1. Necessity – I was quite simply at the point where I couldn't do the things I wanted to do, without a doctorate. There are classes I want to be able to teach, there are research projects I have been dreaming of starting, and in order to be the successful author I want to be, I needed those two little letters in front of my name - Dr. Amy B Hollingsworth. I needed that PhD to be all I wanted to be.
2. A mission to change the world – in order to have the biggest impact on the world around me, I felt like I needed to have my doctorate. I may have been wrong, and that may not be the answer for everyone, but it was for me. I wanted to change the way non-majors Biology students are educated at my university. I already had the Biology part down – my undergrad is in Biology, and I didn’t feel I needed to further my Biology knowledge (although I’d love to get a Master’s in Evolutionary Biology). I chose to do Curriculum and Instruction, because I wanted to learn to write beautifully (thanks to Dr. Jenn Milam), and I wanted to understand the quantification (thanks to Dr. Sue Ramlo). I felt like I had the perfect blend of quant and qual.
“Happiness is not achieved by the conscious pursuit of happiness; it is generally the by-product of other activities.” – Aldous Huxley
3. Peer groups – education classes and my university is where my friend group was. When I moved back to Ohio after living in Texas for ten years, most of my high school friends had gotten married and were doing various things, and many of my college friends had moved off to other states, so my new set of friends worked at the university, or took doctoral classes. It was the norm among my group. I can see how it would be hard for a “normal person” to get a doctorate, if they were the only one in their peer group wanting to do it. But I was lucky – my friends were all either doctors, or doctors in training.
4. I have a chip on my shoulder – When I was younger, being called stupid was the biggest insult someone could give me. If some mean girl called me ugly, I didn't care. If a person said I was fat, it stung a bit. But calling me stupid? That was insulting to my core. How does one PROVE they aren't stupid? Well, those little letters before my name prove that I’m not stupid. And, to this day, if someone said I was stupid, it would weigh on me. But I can usually say “Really? *I’m* stupid? The doctorate I have demonstrates that I’m not. So, suck it.” (Yes, most grownups don’t tell someone to suck it, but calling someone stupid isn't acceptable either). I should probably move this one to number 1. This may have been my biggest motivator. I’m really stubborn.
***edited to note - Reading this after I posted this post, it sounds really childish to admit I have a chip on my shoulder. But, I think it would be dishonest of me not to admit to this. I really do have a thing about people calling me stupid. I just can't get over it. So, maybe writing this post is somewhat cathartic, or I'm just saying something other people won't admit to. Either way, I said it, I own it.
5. ABD – “All But Dissertation” is what you call a person who has completed all the doctoral classes, but hasn’t defended their dissertation. To some people, ABD is a good thing, evidencing that they are almost a doctor. But to me, it was a sign of incompletion. It’s like being the losing team in the Super Bowl. They got there, but they didn’t win. I couldn’t let that be me.
6. Starting something I couldn’t finish – When I first started taking classes at UA, it was because they were free. Any person employed at UA can take so many credit hours of free college courses. In my case, it was 6 hours – two classes – and I felt like, if I passed on those classes, it was like giving away free money. After my first two classes, I was invited to apply for graduate school, and then I was hooked. After the next two courses, I had 12 hours of graduate school, towards the 90 credit hours needed for a doctorate. Soon, I was half done. At any point, I could have quit, since I hadn’t paid anything, but once I started paying the taxes on those classes, paying for books, paying for fees – I was invested. I couldn’t quit… I don’t like to start something I can’t finish. So, I kept going, because I’m tenacious. And persevering.
“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that airplanes take off against the wind, not with it.” – Henry Ford
7. Visualizing myself as a doctor – since most of my colleagues were doctors, I saw the street cred they had. Being a doctor allows you to command a kind of respect that a “regular person” cannot. I will tell you – people take me more seriously. I am often tagged on Facebook as “the scientist who knows” or “the researcher” or “the expert.” And, darnit, I AM. I feel more confident, because I am pedigreed. I often daydreamed about the day I’d be a doctor. At one point, I renamed the folder in my hard drive “DR HOLLINGSWORTH,” to remind myself that this is why I’m doing all this work – the ultimate payoff.
