Many moons ago, I shared a post about surviving and succeeding in an online doctorate program, featuring advice from other graduates from my own doctoral program. Here, I’m sharing a consolidated list of the best tips I can think of for surviving your Doctor of Education (EdD) degree program, as well as a YouTube video for the more visual among us. Read on for the best tips for surviving your Doctorate in Education.
In 2014, I recorded a YouTube video but for some reason, just got it reuploaded this year (edit, as of Oct 2018 – video has been reuploaded and should work now!) with my 8 Tips for your Doctor of Education (EdD) program. That video is embedded below, and the 8 tips for succeeding in your doctorate follow.
#1 – Eat a good breakfast
You cannot expect to balance the demands of a Doctorate program without fueling yourself. This is especially true for an EdD program, where most students also have a full-time job: Working on your doctorate in education usually means balancing a full-time doctoral program (including coursework, readings, assignments, etc) with writing your dissertation simultaneously. On top of that, most programs are practice-based, or set in your professional context — so students are often working full time at the same time (that’s the nature of these programs; they typically require research within your professional context, so most people have to work at the same time). This means you have to eat well to fuel your brain (and that starts with a nutritious breakfast).
Going along with that, a graduate from my doctor of education program, Dr. Nick Sproull (who works at the “intersection of sports and academics”) advises this:
“Invest in a reliable coffee maker.”– Dr. Nick Sproull, as originally quoted in this post
(I took that advice and bought a Nespresso machine the day I came back from orientation for my program back in 2014.)
#2 – Keep your work day at work
Stay at work late if you must, but do NOT bring extra work from your job home with you. When you’re in a doctor of education program, there are a lot of demands on your time. You’ll have enough to do when you come home, so don’t bring work-work home with you.
#3 – Shift gears when you’re home
Going along with Tip #2 (Keeping your work at work), when you come home, mentally shift gears. When you come home, for at least a pre-designated block of time, you have to put on your “Doctorate Hat” and focus on only that work.
#4 – Find your rhythm & workflow
As early as possible, figure out your RHYTHM — aka your workflow for what you have to do in your doctor of education program.
“Find a rhythm and routine as quickly in the semester as possible… not only the time/place you want to study, but also how you want to organize yourself.”– Dr. Nick Sproull as originally quoted in this post
To succeed in your doctor of education program, you have to figure out your routine for each week, and what has to happen each day in order to meet your weekly goals. No matter how good the advice you get is, it will take trial and error to find what works for you.
But you might not have to worry too much about seeking out your rhythm; it may just find you. You will figure out what works for you quickly, and you’ll learn to create ways to make it work; as another graduate from my program, Dr. Kelly Galanis (2013 cohort), who is a higher education professional, a social media specialist, and speaker (TheRedHeadedDiva.com) shares:
“You will quickly learn about yourself and your habits in a program such as this. Don’t try to change your style, just learn to develop habits that work with your style.
I tried to adapt different styles and get things done early, but it never worked and led me to be more stressed out. So, I just plan to work on the assignments closer to the due dates and the work gets done. Just know your strengths and weaknesses and you will succeed.”– Dr. Kelly Galanis as originally quoted in this post
You’ll need to develop your own system/rhythm for managing all of these moving pieces. To that point, a good idea can be to…
#5 – Have a catch-all notebook & a good organization system
It can be helpful to have an “all-things-Doctorate” notebook that goes everywhere with you. This is where you can braindump any and all ideas related to your work, and refer back to it whenever you’re at home working with that doctorate hat on. This is all part of developing your system of organization skills that will support your success.
Everyone works differently, but my system involved: (1) identifying my weekly tasks, (2) having a system for managing and annotating my readings, and (3) having a system for managing my discussion posts. My assignments and dissertation work were in their own separate mental category.
I would download all the readings for each session and do annotations directly on my computer. I saved everything to Google Drive (and had the entire drive backed up onto my computer throughout my program).
I created a new Google Doc for each session of each course (e.g. a document called “COURSE X – SESSION #1”) and included all my notes from the readings/presentations from that one session. I would even copy-paste discussion posts from that session into the document, so I had a record of all of them, in one place.
