Thursday, October 22, 2015

The journey of a Doctoral Candidate

When I decided to pursue a doctoral degree the reaction of my friends and loved ones surprised me. They all thought I was nuts. They couldn’t understand how I would willingly choose such a difficult path. I was asked if I was getting my doctorate because it would give me a better paying job. The answer was no. At this point people were very confused. Different people choose to pursue a doctoral degree for different reasons. For me, it was because I wanted a challenge. I wanted to see if I could do it. It would also been nice to say that it would highly increase my pay, but as an educator, the increase would not compensate for the amount of money or time spent.
I spent several years taking the core classes and then it was time for the dissertation courses. I worked primarily with my Chair and then with an assigned Committee. I wrote and rewrote my research to the point where I was sick of it. I found that the classes weren’t hard, it was the process that was hard. See, for every edit I made to my dissertation, it had to go to my Chair who then either made edits and handed it back or sent it to my subject matter expert, and then to my representative in the graduate school. If any of those people had edits, my dissertation would return to me and the process would re-start.
Four years went by and my friends and family were constantly asking when I would finish my degree. The answer I always gave was “I don’t know”. Again, they didn’t understand my response. Unlike a bachelors or masters degree, you’re not done when you finish a list of classes. You’re done when each person in your committee has signed off on each milestone document.
There were so many times where I was told to fix something that I didn’t know what it was or where to start. When I asked, I was always told “you are a doctoral candidate. You should know the answer.” Well, I didn’t. The frustration at times made me question whether I was smart enough for the program and whether I had made a wrong choice.
At some point I was too deep into my coursework to give up. I was either going to walk out with nothing, or keep going. I chose to keep going, and I’m glad I did. Now I am officially done with everything and officially Dr. Barbara Sweet, Ed.D. I now have empathy for other doctoral candidates. I understand the agony and the relief at the end.

If I can suggest to others how to support the doctoral candidates in their lives, it would be to not ask them when they will be done, but to instead ask them where they are in the process and help them celebrate the small milestones along the way.

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