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Wellness Support for Online Doctoral Students of Education

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Studying online is challenging for the average student. However, this is more difficult for the doctoral student who is probably working in a demanding career as well. If you are a doctoral student who has chosen to go with the online route, then the following guidelines will help you to prepare for the unique stresses and strains you may face. It will also assist the prospective student who is still making the final decision about their career.

Which Degree Will Suit You Best?

Knowing that you have chosen the right qualification will relieve you of unnecessary stress. One of the most important decisions you will encounter if you are deciding to embark on a doctoral degree in education is whether to enroll for a Ph.D. or an EdD. Both are doctoral degrees at the same level, but the type of work they lead to varies quite substantially. It is important to know you have made the right choice for your career as this will enable you to focus on your studies with peace of mind.

A Ph.D. in Education is the highest degree you can obtain in education (along with the EdD). It is most suitable for master’s students who plan to embark on a career in academia or undertake research at the university level. The Ph.D. follows a theoretical approach in its learning objectives. Those who qualify will have to conduct research to add to existing knowledge in the field and add to the current literature through original research projects.

With a Ph.D. degree, the successful student will have access to a career as a professor and be in line for a tenure position. There is also the potential to have one’s work published in important journals and so contribute to positive change in their field.

On the other hand, an online EdD from Marymount University, for example, has a more practical approach where the emphasis is on conducting qualitative, exploratory research. This research is aimed at proposing strategies to improve their field or organization. The student will need to collect their own data from interviews, focus groups, or surveys and come up with a unique contribution to the education field.

An EdD student may take on a professional leadership role in education. The degree is most suitable for an experienced educator and can lead to a career as an administrator in a university, a school superintendent, a senior executive position, or an instructional coordinator who is responsible for school curricula.

Social Challenges for the Online Student

Several research studies indicate that doctoral students pursuing an online course have problems with feeling isolated or detached and may suffer from anxiety and depression. Having a strong sense of community in one’s studies can protect the online student from experiencing these symptoms. This provides a supportive social group and increases the feeling of belonging. A community that provides social support has been found to increase the chances that the student will persist and complete their studies. As many as 68% of students not having access to a support group do not complete their doctorate.

Advisors and/or mentors form part of the student’s support network and provide encouragement and guidance. Also useful is to attend conferences where you can meet with other students experiencing the same challenges and to join a research group. As the work itself can be difficult, it is helpful to communicate with others facing the same concerns and needing the same questions addressed. This goes a long way towards ensuring that you do not feel alone. Often people have the incorrect impression that, because a doctoral candidate has successfully been enrolled for an online program, they do not need support.

Virtual learning communities provide another support network for students who are unable to attend group meetings and discussions in person. Students who work mostly alone on their degrees and projects may struggle because the lecturers are not readily accessible, and these communities allow supervisors to be more present and available to students. Sometimes the institution you are studying through will set this up to allow students to post comments and concerns about the work or to engage socially and provide mutual support. Having set times for virtual sessions provides a real sense of engagement as all students are online at the same time and can get immediate feedback. Staying connected outside of formal sessions has led to real friendships forming.

Friends and family are two other sources of social support. While it is important to enjoy these relationships for themselves, it is particularly helpful if you can share your concerns and achievements with others in your class. Just speaking about issues and getting another viewpoint can put things in perspective and lessen the burden.

No matter how you go about getting your social needs met, it is vital that you do so and that you do not feel isolated. If you are showing signs of depression, make sure to get professional help.

The Dangers of Online Learning and How to Combat them

Online learning is fast becoming a norm for even school children since Covid changed the way we do things. However, spending a lot of time in front of a computer or on a phone or tablet can be harmful. The blue rays from your screen can affect the quality of sleep you get – not only the quantity – so that you wake feeling tired. These rays can also affect your memory, making it more difficult to stay on top of your studies. They can also impair your concentration and affect your mood, leading to all the negative feelings online students may have to deal with, such as depression. Sitting in one position for hours at a time restricts movement, causing discomfort and even pain. The online doctoral student is particularly at risk because of the long hours they spend studying and doing research.

