Completing a doctorate part-time

One thing I’ve done since finishing headship is complete a Professional Doctorate in Education.  I started teaching in 1980, and fifteen years into my career I completed my Masters.  I was Head of English when I started it, and Head of Sixth Form, at a different school on the other side of the country, when I finished it three years later.  I chose to write my Masters dissertation on creativity – how I fostered creativity within my own classroom and how, as a Head of Department, I encouraged my colleagues to do the same.  I found it challenging and stimulating and was pleased I’d done it.

Fifteen years later, I embarked on a part-time doctorate, this time not attempting to juggle study and assignment writing (later thesis writing) alongside a full-time demanding job.  I chose to do an EdD rather than a PhD, having been told that a PhD “contributes to the body of knowledge in the world” and a professional doctorate “contributes to the body of professional knowledge in the world” – I was keen on disseminating whatever I learnt to the professional community to which I had dedicated the previous 30 years.  I researched the transition from deputy to head.

It took me about a year longer than I anticipated.  Having started the course in 2010 and completed two years part-time on a taught course, working within a cohort of other doctoral students (from whom I learnt a great deal) and completing regular assignments, I planned my own research project in autumn 2012/spring 2013, carried out my research in 2013 and early 2014 and completed the writing of the thesis in 2014 and 2015.  I submitted in early 2016, had the viva in May (for more detail see this guest post on Pat Thomson’s blog, patter) and graduated in June of that year.

I’d heard it said that once your doctoral studies are over you can feel a terrible sense of anti-climax – the doctorate has been such a big part of your life for so long.  I have to say I thought that was unlikely to be the case for me – I have many other interesting things in my life and was looking forward to having a little more time for some of them.  I anticipated I would be very pleased, and proud, to have finished.  And I was! (And then I wrote a book about it.)

So what have I learnt?

I’ve learnt that being out of your comfort zone, although scary at times, is energising and refreshing.

I’ve learnt that I’m perhaps not as intelligent as I thought I was – some of the reading and the concepts were very taxing, and there were certainly quite a few others in my cohort who coped better with this content than I did.

I’ve learnt that I’m not great at taking criticism (actually that was something I already knew, but my doctoral studies have reinforced it!) but that I have stickability and am a finisher who will reflect and learn and adapt – even if my initial response to criticism is defensive.

I’ve learnt that self-discipline, organisation and motivation are crucial.

And I learnt a lot about the transition to headship, but that’s for another post...

Photo credit: John Berry

A version of this post was published on @staffrm in 2016

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