PhD in Leadership? What does that even mean…

I freaked out. Admittedly. I had a small internal panic attack that here I am getting a PhD in Leadership Studies (whatever that means) and that somehow at the end of all this I would be unemployable, sad, and broke.  It was only a tiny panic. In my heart of hearts I know exactly what my degree will mean both to others and to myself. Most of all I know that I am already a better person having been in my degree program. But honestly, how many good people do you know that are un or underemployed? Plenty right. So I went to my advisor.

Now, normally when I see my advisor I like to tell her the situation get her advice and then resist and fight whatever wisdom she offers. Yesterday I went to her and said, “What am I going to do when I graduate?” I have mentioned before that she has a quiet way about her that is nothing if not intentional and kind of like a spider bite you don’t even know you’ve been bitten by anything until you’re laying on the floor dying. It’s not that bad, but it kind of is. So I asked her this very serious question and she said, “You don’t want to do faculty anymore?” “I mean yes,” I stammered, “but realistically what am I going to teach?”

Let me sidebar…since I have moved to San Diego my world as I know it has been completely turned on its head. Most of the time I try to just “go with it” but then there are times, like now, when I need desperately to find my footing.  My personal plans that I had when I moved here have been shot to shit a long time ago, but professionally, I never wanted to leave the world of counseling. Hence why I teach in it right now. That world that reveres silence and reflection and intention, that is my world. And I am not going to leave here any more qualified to teach counseling than when I came. Not to mention, I am completely out of practice. So when I asked her what am I going to teach, what I really said was…my world has changed too much and I don’t even recognize where I am anymore, which way is up?

She reminded me of some pieces of myself.

  • I do research in university diversity efforts
  • I do research in retention efforts
  • I teach in counseling
  • I teach in leadership
  • I have counseling experience and a counseling degree
  • I have worked in a center focused on diversity
  • I currently work in an office focused on outreach and admissions for our graduate programs

Oh yeah, and I am getting a terminal degree full of research experience, personal development, knowledge of organizations and leadership efficacy, and this is all stellar but does not even account for a network of colleagues and support from the faculty. Later reflecting she basically said to me, “Do you know who you are!? LOOK!” And I think perhaps the greatest of my pieces and the part that went unmentioned is my absolutely love for what I do. No matter where my life takes me professionally, I will always maintain a place with an institution of higher education.

College is the stuff that occupies your time so that you can become who you were meant to be. That time in your life is so precious and I just want to be a part of that for people. She also reminded me that many college student personnel programs have significant counseling influence so my work in that realm will not go wasted. It put me at ease. There is still much to do in the coming years…I have to publish work, present at conferences, start digging into my research area…but there is time and it will unfold as it should.

At the end of the talk I said to my advisor, “Do you like this new thing I’m trying where I don’t fight you, I just listen.”  She said, “I do actually,” and she remarked on her fondness of being right. I don’t mind when people are right, I just hate when their “right” comes at the “wrong” time. Of course that’s just total irony because it comes exactly when its supposed to. Damn spider bites.

9 thoughts on “PhD in Leadership? What does that even mean…

  1. I love your line “College is the stuff that occupies your time so that you can become who you were meant to be.” Working with college students is wonderful; I love it. It sounds like you’re well on your way to an interesting and fulfilling career – if you can just manage the panic, right?! Best of luck

  2. More As in which pH.d to get.
    Oranganizational leadership?
    Executive leadership?
    I just finished 2nd masters in counseling family therapy. I have a lot of clinical skills but would like more leadership and organizational skills.

    Idk what program and what opportunities I will have. I have your same questions. Email me some time. Would love to talk wit you. I need assistance

    1. I honestly think the degree is secondary to the work you’ll be able to do (research wise) and the mentorship and guidance you’ll get from faculty. So I say visit every program you seriously consider or get accepted into talk to faculty admin and current students and then trust your gut. Sounds overly simplistic but the thing you need more than anything when working towards a PhD is SUPPORT!!!

  3. Your conversation is refreshing. I received a doctoral degree in Leadership over 10 years ago. Sometimes I still wonder what I did and what all that hard work prepared me to do. Someone did say to me recently, “You’re the only person I know that has a terminal degree in what they actually do.” (I wanted to ask, what is it exactly that you think I do – but i resisted.) Their comment was probably not that accurate, but we all seem to know what that means. Your advisor was right. Her words help me too. I think I have boiled it down to this: When we help individuals and organizations reach their potential, we are successful. The academic study of leadership is a great way to prepare for that calling.

    1. When I changed my major to Psych in undergrad, I told my parents that “you can’t go wrong when you study people. They are in no short supply!” I suppose I still believe that to be true, and a lucky thing for the study of leadership.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s