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Section 2 Becoming a Researcher/Scholar / Chapter 3 The Doctoral Identity

Feedback about how to improve should be expected, and openness to growth in both subject matter and writing competencies are valuable.

3. Emotional Expectations


Doctoral learners will experience stress; however, for the most part, the stress is manageable if learners are aware and have the appropriate contingencies to handle the demands. This section will not prescribe how best to manage time or how to eliminate stress; suggestions for those occurred in the previous chapter. This section offers ideas that may be effective in maneuvering through the challenging emotional maze of doctoral degree completion.


Managing the demands of the assignment deadlines will be a primary consideration in a successful doctoral journey. Faculty may not be as open to missed or late assignments as learners have been accustomed to in previous college experiences. Faculty who teach doctoral-level courses recognize that life happens, but they also will have a level of expectation that doctoral learners must persevere through life issues. It will be critical that learners recognize the deadlines they are required to meet. If learners plan adequate time to meet those deadlines each week, stress can be mitigated. Waiting until the eleventh hour on the due date likely will result in poor quality work, and, more than likely, the professor will recognize the work as a last-minute response.


Realistic Performance Expectations

In addition to planning time effectively, setting realistic expectations will also help to manage stress. One important expectation is that doctoral learners accurately assess their own learning abilities. Some learners may have come to the doctoral program with a certain expectation about how they will perform based upon previous experience and success at the master’s degree level. Learners who earned a 4.0 Grade Point Average in their master’s degree may have some unrealistic expectations about how they will perform at the doctoral level. The level of reading and writing rigor that learners experience during doctoral study typically does not lend itself to perfect scores. Feedback about how to improve should be expected, and openness to growth in both subject matter and writing competencies are valuable. Instructors are scholars and practitioners who typically have been in their fields of expertise for many years and have published in many venues. Learners' research, synthesis, and writing skills will develop throughout the program, and rarely are these skills perfected at the onset. Learners accustomed to perfection should not let receiving a B minus set them back.


In the Olympic Games, athletes train most of their lives to compete and represent their countries on the Olympic stage. An Olympic gymnast may indicate that making the Olympic team is not enough, but that she also wants to win the gold medal in her event. When it comes time to hit the balance beam in competition, the judges are looking at every move. A barely missed landing on a reverse summersault, enough to catch the eye of several judges, shaves off tenths of a percentage leaving the gymnast in fourth place for the competition and off the medal stand. Is she a failure? Absolutely not. She did not meet her goal of winning gold, but she competed at her personal best and in the Olympic Games. Just as the Olympic Games are the pinnacle of athletic competition, pursuing a doctorate is the height of academic degrees. Getting a B minus in a course or on a paper at this level should not be viewed as a failure. Setting realistic expectations is important regarding the time, effort, and financial obligations learners will contribute to their degree program.

A doctoral graduate shared a memory of an instructor who asked the members of his class to write down the only thing that would keep each of them from completing their degrees. After several minutes of consternation, one learner wrote down a single word. The word was “ME.” The learner realized that the only thing that could prevent him from completing his degree was himself.


All But Dissertation (ABD) is a moniker doctoral learners do not want.  Completion of the terminal degree is the quest, the journey, and a part of the learner's life. If getting a doctoral degree were easy, a much higher percentage of the population would be walking around with a terminal degree.