Being a Doctoral Student: Career Goals and the Role of the Apprentice

Being a Doctoral Student: Career Goals and the Role of the Apprentice

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2656-9.ch018
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This chapter is the first in a series of chapters written specifically for both prospective doctoral students, current doctoral students, and new graduates. This chapter focuses on maintaining a balanced perspective between the student's personal goals and the goals of the program. Also addressed are maintaining a balance between personal goals and working with individual faculty members who serve as instructors, advisors, and mentors.
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The Balance Between Program Goals And Your Personal Goals

You should enter a doctoral program with possible outcomes in mind. You may have several possibilities in mind, but you must know the specific field of specialization. That is step one in choosing a doctoral program. Enrolling in the Wisconsin doctoral program specializing in special education makes no sense unless you plan to work in the field of special education after graduating. So, make a short list now of what you want to do after graduating with a doctoral degree:

  • Do you want to stay in your role as Prek-16 teacher and use the program to enhance your work?

  • Do you want to move into a supervisory role in special education at your school, district, or state?

  • Do you want to start a nonprofit organization for children with dyslexia and/or dyscalculia?

  • Do you want to be a professor at a small college that prepares teachers?

  • Do you want to work at a research institution and work to lead the field of research in special education?

Any of these would be a great reason to enroll as a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin or any other university with a doctoral program with the special education area of specialization. If your focus is another specific area, then ask yourself the equivalent questions appropriate for that field.

Your initial intent when enrolling often changes during the program. You learn more about the field and the opportunities. You learn more about yourself. My personal doctoral journey started with the goal of teaching mathematics methods courses at a small college in their teacher education program. I wanted to be the absolute best I could be in helping future mathematics teachers on every grade level. I wanted to help their students learn mathematics more effectively by helping their teachers hone their craft. I ended up choosing the University of Missouri program in curriculum & instruction with an emphasis in mathematics education. While I never wavered from that goal of the focus on mathematics methods courses, I did change parts of my goal. I started out wanting to teach at a small liberal arts college, but ended the program wanting to work at a major research university. While some doctoral students do not change their goal, be open to learning about the things you have not yet aspired to become. As you learn more and become more, you will see new choices. Throughout the program, ask yourself what you want to do after graduation. Keep your advisor and mentors updated on your goals whether they change or not.

Programs are designed with specific purposes. Make sure you are in one that is designed to take you where you want to go. Within the program that you choose, work with them as they mentor you into participating in communities of practice that match your personal goals. Step out of your comfort zone to see what your professors are trying to show you.

  • Read what they ask you to read.

  • Write what they ask you to write.

  • When encouraged and supported to make a presentation at a conference, do it.

  • If your mentor volunteers for a professional group, ask how you can help.

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