On Being a Colleague-Student

Recently Joshua Kim (Dartmouth College) published a blog post at Inside Higher Ed about “colleague-students”, working higher education professionals who have elected to pursue a degree on the side (Kim, 2014). He discussed the benefits colleague-students add to the higher ed community. I worked at a state university while earning a master’s degree in educational technology and was able to apply new knowledge immediately in the workplace. Was I a better employee? a better colleague? a better collaborator and contributor? I’d like to think so. I am grateful for past supervisors and colleagues who supported me.

Several years ago, I was working as instructional technologist and studying educational technology. I was supporting faculty and working on various segments of the medical school curriculum with program administrators. I could develop projects that utilized teaching and learning theory and research techniques I was learning in class.

Currently I am studying higher education leadership, learning how and why institutions behave the way they do. In pursuit of a doctoral degree in higher education leadership, I can examine the history of American colleges and universities and dip my toe into administrative areas I have never experienced – admissions, advancement, student affairs. I pour through countless case studies about leadership: the president, their cabinet, the governing board, coordinating board, board of trustees and the faculty council, student council and alumni association. My goal is to learn everything I can about the internal and external pressures that influence a college or university. It is fascinating. But does it apply?

What I do everyday is help faculty and institutional groups achieve goals. So, yeah, my studies help. It helps a lot. When a faculty member says they are having difficulty obtaining a service or accessing a resource I can help them, even though I have never set foot on their campus. When a group is trying to solve problem and they ask for advice, a little investigation into what type of school they are, where they are located, how their group is funded helps me craft an approach that meets their specific needs. Past .edu experience has been my greatest asset. My current studies add more fuel to the fire.

October 8, 2013 by Jessica Hagy. ThisisIndexed.com

Real life has a lot of plot twists, too.

It is not easy being a colleague-students. Two to four hours of reading and writing on top of an eight to ten-hour work day. Add in two residency weekends on campus every month (with a 90 minute commute each way) and it’s a recipe for exhaustion, headache and sometimes heartache. I spend little time with friends, I miss special events, and I am missed by family. Even when I am home I am not really present, usually lost in thought, trying to untangle a case study or make sense of some new research paradigm. My sisters, my friends, my husband are all supportive. They don’t give me a hard time when I decline an invitation or have to leave a day long event for a few hours to get some work done.

The end of year one is hard. I have been assured that it is normal for a doctoral student to have second thoughts at this stage. Facing the inevitable selection of a research topic and beginning work toward the competency exams hits the student like a bomb. Choosing a topic and assembling a dissertation committee is a weighty matter. It is big and bulky and hard to grasp. After the first year of work it is almost impossible to gain the strength needed to carry that burden while facing another full year of course work. But there it is. And this is where the student colleague can most benefit from supervisors, peers and colleagues.

Ask your colleague-students how they are doing. Listen to them, ask them questions. Give them an ounce of support, a nudge of encouragement. It doesn’t take much. If possible, give them special assignments that fit in with their course of study. Give them a way to blend course work with work-work. Let them do a pilot study, work on a grant application, write or edit articles and white papers. Help them apply their studies in the workplace in a way that is meaningful to the institution or the group.

Thanks, Josh, for the article and for drawing attention to the colleague-student. You gave me support and encouragement by validating the role we play in the world of higher ed.

References

Kim, J. (2014). Celebrating the Colleague-Student. Inside Higher Ed. July 2, 2014. Retrieved July 20, 2014 from www.insidehighered.com/blogs/technology-and-learning/celebrating-colleague-student

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