On #NationalHigherEdDay first year EdD students reflect

June 6 is National Higher Ed day. We asked our resident doctoral student, Early Learning Manager Susana Grimm, to reflect on her first year as an EdD student at Pepperdine. Susie discussed the topic with some classmates, and found that a lot of the learning has been personal.

They found that their program inspired much internal reflection, and required them to tap into reserves of courage. Each shared moments of self-doubt, and how education is providing a springboard to find purpose in their lives.


How do you measure a year in your EdD life?

Is it by the cups of coffee consumed? The number of conferences attended? Research papers written? (Okay, I’ll stop with the vague Rent allusions) and join my classmates Janae Tovar, and Hasmik Siwajian to reflect on our first year of the Doctoral Program (EdD) at Pepperdine University.

Our doctoral program journey might not be exactly what you envision for your own, but we hope our honest discussion of our experiences and reflections on our first year might give you an insight into what higher education is like. At the end of the day, we share the same fears, hopes, and excitements.

Reflections of a first year in a Doctoral Program

On #NationalHigherEdDay first year EdD students reflect
Janae Tovar

JANAE TOVAR Looking back at this year, it went by so much faster than one realizes. Even though, when we are in the midst of it, it feels like its dragging on. This made me think about our purpose in starting the program. I feel like the reason I started the doctoral program is completely different than how I feel right now. And this is what has struck me. This program has asked me to do some internal reflections about why I am doing this and what it means to be a leader. Going through this program has made me think about how I survived two deployments with my husband, that were over a year long while taking care of three small children. I’m used to things that require a lot of me – emotionally, mentally, psychological. This program has really asked me to look at myself, and I think about the amount of ground I covered in the past year, and my mind is blown. I can’t even imagine what it will look like by the end of the program. And for me, this has been incredible exhilarating, frightening, very disruptive, but so rewarding.

On #NationalHigherEdDay first year EdD students reflect
Hasmik Siwajian
HASMIK SIWAJIAN I want to give a bit of background about my decision to start a doctoral program. I had a professor telling me I would never be successful in a doctoral program. I decided to listen to this professor and not start a doctoral program. In the meantime, I got married and divorced. Yet, I think going through those hardships made me think about applying to Pepperdine, the only school, to start a doctoral program. For me, I started the program thinking I’m not good enough to do this. This just made me reflect on how we can’t let people tell us or convince us that we can’t do something. As I reflect on this program, I think it has been transformational for me. I want to say to Janae, that your first paper that I read is what inspired me to keep going. It continues to inspire me to go for it and stay on track, knowing that I have great like-minded classmates and colleagues. I feel ready, and now I’m asking myself when the next conference is. What else can I do? Although I’m scared of this process I know, I can keep going.

JANAE To respond to Hasmik. I’m super grateful that I have supported [you] in this way. The experience humbles me. And listening to Hasmik, I feel like I am guilty too often of telling myself that I can’t do it. For me, I spend a lot of energy convincing myself that this is the right choice. My whole family is sacrificing time, financial support, and taking risks to support me in this path. But what I really learned is that courage is something like little decisions over time. It’s not always one massive thing when you are doing something in a big bold way. Courage manifests in small choices like not doubting yourself, making a decision to submit an application, that can ultimately lead to this idea of living courageously through your doctoral program.

On #NationalHigherEdDay first year EdD students reflect
Susana Beltran Grimm
SUSANA BELTRAN GRIMM I decided to start a doctoral program because of my personal background. I am a first-generation college student. First in my family to graduate from high school, get a bachelors and master’s degree. I knew that I wanted to take the next step. However, reflecting on this year, I did not expect for my classes to make me think back about my purpose in doing this program. I feel the same way Janae feels. I feel like this program has asked me to look deep into myself and find out why I’m here. And that to me has also been frightening, exhilarating, and rewarding. I do think though that it is important to find someone you can share challenges and excitements with. Someone who can understand the highs and the lows.

JANAE I hear you. I think the idea of people who get it, is powerful. My life is through the military spouse. There are hard things that happen and challenges but being able to talk to someone who can understand what you are going through, is the most precious gift. That’s one of the things I value from this experience – to be able to connect with people who are going through similar challenges, from hardships to the bolts and nuts of just getting your homework in! [laughs].

SUSANA To me, being able to connect with classmates, colleagues, and professors has helped me face some program challenges—one of them is trying to slow down on my thesis topic. I feel like I need to have this figured out already!

HASMIK One of the most significant challenges for me is accepting feedback and accepting that we are not perfect. I heard from a colleague that the day when we accept feedback is the day we’ve become scholars. Another challenge for me has to learn not to overload myself with work. Every second needs to be filled out, and if I’m not doing something, I feel like a failure. And I’ve been learning to give myself a break and not feel bad about it. I need to let go the fear of self-doubt. I can’t have a break because I’m not going to do well on this paper. I have that mindset that brings me down a lot.