8. I was good at school – School was my hobby. I was really good at school. I graduated from my doctorate with a 4.0 GPA. I graduated from my Master’s with a 3.9 (darn Ed Law! I still look back at that and am angry! Tort law got me). I didn’t Pinterest, wasn’t a biker, wasn’t a drinker, wasn’t a bowler, didn’t go watch movies, wasn’t into gardening or cooking, wasn’t really into any hobbies, except reading and writing. Perfect to be good at school. And in keeping in line with being good at school, I am picking up new writing projects. I am writing my seventh lab manual, made a proposal for a national ebook, am grading portfolios for beginning teachers, and am writing this blog. I also have several peer reviewed journal articles in the works.
9. Saw people failing – I was determined not to be a failure at school. Being that I was a teacher, I had seen many people drop out of school for a multitude of reasons – money problems, childcare issues, lack of motivation, falling on ill health – and I was determined to not let that be me. I ran into each of those issues too, but I was able to creatively problem solve. One of my biggest achievements, in my opinion, was during my dissertation writing. I had a few nights I needed to write, but my parents couldn’t watch my son. I joined the YMCA, and instead of working out, I put my kiddo in the child care room, and hid in the corner of the Y to write for two hours. Those hours were some of my most successful because I felt like, if I was willing to stoop to writing at the Y, I needed to focus and write hard. I had to suck it up a lot during grad school – I couldn’t afford to be too proud to beg my mom to take my kid while I wrote. I think back to how that made me feel – horrible and pitiful – and I think that it paid off in the end. Maybe it was just me being hard on myself, but I sacrificed so much to get done.
“Everybody comes to a point in their life when they want to quit. But it’s what you do at that moment that determines who you are.” – David Goggins
10. My CV – When I look at the CVs (Curriculum Vita – essentially a summary of your education, teaching, research experience, honors, awards, affiliations) of my mentors, theirs are so long and distinguished! I had a resume, which was just the jobs I worked at, at the beginning of my doctoral program. As I moved the program, I added research, successful presentations, journal articles, honors for being exemplary at my job, and all the courses I taught. Now, I think I have a pretty impressive CV, for where I’m at. The first CV I really looked at in detail was Dr. KB, my research methodology professor. It was 16 pages! The things she had done, as a tenured professor, were unbelievable. And I wanted my CV to look like that. I knew it wouldn’t happen overnight, but it would surely happen over time. Time spent doing things to add to my CV. I’m still a work in progress. But I can show why I am a unique person, one who can do amazing things. I do different things than anyone else out there. You can check me out. I always need to be remembering to add the things I’m doing to my CV.
11. I could do more for others, and for myself – when you are a doctor, you can do things you couldn’t do, if you weren’t. That sounds kind of like a “duh moment,” but I never realized how much I would be offered when I got the PhD. I have journalists who approach me for quotes about biology, education, teaching, and higher education. I have people who ask me to co-author an article with them. I have people who want me to come work for them. And – this one really surprised me – I am often asked for letters of recommendation! I have supervised a lot of teaching assistants over the years (probably close to 150), but wasn’t asked to write letters of recommendation all that often. I guess that the TAs asked their advisors or professors, and that was because they were doctors. When I became a doctor, I instantly transformed to someone whose opinion mattered. And a credible reference. This is one of those “You don’t even know it mattered, until you look back, and find out it mattered,” things.
12. My son – The first time he called me “Dr. Mommy,” it was all worth it. *swoon*
13. Personal Pride – I am really proud of what I’ve done. I have something that less than 1% of the population has - a doctorate. I feel like I’ve done something special. I KNOW that I’ve done something special! And not just because I’m an expert on something – which I am – but because I have taken a journey that led me along an amazing path. I met a lot of amazing people (and some sadistic, crazy ones), I had cool experiences (went to Amsterdam to present my research), and set myself up to have a research-driven focus on life. I learned to look at things differently. I learned to ask different questions. And I learned where to look for information. Maybe it taught me that I don’t know what I don’t know, or maybe it taught me that I know more than I ever needed to know. No one can ever take my education or these experiences away from me. I hope to be supportive of other people who decide to embark on this journey too, and to remind them to never give up.