A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and PhD in Leadership Studies, Conor McLaughlin:
When I started the PhD program in SOLES, I had a very clear sense of what I was going to research, what I was going to do with that research, and what I was going to do when I graduated. I saw the 4-5 years I would spend in the program as a means to get all of the things that I knew were going to be waiting for me when I was done. A cliché about people’s best-laid plans comes to mind as I reflect on this.
I still find myself feeling attached to forms with which I am familiar. I want a job at a college or university, I want my job title to be one of these few that I believe accurately represents the scope of my skill and work abilities, I want to make a salary within this range, I was to work in these geographical areas of the country, to name a few. I have spent a lot of my time in the program trying to get those exact things, and dismissing the things that came to me that did not meet those expectations.
This isn’t entirely a bad thing, since there certainly are a number of opportunities within higher education that would offer me chances to do the work I wanted to do. Also, there is a degree of discernment that needs to happen, lest I spend every hour of every day applying for every job and researching every topic without and sense of boundaries. I think, now, that I was managing that boundary in a far to rigid way at the time. I spent a lot of time reading only literature related to higher education, only talking about higher education, and only thinking about ways to apply my work to the world of higher education. The nature of the SOLES PhD program, however, often means that my classes had a number of other members (including the faculty) whose field of specialty was something other than higher education.
One of my greatest pieces of learning in this program has been a greater degree of openness to new opportunities and the benefit of new perspectives. Evident in this was been my taking up projects that focused on other areas of education, having the chance to collaborate with peers on consulting work for non-profit organizations, and learn new theories that I can apply to my work, including the work I do within higher education. In many ways, I think this new sense of openness has made me a more effective practitioner in higher education, because it has given me access to greater resources and a wider variety of knowledge sets from which to draw when counseling students, designing programs, and teaching classes.
I’d imagine all of this sounds very easy, but it has been quite a process. Most times we get rewarded for having a very clear goal and an outline of how to arrive at said goal. I don’t advocate for wandering aimlessly through this program (though in other areas of my life this is a favorite past time). Rather, if I were to offer some perspective to those thinking about applying and interested in taking up this process, it would be to have a sense of who you are and be willing to allow the program to contribute to that. There is a lot more that can come out of the process if we think about it as a series of opportunities and not as a series of distractions. I’ve been amazed at what the process has offered me in the moments I have remembered this idea.