Sunday, January 9

What Does it Take to Get a Ph.D.?

I am going to be completely honest with you if you ask me that question. The answer will be, "I am not sure." But I think I am beginning to understand better and better as time flies by. After 4 years of undergraduate study and 1 1/2 years of graduate school, I often ponder this question as I nod off to sleep every night, and at my desk, and while cooking, and while eating, and while talking on the phone, and while driving home... Well, maybe not that last one.

Wait, maybe I do know what it takes to get a Ph.D. Do you know? Maybe it isn't the same for everyone but I suspect that it is. I used to believe that I would have to be highly intelligent or extremely sophisticated to successfully complete my doctoral training. For a good laugh, ask my children if I am either of these (joking). I wouldn't call myself highly intelligent but I work really hard and as a result, I typically do ok. I have managed to juggle classwork, McNair (first as a scholar, then as the GA), research, conference presentations, and writing for publication all while trying really hard to be the best mom I can be. No, I don't think that intelligence is the most important quality that propels one to reach that lofty goal.

So what is it then? Is it sophistication? Hmmm, Lynn, can you answer that one after hearing of my innovation in opening wine bottles (a wood screw and pliers) when a corkscrew is not to be found on Thanksgiving Day or in filling deviled eggs when the pastry bags have gone missing (my husband's heavy duty jerky cannon)? Sophistication is not, in my opinion, the pivotal quality.

I could go on and on about qualities that I thought would be integral ingredients in helping me to attain my Ph.D. but I am coming to realize that the most important qualities one needs to possess are perseverance and stamina. The McNair program serves low income/first generation and/or underrepresented students so I suspect that many of you, like me, learned about perseverance and stamina at a young age.

A big challenge lies ahead of each of you and you are possibly prepared for it in ways that others may not be. In other ways you may feel unprepared. That is where the McNair staff and your mentors can be of great support. I know with certainty that you will receive benefits as McNair scholars that most other prospective graduate students will not. You were selected for this honor because a panel of professionals (and me) saw potential in you. It is up to you to fulfill this potential if you truly desire a doctoral education.

This brings me to yet another quality that will help you to reach your goals, passion. Again, I am being very honest when I say that there hasn't been a semester in graduate school during which I didn't try to think of alternatives to the crazy path I am following. Passion drives me forward. The ability to make a difference, in society, the lives of others, and the lives of my children, keeps the fires burning and me plodding along the road to Ph.D. What motivates your desire?

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