When senior service leaders launched the Marine Corps Doctor of Philosophy Programs (PHDP) in mid-2017, the services wanted to take advantage of talented officers amongst the ranks, developing “a cohort of strategic thinkers and technical leaders capable of applying substantive knowledge, directing original research, and leveraging relationships with industry and elements of national security combined with their operational MAGTF experiences to achieve the innovative thinking desired by the Marine Corps,” as stated in MARADMINs 423/17, announcing the program.
The Naval Postgraduate School stepped forward to support the PHDP’s technical track, with programs in operations research, computer science, modeling, virtual environments and simulation (MOVES), and information sciences.
Just a few months into his duties as Commanding General of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command (MCCDC), and Deputy Commandant for Combat Development and Integration, Lt. Gen. Eric Smith visited NPS in late August to check in with all of the Marines studying at the university. But he expressed a keen interest in exploring the small cohort of PhD students currently working through their respective programs via the PHDP.
“This is the first trip I have taken as the deputy commandant because we have 268 students here who are getting master’s or doctoral degrees, and not for their own benefit, but for the Corp’s benefit,” said Smith. “This particular education is the high end of our warfighting expertise, so coming here to meet with the students and Admiral Rondeau helps to find out how to best utilize the work these students are doing.”
The number of students enrolled in the Ph.D. program pales in comparison to the Marines on campus for master’s degrees. But the roles these doctoral candidates will play in the Marine Corps is massive, according to Smith.
“These Ph.D. students are a significant part of the future of the Marine Corps because of the intractable problems we are facing,” said Smith. “This is a huge part of the commandant’s planning guidance, and allows us to take problems and turn them over to these Ph.D. students, who have not only the intellectual capacity, but the networks necessary to find and bring additional resources into these problem sets and solve them.”
From the students’ perspectives, the opportunity to engage with senior leaders on how best to capitalize on the investment in them was welcomed, and invaluable.
“This was a great opportunity for a lot of us because we were able to discuss what we can do to best leverage the research we are doing for NPS to solve Marine Corps problems,” said Maj. Robert Schotter, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Information Sciences. “We talked about utilization concepts of how we can be used after graduation. And anytime you have a respected senior leader in the Marine Corps that gives his vision for the future, that is very helpful to us.”