As of today, I have completed 30% of my doctoral course work. I have just started my second semester, and as with most things in life, I can’t believe the time is going by so quickly. I have truly enjoyed the journey so far, and even with the ups and downs of getting back into academic life and taking on doctoral-level work, I can say that I love being back in the classroom. It was something I didn’t realize I had missed. But between the readings and the assignments and learning a new campus, the hardest part, by far, was starting at the beginning.
If you’re considering going back for a doctorate in higher education or student affairs, then you’re probably at the top of your game right now. You’re doing well at work, ready to think about moving up in your career, feeling settled at your institution and ready for a new challenge – at least I was. So, I started – I did my research, applied, and was accepted. I chose a cohort-based, in person program because I knew that would benefit me the most. I showed up to the first weekend of classes a little nervous, but excited to take on a new challenge…and then quickly realized that I was back at square one, facing a task that I had no idea how to tackle. Everything felt new – the subject matter, the environment, even the language I was supposed to be speaking and writing in. The thought of taking on original research and completing a dissertation felt overwhelming, almost impossible.
But then, I realized something – and it’s the best piece of advice I can give anyone who’s considering a doctoral program (in fact, it’s advice I give myself pretty much every class weekend) – I’m not supposed to know how to do this yet. I’m a second semester doctoral student – I’m not supposed to know how to write a dissertation. That’s what I’m here to learn. The ability to recognize that this is an educational process has been invaluable to me. I am here to learn more about myself, my field, and to go through a process designed to teach me how to be a researcher, and ultimately, a doctor of education. It’s one step, one assignment, one semester at a time. Keeping that in mind has allowed me to dive in and enjoy the journey.
It’s easy to get ahead of yourself in a doctoral program, because the end goal is so apparent – that dissertation. That seems like all that matters, and it’s what everyone asks you about, even in your first year. But that’s the end goal, and I’m still at the beginning. Staying focused on what I’m supposed to be learning now helps me really take in material and apply it to my work. The dissertation will come, and when it does, my doctoral program will have prepared me to succeed. So, if you’re considering a doctoral program, the work at the beginning is important – do your research about programs, money, and all of that, but also think about why you want to take this challenge on. For me, I want to ensure that any future career opportunity is available to me, and I also want to prove to myself that I can do it. Once you have that, you just have to start.
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 Jennifer Keegin on Mid-Life Career Choices