Two Lessons Learned from a Third Year Doctoral Student

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During the past two years of my doctoral studies in counselor education and supervision (CES), my experience has come with several personal and professional lessons. Some of those lessons are unique to helping me develop as a counselor educator-in-training. Having worked in the mental health profession for over a decade before entering my CES training program, I quickly learned that the lessons specific to counselor education can be quite different than lessons learned as a licensed professional counselor.

As I enter my third year of study this coming Fall, I would like to share at least two lessons that have developed my professional skills and knowledge as I hope to obtain a future career as a full-time counselor educator.

Lesson #1: Write a little bit every day

     This first lesson learned was probably the most important during my first year of study. Learning the new craft of academic writing was challenging. Actually, it remains challenging! However, writing every day propelled my skills in learning this craft. By writing every day, I mean writing each weekday for at least one hour.  Once I figured out that my best writing happened in the mornings, I set aside this sacred time to write first thing in my morning before doing anything else.  I get up, grab a cup of coffee, and dive in for one hour.  I realize that one hour per day does not sound all that much, but it is a life-changing daily habit!  I noticed several changes when I started doing this a little over a year ago. For example, I was able to turn in all of my coursework paper assignments several days early while continuing to work on additional projects (i.e. presentations, publications, assistantship work, etc.). Therefore, this important lesson has greatly enhanced both my writing effectiveness and productivity.

Lesson #2: Do everything with a career in mind

     Obtaining a full-time position as an Assistant Professor in CES is the primary reason I began doctoral studies. However, I realize that this task can be daunting and difficult for newly minted PhDs. It is common knowledge that there are more candidates graduating every year than there are faculty positions available. Therefore, the field is extremely competitive for entry-level Assistant Professor positions. So it is vital that I operate from the mindset that everything I do in my doctoral studies is done with a future career in mind.

There are at least two practical and intentional ways that help prepare me for a future career. The first way includes strategizing writing projects in coursework to form the basis of potentially publishable papers. A wise professor told me to do this during my first semester in the program, and I have followed through most of the time. My first doctoral-level course paper eventually became my first peer-reviewed publication in an ACA division journal. This experience taught me a valuable lesson. Currently, I do not simply write a paper for coursework requirement, but I attempt to tailor it for a peer-reviewed publication submission. Sometimes this means restructuring a paper, creating a clinical vignette, adding a literature review section, or expanding/reducing the abstract. This also involves a conversation with the professor about my intentions of modifying the assignment, and the professor’s response includes excitement and helpful feedback. The second way is purposeful networking. Whether it is connecting with a professor at the SACES conference who has a similar research interest or collaborating with a colleague on a presentation proposal, these are practical ways of networking with intention. This kind of networking enhances scholarly inquiry and productivity while forming new relationships that could lead to potential mentoring opportunities.

Thankfully, my program offers multiple opportunities for research, teaching, publication, clinical work, supervision, and service that help prepare competent counselor educators. However, I must take the initiative and engage in those activities that will directly assist me in being competitive for that first faculty job application. Writing a little each day and participating in purposeful activities with a career in mind will help place me in a favorable position. In other words, I am hopeful that these two important lessons will eventually help launch my career as a counselor educator faculty member.

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