Some of you may know that I applied for a doctoral program in Higher Education at Boston College this past
fall, with designs on starting a PhD program this coming fall. I got the envelope this past week, and as the name of this post implies, it was a thin one.
For someone who essentially shut down after receiving a passing, but not to my standards, “3” on the AP European History (I was a high strung teenager, competitive high school program didn’t help), this could have been dangerous. The text I received from my mom after she heard makes me think she was expecting a similarly dismayed reaction. My heart swelled when I finally got to talk to her and she asked with confusion in her voice, “How could they not want you?” (For the record, I don’t see it that way.)
But I’ve had a while to think about it, when one adds up the time I spent working on the application, the time before my interview, and the time I waited for the committee’s decision. And I’ve realized that while there is a small percentage of me that wishes I had an acceptance to weigh in a decision “to go or not to go”, far more of me is happy to have the opportunity to explore other paths.
I have observed or been a part of several conversations about the state of our profession in the past few weeks, including a particularly deep one about how degrees are treated as (a) synonymous with competence, and (b) increasingly required for jobs where they may not be utilized. What’s more, as I start to look at the impact that i hope to have on my students, on the field, and (lofty goal ahead) the world, I can see where it may benefit me to diversify my experiences. Please don’t misunderstand me here- I harbor no ill will toward those who are pursuing degrees in this, nor would I ever question anyone’s motives for getting a degree. Nor, as I fully understand, are those motives any of my business. But what I saw with ever growing clarity as I progressed through the process, is that I’m not sure this path is for me. And in not getting accepted, I have a chance to think through my options, interests, and ultimate goals more than I had when I started the process. I didn’t enter into it thoughtlessly; rather, I entered into it with a narrower view of where my influence could be exercised.
I still have designs on a terminal degree, because I like research and love learning. And I have no plans to leave student affairs- for its many frustrations, I love this work and want to commit myself to its development. The right program at the right time will allow me to dive deeply into whatever area I choose to study (I’m looking with ever-growing interest in a degree in organizational psychology.) However, I’m no longer treating it as an essential element of my success. I can write, research, publish, contribute outside the confines of a doctoral program. And I intend to.
I look forward to what my next steps will be; what’s more, I’m genuinely happy that those steps won’t necessarily be on the path that I thought I would be following.
6 thoughts on “Rejunevation Through Rejection”
Great perspective Amma! As someone who has paused my Student Affairs work and is contemplating whether or not to return, I find it helpful to think of the opportunitiies opened up by instances of potential disapointment. A year ago I was researching PhD programs and now I’m researching Associates degrees. While I loved my time in Student Activities, I feel the time and energy commitment required to be great at the job (my standards are likely high)make it very hard to be the kind of mom I want to be to my girls. I guess the moral of my story is that our goals and priorities may evolve and us overachievers are much happier when we are open and accepting of that evolution. It seems like you’ve already figured that out though!
Congratulations on the non-acceptance to BC’s program. In my experience, people with PhDs in Higher Ed from Boston College are some of the least compassionate, most bigoted Professionals out there. They get jobs at nonreligious campuses and try to enforce their standards of conservative Christian morality on students who do not share those beliefs. They are, as far as I can tell, anti-social justice, anti-inclusivitity, and anti-LGBT.
I would have no problem if they only tried to enforce their beliefs inside Christian universities, but they seem to be quite evangelical in their approach to the job search, intentionally taking jobs on campuses where their beliefs fit the least and make students feel most unwelcome.
I’m sorry to hear that is the experience that you’ve had. I also happen to know some of their graduates and current students, who would do no such thing. I am a person who, after a few tries at the job search, values fit and comfort at an institution above all else. I like to think that if I had any indication I would be getting myself into that situation, I wouldn’t have applied there.
The BC grads and current students that I know are creative and open-minded people, who happened to find a place to explore their academic interests at a religiously affiliated school. It would appear to me that people who work the way that you’re suggesting would have done that (a) no matter where they went to school, and (b) no matter where they worked following the earning of their degree. I have a hard time believing that any doctoral program, no matter the institution, could indoctrinate people to behave in that manner.
It’s interesting that you use the word “overachievers” here; I feel like a lot of the conversations I’ve had about a fit in student affairs surrounds expectations. This doesn’t surprise me. What is starting to emerge, however, is that there are those who leave or look elsewhere because “the field isn’t what I thought it would be”, AND those who leave or look elsewhere because “I’m not sure I can be/want to be/am willing to be what the field wants from me.” We talk a lot about attrition from the field, and I think both of these causes should be considered when we look at those numbers. And further, we need to not be afraid of those numbers, not feel that they represent our failure. Needs change, people change. And sometimes a change in job needs to come along with that.
Thank you for the thoughtful reply. You are probably correct that BC did not *indoctrinate* them with the bigoted values that guide their religious crusades on my very secular campus. However, they were admitted to the program, and granted the PhD, and as such Boston College gave their stamp of approval for these individuals to be offered jobs at a high level in Student Affairs all across the country. I do feel I can hold the BC education in part accountable for the professionals they produce – they should not be certifying individuals who have not been trained in basic diversity and respect. Does the Boston College program explicitly attend to this very fundamental issue – how to be an ethical conservative Christian student affairs professional on a secular campus? Often our issues seem to stem most from the fact that the lifestyles of our students – which include things like sex positivity – cause a visceral, emotional (and explicitly stated) disgust towards students that makes it very hard for them to do their job.
Having come from a conservative Christian background myself, I actually do not think there is a way for an evangelical Christian to ethically work on a campus such as mine in a role where they primarily interact with students. I completely understand the duty that Christianity puts on individuals to evangelize. Thus I genuinely believe our admistators are doing what they feel God is calling them to do, and they believe that is ultimately more important than creating an inclusive, supportive environment. Thus the ethics of Christianity and the ethics of being a caring Professional conflict.
It takes a certain level of self-awareness, confidence and vulnerability to share this story.
I’m not an expert on getting a terminal degree (it’s not for me), but I’d expect good candidates would have a certain level of self-awareness, confidence and vulnerability. Too bad their admissions staff don’t see it the same way.
Let’s go make beautiful things without that degree, my friend.