Journal Articles

Daring the Doctorate: The Journey at Mid-Career

Categories: Book Review, Issue 33(2)

Book by Ada Demb
Review by Douglas A. Smith
Ph.D. Candidate
College of Education, Adult and Postsecondary Education
University of Wyoming


There are approximately 3 million graduate students of which 450,000 are in doctoral programs.  These 450,000 doctoral students are distributed 60% in Ph.D. programs, 15% in education doctorate programs, and 26% in other doctoral programs (Demb, 2012, p. 1).  Ada Demb organized this book based largely on reflection papers and focus group discussions with 15 of her former graduates in a campus based Higher Education and Student Affairs doctoral program at Ohio State University.  

Demb highlights several important distinctions among doctoral students.  While 56% of Ph.D. students and other doctoral students begin 3 or more years after earning their baccalaureate, 92% of education doctoral students begin 3 or more years after.  Also, 72% of education doctoral students’ work full-time compared to 43% of Ph.D. students.  Overall, almost half of all doctoral students are enrolled part-time (Demb, 2012, p. 1).  This book serves as a starting point to better understand the journey to the doctorate.

The 15 subjects in this book started their doctorates in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s.  Some had minimal work experience; others had significant administrative or teaching experience.  They all had their own unique stories to share as mothers, single mothers, fathers, students working full-time, part-time, and with graduate assistantships.  These graduates are now in various university administrative and faculty positions.

Demb explained “We learn from their comments that the journey to the PhD is complicated, challenging, backbreaking, exhilarating, and life-changing.  It is a process, encompassing a honeymoon period, later withdrawal, and adjustment back to a different life, and requiring reflection to fully internalize and appreciate the accomplishment” (p. 11).  The reflections and stories shared in this book highlight the distinct passion, commitment, motivation, and determination of these students.  Demb also highlights the unique risks of pursuing a doctorate at mid-career and how these students leveraged their age and experience to finish their program.  She shares their stories of fear and doubt, the dilemma of the financial costs, and the guilt of placing extra burdens on family, friends, and relationships.  The stories of these students emphasizes that doctoral study is a marathon.

Demb explains the various supporting casts in the journeys of her doctoral student advisees.  The supporting casts surrounding a doctoral student covers a broad spectrum of insiders, outsiders, and those in between with various levels of power, influence, and impact.  This book emphasizes the role of the trusted faculty advisor as a significant source of feedback, challenge, and support.  Demb explains the details of these advising and mentoring dynamics in detail.  An important part of this book is the discussion on success factors and transformations that occurred intellectually and socially for these 15 graduates.  Demb concludes this book with valuable reflections for future students, current students, and faculty.  

This book provides an important understanding of 15 mid-career professionals at a large public research university through a detailed narrative of their unique journeys.  Many of the reflections in this book may be transferable to distance based programs, other university settings, and other subjects; there still may be differences in the journeys of students in different settings.  This book is beneficial for academic advisors that are considering doctoral studies.  The experiences, perspectives, and stories shared in this book provide a deeper understanding of the various pathways during the journey to a doctorate for prospective doctorate students in education.


Daring the Doctorate: The Journey at Mid-Career. (2012). Book by Ada Demb. Review by Douglas A. Smith. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. 196 pp., $34.95,  ISBN # 978-1-61048-694-1