Saturday, I earn my Master's Degree, the one that I actually returned to school three years ago intent on obtaining.

Before I got back in the classroom, I thought that I'd combine my retail management experience with Instructional Technology to work in a corporate training department, where it really didn't matter about my physical issues limiting me in some way.

Along the way, I learned that I really enjoyed the academic environment, the community of learners, and the way that people bonded over the shared experience. It made me want to stay in academia, and I figured I'd go after a role in Instructional Technology at a university.

Then, Ed and I heard Tony Attwood speak two months before I earned my bachelor's degree. (which amazes me that I didn't blog about the experience.) I furiously wrote notes, 30 pages when the day was done and a lot of what the world's authority on Asperger's Syndrome had to say made SO much sense. To say that I was captivated by the content would be an understatement.

I don't know what Ed saw in my that day, maybe crazy lady face or something, but at the first break, he turned to me, matter of fact and said "You will be earning a Ph.D in this." It wasn't really a question, more of a statement. Until that moment, I hadn't even given doctoral studies any consideration. It's a huge commitment for everyone, not just the student. That statement told me that if I decided to take that journey, Ed would support me completely.

The last two months of my BA, I was polling professors about their Ph.D experience, how I should approach it, and talking about what I wanted to explore. I got great advice and a ton of encouragement. Then I met with the chair of the Ph.D program at my school and from the meeting, thought he hated me-but we ended the meeting on a positive "Yeah, I think you've got a good handle on what you need to do." It was encouraging.

It's somewhat strange starting a master's program knowing exactly what you want to do for doctoral dissertation research, but it really isn't much different than taking that BA, knowing what I was planning for the master's. In some respects, it made choosing classes more focused than it could have been, like choosing classes that are requirements for the Ph.D program, but electives in a master's program.

I put my application in back in February, and then pretty much shelved the idea for this year. It seemed better to apply to other programs where there's a lot more funding, maybe I should take a semester off and work on the health, get my teaching legs under me, etc.

However, the professor that had my application packet had other plans. We've transitioned from the professor/student relationship to more recently, the professor being more of a mentor and guide than a professor. He passed my application to the new program chair. Yesterday, I met with her for a formal interview (with a email from my mentor saying 'you still have to do well in this interview, I'm not the only one deciding.'), one in which we spoke at great length about what I studied, why I want to pursue advanced studies, what do I plan to do after I get the degree, etc.

For the last 20 minutes, the professor I had for my summer class came in, and honestly, it's the first time I've met her face to face. The three of us discussed more of the fact that I'm combining two disciplines, with that professor telling me how I need to do more than a cognate. This makes sense, I'd be doing the equivalent of a double major to an undergrad, rather than a major and a minor.

At the end, I asked "what are my next steps?", thinking they still needed to decide, but I was told "Congratulations, you'll be starting this semester." I am an admitted doctoral student.

I have an action plan of things I'm to do this semester, things that were already on my personal to-do list (like get published, which I'm actually working on with my new boss) and meet with the chair of the other department to hammer out what I'll take and who will be on my committee, and oh gosh, get back in touch with the professors along the way that I asked if they would be on my committee if I did my Ph.D studies here.

Saturday, I walk across the stage, completing a degree that no one else in my family has earned-and right onto the path to the next one. Two down, one to go.

I am SO excited for this.


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