Why I Almost Gave Up on My Degree Program and What Kept Me Going -->

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Why I Almost Gave Up on My Degree Program and What Kept Me Going

Right now, I am in the unique position of being a staff member in the Walden Writing Center as well as being a student in Walden’s EdD program, and I am currently working on my proposal. I thought that because I know a great deal about the resources that are available to students and because I am well acquainted with the process and expectations of the doctoral program, I would be able to fly through the program with ease and grace without needing to rely on the numerous sources of support that Walden offers. Boy, was I wrong.

I love being a student, and I was right on track with my doctorate while I was in my courses. I was capable of going at it alone; I did not rely on my instructors, peers, or other resources, such as the Writing Center’s paper reviews or webinars, very much. I got into a rhythm, and I really enjoyed the program. Then the coursework ended. Now, you are probably reading this and thinking that maybe I have really poor time management skills, which would be reasonable considering the lack of a structured timeline during the proposal stage. Or you might think that I do not have the intellectual threshold or writing skills I need to move forward in the program. None of those were the problem, though. I am a planner by nature, so I like to think I have pretty good time management skills. I know I have the writing skills (the intellectual threshold part has yet to be determined), so these were not the problem. The problem I had was life.

Do you ever feel like giving up on a class or program? What keeps you going?
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I recently read an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education* about Ph.D. students and how difficult it is for them to get their doctoral degree in a timely manner. The recurring theme I noticed in the article was unexpected life events, and I have found that this rings true with me as well. I am willing to bet that many of you can relate to me. I am a student in a doctoral program, but I am also a full-time employee, a parent, and a person who has family, social, and community obligations. I balance many things in my life, and I plan, schedule, and make lists to help make it all happen. When it all flows like I expect it to, it is great. However, life has a habit of surprising us, and planning feels so futile to me at times. 

The life event that derailed me from making progress on my proposal was the death of my mother-in-law. She became ill, was hospitalized, and then became comatose and finally passed away over the course of a few weeks. I stepped away from my proposal in order to make time for my family because they needed me. I did not just take time off for the funeral, though. My mother-in-law’s death had residual effects on my husband, my children, and my in-laws. I ended up taking a few months off, and the longer I was away from my proposal, the more resistant I became to returning to it. 

It was really tough to make myself check my student e-mail or even enter the Blackboard classroom because I felt so behind compared to my peers in my cohort. I was constantly finding reasons to put off working on my proposal, and I had almost resigned to let it languish indefinitely as I contemplated quitting the program. I was really frustrated and disappointed in myself, but I just could not get motivated or inspired to continue. 

Then something wonderful happened. I opened my student e-mail. There was an e-mail from my chair, and another one from a student in my cohort. They wanted to know how I was doing, they offered help, and they sent encouraging words about how they believed in me. They reminded me of how far I have come, and they gently coaxed me back into the classroom. Gradually, my academic spirit and my motivation returned as they continued to support me and persuade me to keep going.

Find strength in the relationships you build, and lean on folks when you need to do so. In turn, support others.
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What I hope you can take away is this: life happens. It is messy and it gets in the way. When it does, look for support within your Walden community. Find strength in the relationships you build and lean on folks when you need to do so. In turn, support others. If you notice one of your classmates is not as active in discussion boards or seems to be falling behind, reach out to him or her. You have no idea what other students might be going through, and you never know how much a kind word or a show of support can mean to someone. It made such a difference for me.
Do you need help finding a writing community? Join a January writing group or the Walden Capstone Writing Community.

* Walden students: Access the full text of “The Ph.D. Student’s Ticking Clock” through the Walden library.


Amy Kubista is the Manager of Writing Instruction at the Walden Writing Center. She is pursuing an EdD with a specialization in higher education and adult learning. 

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  1. Very well said. Thank you Amy! You are a great role model..... Shared with all my students.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Dr. Fetter, and for sharing the post with your students!

    2. Amy,
      Thanks for your encouragement. I am going through the loss of my husband to cancer. I have gotten to this stage in my education and I am stuck. I am trying to get enthusiastic again, but it has been difficult. Perhaps after reading your blog I will be able to pull myself up and get going again. Thanks.

  2. Thank you for this blog post, Amy! As a fellow Walden-ite and as someone who has been through the doctoral degree process, I could relate to your experiences and I appreciated you sharing them here. I will always be here to support you or cheer you on, if and when you need it. You are awesome!

  3. Thank you for sharing your experience with us,it is a learning piece as we can all relate to the story.A say goes as "one doesn't know the strength (that) he or she possesses until h/she experiences a downturn.." I commend you for this, to be able to bounce back,that is. Some people will "fail the test",regardless of the amount of support that they received.

    1. Thanks for reading and for your comment, Clement! We found Amy's post to be inspirational and glad you did, too.

  4. Thank you for sharing. I recently took a break for the first time in my doctoral journey to care for my sick mother. I worry about starting up again and it is very easy to just avoid. I’m glad you shared your story and I’m so happy I took the time to read it. Thank you.

    1. I'm so glad to hear that this was a worthwhile read for you, Tara. Wishing you the best of luck on your path. Please keep us in mind if you have questions on your educational journey! :) It was so nice to hear from you.

  5. Thanks for sharing this touching post, Amy. I can certainly relate to your inspiring story. During my program at Walden, I lost one of my biggest support beams, my oldest sister was diagnosed and had a short battle with brain cancer. She died in February. My oldest brother, who was a Vietnam Veteran, was diagnosed along the same timeline with a 10-month lung cancer. He is currently in remission, thankfully. I remember visiting my sis in the hospital after my Atlanta residency. Although she was weak and battling cancer, as soon as I walked into her room, she asked, "How was your residency"? My family has been an unwavering support structure during my doctoral journey, and my continued graduate efforts could not have prevailed without our Walden community of scholars. A faculty member communicating something as minute as "I hope you are well" can mean the world to a student, and the encouragement from colleagues in the discussion board has proven paramount more times than one--from my perspective. Thanks for listening, and thanks for sharing your darling comments. Best of luck in your future educational endeavors. Also, I truly enjoy using the Writing Center resources. Collene

  6. Hi Collene--thank you for sharing your own doctoral story with us. We are sorry to hear about the struggles you and your family have faced, but we are glad that you found support to include within the Walden community.