With any luck, I will be a doctor by the time I am 40 years old.
This doesn’t mean I will be dealing with people’s medical issues or anything like that. Instead, it means I will have my doctorate in doing academic research.
Last month I received official notification that I have been accepted into the Leadership Communication Doctoral Program at Kansas State University, and I will begin coursework this fall.
According to the description, the “program is an interdisciplinary research degree grounded in community-engaged scholarship. Through this program, you engage in innovative and challenging coursework that examines the theories and methods of leadership and communication needed for collaborative change. A customized plan of study will emphasize your area of interests and the community challenges that matter most to you. By studying and practicing the art of leading change, you will produce original research that contributes to making progress on the most difficult challenges of our times.”
But what does all that mean?
I believe leadership is an activity, not a position. Therefore, I think leadership communication means being able to speak with anyone involved in a given leadership challenge. Unusual voices must be engaged.
As such, communication is a core function of leadership. It requires clarity and specificity, leaning into the challenges even as they are swathed with ambiguity.
Just as important to speaking is listening.
A key element of communication is receiving information from others and synthesizing what others are saying in order to make sense of everything surrounding the issue.
This entails understanding what people really mean even when what they are saying might sound like something else entirely — an effective leader must be able to communicate by reading between the lines.
In doing so, a person might learn ideas or information he or she disagrees with.
Because this can be an uncomfortable experience, a leadership communicator must be able to put his or her ego aside and rely on empathy to connect.
Leadership communication is what journalists do on a daily basis.
As such, I hope to conduct research around journalism — community journalism and student journalism.
These two areas are related, even though many may not think so. After all, at the end of the day, student journalism is a form of community journalism if the concept is considered from the perspective that both groups are working in a hyperlocal setting.
And teaching media literacy to students through journalistic offerings would help counteract the spread of information that seeps through social media on an hourly basis.
Ideally, this type of focus will allow me to continue my line of inquiry from my thesis, which I earned from the University of Missouri and conducted research investigating journalism’s role in civic engagement.
Media of all sorts permeates our daily lives. Building upon the idea of social capital as Robert Putman discussed in “Bowling Alone,” I used my master’s thesis research to explore how journalism education can increase civic and social engagement.
Journalism is key for a democracy. It is why journalism is considered the Fourth Estate, right after the three branches of government. The role of journalists is to provide a watchdog role of government and provide important information to the communities they serve.
In order for the citizenry to be civically engaged, journalists need to provide individuals with the information they need to make informed decisions. That means students need to be properly trained to be journalists and provide reporting for their communities. It also means students need to understand journalism and be media literate so they can consume media intelligently, even if they don’t pursue a career in journalism.
Because of my passion for journalism, I want to continue down this path.
The idea of news deserts is frightening as it means areas of the country are without a local news source. This also hinders democracy because local politicians and officials may not be held accountable for their actions, especially as it relates to their duties of serving the public.
So in terms of a “community challenges that matter most” to me and something I want to help lead change on to make “progress on the most difficult challenges of our times,” this is one idea I have.
I have several other ideas and research questions I want to pursue, but I could go on and on about those. Suffice it to say, I am beyond excited about this opportunity, and I am so grateful I was accepted into the program.
Other than the nerdiness of getting to do research, pursuing my doctoral degree will also help my career and family.
I started my second master’s degree at Mizzou to get a job in higher education. I achieved that goal when I was hired at Sterling College as an assistant professor of media.
Now, I could have just called it a day, but I have always wanted to earn my doctorate. Also, earning this next degree will help me move forward in my higher education career.
It will allow me to earn more money to support my family financially, and it will allow me to conduct impactful research for my institution and continue to teach students, which is something I love to do.
I could become more involved in my community because I would have more to contribute to community issues, and potentially I would have more time to do so depending upon my schedule as a researcher at an employer such as an institute of higher education.
Having my doctoral degree would unlock countless doors and opportunities to do good in the world. I’m confident there are an untold number of ways such a degree would enhance my ability to lead change; ways I have not even considered.
I would just need to be ready and open to those opportunities, being prepared to grab onto them when they come up.
Getting through this program — which will probably entail traveling to Manhattan, Kansas, a couple of times per week — will not be quick or easy. However, it will all be worth it in the end.
Luckily, I have a loving and supportive wife who is behind me in this endeavor.
It will take money as well, and, though some scholars I’ve read in the twitterverse believe it is foolish to pursue a doctoral degree if it isn’t being fully funded, I’m OK with paying my way. It isn’t financially feasible for me to quit working, and earning the degree will help me move forward with my career.
I understand the logic behind the skepticism of paying out of pocket for a doctoral degree, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach. This will work for me just as other methods work for others.
I’m looking forward to getting started and learning all I can in order to achieve this personal and professional goal.
Now, possibly the most pressing matter, is to start looking for K-State clothes. I think I will look just fine in purple.