Saturday, August 27, 2011

Aspirin, Highlighters and Starbucks: Reflections on the Doctoral Journey

By Ann Marie Klotz

Have you thought about obtaining a terminal degree in your field?

There are about a million reasons not to do so including, but not limited to, financial constraints, time away from family, the struggle of balancing school and work (if you choose to do both at the same time), and an overall increase in personal stress.

However there is one important reason to contemplate taking the plunge: It will qualify you for serious consideration for most jobs in your respective field. In short, obtaining a terminal degree is viewed as the new “membership card” for upper level positions. Just like American Express, I don’t want to leave home (or job search) without it.

I do not think everyone has to go back to school and obtain a doctorate. But I have always known that my field (Higher Education) and my age (currently 32) was going to require me to have additional academic qualifications in order for me to reach the upper levels of administration. This was not necessarily the case for the generation (or two) above me but as universities are increasingly looking to demonstrate the “legitimacy” of professionals in Student Affairs, a terminal degree can begin to even the playing field between faculty and staff.

When I applied for admission to doctoral programs there were three colleges to consider that would allow me to continue to live and work in my preferred geographical location. In the end it came down to one factor—finances. I was accepted at the institution where I am employed and therefore I would receive full tuition remission. For my partner and I, it was a “no-brainer.” I am still paying back loans from my undergraduate and graduate degree so this seemed like a good opportunity to complete a degree without incurring any more debt.

This is an excerpt from my blog post ( about my early experiences as a doctoral student:

“I have never found myself saying/thinking “I can’t do this” more than the past two years in my doctoral program in higher education. The amount of reading/analyzing/producing is exhausting and progress is slow towards even getting close to being able to START the dissertation process.
It’s isolating. Only people who are in doctoral programs or have completed them understand this. Your social life takes a major hit. All of the tricks that I employed to successfully complete other pieces of my educational journey don’t apply. It’s you and your books.”

As I start my third (and final!) year in classes I am reminded of something a member of my dissertation committee once told me. She said “When you complete classes you will be 20% finished with the degree.” I hear those words in my head all the time. While I am excited to finish classes this spring I am reminded that the true test will occur when I am not held accountable by homework and grades. It will be just me and research.

There is a reason why the barista at Starbucks knows my name, the cashier at the drug store smiles at me as I buy more asprin and I get excited when Staples has a sale on highlighters. I ‘m a doctoral student and these are my tools to survive/thrive this process.

I would say more about this I’m off to get an iced grande soy chai.

Till next time!
Ann Marie

Ann Marie is a third year doctoral student at DePaul University where she is also employed as an Assistant Director in the Department of Residential Education. Follow her on Twitter @annmarieklotz.

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