Now what?

by | September 30, 2009

You are finally in the doctoral program – now what?

You may be surprised how many doctoral learners start their program with a minimal understanding of what the doctoral program is about. What got them into the program may very from the intrinsic love of learning and intellectual curiosity to economic and existential insurance. What is existential insurance? There is really no such thing, but potentially it means that there is a greater likelihood for either improving one’s current professional employment situation, or possibly having a few more doors open because of the academic credentials. Bottom line – employment with decent salary.

From the advising perspective there emerge at least two significant issues:
1) Pre-graduate understanding of what it means to be a doctoral learner, does not match the real-time study, and family demands and scope of the commitment.
2) The relevancy or “best-fit” of the degree to post-graduate professional lives

Today, I will address the first concern, in the future, the second.

Most graduate programs offer orientation of one kind or another, and there is an assigned advisor to help create a degree completion plan and be there to help learners navigate through unexpected challenges by providing support and guidance. This is the academic part – but what kind of structure is there for learners as they face major adjustments to their work, family and life routines? For example, many learners starting an online degree greatly underestimate the academic rigor required to be successful. They are faced with the need to reasses time management to reconcile studies, employment requirements, family time, and virtually no leisure time. And perhaps most importantly, there may be a growing disconnect between the perception of important family members and others about what the learner is doing and learner’s own cost benefit analysis.
The scope of these changes and the capacity to address them can be aptly characterized by the saying “it takes a village” – to graduate.

Very likely, not everyone has a village to support them, or restated differently, the proverbial village has very different manifestations. The support needed is mostly understood in terms of people support, but there is much to be said about other type of adjustments and changes that do not necessarily have to do with people, but rather with the time management, organization, planning and self care.

I am inviting readers to share tips and experiences that would address both, the “people” component of the support and “other ways and means” that help them succeed.

What have you done to assure a support for yourself?
What does your “village” look like?
Who is your support?
What works for you?
What tips can you offer to other learners?
What is your best practice?
What is challenging?

2 Responses to "Now what?"

  1. Sooner66 says:

    Through my years of studies in Nursing (I am currently in the Nursing Education doctoral program) I have always started a particular degree by thinking through certain times of the week that I KNOW I can sit down and commit to studies and assignment completion. An example would be: Sunday night? I know I can commit Sunday night; I don’t attend church then and I can set the time aside. I can also set Friday night aside – heck, I’m married with all these kids and don’t go out anymore, so yeah, I can set that time aside as well – EVERY Friday night. Then, if I start to talk myself out of setting those times aside because of other committments or “maybe” committments, then I know I am not ready to start a program. If you are unable to decidedly allocate a certain number of hours and certain pre-determined time aside each week when nothing else can happen in your life, then you will not succeed. If you simply decide to study “here and there” or “every single night”, then you will ultimately fail because you can always find an excuse to study “every night” starting tomorrow night – and then the excuses begin.

    Wow, that was kind of confusing. Anyway, if you are unwilling to set amount an adequate amount of “no matter what” study time along with other study time, then don’t enroll. Maybe this will help others as a partial tool to assist them in determining if they are able to meet the most basic requirement for pursuing an advanced degree – the TIME requirement.

    Sooner66

  2. Vera Kovacovic says:

    Dear Sooner66,

    Thank you for your reflection on what it means to dedicate time to your studies. I appreciate your self-assessment to arrive at a place of knowing what works for you and what does not.

    Dr. Vera