Last month, Goshen College recognized three professors for the completion of their doctoral degrees. Suzanne Ehst, associate professor of education and director of secondary education, earned a Ph.D. in English education from Western Michigan University. Colleen Geier, program director and associate professor of American Sign Language, earned a Ph.D. in education with a concentration in adult education from Walden University. Regina Shands Stoltzfus, associate professor of peace, justice and conflict studies, earned a Ph.D. in theology and ethics from Chicago Theological Seminary.
How long was the process of working toward your degrees?
S: It was a total of six years. I was a full-time doctoral student for three years and then I was working on my dissertation and working here [at Goshen College] full-time for another three.
C: I worked on my doctorate year-round for just over four years.
R: It took me a really long time to finish the program. Let’s just say two of my children have graduated from GC in the meantime. I was working full time for most of my program.
What was the motivation behind getting your doctorates?
S: I really wanted to move into college teaching. To do that, I felt like I needed to be pursuing a terminal degree.
C: I had always had it in the back of my mind but kept putting it off for financial or scheduling reasons. It’s just something I wanted to do. My family calls me “an eternal student” and I missed being in an academic learning environment.
R: I knew that I wanted to continue teaching and having a terminal degree is part of the package.
Why did you decide to study at the institutions that you did?
S: It best suited what I wanted to do that wouldn’t require me to move. My spouse and I have a great community here.
C: There were no programs locally that offered the education that I wanted instead of a Ph.D., so I looked at Walden’s program.
R: I was working at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary when I started my program and I knew that I needed a program that was close. CTS is accessible by the South Shore [train]. I did much of my reading and a lot of my homework on the train. I also chose CTS because of their long history of commitment to civil rights and social justice as part of theological education. I also greatly appreciated the diverse faculty and student body.
Did you ever have any doubts during the process?
S: Of course, but I was never serious about giving up. I had a lot of supportive people around me, including my spouse.
C: Oh, I doubted it many times, especially once I was working on my doctoral study. Honestly, two of my classmates kept me going. The three of us became our own cohort and cheered each other on. When I would start whining, they would make me laugh, assure me it would be worth it and told me to suck it up and get back to work.
R: Many, many times. My community here at GC, my family and friends kept me grounded. I have to admit, I also like school and being a student.
What would you say to students looking to get their doctorates?
S: You have to have a good reason for doing it. Don’t do it because you feel like you should.
C: Don’t start until you are really ready. Many people drop out after a few classes and even more finish the coursework but never finish their dissertation. It is difficult and you will feel like giving up under the best of circumstances. If you aren’t really ready, you probably will give up.
R: Have a good support system, make sure it’s something you really want to do [and] have a project that you love. It helps to be stubborn.
S: Almost everybody who I was in the program with at one point or another talked about having “imposter syndrome.” The sense that everybody else is smarter than you, you don’t belong in a doctoral program, everybody else is just sailing through these texts and this course and you’re the one who’s struggling. When you go out for drinks with your classmates afterward and you start talking, you realize, “Oh, we all feel a little insecure about our intellectual ability here and we’re actually all pretty good at what we’re doing.”
What is your number-one piece of advice when it comes to working towards a doctorate?
S: Honor what I know about my writing style. This even applies to undergraduates writing a 20-page paper. We have this idea that if you are writing in 10-minute spurts and then go do something else, then you’re procrastinating. But I realized that actually worked with how my brain was working. For anyone undertaking a major intellectual project, you have to figure out what your mental work style is and work with that.
C: Be patient. It is a long, difficult process.
R: Pay someone to copy edit your dissertation.
Interview has been condensed and edited.