The Life of a Doctoral Student


The above image represents my assignment schedule for the fall 2016 semester of my doctoral program in higher education. While I realize the image isn’t very clear it represents the amount of work required in my program. The far left column are due dates and each column after that are the classes we enrolled in, along with a column for dissertation work deadlines.

Our Cohort meets once a month for approximately 30 contact hours. We begin on Friday’s at 2pm and end on Sunday’s at 3pm. We complete 3 classes each semester and layer in our dissertation work on top of the regular course work. There are anywhere from 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 weeks between class sessions for us to complete all the required readings and assignments for these courses. My cohort consists of 10 individuals all working full-time in various capacities from recruiters and advisers to executive directors, deans, and faculty members.

As the Cohort of 2018 prepares to enter our final summer session (2 classes over 8 days), we are in what many would consider the home stretch of our academic careers. We will have 2 final courses in the fall of 2017 and finish our completed drafts of each individuals dissertations by the end of the semester. The expectation for us is that we will all defend by mid-March 2018 and wrap up the final semester with public presentations and graduation.

I line this out for everyone to dispel the ever present misconceptions that an Ed.D. program is anything but rigorous and simply a master’s degree on steroids. I’ve read numerous blog posts and articles over the years that claim the Ed.D. to be nothing more than a practitioner’s degree to provide K12 administrators with the credentials to move up the ranks to either Principal or Superintendent. I’m hear to tell you that, if done right, the Ed.D. is much more than that.

The Simmons School of Education at Southern Methodist University is a prime example of a rigorous and intense Ed.D. program. This program is set up in a Cohort model, every student enrolled is vetted through an intense application process, and everyone is required to complete a dissertation. The dissertation is more practical in nature as it focuses on solving current problems (not creating new knowledge); however, the workload, intensity and expectations are no less rigorous in nature.

As I prepare for my final year in this program and anticipate walking across the stage to receive my Ed.D. in higher education during the May, 2018 ceremony, I hold my head high knowing that I was part of  an incredible program that taught me many things related to higher education, research and publications and look forward to where this degree takes me in my career. It is with great pride that I will proudly claim my degree and help others realize this degree is not “less than” a PhD, simply a different type of doctoral degree.



Two Years Down – One to Go!

Image result for nearing the finish line

I should admit, the spring semester just flew by and I quickly realized that I neglected to post updates along the way. With 3 classes taking place and IRB processing/data collection beginning, before I knew it we were in May!

This past semester was by far one of the most challenging and rewarding in my doctoral program. The 3 courses were Policy Analysis, Organizational Theory, and Qualitative Research. These are three of my FAVORITE topics so I was “all in.” The crazy balancing act continues as I re-engage with dissertation work for the next 6 weeks (leading up to the 2 courses scheduled for the summer). The exciting part for me is that data collection is underway and I will have all interviews completed by mid-June.

Two years ago when this journey started, I was not completely sold on whether or not I had what it would take to complete this program. After all, I am enrolled in a full-time doctoral program with dissertation work layered on top of coursework, and I have an extremely demanding job as an Assistant Dean and Acting Executive Director of an Institute. My personal growth is astonishing to me, and I can’t wait to see where I go when I graduate from this program on May 18, 2018!

I write about this for two reasons, to let you all know that I’m “almost there”, and if you want something bad enough – you, and you alone, are the one who can make it happen.

Never give up on what you want, never stop learning, and never stop growing as an individual!

Wishing you well this New Year


With 2016 behind us (albeit only by one day) and a brand new year in front, I wanted to take a moment to wish everyone health and happiness as we forge ahead into the new year.

Each of us will walk a different path, have different challenges and victories, and work to find happiness and success in the upcoming year. Whatever your journey, wherever your path takes you, I wish you well.

As for me? I have successfully completed half of my doctoral program and am currently working on my dissertation draft, IRB for interviews and observations to take place during the Spring 2017 semester and preparing for 3 more classes (which will begin on January 20th). Work is busy, having been recently appointed as the Acting Executive Director of the Caruth Institute for Engineering Education in the Lyle School of Engineering at Southern Methodist University, in addition to my role as Assistant Dean of Operations. The work definitely keeps me busy, and layering the doctoral work on top of all this leaves me little time to do much else.

I don’t make resolutions; however, I do make goals for myself to attain throughout the year. So, here are some of my goals:

  1. Get a solid first draft of my dissertation (literature review and methods section) in front of my committee by the end of January.
  2. Create a clear mission and vision statement along with goals of performance (working with team members) for the Caruth Institute by the end of February.
  3. Begin exploring what life may look like after I complete my doctoral degree in 2018 (ongoing…).
  4. Make time for spouse throughout the year. My plan here is to designate one day (or night) per week where I don’t do work, check email, do homework or spend time on the computer doing research. I know this sounds easy – but for me it’s not.
  5. Make time for me (not sure yet what this looks like but it is a goal).

