January 12, 2014

My Journey to a Doctoral Degree

My journey began a little more than 3 years ago, but in actuality it had been in the works for a lot longer. The idea of obtaining a PhD in exercise science came about while I was pursuing my Master’s degree in 2008. By the time I started working on my Master’s thesis, the thought was in the forefront of my mind; upon graduation, it had become my ultimate goal.

One little problem. I had a thriving career and, being in my 40s, was not about to chuck everything and become a full-time student. It simply wasn’t an option.

My alternatives were very limited. There simply weren’t many programs that provided a platform to getting a doctorate while you worked. Even fewer had programs that were within my area of interest. Yet I was committed to finding a viable solution.

Rocky Mountain University

Rocky Mountain University

After months of investigation, I learned that Rocky Mountain University in Provo, Utah had a hybrid PhD program that combined online and on-site coursework, thereby allowing the ability to go to school while working full-time. Better yet, Dr. Brent Alvar was the program director of the university. I was very familiar with Dr. Alvar’s work. He did the pioneering research on the dose-response relationship of resistance training, and was the mentor to many leading researchers during his tenure at Arizona State University.

For those who don’t know, the most important criteria in choosing a doctoral program is the person in charge of the program. This is who will be mentoring you throughout your studies. If the relationship doesn’t work or if your interests are out of sync, you’re basically wasting your time.

I spoke with Dr. Alvar by phone. We hit it off immediately. He told me about the coursework. I told him about my situation. He said it would be tough but doable. He said I was exactly the type of student he enjoyed mentoring. That was all I needed to hear. I applied the next day. A month later I was accepted into the program.

I began studies at RMU in March of 2011. For the next two-and-half years I had little time to myself. Between work and school, my social life was virtually nonexistent. Coursework was intense. We had 4 to 5 classes per semester working on a trimester schedule — i.e. there was almost no break between semesters. In addition to writing multiple research-based papers, each course required weekly online forum discussions throughout the term. Most courses had comprehensive tests as well. Once every semester I had to travel to Provo for a week of intensive in-class study. Classes met Monday-Friday from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm with an hour for lunch. Those were some loooong days!

Initital Cohort Group: 15 ultimately became 9

Initital Cohort Group: 15 ultimately became 9

The majority of my coursework was centered around research. I took three biostats classes, two classes in research methods, two classes in epidemiology, and other related courswork such as dissertation proposal writing and grant writing. Oh yeah, and there were the core classes as well. Our initial class had 15 cohorts; by the end of the program, only 9 of us remained. Suffice to say, the program was intense.

There also were four “independent project” courses. These courses afforded the ability to work on research by writing papers specific to our area of interest. I used the opportunity to write four review articles that were ultimately published in major peer-reviewed journals. I also was able to integrate the material into my dissertation review of literature. Without question, these classes were highly productive.

I finished up coursework in July of last year. I immediately took (and passed) my comprehensive exams so I could begin data collection for my dissertation study. The study was something I’d been planning since my Master’s class in research methods. I actually wrote up a proposal in that class which was quite similar to the study I ultimately carried out. The study itself examined muscular adaptations between bodybuilding- versus powerlifting-type training in experienced lifters. There were several novel findings from the study that will certainly add to our understanding on the topic, with important implications for program design. The manuscript is currently in journal review. I’ll be discussing the results at length upon publciation.

Dr. Brent Alvar: My Dissertation Chair and Mentor

Dr. Brent Alvar

This past Friday I defended my doctoral dissertation. The day seemed as if it would never come. The defense was held in Indianapolis at the NSCA Coaches Conference. My dissertation chair, Dr. Alvar, was present in the room. My other committee members, Dr. Nicholas Ratamess and Dr. Mark Peterson, were beamed in by the wonders of online technology. I gave a half-hour powerpoint presentation. I was then grilled for about 45 minutes on a wide array of topics about my study and its implications for future research.

