On Getting my Doctorate

I did a thing, a really big thing. I completed my Doctorate of Education in 3.5 years. Last Sunday, I was hooded at the University of West Georgia December graduation, and it was one of the proudest moments of my life. Doctoral students get to graduate first, so I was the third person to cross the stage, leaving a few hundred names to be called after me, which left me with a significant chunk of time to think. As I reflected on the experience, I became verklempt.  What an emotional journey this has been. From my seat, I could see my family and their proud faces cheering me on. Seeing Elizabeth witness my accomplishment was so emotional for me. Her mommy has her doctorate. When I started the program in May 2014, I was six weeks pregnant, and unsure whether I was really going to be able to go through with this whole graduate school thing. Elizabeth was born at the end of my second semester in the program, and my professors for Spring classes were absolutely wonderful to work with while I was on maternity leave. After that next summer, Jon and I realized that I had gone too far to quit. Too much money. Too much time. I had to keep going. But man, did I want to quit. It was SO HARD. The next year, course work morphed into dissertation work, and that’s when shit got real. I was already used to doing schoolwork after we put Elizabeth to bed each weeknight, and I was already used to spending a chunk of Saturday and a chunk of Sunday doing assignments, but when I added writing actual chapters of my dissertation to the mix, the seriousness of the work was compounded significantly. I wasn’t just cranking out discussion posts, projects, and papers; I was writing my dissertation, a document I would live with for the next two years, a piece that, when finished, would leave me changed in its wake. Right after writing Chapters 1-3 and defending my dissertation proposal, I got pregnant with Caroline. I love that my program started with a pregnancy and ended with my seven-week-old second child. My girls were with me all the way. They will always know Mommy as a doctor.

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My topic was an investigation into the underrepresentation of women at the secondary principalship, studied through the lens of the career aspirations of female high school assistant principals. The hundreds of articles and books I read ignited my little social-justice heart and truly changed the way I see parts of the world and how I do my job. I love my topic and in a masochistic way, I miss living with it. Actually, I don’t think I’m ready to leave it–I’m considering reaching out to journals and trying to get an article published. The marginalization of women is a hot topic in current events right now in the light of dozens of revelations of sexual harassment by powerful men, and my study looks into the marginalization that female leaders experience in education, especially at the secondary level.

If doctorates were easy to get, many more people would have one. It was, by far, the hardest thing I have ever done. The work is mind-blowing. The amount of reading and writing I have done in my coursework and dissertation is monumental. The professors are challenging. The balance is impossible to reach at times. For 3.5 years, I have not watched much television. I have not read a single book for pleasure. I have not been the wife, the mom, the friend I want to be. The time just has not been there. So many people have asked, “How do you do it?! You’re an AP, a new mom, AND you’re getting your doctorate?!” I just smile and shrug my shoulders because, honestly, I have no idea how I did it. I just did. I had tremendous support from Jon and from my mother so that I could work on the weekends and evenings. I missed out on a lot of fun things. I just did the work. It was important to me, and I love to learn. I really will miss being a student.

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