I was a terrible high school student, a mediocre undergrad student and a stellar graduate student. I have concrete organizational skills. Ya girl is awesome at time management and I live by my planner.
However beginning coursework for my doctoral program was one of the most daunting feelings EVER. I had this same feeling before I began my Master’s program. You ever wake up and think, WHOA, how did I get here? Can I even do this? Again, as we see from before, the doubt began to sink in. I began to question my own academic abilities.
I walked into my first class full of fake confidence. I had registered for 4 classes, against the advice of my advisor, and I was so nervous. As we went around introducing ourselves, you know, the first day of class type stuff, everyone had years of experience, whole spouses, whole jobs… and then came me. I had finished my Master’s program the month before and I did have a whole amazing roommate.
And. Then. Came. The. Syllabus.
This happened in every course I took. That feeling where a weight is being dropped on your chest and you lose your breath and you’re not sure if you’ll ever catch it. Yeah, that feeling. I hate syllabus day. HATE IT. In my doctoral program, syllabus day was just as overwhelming. My doctoral program coursework presented me with a mountain of reading and writing each week. A WHOLE MOUNTAIN.
I have never, ever, not once, read so much in my life. Some things I loved. Some things changed my entire perspective. Some articles I read 4 times and had no idea what was going on. No idea.
One thing that I quickly learned, if I don’t know what’s going on, then there is a 75% chance someone else doesn’t know so I quickly became comfortable saying “I am not really sure I understood what this article was saying” and then watched as all my classmates breathed a sigh of relief and the professor then took time to explain and clarify. This was something I was NEVER comfortable doing in my undergrad and master’s program.
During my doctoral career, my courses were transformative, amazing, enlightening and so many other things. My eyes were opened to so many things. So many ideas. So many new ways of thinking. This was truly the most powerful part of my experience. Learning. Digesting things that were so new. Processing ideas that I had never heard of. Chewing on things that sparked a fire in me. Exploring thoughts and theories that explained the world I lived in. Even more powerfully, finding solutions to issues that had long plagued my people.
To me, this was the meat, the juicy part of my program. I was like a sponge. I could sit in discussion based classes for hours listening to people that were different from me share their perspective. THIS was learning.
As I reflect on my coursework, honestly, there isn’t a thing I would change. I gave 110% to all written assignments. I was attentive, passionate, and of course I loved to talk. But I do have some suggestions to share that were so graciously shared with me.
In whatever way possible, I always shaped my assignments around my own research interests. I knew I was interested in the K-12 American Indian student educational experience and culturally relevant curriculum, so I tried to weave that into my work. Why? As I moved towards my dissertation writing, I already had a bank of knowledge, writing, resources and references to pull from that I had used in TONS of other papers.
Buy the books you love and play to use in the future. This was the greatest advice I received. If I came across a book that would be useful for my dissertation, a book that I thought I would love, I bought it. Now, for those books that I didn’t really need all that much and just needed to shortly reference, GET THEM FROM THE LIBRARY. NOT RENT. JUST USE THE LIBRARY. Y’all, this is truly a LOST art. I saved HUNDREDS of monies because of the library.
Avoid being the token. During my undergraduate career, being the “Token Indian” was exhausting and I took on that weight wholeheartedly. I learned as much as a I could about as many people as I could and I spoke passionately and confidently and I should have never ever ever taken on this weight. In my Master’s program I was much more conscious of my words, my thoughts and the weight others placed on me and in my doctoral program. I rejected it all. When I spoke, as an American Indian, more specifically as a Wacca-Lum who was culturally raised with Lum’s, I spoke ONLY to the experiences of MY family and tribal practices and culture that I was familiar with. Honey, I ain’t the face of hundreds of tribal nations. When others had those questions, I could direct them to scholars from those tribes. I gave up being the all-encompassing Native for those that “wanted to know more”…. #IAintGotTime
My coursework was not tedious. But it was overwhelming. My coursework was not boring. But it was time consuming. My coursework was not useless. But it was taxing.
In a 60 credit hour program, 48 of which was coursework, I was able to navigate this in 2 years…. then came the dissertation.