Skip to content

Dropped my MOOC. Picked up a doctoral program.

I’m one of the vast majority of MOOC drop-outs, but in my case my course abandonment had two causes:

1. By the end of the 5th section, I had learned as much math as I need to know for the moment. What I wish for (and it probably exists) is an  app or website that would give me one or two problems per week to solve, so the stuff in my brain doesn’t slide out on the floor. My (mixed) review of life as a MOOC student will appear in a week or two.

2. I’m starting a PhD program in less than two weeks, and it’s already keeping me busy–my brow is still furrowed, just not over math. I feel anxiety going so public with this knowledge (the PhD, not the extent to which book-larnin’ furrows my brow), but eventually people are going to find out anyway.

To combat anxiety, I have been reflecting on some of the more improbable successes of my life. The day in 1985 I was commissioned in the Air Force, one of our leaders remarked that early on she had expected me to wash out. That possibility was on my mind for the entire twelve weeks, but somehow I survived a process in which candidates stronger, better-coordinated, and smarter than I had failed.

I am glad that leader didn’t share her thoughts in the beginning. I do remember the smile on her face the day I finally passed the long jump, my last obstacle to becoming an officer.  Wanting something doesn’t automatically make it happen, but in the words of grandmothers everywhere, “Can’t never could.”  (The story of that long jump is the opening to my food essay “Chow,” published in Gastronomica in 2007.)

So let me repeat: HOORAY! I’m starting a PhD program in two weeks! No, I’m not leaving my job! No, I’m not moving! Yes, I’m doing a PhD while running a small university library! The program has a very very long name! It’s at Simmons! That’s in Boston! That’s a long way from California! I will fly there twice a year and study under erudite scholars and professors of practice while averting my eyes from whatever fires get ignited back at the ranch! My cohort has 5 people, including me!  They’re nice, too! Yes, I won’t have time for literary writing! No, I haven’t mastered APA citation! Yes, I’ll complete the PhD in SIX WEEKS! All right, let’s say hopefully  four to five years, barring Life introducing other obstacles!

I’m surrounded by support — from my institution, from my library team, from Sandy, from my colleagues, even from the cats, who in the last six months became very accustomed to lolling in the sun, snoring gently, while I crammed for the GRE, worked on the application process, and post-GRE, studied math (not required for the PhD, and in fact part of my fallback plan in which I would support my own solo research by learning statistics).

I am also impressed by the extravagant welcome extended by the other cohorts–so much like the “radical hospitality” we strive for where I work. We may all toil in solitude, but we are not alone.

I also know why I am doing this. Of course, in any endeavor, reasons change along the way. But I’m in library leadership in higher education, or things related to it (or similar to it), for the remainder of my career, which will not conclude for a very, very long time. It only took me twenty years to learn the color of my parachute–talk about precocious!  Is a PhD necessary? Of course not. Will I learn from it, grow, and become better at what I do? Absolutely.  When it comes to education, it’s all good.

So, onward. As orientation approaches, I am nervously smoothing my starched pinafore, twiddling with my hair bow, rubbing the toes of my patent-leather shoes on my ankle socks, making sure I have a ruler and compass tucked in my Peechee — and very much looking forward to this next stage in my life. Viva learning!

Posted on this day, other years:

Add a Facebook Comment

6 Comments

  1. Jennifer Vinopal wrote:

    Wow, so impressive! And it looks like a fantastic program. Congratulations on being accepted into this program and good luck in your studies.

    Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Permalink
  2. Ahava Cohen wrote:

    I felt so guilt for dropping out of my MOOCs for the same reason. Now I feel like I’m in good company. Bets of luck — it’s a terrifying thing, a Ph.D. program, but so far it’s been worth it.

    Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  3. Congratulations on starting a new adventure! I’m also looking forward to your upcoming review of your experience with the MOOC.

    Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 3:06 pm | Permalink
  4. Lisa Hinchliffe wrote:

    Congrats! As someone dipping my toes into the water to wade towards the possibility of a PhD I recognize the big step this is. I do suspect however you mean six years rather than six weeks? But, if not – email me the website for that program!!! :)

    Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Permalink
  5. Brenda Chawner wrote:

    This is great news, Karen, and you’ve picked a high-quality programme! I look forward to reading your updates here over the next few years.

    Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Permalink
  6. Congratulations on the new endeavor. It sounds like you’re a good example of what the research is starting to show — that not all MOOC “dropouts” are failures. They often have motivations and desired outcomes that don’t coincide with completing the class.

    Any interest in putting that more complete review you’re planning at MOOC News and Reviews instead?

    -Robert

    Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

23 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *
*
*