Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA), and so on. Regardless of what the doctoral degree is called, all are terminal degrees, which means they are the highest degree awarded in that field.
Each year, George Mason University graduates roughly 270 doctoral students from 39 programs ranging from cultural studies to systems engineering. Some of the university’s largest doctoral degree programs include education, economics, nursing, psychology, and public policy.
Earning a doctoral degree is a process that can take up to nine years, involves conducting original research, and ends with a book—a dissertation that has to be orally defended in front of an audience and will be published by the university.
Mason’s doctoral students are a bit unusual because about two-thirds of them are working professionals, according to Cody Edwards, associate provost for graduate education.
“A lot of our students have full-time jobs,” says Edwards, who is also executive director of the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation. “The majority of them are what we historically would have considered part-time. So you might already be in your career and you need this as the next thing. There are still many fields that require the technical expertise and experience that only doctoral students can glean.”
So many of Mason’s doctoral students are working in area school systems, at health care organizations, or even at Washington, D.C., museums and nongovernmental agencies. The doctoral degree helps take them to the next level, professionally.
Mason environmental science and policy PhD student Blake Klocke was getting ready to start his senior year at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls when he met conservation biologist Brian Gratwicke while volunteering at the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project. Gratwicke, who leads the amphibian conservation programs at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), was the one who encouraged the aspiring herpetologist Klocke to consider Mason for his graduate work.
“After returning from Panama, I was able to travel to Washington, D.C., and visit the Smithsonian National Zoo, SCBI, and Mason, which solidified my decision to attend,” says Klocke, who is working on a research project to reintroduce an endangered frog to the wild in Panama.
In addition to his research at SCBI, Klocke is “teaching my way through, which is challenging and has its own rewards.”
Many of Mason’s doctoral students teach some of the 100- and 200-level classes in their field at the university and work on research—both with their dissertation director or mentor as well as their own original research.
Mentoring doctoral students is a major investment for the university, but an important one, says Edwards. “When you look at the research that’s done day to day, week to week at the university, most of that work is done by graduate students. You want to have a talented and dynamic group of student collaborators.
“The reason that most of us are in this business is because we really appreciate the interaction and we want to be the best mentors that we can be,” he adds. “We want to make certain that, when they leave, they are ready for that next step professionally. After all, they are the workforce of the future.”
Pouya Gholizadeh 
Blake Klocke 
Donal Murray 
Saskia Popescu 
Ricardo Sanchez