Monthly Archives: September 2016

PhDilemma

I get asked the question a lot by those not in academia, “Why are you getting a PhD?” Initially, I know my answer. It is something along the lines of: wanting to study my subject deeper, learn how to better serve my clients, increase my opportunities in the counseling arena, and work toward a sense of completion of what I initially set out to learn.

However, after reading a few articles this past week, I hatracksve found myself contemplating not just ‘why’ but ‘how’ I am getting my PhD. Don’t get me wrong, I know the steps and stages to the process in my program (course work, experiential internships, preliminary  examination, dissertation); but rather I am examining how my experiences at VT are preparing me for my future career aspirations.

I have always viewed education as something you do for yourself versus something you do to help you get a job. So after reading an article in Nature magazine titled “The PhD Factory” from 2011, I took pause. The article discusses how the world is now producing more PhDs than ever before, but there are fewer jobs for them all. With tenure track jobs at universities reducing, salaries not being competitive for the length of time in education and cost of education, and training not matching external available jobs, I wondered if this will have an impact on my education and potential career course. What I previously read, was once again reiterated about tenure track positions in academia being reduced through the In Academe, the Future Is Part-Time posted on The Chronicle of Higher Education. These videos and article echoed the statements that graduate school may not fully prepare graduates for the job markets, there are decreases in tenured positions at higher learning institutions, and the majority of the teaching workforce is made up of adjunct teachers. What does this mean to me as a future PhD, future counselor educator, and counselor?

It leaves me thinking that I do need to look to the current professors and adjuncts to redesign their teaching programs to include a wider workforce training and change the way learning looks to the students. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching does great work in trying to meet their students in productive and creative ways to enhance their learning opportunities and decrease frustrations. I see much of that same outlook mirrored in the teaching I am receiving at VT. However, I also need to take a look at how I am learning and search for opportunities to creatively enhance what is being offered towards my specific career goals. The onus is not singular, but plural, I think. It is between me and my learning institution to make the most of my education.

VT is offering me some wonderful ways to reboot my career, aim me in various directions, and open so many doors that I never even knew existed. I am seizing the opportunity to figure out how this applies specifically to me and find ways to tailor it to best fit. The best thing of all is that I am at the correct place, with the correct people, to help me. The PhD process is not the most easy and may not be best suited for everyone. It stirs many questions, causes GREAT reflection of self/others, and does promote much growth.

Does this change my response to the initial question I get posed frequently? Why am I getting my PhD? All of the stuff I said before still applies. Although now I will add to that reply with: I want to widen my knowledge of teaching and learning, grow my understanding of how I learn, and figure out ways to incorporate all of that to help myself and others. Will this all translate to the future career aspirations? I do not know. As I stated earlier, I believe education is for the self. While I may reap the career rewards of the education, it really condenses down to the impact it all has on my mind; making every moment and penny very well invested.

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Mission (Im)possible

As I begin to ponder over my own upcoming research and potential professoriate future, I reviewed the vision and mission statements from my previous schools. I know the experiences I had which brought me to this point in my education, but do I reflect and represent the hopes these institutions had for me as a student? Do I still reflect their values and uphold their missions? Does my previous educational background align with the mission at Virginia Tech, where I am now a student? Do any of these align with my personal mission and values? So many questions!

My undergraduate experience was at Guilford College, a liberal arts college in Greensboro North Carolina, USA. It is a picturesque campus with a lake and numerous hundred-plus year old trees; a peaceful respite nestled in a busy city just a few miles away from the airport in Guilford County. Guilford College is a school with a Quaker heritage background, of which we are quite proud. Our mascot is a Quaker and locally we call the school Guilford. The Core Values and Mission “is clear and distinctive: to provide a transformative, practical and excellent liberal arts education that produces critical thinkers in an inclusive, diverse environment, guided by Quaker testimonies of community, equality, integrity, peace and simplicity and emphasizing the creative problem-solving skills, experience, enthusiasm and international perspectives necessary to promote positive change in the world (Guilford College, 2016).”

