In Student Affairs, many would argue that having your Ph.D. can certainly open many doors for you in your career. I truly don’t believe that everyone needs a Ph.D. to have opportunities come their way, but for the most part, I can see some validity to this school of thought. However, taking a step back to be able to jump forward certainly should give cause for ponder.
I made the decision to quit my full-time job, after working for almost 10 years professionally in Student Affairs, to become a full-time Ph.D. graduate student. Rest assured, many people thought I was crazy, especially leaving a comfortable salary, excellent health insurance, and a staff that anyone would envy in the middle of an economic crisis. I was very excited, yet nervous as hell about being a student again. Now, I don’t want to be forthcoming about my true age, but I can assure you that it’s been a LONG time since I’ve been a student in an academic classroom.
Now, I have to admit, the transition was a bit harder than I thought. I moved clear across the country (more than 23 hours drive to my mom’s front door) and into an area that is known for rough winters and corn fields in every direction. With this being said, here are just a few things that maybe you should ponder before you take a step back, so that you can take a jump forward.
- Location, location, location!: Truly know your own personal limits and how far is too far for you. Do you want to be closer to your family and/or friends? What options would allow this to happen, within a distance that you consider reasonable for yourself.
- Don’t forget your Piggy Bank!: Yes, you are leaving a comfortable salary . . . for a short period of time. Start saving now, even if this means putting away an extra $100 per month from each pay check. Most graduate student stipends are barely enough to keep your hair above the water. Do yourself a favor, become a penny pincher!
- Positionality?: You should understand that as a Graduate student, you will likely not be in the position to make the same decisions that you previously freely did working full-time. Your scope of influence, however important that may be, will be different and a bit more limited than what you are accustomed to. Don’t be afraid to negotiate and advocate for yourself, but do understand that you are limited by the nature of your title, Graduate Student.
- Transfer of Power?: I never really understood how personal academia could be. To faculty, their work is very personal and can be a sense of pride for them. Be delicate and sensitive to what they value. This doesn’t mean that you can’t engage them in fruitful dialogue, but please do understand that criticizing their work is just like criticizing them personally. The two go hand and hand.
- Balance, Balance, Balance!: Being a full-time student again means an entirely different world, which involves working your assistantship, going to classes, conducting research, writing papers, reading things that you never knew existed, more writing and more reading. In all of this, don’t forget to create balance. Personally, I negotiated enough so that I do not work or go to classes on Fridays (rule broken every now and then, but protect your day as much as possible). Fridays are my days to catch up on my household chores, any reading/projects, laundry, grocery shopping, etc. Also, schedule regular work-out sessions during your busy week. Trust me, it’s a heck of a way to blow off steam and frustration!
If you learn anything from me, learn that it pays to dig deep into your soul and know your own limits about what it will take to make this transition work for you, yourself, and you!
Rinardo Reddick is coordinator for America Reads/America Counts and a doctoral student in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Iowa State University.