My goal is to attain my Doctoral degree in educational leadership. Really, the fact that it is in educational leadership is a not as important in gaining a doctoral degree itself. Attaining a doctoral degree stems from my understanding of my upbringing and heritage. There isn’t a person in my immediate (or extended) family with a doctoral degree. Also, there aren’t many people from where I grew up that have one. So, for me to be able attain one as a black man from a very low-income neighborhood is pretty amazing.
The Doctoral degree is something that is to be cherished because it entails a lot of hard work and sacrifice. Most people think that they may have an idea of the type of sacrifices that you will give in order to obtain one, but the reality is, you have absolutely no idea. So, here are some hard-hitting things you should consider before entering into a doctoral program. These come strictly from my experiences and no one else. Your if you have a different experience than mine, feel free to share.
- You will possibly sacrifice everything: During your time as a doctoral student, all types of things events will happen in each cohort members lives. Some good. Some terrible. Members will die, have children, get a divorce, get married, become sick, drop out, and so on. A lot of these events will affect you strongly because of the bond that you have created with these members. Seriously, you may have to prepare yourself mentally for these challenges – which brings me to my second point…
- Spousal support is everything: Before you register for a doctoral program, you had better take a good look at your marriage. Everything that you believe is “wrong” with your marriage will be multiplied tenfold when you are in the doctoral program. Examples: If you argue about money, you will really argue about money. If spending time with each other is a challenge, it will really become a challenge.The doctoral program is going to test your relationship like you will not believe (again, divorce is something that you may see within your cohort). Consider your relationship.
- The professors don’t care about your personal life: Okay. I am not saying this as “the professors are assholes” type of thing. But, there are a few things that you must consider about your professors:
- You are most likely at a research institution, so they may have to do research themselves on the side;
- They also have families;
- Most, if not all of them have an advisory role;
- Some are traveling professors, especially if there are more than one cohort;
- They just aren’t getting paid enough for this shit. Seriously.
- So, when you come in for a class, they expect that you are ready to participate and are going to be there on time.
- On second thought, there is death – Your death. Death is probably the only reason to not be at a class. And even then, you are pushing your luck.
- Incompletes: Don’t. Nothing good comes of it. Just don’t.
- Grade Point Average: Here is where some will disagree. And that’s okay – mostly because I don’t give a shit what you think –
- Do not stress over your grade point average. Try your absolute best and if that is not good enough and you end up with a B, so be it. Nothing is more annoying than someone who is giddy with glee about their perfect 4.0. Listen, we can celebrate and all, but I am yet to be in an interview where an administrator says, “So, I see you took a B in “whatchamacallits” class (again, if you have found different, please let me know).
- Here is one thing, I hate math. I am told that I can draw my ass off, but that there is something a little off about my art. I know what it is, it is the fact that my mathematical skills are so shitty that my perception is off – which manifests itself in the form of uneven arms, eyes, and legs (and don’t even get me started on fingers). So, when stats came around, I was happy to get a C (I got a B, and ran out the classroom exclaiming, “Thank you, Black Jesus).
- Keep everything: Documents, emails, even literature on a dirty napkin is fair game. Why? Because people forget shit. Once, the college really messed up my status as a student, which would have demolished any funding that I received in the future. The college claimed little responsibility. That is, until I gave them the email stating my full-time graduate status. Keep it all; keep a digital and hard copy. Besides, nothing is worse than somebody saying, “I never said that!” and you absolutely have no proof to the contrary.
- Never burn a bridge. Ever: I am from the ‘hood. If someone fails to do right by you, you immediately cut that “summuma” right the hell off. But, in academia, that could mean your demise. Now, you should have learned this lesson in the first 6 to 8 years of post-secondary education. But, if you have not, listen closely.
- Just hit submit: You will come into situations that call for you to just hit the submit button. For example, when completing my comprehensive exams (which took one week and a minimum of 10 pages to do), it is easy to make yourself sick with worry. “Should I read over it again?” “Did I answer all of the questions?” “What if I missed something?” “What if the professor does not enjoy what I have to say?” “What if I fail?” “I wonder if the professor thinks I am a complete idiot?” “How much money have I spent persuing this already?” You will continuously ask yourself those questions over and over again until you hit the submit button. Look, all of those questions are valid; but it is not worth waiting only to rehash the same questions over and over for no more than a few days.
- Learn to say “no”: It is easy for you to become spread too thin. While pursuing my doctorate, I was also teaching full time, coaching high school track, coaching my daughter’s basketball team, parenting and sharing the love between four children, and trying to be a good husband. How was I getting this done? Sleep was not an option. Yes, I know, it is totally unhealthy. But, how the Hell else am I supposed to do it?!!
At some point, for your sanity (and for your marriage), learn to say no. There just is not enough hours in the day; and college tuition seems to be rising by the semester.
“Can you be on the school improvement comittee?”
“Can you come to this event?”
“Honey, I know you are writing, but can you take the trash out?”
Careful. But, politefully decline.
The point is, make sure you prioritize your life during this venture.
Don’t take it personally, but you suck: You are not going to be told this to your face ver batim, it will be suggested in an articulate manner. You will work your ass off, send in an edit and/or meet with your committee, and (after a good cry) wonder what in the Hell were you thinking taking on such a venture.
But it is okay, you will get through it; you will get through all of it.