Although I completed my doctorate almost four years ago, this is the first time I have had the chance to reflect on my doctoral journey. If there is a quote to sum up my experience, it would be “just because you’re taking longer than others, does not mean you’re a failure.” Oftentimes, it was hard to “trust the process.” I felt defeated because of several roadblocks I experienced. As a result of those roadblocks, my three-year doctoral program took me four years to complete.
One of the challenges I faced was not passing my written comprehensive exams. I had to wait a semester before I could take them again. Additionally, I was unsuccessful in my first attempt at my oral defense of my comprehensive exams. In turn, this delayed defending my dissertation prospectus. I also underestimated the level of research and writing I would experience my program. One of the requirements for my program involved completing a publishable paper centered on a research project to gain an understanding of the dissertation process. Because of my lack of awareness, it took me two years to complete my publishable paper. Most students completed the publishable paper within a year. These challenges, coupled with impostor syndrome, made me doubt several times if finishing my doctorate was even worth it.
Find your process.
It was not until I began to focus on my process rather than my setbacks that I began to see progress. I figured out a writing process that worked for me. During a summer term, I enrolled in a writing course. It taught me that writing is an individualized process. Part of the process is understanding what you need to be productive. There is the concept of writing for 15 minutes a day; however, I noticed it took me 15 minutes to get settled into my writing space. Add in checking email and my social media accounts, an hour would have passed before I would begin writing. Also, my apartment had too many distractions.
I learned I was more productive when I had long periods of time to devote to writing. I’d devote time after my assistantship hours during the week and the weekends to reading, writing, and making necessary edits. I also needed to be in a space where I knew I would be productive, which was not in my apartment. I needed to be at my favorite coffee shop sitting at a specific table in order to be productive. The staff at the coffee shop began to expect me and would often ask me about my progress.
Don’t go it alone.
In addition to creating a writing process for my dissertation research that fit my needs, I learned the doctoral journey should not be completed in isolation. I always found it challenging to explain what my doctorate was in, much less where I was in the doctoral process to those who were unfamiliar with the doctoral journey. It became worse when I would get asked “when are you graduating” or “you haven’t graduated yet?” Instead of being vulnerable and explaining what was happening, it was easier to become distant. I avoided any discussion about school.
Looking back, it was important to find people who were supportive of me and wanted nothing more than to see me succeed. This is the same for you as you go throughout the doctoral journey. Whether it is family, peers in your program, colleagues, or the baristas at your favorite coffee shop, seek out supportive networks. Knowing there are people who think you are doing great can be the push you need to read one more chapter or write one more paragraph.
I do not share this to discourage anyone from pursuing a doctorate. I have pride knowing I have achieved a goal that was a struggle for me to complete. These are lessons that were necessary for me to learn on my own. For those considering a doctorate, I encourage you to be vulnerable, find your people, be honest about what you need, and take comfort knowing a seat at the table awaits you.
This post is part of our #SADocsofColor series for March. The journey towards obtaining a doctorate degree is long and arduous. This series highlights the stories of those on that journey that identify as men and women of color; stories which aren’t always told and stories that are important.