Way in advance of hashtags and likes, well before the onset of memes and Snapchat, and at least a few years before the creation of Facebook, my #SADoc story started as a college sophomore. I ran for Student Government, won the election and saw an older gentleman in the room whom I assumed was just the coolest older student ever elected to student government. When I realized that he was the Dean of Students, he became my mentor and career goal. I knew that I would need my doctorate, eventually, to become a Senior Student Affairs Officer. Little did I know that I would also need Facebook, to a much lesser extent Myspace, and now hundreds of social media services that exist to support, direct and structure how and why we communicate.
As social media emerged, perhaps even before it truly did, I was an avid user. Back when I still used Friendster, I had no idea how much a role social media would play in my every day life, or that I would meet my wife through a dating website (eHarmony). In fact, as Facebook initially spread from campus to campus, I was working as a graduate assistant in Student Life. When ucr.facebook.com first became available, my supervisor asked me to find out who was responsible for the site and to shut it down.
Though I can’t recall if I had already established a Facebook account by that day or not, I distinctly remember telling him that not only was the site here to stay, but I felt it would be something students would use a lot. Understatement much?
By Fall 2004, at the start of my great doctoral program at the University of Southern California, my initial plan was to research how free speech on campus through the principles of time, place and manner, might have to evolve to reflect the wide variety of venues offered by the internet. Not specifically social media per se, but certainly it was on my mind even then. When I eventually focused my doctoral study, it centered around the effects of online social networking on college students’ experiences. At completion in 2007 (largely late 2006 for data collection), I found that student usage of social media will just increase…even if some platforms fade and new ones emerge, that students largely know the difference between appropriate and inappropriate stuff on these platforms (at least when others post, though they may not self-censure), and that students want to interact with staff/faculty online. They don’t want us monitoring what they post, but social media allows for some amount of walls to be broken down for interaction that otherwise might not have taken place. I also suggest that universities refrain from coming up with specific regulations for each individual platform, which was the trend then (and still comes up now), to regulate or ban official use of specific platforms.
One of the most enriching experiences I had during my #SADoc program was the opportunity to publish in my Student Development Theory Class. In teams of 3 or 4, my peers and I dissected specific student subgroups and applied our understanding of student development theory to document opportunities to engage these students. Our chapters comprised most of the content for Shaun Harper and Stephen Quaye’s Engaging diverse student subpopulations: Practical approaches to enhance learning, development and outcomes among today’s undergraduates. A few years after it came out, some former undergraduates I worked with let me know they were using this book in their graduate program. I take every bit as much pride in that as I do the infrequent-and-not-always-accurate citations of my doctoral dissertation as shared with me through Google Scholar.
To those considering the pursuit of the #SADoc, I offer you this:
1. Take every opportunity to direct your research and class assignments towards topics related to your desired focus of study of your dissertation. It helps build your literature review, if nothing else, and will enable you to be more confident in the subject matter. – Something I didn’t do but wish I had.
2. Select your dissertation chair and the rest of your faculty wisely. I got lucky…USC Ed.D. students have thematic dissertation groups (so perhaps 6-10 students analyze similar situations with different angles/perspectives, or the same technique/theory applies to different student groups, etc.). My dissertation chair was the USC VP of Student Affairs, Pillar of the Profession and former NASPA President Michael L. Jackson. I cannot begin to express how thankful I am that he was my chair and mentor during the process. A great dissertation committee chair won’t let you get to the point of defending your dissertation unless she/he feels you are ready to pass.
3. Be open to change and evolution of your desired research topic. As your research progresses, your direction may change. You’ll get tips from peers, faculty, and in particular, your dissertation chair. The best advice your can receive is to narrow your scope and hone your research. The best dissertation is a complete dissertation and it is far better to realize you won’t be able to answer every single question in higher education. The next #SADoc can pick up where you leave off. It’s hard to limit your study, but know that it is part of the process.
Just know that a doctoral program may feel like sanctioned academic hazing from time to time. At least now you have a robust and diverse #SADoc community to vent to and lend support from, and if all else fails, a ton of super hilarious and motivating memes to get you through the inquiry, writing and defense phases!
This post is part of our #SAdoc series, which aims to show that the journey for a doctorate in Student Affairs is about more than just a piece of paper. A variety of SA pros working towards, or who have obtained, their #SAdoc will share their stories of the hustle and struggle of the process; the ups and downs. For more information, please see Kevin Wright’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Kathleen Kerr on Passion – A Dirty Word?
> BONUS <
Podcast With Joe Sabado on Using Technology to Support Students