Five years from the time when I was a graduate student, I arrived in Memphis, TN with 1 goal- “obtain my doctor of philosophy degree in 3 years.” After having served for three years as the Head Speech-Language Pathologist for an Easter Seals Speech and Hearing Center, and two years teaching at an undergraduate college, I had decided that for the long-term, it was necessary for me to leave the working world. In fact, excelling at an academic institution of higher learning in the future was contingent upon my earning this degree. The way I saw it, there was no option. I had to commit to earning my doctoral degree and doing whatever was necessary within the next three years. Most people around me said that my goal was unrealistic. They pointed out that completion of doctoral programs typically took four-five years, sometimes even as many as seven years. In fact, I was reminded that many people didn’t earn the degree, among them were people referred to as ABD… which I learned meant all but dissertation.“But that wasn’t going to be me!”
For the third time, my mother, god brother Tom, and a family friend were on the road again, helping me to relocate. After getting me settled into my apartment, we were off to dinner at the home of a relative of our family friend. I connected right away with the relative. My mother was relieved and thankful that there would be at least one person I could call upon if I needed something, given I knew no one in Memphis except the Dept. Chair. The next day, we ventured over to the facility that housed the University’s School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, the place where my program was located. It was a short walk from my apartment. Dr. B., the Chair, was eager to greet me and my family. He quickly took us on a tour and assured my mother that I had made a wise decision to come to the University of Memphis and pursue my doctorate. Dr. B then looked directly into my eyes as he reminded me that the program was rigorous and said, “Given the fact that you have been awarded a doctoral fellowship, the expectation is commitment full-time to the program, with minimal time for anything else.” I assured him I was up committed and looked forward to completing the program within 3 years. He smiled and said “we’ll see.”
It didn’t take long after my family left for me to realize that living off of the stipend wasn’t comparable to my previous salary. That meant I was going to have to give up some things I had become accustomed to doing and having. Since the Department was nearby, I gave up my car. While I loved my Ford Thunderbird, it had to go. That eliminated car payments, gas, and maintenance. I took on washing and setting my hair rather than going to the beauty salon. Shopping became a thing of the past. Also, I learned a new word, “no.” I decided not to join any organizations that would distract me from my goal at hand. However, I did join a local church and made sure that every Sunday I attended the early service.
My first class sent me into a tail spin. The teacher’s style was different. He challenged me to understand the meaning of concepts, apply my learning in my practicum experiences, and look for new ways of doing things. There were reading assignments, research, clinical work- all expected to be completed within a short period of time. Consequently, I had to develop new study habits, learn to work at a faster pace, and spend many hours in the library and clinic. It became apparent that team work was essential to succeeding. So attending group study sessions wasn’t an option. Additionally, all of the advanced doctoral students were on top of their game- conducting research, publishing, and presenting at conferences. These were the expectations for all doctoral students. Whenever, the going got tough, I remembered my “why,” and pushed forward. And for three years, I stayed focused and worked diligently. Then on August 17th, three years after my arrival, I walked across the stage and was the first African American to receive a doctor of philosophy degree from the University of Memphis graduating from the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders.
I did it in record time because I purged what was necessary, embraced a new mindset, stayed focused on what mattered, and moved forward with determination.
Celebrating with me were my mother, aunt, Tom, and friends!
SAVE THE DATE and join me on December 8, 7-8 pm, for my B.E.S.T. Chat. I will share my 5 BEST Tips- “how to” jump start 2017 so that you too can achieve your goals in record time.