Being a Doctoral Student

When I decided to return to school for my doctorate, I spent a lot of time researching programs and schools. I emailed my former schools, co-workers, and event posted on a few Facebook groups asking for suggestions. With Master’s Degrees in Higher Education, and Biblical and Theological Studies, I first had to decide on content. I originally wanted to continue towards a Theology degree, but major barriers about location, language, and definitions of vocational ministry stood in the way. So I reflected on where I could see my long-term career: in a college, at a church, or with a non-profit. My theory is that a church would be satisfied with a seminary degree, and most non-profits care more about experience and skills than letters behind the name. Which meant that the only doors that I needed more education to open were those working in education. So after a month of weekends spent emailing, reading websites, and talking with a nice woman about England (had to try that one on for size), I focused in on Azusa Pacific University. It had a solid reputation, a curriculum that interested me, and several individuals I trusted spoke highly of their faculty.

All of that research looked into the schools, the degrees, and the anticipated outcomes of a doctoral program. None of that research considered what it meant to actually be a doctoral student. Now that I am over two months into this experience, I wanted to share just a few of the things I’ve learned outside of the lectures and articles.

“I’m a doctoral student” – At first I was worried that my head would get a bit big about this grand new important part of my journey. I promised that I would not require others to call me Dr. DuMez in the future (except for my mother and Jim Dorris, who both earned the requirement). But instead of this label being one that has my head up in the clouds, instead I’ve used this phrase more to apologize to my fish for not cleaning his water, to friends for missing a movie or dinner, or to myself when I’m up late writing, surrounded by 40 articles on authentic leadership. It has been an unexpected blessing to connect with my students over shared experiences with my cohort and to dream bigger than an excel sheet project, and an unexpected battle to find time to wash my dishes (don’t even ask about vacuuming).

Homework can be fun and immediately applicable. – I don’t think this is completely new information for me, especially after working in adult education for five years, but its definitely something I forgot after my final two years of seminary were consumed by surviving Greek then Hebrew. My next assignment is focused on service learning, and after reading about 30 articles, there are still more I want to read in the future. I find my mind wandering to how we could improve WPC’s Common Day of Service or how to develop community partnerships by simply asking what someone would do with 10 college students and 100 hours of labor.

Holding on is just as important as letting go. – Last Thursday night I was in Vancouver and planning to head for the gym then home for a paper that still needed so much work. It had been a rough week with not enough homework time and too much drama. As I left a quick but good cohort visit, I realized that more than a few extra hours of homework, I needed to go to Home Community that night to be with friends. To succeed in this program, I’ve given up teaching, am keeping closer track of work hours, and will probably have to let go of coaching this spring. But I am holding onto (desperately at times) my Home Community on Thursday nights, running on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and my goal of weighing 150 pounds by June 12th. Managing this balance is better some weeks than others, but I have to try so that when I finish this degree, I have people to celebrate with and the ability to wear an awesome little black dress.

I’m a nerd. – Again, not totally new knowledge but definitely confirmed as I submit papers to the writing consultant every other week and ask one of WPC’s vice presidents for recommended readings.

Cohorts rock! – I’ve experienced cohorts from the outside for years, and seen the support system they can be or the damage they can cause. I wasn’t sure what it would be like to live one out from the inside, especially with classmates from around the country. It is amazing how quickly you can become friends with strangers, and how much you cling to one another through the joys and struggles of work, homework, family, friends, balance, time, and APA. I have learned just as much from these 18 individuals as I have from all the stacks of articles that are scattered on my living room floor.

Speaking of APA, I haven’t figured it out yet but at some point I will understand: while vs. although, which vs. that, when to use “by”, how to avoid “of” at the end of prepositions, colloquialisms, passive sentences, and how to get a few less “Awkward”s from Kristy.

At this point, my view of life as a doctoral student matches well with my experience in Hood to Coast, which makes sense as I often compare running and education: it’s worth it.

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