I Defended My Dissertation

The Overview

Four years. I spent four years taking courses for my doctoral program, writing a proposal, defending my proposal, conducting research, writing my dissertation, and defending my dissertation.

It ended in success — I finished and had no major edits.

What I Gained

The process was stressful and tough. No doubt there, but I learned so much. Here are a few takeaways of what I gained in the journey:

Balance — Going to school while being a marketing professional is not for the faint of heart. It took master scheduling and a few rounds of tears. But what it helped me determine is to make decisions about what things could wait. Previously, if I had an email come in after hours, I felt compelled to respond immediately. If I had a project in progress, I felt guilty to leave it unfinished. When going back to school, I had to shift my focus each evening to school. That forced me to reevaluate what things could wait. Having to do that for several years, really helped me to be better at the idea of balancing work and life. Now, I have a good sense of what is on fire and needs to be addressed now versus what is okay to leave for the morning, allowing me to spend time with family. Everyone is better for this understanding.

Knowledge — I know this sounds like Captain Obvious here. Go with me though. After spending about 1.5 years thoroughly researching the enrollment cliff, I know the topic inside and out. I understand the history of it, I understand the current challenges, and I have a good sense of where the opportunities exist. That knowledge on a specific topic is giving me the opportunity to share that information in a multitude of different ways to help the entire profession. Prior to going to school, I had ideas and thoughts on specific topics that were interesting to me, but I had no formal research interest, no clear platforms to share my thoughts, and honestly — no authority to be considered an expert in the field. Spending a significant amount of time on this one topic for 1.5 years was a challenge, but it is also incredibly rewarding. P.S. — If you want to talk about it, let’s chat.

Connections — The program I was in at Texas Tech University was a cohort model. This was the best experience for me. I spend the last 4 years with the exact same set of people. We laughed, cried, drank, and celebrated. Together. Being in a primarily online program, this was key for me. Having people who were going through the same thing and not having to build new relationships each semester was so helpful. Those same connections are people who have hired me to work on special marketing projects, served as references for positions, and are the people I call on when I have challenges. The other great thing is they are all in higher education but not all marketing professionals. That’s great because they get the systems and nuances of higher education but can offer insights and opinions that challenge my way of thinking or help me see things through a different lens. I know these are people who will remain in my network for years to come.

Purpose — When I began, I knew my ultimate career goal was to be a vice president of marketing and communication at a university. However, I was stuck. I had just been named a director and was doing great work but lacked the systemic context to be able to advance. By learning about higher education organizations, funding models, academic processes, and more, I have a much stronger idea of the full scope of a university and how the marketing piece fits into it. The systems awareness gave me purpose to want to build relationships and collaboration with other areas to more fully advance the work of higher education. Additionally, through the interactions with others in the coursework and some of the findings in my dissertation, I realized there are certain things that are necessary in an institution to align with how I work best. I never would have known this about myself, and I am so thankful that this program gave me the opportunity to learn both about the system and about me. Together, that will help me fulfill what, I believe, is my purpose — to use marketing to make a positive impact in higher education.

For You

If you’re considering a doctoral degree, I’m not saying yes or no. I’m saying do your homework.

Research the programs, look at multiple schools and understand the format of coursework. Will it work with your life? Look at the types of institutions. Do some work better for your goals and objectives? Visit with your mentors. What insight and guidance can they offer you? Talk with your family. What do they think? Share your interest with your employer. What is the feedback?

At the end of that process, if you decide to proceed and you’re fully invested, I can promise you’ll have great takeaways. You will get amazing things you never expected out of it. It will change you, for the better.

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