Looking back to year one of my doctoral studies, I have changed in more ways than anticipated. My goal was to earn a terminal degree in order to realize my dream of teaching in higher education and at the corporate level. My understanding of the changes I would go through was based on knowledge I would gain in my field. I began the program with some angst relative to the level of rigor and my insecurities around “fear of the unknown” and perhaps a shaky confidence in my abilities. From that first day I boarded the van from the Intercontinental Hotel with two very different gentlemen who would become great friends until today, the transformation, fulfillment and emotion continues to fill me with awe.
The first semester was one of learning and transformation as we embarked on an introspection rooted in Intentional Change Theory, broader perspectives relative to Culture and World Politics and a preliminary design of a Qualitative research framework. At this point, many changes were already taking place within me as a person, scholar, and educator, but I could not yet see it. It was all very foreign. My mind was full of uncertainties and I wondered why I seemed to have more questions than answers when my goal was to learn. I later realized that my great surge of questions was the opening of new perspectives in my mind and a new born curiosity, almost childlike, about the world.
I was invited to attend Non-Profit meetings by an immediately close cohort member. We shared similarities in family and career and yet had very different backgrounds. She had spent her life in the Military; I had spent mine a Civilian. Several of us attended and decided to submit to ARNOVA. We only had preliminary findings, but those farther along in the program encouraged and mentored us. I was accepted and attended with another member of my class who would become my friend and Orthopedic medical consultant helping me navigate a personal injury to my hand as well as a spinal injury and a patella injury in my children. ARNOVA proved an excellent networking experience and precursor to attending the Academy of Management the following year.
I finished the year tightening up my research agenda and exploring Collective Action, Global Business Issues and Qualitative Research Methods. This was a pivotal semester in my mind because Qualitative Research is where I met my Mentor and Advisor. His methods allowed each of us to explore the many approaches to research so that rather than assimilate to one methodology we might understand ourselves and the best fit for our journey. His class helped me to hone in on the type of researcher I would become. I did not know at this time that he would become my Ph.D. Committee Chair, confidant, and friend for life. My experience with education thus far showed only a positional relationship between student and teacher. This was something quite different. I realize now that lifelong relationships were forming. I was fascinated with the people in my cohort and did not realize until later that I was meeting and cultivating relationships with people I would know and love for the rest of my days. The year concluded and the most important thing I had learned about myself and others was how interconnected we all were. Ironically, this proved a foreshadowing to our future coursework.
The second year of the DM program found me wrapping up my qualitative adventure travelling the country to interview leaders and subordinates in many different companies to capture the lived experiences of young mangers with older direct reports. My first experience as a true engaged scholar and grounded theorist was both rewarding and enlightening. Returning to Weatherhead, I rejoined my cohorts, all of them eager to share listen and provide input. At this point, I was regularly traveling with one cohort member back and forth to school. Our drives served as an extension of each residency both gearing up on the way and distilling on the return. We solved problems, devised plans, laughed, cried, and sang songs. We became sisters and clearly could defend the others research if the need ever arose. We moved into quantitative analysis this year and began to construct models and a deeper investigation of our qualitative findings. We learned to conceptualize, construct, and analyze in a way quite foreign and frankly intimidating to me. I was pleasantly surprised at the support we received and by the fact that I became happily preoccupied with model building and running scenarios. For years I had avoided of this type of analysis and now I found I was proficient at it. We learned we could share computer screens and help each other with our models. Our cohort had formed such a tight knit group that we were all taking turns working on each others models. The beauty here was not just interdependence and support, but the additional learning that was taking place outside of our own chosen discipline as we shared knowledge from our industries. The second year concluded with excitement as many of us were accepted to the Academy of Management. We would meet one additional time in Boston as student researchers making a contribution to our fields.
At the close of this year we each took the Capstone to demonstrate our aptitude for quantitative analysis. Many of us chose to apply for the Ph.D. track in Management: Designing Sustainable Systems. It was the first inkling that we would soon cease to be a cohort and return to our lives, this time as practitioner scholars.
The year began with the realization of just how top notch our program is. By now, many of us had attended and presented at AOM and ARNOVA. Watching others and being able to compare style, depth of analysis and rigor in presentation left us feeling very confident and satisfied with the quality of our program and our future potential. Our cohort remained as one in the last year, but some had chosen to write an integrative paper and graduate with the DM degree and others had chosen to begin work on a Ph.D. proposal. We continued to work together and support each other. Entering the Ph.D. Track is an independent journey and we each designed different timelines with which to achieve our goals. We worked diligently to conclude our quantitative analysis, writing our research papers and submitting to AOM a second time. The prior year had set the foundation for exploration into Sustainability and this year was no exception. We explored Business as Dynamic Systems and Designing Sustainable Systems which opened doors in our minds to the interconnectedness of all things and the implications for business and the world. The conclusion of the program brought the icing on the cake as we learned about Research Disseminate and embarked on a study of Complex Systems. Our personal experiences during the program were now colliding with our coursework. We knew we were interconnected and interdependent in this program, but what did this mean in a much larger scheme of things? I cannot give you these answers. One can only experience this program to understand.
I have not taken the space to mention everyone I had the honor to meet and become family with during this journey, but I can say I met a miracle, an accountant, a statistician, and I met my polar opposite. I met and know people who care so very much for the environment, people who add spiritual perspective to the world, people who added humor, people who are willing to tell me what I evoke in them and one special person who refused to rest until I could share my opinion without apology. I have been down the most difficult and yet rewarding road I have ever travelled sometimes sure I could not stretch enough to survive. On the bad days, someone in my cohort picked me up and carried me. On the days I was strong I carried others. Not one of them was heavy. The most important aspect of this journey is that we relied on each other and I know we will do so forever.
Donna Haeger is a Ph.D. in Management candidate at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. By day she is the Managing Director for Prolific Technology, Inc. an organization striving to blend both human and technological systems. She is also a professor of Management Education in Rochester, NY and an Advanced Subject Matter Expert for McGraw Hill Publishing.