The most important solution is to get adequate sleep, even if this means taking a short afternoon nap. Having a regular bedtime and sticking to it is a must. Figure out how many hours of sleep you normally need to feel well-rested the next day and ensure that you go to bed at the time that will allow you to get this sleep and still wake up in time to start the new day. You will also need to switch off your computer at least one to two hours before bedtime. This is because the blue rays from your screen decrease melatonin production. This is the hormone that regulates sleep and, if it is affected, you may toss and turn instead of falling asleep.

To optimize your study time, ensure that you have a comfortable learning environment. For example, make sure that you have sufficient lighting, and a fan or heater to keep the temperature at the right level. If you are too warm, you will be more inclined to fall asleep at your desk. But if you are cold, you will find it harder to concentrate. Avoid eyestrain and if you have reading glasses, be certain to use them.

Make sure your chair offers ample back support and that there is a distance of a minimum of one arm’s length between you and your screen. The right height for your chair will make sure that you do not slump and that your feet are comfortably placed on the floor. Test the height of your chair, desk, and screen and that your mouse can be used easily. Once you have created the right setup, you will find learning proceeds effortlessly. Maintain a neat desk without clutter to limit distractions and keep your files organized so that you can readily find items. In addition, you may want to include some color, preferably bright and cheerful, to the décor of your study area so making it a stimulating place you enjoy working at.

Make sure you take regular breaks and use that time to get in some physical activity and stretches, as well as to enjoy some healthy food.

Optimal Nutritional Support for Online Students

You can support yourself and your study program by paying careful attention to your diet. The wrong foods, or leaving out the healthy ones, can impair concentration, lead to diseases that may interrupt your studies, and affect your mental wellbeing. This can make the crucial difference between success and failure.

Studies have shown that adult students who work in excess of 40 hours a week find it difficult to shop and prepare for nutritious eating. As an online student on a doctoral study program, you are very likely to exceed these hours. It may seem burdensome to ensure a healthy diet, but there are good reasons for it. Some of the conditions that may arise from a diet that is dependent on processed and junk foods with an overload of salt and sugar are obesity, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, anemia, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, fatigue, and cancer. 

College students are especially at risk of gaining weight and Americans in this category have been found to consume almost 25% more calories than they did decades ago. In fact, studies show that if all other factors are controlled for (such as qualifications), being overweight can reduce the chances of gaining admission to a doctoral program in the first place. This was found to apply even more to female candidates than male applicants.

Eating right has been found to decrease the likelihood of depression. Alternatively, a diet that includes too much red meat, refined carbohydrates, potatoes, high-fat dairy products, and sweets can lead to depression. Especially with dairy products, it is important to know the difference between good and bad fats. While it has been thought that depression leads to binge heating, studies show that students on a healthy diet have a lowered risk of developing depression. And as anyone who has been depressed knows, this makes it much harder to do anything, much less focus on your studies.

One of the easiest ways to eat too much or the wrong foods is when you are in the mood for a snack. Prepare for those times by making sure you have healthy snacks on hand, such as dried fruit and nuts, fresh fruits such as bananas and apple slices, and easy-to-eat veggies like carrots or a pre-made salad.

As a rough guide, half of your daily food intake should be made up of fruit and vegetables. Aim to have at least one fruit or vegetable from each color group: red, orange, green, blue, and white. A quarter of what you consume should come from meats and good fats, and the remaining quarter from whole grains and other healthy carbohydrates. This includes snacks.

Let us sum up the most important factors to take into consideration. First and foremost, before you start studying, think carefully about the field that you are working in and the direction you want to go with your career. Ensure that you have chosen the right qualification to get you there.

The second step is to make sure that studying online does not mean being isolated. Take advantage of opportunities to join virtual forums provided by your university. Also make time for friends and family, as well as recreational activities, especially those that get you away from your computer.

Minimize the harmful effects of blue rays from your computer and be sure to shut down an hour or two before bedtime to guarantee a good night’s rest. Make the most of your learning environment by making it comfortable, stimulating, and ergonomically sound.

Eat a diet that is 50% fresh fruit and vegetables and remember to drink water throughout the day. Prepare snacks in advance so that you are not tempted by junk food.

Lastly, take care of your mental health and wellbeing. Take note of what you can do to avoid depression and get extra support from your healthcare provider if you are battling to cope. With all these factors taken care of, you can simply relax and enjoy advancing your career.

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