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Destination Doctorate: Finding your path

October 28, 2013

If you’re pondering the possibility of embarking on this doctoral journey, or have just started the program, I say: follow your dream. What gives me the “creds” to share? To date, I’ve successfully combined a challenging job (the way more than 40+ hours weekly type of role) and a full graduate load and have just reached the transition from my “academic” plan to the “dissertation” plan. Each individual forges their personal path on this journey, and here’s a couple elements I’ve found helpful . . .

Keeping my “ize” on the doctoral prize. In my work, I coach leaders and organizations to surface a vision of an ideal future state, assess their current state and implement the best options to bridge the gap. Once I determined the doctoral degree would offer the right vehicle to take me to my dream and passion, I created a means to visualize this end as achieved. I had my prior degree certificates framed, as well as a “placeholder” for the doctoral diploma. My metaphor for this journey involved the set of patches for the Apollo space program, which my grandmother worked on—symbolizing an amazing time and achievement in our history. The quadrant of diplomas—three attained and the fourth “to be” in the form of the framed patches—reminds me every day of just exactly where I’m going and provides the inspiration for my journey.

Once I determined where I was headed, I crafted a map to take me there. To strategize my journey, I laid out a plan for each semester. Embracing my inner geek, my method included a spreadsheet identifying years, semesters, requirements, electives and calculated course credits for each semester and cumulative totals for each year. Every spring, summer, fall and intercession completed reflects a colorful highlight. I keep this mounted on a board—front and center to where I spend the majority of my workday. The strategy clearly lays out method and milestones, and shows my progress toward achieving my objective.

Execution and transition. Perhaps it’s no surprise I generated a super-spreadsheet to capture every single reading, task, assignment, and paper, by date, by course, by type, with descriptions, plan dates and status (remember, inner geek) for each semester. This tool helped me execute, powering ahead when possible to create slack for crunch times. Years ago a colleague and I were joking around about my approach to life and how I “planned” opportunities to be “spontaneous” in my calendar. So, yes, I then integrated other personal and family items into this file. In for a penny, in for a pound, or, in spreadsheet vernacular, in for a cell, in for a worksheet ;-).

With the beginning of this semester, I became a “3rd year”—and since I’ve completed two courses each spring and fall and one or two every intercession and summer—I’m close to finished with the academic requirements this semester. Now I have a new spreadsheet—are you surprised? In it, I’ve laid out all the milestones to take me through to my dissertation defense. I’ve identified my committee and submitted my paper for the Part A qualification. I’m slotted for dissertation seminar in the spring. I have a path, and I’m able to look back, stand in the present and anticipate the future.

What path are you on? If you’re interested in USD SOLES—or if you’re already part of the community—and you have questions about balancing work and school, or the program, or this transition to the dissertation journey, ping me. I’m happy to be a traveling companion.

Kathryn is a 3rd year Doctoral student in our Leadership Studies, PhD program, and she is also a SOLES Ambassador. To learn more about Kathryn and her experiences in the PhD program, follow the link>>

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