SUSANA I agree with you Hasmik. On the flipside, time management for me has been such a struggle. I want to do and cover so much I feel like I can’t manage my personal time, work, school and outside activities. I feel bad for watching 60 minutes of TV because I feel like I need to start on a research paper or the article review or join in a club meeting.

JANAE For me, the challenge that I battle a lot internally with is the idea of if this program is worth it. But also, this is where I connect with you Susana, with this idea of urgency. My desire for all this effort is that whatever I do in the program needs to be for the service of others. This desire is so intense, and I can become emotional thinking about it. And I think this is because my biggest fear is that at the end of this program I won’t have anything to show for regarding why this was worth it. Ultimately what drives me is that I want this experience and what I create to be meaningful for people outside of myself.

HASMIK I agree with Janae about making this meaningful. In the beginning, people would tell me that with a doctorate I would be set. But in my opinion, this is not what it’s about. It’s about making a difference. If you are in this program for money, you are not going to be happy. But even if we make an impact on one person, it is worth it.

SUSANA This is why I love these classes and this program. It goes back to what Janae and I said. It is finding a purpose and making it your own. You do not need to know exactly what you are going do to when you start your doctoral program. It will change. The experience will help you find that purpose. That is what leadership is. I feel like I joined this doctoral program thinking more about education and I’m going through a leadership transformation.

HASMIK I read a definition about what it meant to be a leader. A leader is painting a picture through words to inspires other to become what they want to. It really touched me. I have noticed that I started to do this with my family, especially with my young nieces. Intentionally leading them in the right direction through my experience. I think being true and genuine, sounds cliché, but being a real leader is having those qualities.

SUSANA I love this idea of leadership that is integrated into the doctoral programs at Pepperdine. I do feel that no matter what program or school once chooses to get an EdD or a Ph.D., leadership needs to be part of the equation. And not only just a leader but a global leader which is one of the things that Pepperdine emphasizes a lot of their students. How are we becoming global leaders in this program and what happens after we graduate?

JANAE I have done some pretty tough things, but our delegation trip to China has been one of the toughest things I’ve done. Our team had a good time together, and it required us to be flexible and have a good sense of humor. I think what a neat takeaway for me about that trip was, given the demands from a program perspective, was the flexibility of our team. At any given moment we have a choice of how we are going to respond to the many intense things coming at us, and everyone brought their best self at the moment. I would confess, going in, I thought this was nice, we get to go to another country. Now on the other side, high five to everyone because this experience is tough.

HASMIK I was talking to a professor before this trip, and he said something along the lines of “It’s really not the grade that you get but how you handle the experiences we put you through.” And I didn’t understand what he meant until after the China delegation trip. And he is totally right. The China delegation trip has been one of the hardest things I had to do. We were pushed out of our comfort zone. To be able to see things from other people’s perspectives. How to compose and handle yourself in a situation you’re exposed to. … I feel like I matured at different levels because of some of the personal struggles I experienced in the China trip.

JANAE It is true. Getting out of your comfort zone and being made aware of the assumptions that you carried. I did a presentation there [China Delegation Trip] and I had expectations of what the presentation would look like for Chinese students. And it wasn’t the case at all. It made me think about the need to get in touch with our worldview. This notion is also tied to being a doctoral student—what you assumed about the world and how it works might not be.

SUSANA If we think back before the program started, what would be your advice for new students starting a Ph.D. or an EdD program?

JANAE It is crucial to be present when possible. Brush up on your time management skills. For me, I need to make sure I am present with my children and husband. The work will be there but the time you have with your kids, partner, family or friends is limited, and do not forget about that experience. That experience is part of your doctoral experience. … Give yourself permission to be in the moment and working on whatever it is you are doing at that time.

HASMIK I look at a doctoral program as a gym membership. You get what you put in. We are here for two or three years. Put in as much as you can. After those two or three years are done, you are going to go into the real world, and putting in as much as you can during your time in a doctoral program will help you understand how to transition from being a student to being an expert in your field.

SUSANA For me it’s finding a buddy who can share the highs and the lows of the program. Having someone to call when you are struggling with a paper and who can help you get out of a funky mood. That means also finding a professor who can serve as a mentor and help guide you through the program.

Janae Tovar is a Learning and Development Consultant, currently studying Organizational Development at Pepperdine in the Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership program.

Hasmik Siwajian is a talented STEM Scientist with 8 years of hands-on laboratory experience as part of a 10-year career involved in development and enhancement of food, nutrition, and personal products. Learn more about Hasmik here or find her on twitter.

Susana Beltran Grimm works for PBS SoCal as the Early Learning Manager. She is currently a student in the Doctor of Education in Learning Technologies program. You can find her on Twitter talking about education, learning technologies, and community engagement.

Main photo by NEC Corporation of America with Creative Commons license.