“What does this mean?” “You need more depth.” Imagine seeing this question and statement on a few of your in-class reflections and homework assignments back to back. While it may seem trivial to you, seeing these words on the work that my professor returned to me, for what seemed like the 20th time, finally brought me to tears in class one night. I felt like I just was not getting it. I did not know what my professor meant by needing more depth. I read the material. I showed up to class. I participated in the discussions. What more did I need to do?
What I did not understand is that I was not really connecting what I read to my experience. I was not thinking about how what I learned could impact my practice, whether now in my graduate assistantship or later when I get my ‘big girl’ (grown up) job. I was not bringing in my previous experiences to add depth to the conversation. I did not realize that what I was doing was just regurgitating what I had read and not making meaning of it for myself. After a conversation with my professor, I had a better understanding of what those comments meant and how I could improve moving forward.
That conversation also helped me to see how my educational experiences had socialized me. Remember, rehearse, and repeat was what I was used to. This doctoral journey requires more than that. It requires that I co-construct knowledge with my classmates. What this means is learning becomes a collaborative process where we all, professor and students included, share, learn, and find ways to apply the information we have gathered. It requires that I come prepared and am ready to share how I am making meaning of what I read.
Additionally, this process requires that I believe in myself. If you are interested in pursuing your doctorate, know that there will likely be times when you question how you got into the program. You will wonder what it was that the professors saw in your application materials and interview. You will wonder if they meant to accept someone else and mistakenly let you in. This is normal and even has a name. It is called the imposter syndrome. In spite of any feelings you have of not being good enough, know that you are. You are in the program for a reason and if they accepted you, it is because they know you can do it. You have to remind yourself of this.
Sometimes you may feel like school is consuming all of your free time. One of the biggest differences between just working full-time and being in school is that when you only work you can come home and relax. When you are in school, whether you work full-time or part-time, after work there is more work to do. There is always something school related that you can complete. If it is not reading, it is getting an early start on an upcoming paper or project or doing something research related like reading an article or working on your prospectus. With all of this, maintaining a life outside of school will be essential, so be sure to schedule time for the things you love to do. Whether it is spending time with friends and family, traveling, scrolling through Pinterest to find a new baking recipe, or enjoying HGTV, make time for yourself. Remember, you will have at least three years in the program. You have to do what is sustainable for you.
While being in a doctoral program comes with its difficult moments, it also has times that make it truly an experience like nothing else. For me, one of the great things about the program is the people. My classmates, especially my fellow second years, have added so much to my life. I love the fact that we all think differently and bring a variety of experience to the program. Our conversations, both inside and outside of the class, enrich my life and deepen my understanding of myself, them, and the field. They have been there for me, giving me support, encouragement, and feedback. I am truly grateful for them all. I cannot talk about the people without mentioning our faculty. They are invested in the success of the students in our program. They make themselves available to us and provide feedback that is both constructive and will benefit us in the future.
Though there are easily a few more great things I can talk about, I will end with sharing that this process has brought out just about every emotion in me. Nervousness, fear, excitement, surprise, and happiness are some of the emotions I have felt in the past 15 months. I have questioned my ability to complete the program and I have encouraged myself by reminding myself that I am here for a reason. I have had long days and late nights filled with reading and writing and lazy times filled with Hulu. I feel like I have learned and grown more in this past year than I have in all my years of education. I am grateful for the person that I am becoming and thankful for affirmations from that same professor, including “your writing has improved so much…” that serve as a reminder that I am right where I belong.