Saturday, June 18, 2022

A Dissertation Narrative: What's the Real Purpose for Pursuit of the Doctoral Degree?

Even some college professors in Educational Leadership Departments view everything people do through the lenses of Business and Utilitarian perspectives. I am reminded of this when I recall an event before I completed my doctorate, where one of my professors asked, "What is your dissertation about?" At that time I did not have a title, but told him that I was doing a historical some kind critique of using value-added measures to determine teacher quality. I was not really sure what I was doing anyway. After all, my doctoral experience was a journey of traveling down false paths and backtracking, not a linear journey from A, the beginning to Z destination. I allowed my reading and thinking to guide me. His immediate reaction? "What the hell are you going to do with that?" Obviously his question was well-intended, but it betrays the business-minded cultural underpinnings of an Ed Leadership program. He had in mind a linear process that ultimately would lead to some kind of fulfillment of personal ambition.

The dissertation experience in his eyes should have been about the utilitarian purpose of promoting career and future business prospects, not genuinely trying to add knowledge to the field, following where curiosity leads, or trying to call attention to an educational practice through critique. I am afraid that such thinking as this professor demonstrated is really indicative of how many educational leadership professors think in administration programs. You earn the degree to further your career. Sure, this is part of the reason. In my case, however, as I read and explored and read some more and explored, the ultimate product of the end my dissertation journey was the only possible outcome.

Several years out from graduation, I can really appreciate the experience, and not entirely for its potential to advance career or ambition. For now, through the doctoral process and through the act of wrestling with a dissertation, I know that I think more deeply and critically. My reading has broadened enormously as evidenced by my own library. But most of all, I exist in a field that is in need of individuals willing to live and do the work, but also be willing to ask difficult questions. I don't denigrate those who pursue higher education degrees entirely through professional ambition. That's as good a reason as any. But I also will always value both the journey and the product I produced at the end of the doctoral process. It's existence changed me forever.

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