Guilford delivered exactly what they stated. My education there did foster a metamorphosis in me. I received an excellent and practical education that nurtured a desire for deeper learning mixed with making positive impacts in my community. At Guilford, as a “Quaker”, I discovered I wanted to go on to pursue my master’s degree. I wanted to put my Bachelor of Science in Psychology to use in the workplace. This school engaged my learning, my creativity, and taught me how to think critically. It was also a larger introduction to the international scholarly world and how I was a non-traditional student. There are so many wonderful things I can speak to about Guilford College, but do not have the space to do so in this post. Needless to say, I am a proud Quaker. Many of the core values are still in alignment with my own personal values. It has been a strong thread woven into the fabric of the counselor whom I have become.

My next adventures in academia was at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University where I completed my master’s in science in community/agency counseling. We call the school NC A&T or locally just “A&T”. A&T is also in Greensboro, North Carolina; however, it is located more in the heart of the downtown area (except for the farm area located further out in the county). A&T’s campus is different than Guilford’s. It is urban and modern, but still has a wonderfully rich history. A&T is a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) and land-grant research university. Many people know A&T for the A&T Four/Greensboro Four from the February 1st, 1960 sit-ins at Woolworth’s; the “Greatest Homecoming On Earth”; their engineering and nursing programs; their “Aggie Pride”; and their amazing Blue and Gold Marching Machine (our band is so amazing, they modeled the band in the movie Drumline after us!). The Vision and Mission at A&T is dedicated to learning, discovery, and community engagement “with an emphasis on preeminence in STEM and a commitment to excellence in all its educational, research, and outreach programs, North Carolina A&T fosters a climate of economic competitiveness that prepares students for the global society (NCAT website, 2016).”

As a non-traditional student at A&T, I again was provided a superior education. There was a strong influence in challenging us to be our best. Feedback was honest, direct, and blunt; yet still encouraging. A&T was one of the first HBCUs to get the CACREP accreditation (Counsel for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs) which many states now require having your master’s program certified as part of the licensing process. Keeping this in mind, the program strives to maintain this accreditation and sets high expectations of performance for the students. My experiences there were right in line with their vision and mission of commitment to excellence. Everything I learned in my program was directly useful and prepared me for a competitive edge in the working world. And once again, their teaching and outlook aligned with my own personal thoughts and philosophies.

Additionally being an HBCU, there were connotations that you need to be better than “good” because: a) no one is going to hand you anything, you must work to prove your value; b) you may possibly starting at a deficit because of your name/race/ethnicity/background/etc. so you will need to be stronger to overcome these extra hurdles; c) you are a representative of this learning institution so you’d better not tarnish our reputation; and d) many people will already think you are getting a “free ride” or a “pass” because of attending an HBCU. Now reading this may not invoke good feelings, especially if you know that I am a non-traditional student at A&T (read this as older, Caucasian, and female). I heard so many shocking and hurtful things from people when they would discover I was a student there. But that is a whole other story for another time. Needless to say, I received an excellent education there and made some wonderful friends and colleagues. I am a proud Aggie and it has really influenced and shaped the kind of counselor I am and still want to become. If not for the perspective I have from my Aggie background, I strongly believe I would lack a richness and passion about counseling that took root on that campus.

Which now leads me to Virginia Tech, another land-grant higher institution, where I am now a proud “Hokie”. The central mission for VT is in discovery and sharing new knowledge is very strongly seen, felt, and witnessed. In my department, counselor education, we are a strength-based focused system. Things are centered around what we are doing well, how we can strengthen our areas of weakness, and being positively encouraging towards each other. This also fits me to a “VT” and is congruent with the counselor I am and still becoming.

At this juncture, I find that I operate in my mind from all three aspects of my education so far. I am a Quaker – I see ways to find balance, stand along side others, and look for ways to change the world for the better. I am an Aggie – striving to be excellent, honest, and challenge others to rise to their greatest potential. I am a Hokie – willing to serve others, celebrate the strengths in us all, and sharing knowledge as we learn more together. As much as my family of origin has shaped who I am, so have these institutions shaped me. Seeing how all these experiences merge together, I am Karen – counselor, servant, cheerleader, friend, and woman.