In the Fall of 2010, I enrolled in a doctoral program in Educational Administration at Northern Illinois University. Today, I spent this afternoon in DeKalb to observe a dissertation defense for a candidate with the same committee chair and a quantitative study. While I’m likely a year+ from that step myself, I needed to see someone successfully navigate that process. I needed to remind myself that I can do this. Now here I am writing ABOUT my dissertation, when I probably should be writing my dissertation itself. All in the name of reflection, right?
About a year and a half ago, I wrote a bit about my decisions, the challenges, and the benefits here. Since then, I completed my final two courses, passed my comprehensive exams, and started my dissertation work. The exams were pretty stressful, and I was glad to put them in the rear-view mirror on my first attempt. And while I was pleased to reach the milestone of completing my coursework, I found myself having some mixed feelings. As a mom and a principal, I feel the weight of my responsibility to those I serve at home and at school. Often that is a positive, but it certainly isn’t without challenge. For that time on Saturday, though, I selfishly felt responsible only for myself and found myself in the company of others at a similar stage in life trying to balance the same things I tried to balance. It was a comfortable place to be, and I miss that part of the experience.
Since then, I’ve changed school districts and started my dissertation. I was fortunate to find a chair and a methodologist so I could begin fine-tuning my study. Some members of my cohort still check in from time to time; one friend, Brent Anderson, and I check in more regularly and made the trek today to see that defense, talk about our experience and progress, and enjoy the local nachos. At some point in today’s conversation, and in most that we have on this topic, I find myself saying, “We can totally do this.” Watching a candidate present and respond from questions to her committee was really helpful and encouraging. As we were there to observe, the chair and committee members explained some parts of the process to add to our learning. In that moment, I feel okay. In the moments where I’m focused on my next step, I feel okay. When I think about all that happens between my next step and that last step, I feel a little less than okay. I’m guessing that’s a normal part of the process, although I assure you it isn’t my favorite part.
Keep focusing on that next step with the knowledge that I’ll reach my end goal. Continue those support and accountability conversations with my friends and colleagues who are working through the process as well. Be disciplined as I work toward my own graduation target of May 2015. And keep taking photos of the random places I work on my dissertation, giving credit to Brent who started this. I’m sure it’ll make for a lovely collection someday!