Connected Learner Takes Comprehensive Exams

I think that comps, if nothing else, should make a graduate student reflect on where she’s been, where she is, and where she aims to go.

For those of you who have been following, you know that this PhD has not been easy for me.  Not the actual work per se, but the “whys” around being in the program in the first place.  No one, including me, can really create a convincing concept map explaining why a physician quits practice at 35 and then –18 months and a nonprofit management certificate later — jumps into an educational research and evaluation doctoral program with no prior experience or expressed interest in education.  I questioned it everyday – in fact I remember one meeting with an associate dean in which I accused him of letting me into the program just to raise the average student GRE score (he just laughed and told me that he had other reasons too).  For at least a year I was ultra-sensitive to faculty who would stop me in the halls to say I was a fascinating embodiment of adult learning theory and they were watching me with great interest.  They meant well, but it still made me feel like I was living in a terrarium.  But the worst, I think, were the direct questions of what I planned to do with the doctorate when I was done.

“What are you going to do with this doctorate when you are done?”  Even now that I have a really good idea about where I’ve been, where I am, and where I want to be, that question seems unnatural to me and just plain ugly sounding (although definitely not ugly-intentioned).  And with my natural perversity I still have no desire to answer it, nor will I ever answer it well or probably even truthfully.

I’ve written about this before, but I’m bringing it up again because my recent studies on connected learning brings a little twist to my understanding.  I’m not sure that asking students “what are you going to do with this degree?” is really the best question to ask.  It implies the traditional educational framework  – that school is separate from the real world, that the piece of paper is the goal, and that life begins again after the paper is obtained.

But that’s not how learning works for me, someone who is currently discovering her inner connected learner.  Graduate school is not something that I do to prepare for a different life or “the real life.”  I’m certainly not doing it to prove something to myself – I feel like already did my formal postgraduate time in MD school and beyond.

No, graduate school, and the learning experiences therein, IS my real life.  It is my work.  It is the second half of what is supposedly one of the most productive decades of my life.  It is the platform on which I am finding myself.  And this is how it should be for all seasoned connected learners I think.  It’s not about preparing for the future as much as it is living my life now in a way that allows me to become flexible, to take chances, accept feedback, and grow.  Preparing for the future is just secondary gain.  The primary goal is figuring out how to perpetuate transformation.  

And so, what do you ask a hopeful connected learner in a doctoral program, if not “What are you going to do with this PhD?”  How about “What are you learning?  What do you want to learn?  How will you get from where you are to where you want to be?” They are almost the same but with a different nuance.  They are better questions I think.

And so I ask you to wish me luck on my comps because at my request the committee agreed to try to write questions for me that were “nearly impossible” to answer.  But despite my dramatic #groan and my request for luck, you should also know that I’m loving every single minute of it.



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