2008 Graduation - Doctoral Convocation

Professor Karen D. King, Faculty Speaker

Good Evening. It is both a pleasure and an honor to be before you to give the Faculty Remarks at the NYU Steinhardt Doctoral Convocation. I agonized over what to say that would be both memorable and brief. As a speechwriter and good friend of mine riffs on the Beatitudes, "Blessed are the brief for they shall be invited back."

So, in keeping with that sentiment, I want to share a few suggestions that were shared with me as I completed my doctorate slightly more than a decade ago. These words of wisdom came from others who finished a little before I did, and faculty with whom I worked. So, I present to you some advice that I'll call "Doctor's Orders."

First, if you haven't already, take a vacation. A real vacation where you leave the laptop, the edits, the work on your book or journal article, the case files, anything that looks like work. I know it will be hard. I still have trouble doing it. But it is worth it not to check your email. You've earned it, and you deserve it. Believe me, the work will be there when you get back. But you will come back refreshed, renewed, and often able to see the problems and issues differently. So, take a vacation and do something you enjoy. Read a book (not a work book though). Go scuba diving, hike, rock climb. Golf, tennis, go to the spa, lay around your house in your pajamas playing video games. Visit your children or grandchildren, nieces and nephews, friends from high school or college or your last job. Take a break. And repeat this yearly. I'm still working on that part, but it is important.

Your new status as a doctorate is not all of who you are. It is so easy to get caught up in work: trying to get tenure, building a practice, administering a school district, getting out that next piece. Don't forget all of who you are, which is so much more than being a doctorate in your field. You are a mother, father, sister, brother, friend, partner. Perhaps you are a boater, or salsa dancer, or skier. Perhaps you want to become one of those things but never had the chance to learn. Take a week and try it, get back to some old passion (I still take ballet class when I can). Take this break, and use it to reinvigorate, but also to stay in touch with all of who you are. So, all of you new doctorates turn to your neighbor and repeat after me: "Take a vacation, Doctor's orders."

My next bit of advice might sound a little odd, but stop waiting for the lightening bolt. If you are still waiting to "feel" like a doctorate, stop. There is no magic moment when you will feel like a PhD, EdD, PsyD or PTD. In a little while when you are hooded, there will not be a magic moment when the hood glows and you finally get that magic feeling of "doctorateness." One of my professors in graduate school said she felt like a fraud for about six or seven years after she finished her PhD because she did not "feel" like a PhD. What she failed to realize is that she was an expert, regardless of her feelings and she urged us to embrace our expertise, the feeling would come later.

I liken it to that magic moment when you go from age 29 to age 30, or 39 to 40, or 49 to 50 and so on. You don't wake up on the morning of your 40th birthday feeling vastly different than you did when you were 39 the day before. It's actually a little anticlimactic to have these decadal transitions because there are no fireworks (unless you are born on New Year's Day or the 4th of July) and you don't feel a decade older. It is only in reflecting back over the whole decade that you realize you are very different at 40 than you were at 30. You might be a little grayer. Or, you might not have much hair to worry about at all. But you are also wiser and have a different perspective on life.

The same is true when you look back to the day you started your doctoral program. You know and can do things now that you didn't know and couldn't do then. You have expertise that you did not have then. You can answer questions, see ambiguities, plan and conduct a research study, analyze a composition, assist a patient, oversee a complex organization and a myriad of other things that you probably did not have the experience or expertise to do before. It is in this reflecting back that you will find your feelings of legitimacy in your expertise. And it is important that you find this legitimacy as you go out engage in research, development, and practice in your field because others will look to you for your expertise. It is the reason people hired you to do those jobs in the first place.

I remember teaching my first graduate class just months after finishing my own PhD. I thought, "I was just one of them, and now I'm supposed to teach them and give grades?" But I realized a few weeks in, I did have the knowledge and ability to teach a great graduate course on teaching and learning algebra. I helped my students learn things they were able to use in their own development. Of course, I was still learning, and I continue to learn from every additional course I teach, every classroom I visit, every research study I conduct, every expert panel I serve on. But I was legitimate when I got my PhD, lightening bolt or no lightening bolt. So, turn to your neighbor and repeat after me: "Stop waiting to feel like a doctorate. You are one so act like one. Doctor's orders!"

That leads me to my final point. Keep learning. For those of you entering the academy, you may say, "Of course. I have to do research and publish and teach new courses so I'll have to keep learning." This is true, but you also need to keep learning about the practice aspects of your field. You need to stay connected to schools, museums, conservatories, medical practice, and policy. And for those entering or returning to jobs involving day-to-day practice, you'll continue to learn as you engage in creating art, working with patients, making policy or managing a school district. But you should keep abreast of the research in your field. This connection is what makes a Steinhardt graduate different from others, our commitment to linking research and practice. We all contribute to both generating new knowledge and using that knowledge in practice to improve our community, city, state, country, and world. Your opportunities at NYU Steinhardt allowed you to conduct research, development and practice that is "In and of the city."

While many of you will stay in New York, others will venture to other parts of the US and the world. Keep your commitment to continued learning both in research and practice a central part of your work, and you will keep your connection to the cohort of doctoral graduates from NYU Steinhardt. And as you have students and colleagues, you will add them to your broader collegial community, with these same commitments. In that way, you contribute to solving some of our most intractable problems in education, health, and the arts. That is your legacy as a doctorate from NYU Steinhardt. So, finally, repeat after me "Keep learning, Doctor's orders!"

So with that final order, on behalf of the faculty at Steinhardt, I know you will go forward with success in your future endeavors, growing from the solid foundation provided in your doctoral programs. Congratulations!