After answering all questions, I was asked to step out of the room. I probably waited about 10 minutes but it felt like an hour. Finally Dr. Alvar opened the door and uttered the words, “Congratulations Dr. Schoenfeld…”

It was one of the most satisfying moments of my life. Just a huge feeling of accomplishment. So much work. So much sacrifice. All coming to fruition in the form of a doctoral degree — the ultimate testament to being a content expert in your area of study. My only regret was that my father was not around to share in the experience — he instilled the scientific method in me from the time I was young and would have probably been even happier than me with the achievement. Hopefully he’s watching somewhere from above.

So what’s next? I will continue exploring a wide variety of educational pursuits. My life’s work is to make a difference in the fitness realm, to have a positive impact on people’s lives. We have a limited time on earth; it’s imperative that we use our time wisely.

In addition to teaching at the college level, I’m currently involved in numerous research studies that will shed light on important topics in exercise science and sports nutrition. I’ll also be speaking across the country and around the world over the coming months, lecturing on how to apply the science of training and nutrition into practice. I’ll still work with a select group of individual clients for one-on-one training consults as well as serving in an advisor capacity to various corporations. And of course I’ll be involved in writing more articles and books targeted to fitness professionals and consumers, detailing the best practices to optimize results.

I feel very blessed to be an educator and make an impact. I look forward sharing the knowledge I’ve gained. I’ll be doing so right here on this blog. Stay tuned.




  1. Congratulations Doc! Boy, do I recall defending my dissertation at Temple University! But I knew my subject cold, and breezed through, despite my most dire imaginings! I’m glad you did as well…it was all worth it, eh, Doc? I believe you’re going to have a major impact on what goes on in gyms everywhere.

    Comment by Frederick C. Hatfield, Ph.D. — January 12, 2014 @ 7:58 pm

  2. Congratulations Brad — What an incredible journey.

    Comment by Jonathan Goodman — January 12, 2014 @ 8:38 pm

  3. Thanks so much Fred! I’ve read your stuff for many years. Much respect!

    Cheers 🙂


    Comment by Brad — January 12, 2014 @ 8:48 pm

  4. Much appreciated Jon 🙂



    Comment by Brad — January 12, 2014 @ 8:48 pm

  5. “Do not despise the fish because they are absolutely unable to speak or to reason, but fear lest you may be even more unreasonable than they by resisting the command of the Creator. Listen to the fish, who through their actions all but utter this word: ‘We set out on this long journey for the perpetuation of our species.” – Saint Basil

    Congratulations on your achievement and in contributing to the perpetuation of our species through the added knowledge produced by your ongoing works

    Comment by Jonathan Fass — January 13, 2014 @ 9:54 am

  6. Thanks Jon. And congrats to you on your marriage!



    Comment by Brad — January 13, 2014 @ 11:33 am

  7. Congratulations Brad on receiving your PhD. You deserve it. Follow your blog and currently doing the Max Muscle plan. Keep up the good work.

    All the best

    Comment by Kevin — January 14, 2014 @ 1:21 am

  8. What an amazing journey. I love stories like yours – inspires me to keep on going 🙂

    Congratulations, Dr!

    Comment by Marianne — January 14, 2014 @ 12:25 pm

  9. Thanks Marianne! Really appreciate your sentiments 🙂



    Comment by Brad — January 14, 2014 @ 1:52 pm

  10. Much appreciated Kevin. Hope you are enjoying The M.A.X. Muscle Plan and gaining some serious muscle!


    Comment by Brad — January 14, 2014 @ 1:52 pm

  11. […] Brad shared his journey to achieving his doctoral degree here. […]

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  12. […] Brad shared his journey to achieving his doctoral degree here. […]

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  13. Hey Brad,

    I am in a similar situation as you in regards to wanting to get my PhD, but I also would like to continue working full-time as I really enjoy what I do (currently an online, and in-person, coach).

    Having gone through the process, is there any advice you would now give to yourself if you were starting over (just after your master’s)? Is there anything you wish you had done differently? Or, any advice you would give to someone in a similar situation?

    Thanks so much! Big fan of your work!

    Comment by Zach — July 5, 2016 @ 5:59 pm

  14. Zach:

    There are now some excellent programs like the one I attended at RMU that allow you to continue with your career while pursuing your doctorate. It’s a lot of work and get truly grueling, but if you are motivating it pays off in the end.

    Good luck!

    Comment by Brad — July 10, 2016 @ 6:39 pm

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