So, from my home to yours – I wish you a VERY Happy New Year filled with joy, happiness, peace and personal fulfillment!


So, today I voted


I am a registered voter and am so disillusioned with this year’s election cycle. I found myself questioning where we were going as a country, how we could move forward as a collective population, and how we could make our country better than ever if the two major candidates running for the highest office in the country were nothing but angry people trying to divide us and keep everyone at odds with each other. As a result of my pain for where we are as a country today, I stood in the polling line wondering if I really had the courage to do what I had planned to do for the past few months – “color outside the lines” and vote for a candidate I truly believed in.

I entered the polling place, received my instructions from the election staff and stood staring at the polling ballot. The first option was for POTUS. I hesitated for a moment and looked closely at the names on the ballot. In Texas we have 4 options to choose from – not just a Republican candidate or a Democratic candidate. I heard all the voices in my head and everything that we hear on the TV “if you vote for a third party you are giving the election to Clinton or your are giving the election to Trump.” I searched deep in my soul and contemplated my next action carefully. I decided that my vote was my voice and that it was just that MY VOTE. I took a breath, and cast my vote for the candidate of my choice. My candidate may not win but I feel good about my decision and know that I did not choose to “settle for the lesser of two evils.” I believe everyone should stand up for what they believe in, vote for the candidate you feel will represent you best and move on. If your candidate wins, congratulations. If your candidate loses, then figure out how we as citizens of this country can work with our current government to move our nation forward.

My point is simple. We all have options and opportunities and we should not feel intimidated or swayed to vote one way or another simply because we are being told we must vote for a democrat or republican candidate. If you have choices it is up to you to decide who you feel is best for the job.

Educating yourself on the candidates (not just listening to what the media has to say) will help you make an informed decision during an election. Ask questions, question what the media is telling you and listen to what all the candidates are saying.

Happy Voting!

Balancing Doctoral Work with a Job


As many of you know I am currently pursuing my doctoral degree in Higher Education. My goal is to become a leader in best practices and research related to the higher education environment as a mechanism to improve the overall campus climate, interaction and well being between not only students but also faculty and staff. University campuses are much like a small city which require a tremendous amount of coordination and collaboration. Understanding this and finding ways to make the university “thrive” as a community is critical for anyone considering a career in higher education.

I have spent the last 13 years working in higher education, learning and growing to my current role as Assistant Dean of Operations. The job is extremely demanding and requires a considerable amount of my time, even after hours. As part of my continued education and growth I elected to pursue a doctoral degree and work toward bridging the gap between faculty and staff. What I’ve learned is that an Ed.D. in higher education is no small feat!

I elected to study in a program that is set up as a Cohort model which meets once a month on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, totaling around 26 hours per weekend. We take 3 classes each semester and work on our dissertation at the same time we are taking classes. The program is three years long and includes 2 summer sessions. While it might seem like a lot the class weekends are actually the easier part of the program. It is all the work between classes that is often times challenging and if you’re not careful – can overwhelm you. So, how does one balance all this work with a full-time job? — lots of planning and discipline!

Here is my plan for being successful with balancing the workload between school and my job:

  1. At the beginning of each semester I create a master spreadsheet which outlines all the assignments (including readings) for my 3 classes for the semester.
  2. I also include any deadlines I have for the dissertation work.
  3. I tackle each assignment based on due date – not ease of assignment. This allows me to focus on the assignment due first as opposed to knocking out what may be considered the easier assignment in the group.
  4. I layer in readings as I work through the assignments and once all assignments for the given month are completed I spend the rest of the time finishing up my readings.
  5. I also look for pockets of time throughout the month to perform any research needed on my dissertation.

This system has worked well for me so far. While I admit, there is not much free time to do anything else, I am working on identifying ways to allow a little free time. This semester I am testing a theory – the first weekend after the class meets I am spending time engaged in a hobby and not working on anything related to school. In the past I have tried not working on school assignments the first 3 days after class and I have found difficulty in re-engaging in the work.

The good news is that there is light at the end of the tunnel – I will graduate in May 2018!

Anyone can pursue their dreams of educational advancement. My advice is simple – find what works for you and stick to it. For me that means being organized, systematic and finding a little time for fun.

Most of all, I encourage you to enjoy the journey!

