I remember the moment I received my master’s degree. I shook a bunch of hands, accepted my diploma (or…diploma cover) and sat back in my chair. My inner dialogue? “I will finish my education with a terminal degree someday.” About 12 years later, I began my PhD program. In my experience, there are two struggles in completing a terminal degree. The first is deciding to begin your program. The second is sticking with the program through graduation.
Deciding to Begin a Program
Finding your motivation is perhaps the most important point of reflection. This is what will guide you throughout the program. My motivation related to a personal goal. I was not looking to leave my employer or considering a role as a faculty member, although both events occurred. Your motivation may be tied to a promotion opportunity, a move into faculty life, or purely a passion for education. Whatever your reason, own it.
When is the best time to start your program? This question has two answers. If you are seeking a terminal degree for career movement, it is important to time your education in conjunction with your work experience. For example, if you are a Resident Director and complete your terminal degree before becoming an Assistant Director, employers may feel you are overqualified. I recommend waiting until you are an Assistant Director or, more preferably, a Director.
The second answer is a bit more complicated. When is the best time personally to start a program? Honestly, there is no best time. Most students will encounter a significant life event during their program – death of a family member, marriage, birth of a child, divorce, etc. I got divorced a week before beginning my PhD program and had emergency surgery about three weeks before my proposal presentation. If there is not a perfect time…maybe your time is now!
Maintaining the Fire to Completion
Remember your motivation. When you are stressed about papers, feeling overwhelmed by your dissertation, or frustrated with processes remember why you started your program. Reflecting on your “original fire” will provide an emotional boost at times it may be most needed.
Connect with a support team. The process toward a terminal degree is an emotional roller coaster. It is important that students reach out to peers, colleagues, faculty, etc. early on and create a support network. Remember, others stand ready to support you. Unfortunately, many students believe they are “burdens” on others when they have questions or need support. I think I speak for most faculty when I say…you are not a burden!
My dissertation will prove something! Well, not really. Remember, your research may suggest relationships or reasoning but it will not prove anything. We can become frustrated if we are determined to prove a point. This frustration may lead us to become stagnant in the process. Follow your data and it will lead to completion.
I would like to congratulate you as we conclude our discussion. If you are considering a terminal degree, you have taken the first step towards application! If you are a current student, I hope these tips aid you on your journey. Remember, you may encounter challenges on the road to your terminal degree. We have all encountered challenges. You are not alone. Reach out…and reach forward to completion!
This post is part of our #SACareer series, addressing careers in student affairs, careers outside of student affairs, and the work of career services professionals. Read more about the series in Jake Nelko’s intro post. Each post is a contribution by a member or friend of the Commission for Career Services from ACPA. Our organization exists to benefit the careers of career services professionals, student affairs professionals, and anyone supporting students in the career endeavors. For more information about how to get involved with the Commission for Career Services or the #SACareer blog series, contact Paige Erhart at firstname.lastname@example.org.