My friend Dr. Natalie Duvall (an eleventh grade English teacher and writer, who last shared her thoughts on having a baby during your doctorate here, and wrote about balancing teaching with being a mom here) shared her approach to organizing her readings:
“I printed out all the readings we were ever assigned in the program. After a while, I realized that I wanted to keep a record of my annotations, so I put them into an excel document with key words attached. This made it a bit easier to keep track of ideas.”– Dr. Natalie Duvall as originally quoted in this post
Along with establishing your rhythm and workflow, you’ll need to master the specific skills that you’ll need in your writing. Dr. Galanis also adds:
“Become excellent at APA citations. If you can nail them down early on, you will have less to manage later. Tools like EndNote and RefWorks are helpful for managing these citations over the long term.”– Dr. Kelly Galanis as originally quoted in this post
#6 – Expect to feel alone at times
I didn’t do a great job explaining this in the video, but what I mean is this: When you’re working on a doctorate, it’s an isolating experience. It’s not so much that it’s hard (though it is), it’s that research is inherently an individual, and therefore somewhat lonely, task. And on top of that, unless you’re surrounded by others immersed in similar work, nobody around you really grasps what you’re doing. And if you’re in an online program (many EdD / doctor of education programs are), you’re not in a physical classroom, and even if you have a great support system, nobody around you will really get what you’re experiencing. That’s why it can be so helpful to try to form relationships with people within your program:
“Build relationships with your cohort (and others). No one – even doc students from other schools – can relate to what it’s like to do an EdD online in three years.”– Dr. Nick Sproull as originally quoted in this post
Going along with this, you should expect to feel overwhelmed sometimes, too. It’s Doctoral level coursework — it’s supposed to be hard. The initial shock of how much harder it is than your Masters level work or any thing else you’ve done thus far is a hard thing to overcome, but expecting it to be hard can help. And you’re going to have to work probably harder than you’ve had to before, and be extremely consistent.
That that also magnifies the “aloneness” of it all — because to succeed, you’ll likely also have to turn down a lot of invitations to do things you want to do. That’s part of the deal. You have to be willing to do that to succeed in a doctorate program. And consequently, you’ll feel alone a lot. Just realize this is part of the package, and realize also that it will pass.
#7 – Motivate yourself
Going along with the above, realizing that finishing your doctorate will be hard no matter what your life situation is, you have to commit to motivating yourself. This is especially true if you have a lot of outside responsibilities, and REALLY true if you have kids during your program, because your responsibilities will multiply exponentially.
But it helps to realize that the more you do, the more you can do. One of my favorite pieces of advice was given to me by my grandfather, who said:
“Your stamina for the work will increase… and it won’t seem so hard.”– Shamsher Singh Chowdhary (my Grandfather!)
The challenges you’ll face will make you a stronger academic, and a more capable person. You might even find yourself feeling smarter and more capable as time goes on. Dr. Sproull also shares that it’s a good idea to enjoy the process:
“Enjoy it. It’s hard work, but you opted into this… so you might as well embrace the challenges and the joys.”– Dr. Nick Sproull as originally quoted in this post
#8 – Remember you’re not really alone
Realize that even if you’re feeling temporarily overwhelmed or isolated, you’re not alone. This means your support system, whoever/whatever it is, but it also means all the other people all over the nation and world who are pursuing doctorates (including doctor of education programs) along with you.
“Develop a method of communication between your cohort and maybe even your specialization so you can connect with your classmates for general chatter and discussion. For us, we opted to use a Facebook group but also use the forums online at JHU.
The Facebook group to us is like the student lounge where you’d normally see classmates and catch up. Since we’re spread all out, it helps us get together and talk. You can discuss assignments and ask questions, and you’ll often find that where you think you are alone on a topic most of your classmates felt the same way or had the same questions! I could go on and on but I suppose I should put that effort into my dissertation!”– Dr. Kelly Galanis as originally quoted in this post
It also helps to connect with your advisers:
“Work with your adviser and professors and don’t be afraid to ask questions – that’s what they are there for!”– Dr. Kelly Galanis as originally quoted in this post
Find those people online if you must, and connect with them, and witness their efforts and processes. Seeing other people on this journey does a lot of things. It doesn’t just help you feel less alone — it can also help give you ideas for your own journey (like this post, hopefully). But more importantly, it normalizes the reality you’re living a little bit, I think. (Somewhat similarly: I felt empowered to breastfeed in public for the first time after seeing someone else do it.) Seeing other people surviving the same situation you’re in — thriving, even — can help empower you to be able to do it.
Ultimately, surviving and finding balance in your Doctor of Education program means you’ll really have to figure out what works for you, and remembering what motivated you to do it in the first place.
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