To continue or not to continue…

It seems like at least once a week, sometimes more, I find myself debating whether or not to continue with this Ph.D. program.  But this week, I find myself really needing to make a decision.  The next semester of classes starts, and I just submitted my final tuition reimbursement for 2013 (I’ll max out my available funding in this round), so I’ve got to decide whether it’s worth the time and my own out-of-pocket funds to continue.

Surprisingly, despite the appalling issues with some of my classes so far, I am actually feeling pretty good about the program.

In my last post I wrote about the mixed experience in my first two terms. Some professors were great, some weren’t noteworthy at all, and one in particular was actively derailing. Thus far, I’ve been able to justify the experience to myself as a “wait and see” approach, and because, to be frank, I was getting tuition reimbursement for the expense. Now that my 2013 reimbursement has run out, I don’t have that excuse anymore. And besides, if I’m going to keep devoting every free minute to schoolwork at the expense of a social life, it should damn well be for a good reason. It should be because I’ve got a great opportunity here, and I will be happy and more successful after I’ve completed it.

Thus far, I’m not particularly impressed with the experience I’ve had in this Ph.D. program. I’ve worked with some amazing instructors who I respect very much, but I’ve also been subjected to some of the worst “learning professionals” I’ve ever suffered through in my career. The lack of consistency is amazing — if I ran a learning program like this at my job, it would be shut down in a heartbeat and I’d be unemployed. So I have to keep asking myself: is it worth dealing with this crap?

I think it is, and not necessarily because of the classes themselves. Indeed, I’ve had eight professors (two each in four classes) and found that only three of them have been truly inspiring and instructive. And, just my luck, the absolute worst of the bunch (mentioned above) is coming back for one of the classes in this next term. Still, there are some good teachers buried in this program, and I can grit my teeth and get past the bad ones in order to make the most out of the good ones.

More importantly, I feel like the combined learning experience from the classes is going to be more valuable than the individual courses themselves. In other words, the experience will help me grow much more than the sum of the knowledge acquired in each class — it’s more about the journey, the new ways of thinking, the professional maturity that comes from surviving this kind of experience. At least, so I keep telling myself.

Probably the biggest impact, though, will be getting myself ready for my dissertation research. Yes, thus far a lot of what I’ve learned has been simply reading assigned textbooks or journal articles and writing papers about them. But longer term, the real value from this program will be learning how to design and conduct research, and analyze the results in a standardized way that the scientific community will value. Knowing that I’m very focused on the kind of research that I want to conduct, I keep reminding myself that this is all just a series of stepping stones (some more steep than others) on the journey to becoming a scholar.

So yes, as I look at the courses I’ve just been enrolled in to start next week, and I browse the syllabi, I’m optimistic. I don’t know if these two classes will be any good, and of course I’m dreading having six more weeks of dealing with the awful instructor from the Summer term, but come November I’ll be one more term closer to starting my research. And that’s where the real value will come.

Or so I keep telling myself. Next week, I may throw up my hands and call it quits. But here’s hopin’ I make it.

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