When I first graduated high school in the Netherlands, my greatest wish was to go to med school. Med school, like most university and college studies in most of Europe, is largely paid for by government subsidies (which is awesome: no huge student loan debts and a great education!), but one of the disadvantages is that there is a lottery for med school admission and a limited number of spots (the so-called numerus fixus). At the time I was applying, you could only try twice – I did, and did not make it in either time, even though my grades were excellent and my motivation was sky-high. I got a master’s in health sciences instead, and went back to school for a master’s in strategic public relations a few years ago here in the US. I finished the first year of the MATX PhD program this summer, and am switching programs (and sort of starting over) the doctoral program in social and behavioral health today. The interesting thing: my new program is officially part of VCU Medical Center, mainly known for its medical school. No, my program is not med school but still…. talk about full circle!
The first day consisted of a two-hour orientation with our cohort of five incoming MATXstudents and a lovely reception with much of the MATX community: faculty, staff, students that are ahead of us, a number of professors affiliated with the program, and the new director for the VCU School of Mass Communications, Dr. Hong Cheng, who is from Beijing (so he and I connected over stories of our Arts in the Alley trip to China) and who is very gracious and kind.
The orientation was helpful – a good overview of the program and of the important steps we need to be focusing on during the next two years (besides doing well in our classes and finding the best electives for our specific research focuses): finding a good dissertation advisor (check: I have a wonderful one – one I already have worked with), finding four other faculty members who will serve on our committee (I have a few people in mind, but nothing definitive), deciding on a competency and how that will be measured (an extra skill that will help us in our research and further endeavors), our bibliography exam, and our prospectus development and defense. After all that (and, again, after at least 36 credits of classes and independent study semesters) we will all hopefully gain those three coveted letters. No, not those (PhD). These: ABD. All But Dissertation. When you officially become a PhD Candidate. It seems very far away now.
For today, my last first day of school picture in a new program – perhaps ever.
My PhD classes don’t start for another 16 days, but tomorrow I am taking a class not directly related to my studies, although it’s very related to my nonprofit work. It’s a one-day advanced social media class by the gifted Sarah Milston of The Spark Mill and it’s part of a program for nonprofit leader by Nonprofit Learning Point. One of the things I am trying to put into place before the craziness of the semester starts is a stronger social media strategy for Arts in the Alley, and this class will
be a nice reminder to get this done – and will help in getting it done. I have taken many classes with Nonprofit Learning Point before (and I just started to teach their basic social media class, which I am loving), and starting those classes was one of my early forays back into the land of education. Those classes – intensive, two-day classes – made me realize how much learning energizes me – and in some way, I needed to know that before I started thinking about a doctoral degree. The other, fun, side of all this is that I work on social media from two different directions – the practical, needing-it-for-my-nonprofit side, and the academic, let’s-research-how-and-why-this-actually-works side. So: I’m off to class tomorrow, and I’ll blog about it when I get back.