Why Education Matters – to me…

powerful-educationSo, as some of you may know – I am an Assistant Dean who is currently working on an Ed.D. in Higher Education. I recently completed my first year of study and am currently in the middle of 2 courses which take place over an 8 day period in July. My program completes in May, 2018 and I will receive my Doctorate degree in Higher Education. I often get asked the question: Why are you pursuing this degree? You have the highest position in your school that a staff person can hold. I’ve thought a lot about this question over the past year and even questioned it myself. To help work through my challenges with this question, I felt it might be best to share my reasoning with everyone to help solidify my strong desire to see this through to May, 2018.

For as long as I can remember, my parents instilled in me the importance of education. They believed that in order to get ahead in life you needed a strong educational background. Growing up, I was pushed to work hard in school, through not only my studies but also extra-curricular activities. I was a straight A student who was active in student council, band, and athletics – some considered me an overachiever. As my high school experience was drawing to an end I made a personal decision which would derail my educational aspirations. I chose to forego college for love. I married young and started a family. This is a decision I do not regret – I have three great children and an amazing and supportive husband who is always in my corner.

When I did finally return to education, I played with college classes off and on for some 20 years. I just didn’t have the focus, family always came first in my book. When our youngest son was getting close to graduating from high school, two things happened. I suddenly realized I would no longer have a self-imposed personal obligation to “put my kids first” and I was told at work that I would not advance any further in my career without a degree (at the time I held a mid-level leadership position as a Financial Officer I). As I weighed my options to either be satisfied with my current role for the rest of my career or look for ways to advance, I decided it was time for me to finish my undergraduate degree. I looked at all my options and decided the best option for me was an online education through an accredited institution. This would be one of the best decisions I could have made for myself. The coursework was rigorous, and challenging.  Courses were taught in 8 week blocks so I was able to stay focused and complete my degree in a short period of time. I proudly received my Bachelor’s degree in February 2010.

About the time I was wrapping up my undergraduate degree, the institution which I am employed at started a new program – a Master’s degree in education with a specialization in Higher Education Policy and Leadership. I loved my job working on a college campus so I wanted to find out more about this program. Through the encouragement of my family and colleagues I made the decision to enroll in the program. This program provided me with incredible insight into the inner workings of higher education and a passion to learn more. I graduated from this program in December, 2013 with my M.Ed. and in January, 2014 was promoted to Assistant Dean. My job is extremely demanding and requires me to handle the logistics and all operational aspects related to the school, with the exception of recruiting, retention and alumni relations. I joke that if something is not academic related, I have some sort of responsibility for the activity. I love working with academics and found during my time in the master’s program that I had an interest in the classroom, research and publishing as well. The issue for me was the realization that not many people have successfully moved from the type of staff position I hold to that of a faculty position so I wasn’t sure if this would even be possible – I doubted that there was an opportunity available to me.

The Dean of our school is not only my boss, but he is also someone who I consider a colleague, mentor and friend. While I was sure that I had completed my academic career and was satisfied with a masters degree, he saw more. He challenged me to consider a terminal degree and look for ways to engage on the faculty side of the house – through teaching, publishing and research. He believed in my ability to gain this degree and find a way to successfully transition to that of a faculty member. In the spring of 2014, the university approved a Doctorate of Education in Higher Education degree program and I knew again that this was the program for me. I spoke with several faculty about the demands of the program, what the course content looked like, and my family about the time constraints and expectations. With everyone’s support, I applied to the program.

My experience so far is that of personal exhaustion, stress, anxiety and satisfaction. It may sound strange to some, but to me, this program has been amazing and shown me that I am capable of so much more than I ever thought possible. I have come to realize that I am much smarter and more resilient than I have ever given myself credit for being and that if I want something bad enough then I will find a way to make it happen.

I realize this is a long post; however, I felt it important to provide my personal background and story so that my readers will understand one thing – even if you are told that you can’t do something, even if you don’t think you have the time, even if you don’t think you are smart enough, remember this: as long as you want it and believe in yourself – you can succeed!

I do admit that I am fortunate in that my family background emphasized the importance of education, but as you can see from my personal journey, I took a detour along the way. It doesn’t matter how old you are when you jump back on the educational bus, just that you have a desire to do more and improve yourself. Education has proven to be the key for me to advancing my career, my family, my personal respect of my own being, and my overall life.

And in case you’re wondering – I’ll be staring at my 54th birthday when I walk across the stage in May, 2018. Don’t let age scare you – family, friends, peers and faculty will help you along the way to ensure success! Education opens doors, helps make connections you might not otherwise have, and just provides each of us with the knowledge to navigate this crazy world – hence: EDUCATION MATTERS.