility for their education at this level. They must create their own program, under the supervision and guidance of their academic advisor and committee.
Doctoral students in this field may choose to emphasize family or public policy, applied research, or prevention science. Students may also want to set up their program to become a credentialed child psychologist. This track will entail a post-doctoral residency and, eventually, taking the Board Examination given by the American Board of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (ABCCAP) among several other exams. The doctorate degree in child may also make graduates more marketable for corporate and governmental work in behavioral health and development.
But students who see themselves working in school psychology, high school or special education teaching, and other occupations where a doctorate degree is not needed may want to steer clear. A doctorate degree is a huge investment.
Inside a Child & Adolescent Development Doctoral Degree Program
Graduate programs that include a doctorate generally take six years to complete. Others departments are more lenient about the dissertation deadline. However, this estimate is only taking into account course work and exams. The bulk of the work for doctoral students is in research, clinical application, and dissertation writing. Typically, post-doctoral residency work is required, as is a research apprenticeship or similar research focused project, qualifying examinations, dissertation, and oral defense.
Some programs offer research or teaching assistantships. Research positions often entail working with a faculty member on their research. In assistantships, students teach large lectures or survey courses for undergraduate students. Other students may do clinical practice in the department’s child development centers like they do at the Department of Human Development at Virginia Tech.
What's Next for Child & Adolescent Development Doctoral Degree Holders?
What happens after the doctorate depends a great deal on which professional realm the student wants to enter, and for which occupations their education has prepared them. Some may decide enter an entirely different industry. The doctorate is a long and arduous education path and it is not uncommon for students to realize at some point that work child and adolescent development is not for them. Accomplished graduates may find work as professors in child and adolescent development, or research institutes such as the National Institute for Mental Health.
Others will work toward the certifications needed to become a psychologist, an occupation in which median annual salary was $70,700 in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Postsecondary teachers earned on average $70,790 in the same year.