School & District Management Opinion

Advice for Potential Doctoral Students from a New Grad

By Justin Reich — May 23, 2012 1 min read
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Today, I received my doctoral robe from my advisor, Richard Murnane, and tomorrow I’ll receive my diploma. I am now fully qualified to give advice about doctoral studies in education. Here’s the advice:

People have said to me often in the past few months, “It must be such a relief to be finished.” When I’m being honest, I say that it’s not really a relief. Here are two stories to explain:

First, I think about the advice that Joi Ito, head of the MIT Media Lab, gives to new doctoral students there:

We tell doctoral students, as they are planning their paths through the Media Lab, to imagine that at the end of five or six years, right at the moment that they graduate, we reach out and take back their doctorate. They have to plan their doctoral career so that even if that happens, those years are still worthwhile.

The second story is this:

Before I received my doctorate, I researched how emerging technologies support powerful learning, I taught classes in education, I worked with classroom teachers and school/district leaders to think about effective technology integration, and I wrote articles and blog posts to share what I was learning. I had a fabulous time.

Just about every day, I conjured an image of young people in schools, sitting in long rows of desks, bored. Most days, my stomach turned thinking of the gross inequalities in educational opportunities between working class and affluent students in this country.

After my robing ceremony, I hopped on the T, and went back home. I finished grading the final stack of papers from my Intro to Ed students (nice job BTW), and I worked on a book proposal about Open scholarship with my colleague Dennis Tennen. I had dinner. I ate a piece of cake. I read an article from the Cooney Center about an experiment in parent/child co-reading with print and electronic books. I’m writing this post.

Tomorrow, I will get up, thinking of students at long rows of desks, bored; thinking of the students who aren’t getting a fair shot at a bright future.

I was in a doctoral program in education because it was a place where I was lucky enough to be able to do what I wanted to do.

I’m still doing it.

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