What happens to a dream deferred?

This was a question posed by American poet Langston Hughes in his 1951 poem “Harlem” which portrays the plight of African-Americans attempting to achieve the “American Dream.” This poem speaks to me due to several setbacks I experienced starting a decade ago that pushed the American Dream out of reach for me, encouraged me to explore being an expat, and deferred my dream to complete a PhD.

I have managed to advance in academia without a doctorate up to this point due to sheer determination; just this past June I celebrated ten years of teaching! However, as I begin my third full-time year at the American University in the Emirates (AUE), a PhD is increasingly necessary professionally and, quite frankly, remains a calling personally.

I have found a PhD program that will allow me to continue working while conducting my doctoral research: a Management Distance Learning PhD from the University of Leicester School of Business. With more than 90 years of experience and a global alumni network of over 30,000, the University of Leicester School of Business offers an interdisciplinary community of over 150 academics internationally renowned for its accounting and finance, management, marketing, and economics courses.

It is highly ranked for research power reflecting the pioneering work they conduct in partnership with leaders, managers, and organizations to promote and strengthen responsible business practices. Research conducted at the University of Leicester School of Business challenges accepted thinking, norms and perceptions in management, economics, finance, accounting, and marketing.

The school’s goal is simple: enhance the way we think about business and to work in partnership with leaders and managers to promote and strengthen sustainable business in all of its forms. My journey towards enhancing the way people think about business starts with preparing a research proposal of 3,000 to 4,000 words. According to the University of Leicester, “A research proposal is a statement that tells us what you want to research, how you will do it, and why it is important.” The research proposal is the foundation upon which I will build my thesis of at least 80,000 words.

My plan is to prepare my research proposal for submission in July 2018 with an anticipated start date of September 2018. However, starting the research proposal is a big step that will take a great deal of focus and fortitude. Luckily, I found an online course from the University of Leicester designed to help me achieve this task!

Titled “Discovering your PhD Potential” this five-week course is taught by Professor Neil Christie, Professor of Archaeology, and formerly the Director of Postgraduate Research in the College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities at the University of Leicester; he is joined by Dr. Vanessa Beck, also a recent Director of Postgraduate Research at the University of Leicester and currently a Senior Lecturer in Work and Organisation in the School of Economics, Finance and Management at the University of Bristol.

The course is designed to give me the awareness, skills, and tools to write a well thought-out and achievable research proposal, thereby improving the quality of my application in the process. It will also give me a sense of the self-study required by postgraduate doctoral research. Topics covered include the following:

  • Introduction to doctoral research.
  • Funding your study.
  • Defining the problem and writing a research question.
  • Writing a literature review.
  • Research design and methodology.
  • How to construct your proposal.

The class, which started Monday, September 4, is offered at no cost online via the FutureLearn platform. However, I opted to upgrade for $39 (+ shipping) which provides me with unlimited access to the course and entitles me to a Certificate of Achievement when I complete it. The course focuses on a different theme each week as follows:

  • Week 1: Introduction and research problem definition.
  • Week 2: Literature review and context.
  • Week 3: Research question.
  • Week 4: Design and methods.
  • Week 5: Bringing the proposal together.

After completing the course I should be able to:

  • Identify why I want to complete a PhD and whether my expectations are realistic.
  • Demonstrate how to set a realistic, manageable, and impactful research question.
  • Describe and implement the steps required to writing a literature review, including: a literature search, planning, organizing, and writing the literature review.
  • Compare the differences between ontology, epistemology, different research designs, and methodology.
  • Explore the main requirements, structures, and problems with undertaking a PhD.
  • Compare deductive and inductive research questions.
  • Discuss what kind of theoretical approach would be useful for my research proposal.
  • Summarize what I learned from the course into a first draft of a research proposal.

I am excited to embark on this academic adventure: completing this course is a first step towards making my PhD dream a reality; once I do that the name of this blog will certainly make more sense (doctorate + victorious + generous + notorious = doctorious) as well! To learn more about the course you can watch a promotional video below or view it directly on YouTube.

What are your top five strengths?

I previously blogged about how insightful my personal mastery course in the organizational leadership EdD program  at Pepperdine was to me. The most paradigm shifting experience class was reading “Now, Discover Your Strengths” and taking the related online test to understand my top five strengths. When I first read the book in 2006 I received free access to the online “StrengthsFinder” test and learned the first five of my 34 possible strengths:

  1. Learner
  2. Strategic
  3. Input
  4. Intellection
  5. Relator


Today, with “Cinco de Mayo” upon us, it seemed appropriate to reveal what you could call my “Cinco de Mio!” In this spirit, a summary of the meaning, interpretation, and application of my top five strengths follows:

1. Learner

Meaning: I have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. The process of learning, rather than the outcome, is what excites me.

Interpretation: I’ve always found satisfaction, purpose and identity as a “learner.” When I was younger I mistakenly measured my self-worth on my grades alone. As I matured I finally understood “the outcome of the learning is less significant than the ‘getting there,’ (Buckingham and Clifton, 2001, p. 107).

I have worked to develop a healthier balance between academics and adventure. Likewise, when I was younger I was engaged in book learning exclusively, but have since identified an equal interest in “experiential education.” I don’t think I will ever satiate my desire to overcome a new educational obstacle.

Lately most of my learning has resulted from my journey as a parent of two children who each have special needs.

Application: My biggest challenge as a learner has been extracting myself from an educational environment and integrating into a professional setting — while still finding satisfaction and purpose. While I am a very good student, I often feel lost once I am no longer exclusively in that role.

At positions in the past I frequently fond myself wanting to ask “why” when given an assignment while my superiors wanted me to answer “when can you get this done?” I feel a need to understand the underlying reasons for a project so I can break it down into logical, more easily understood components.

I desire an occupation that feels more like an avocation — something for which which I can tackle an intellectual challenge, transform information into knowledge and apply it strategically to render a tangible, beneficial result.

2. Strategic

Meaning: I like to create alternative ways to proceed with a given task. Faced with any given scenario, I can quickly spot patterns and issues around which I can devise a specialized plan of attack.

Interpretation: I have often defined myself as “a strategic thinker and creative tinkerer,” so it seems my initial perceptions about being “strategic” are correct.

Beyond being a natural talent, I attribute this strength to a background in student journalism and years of being taught to deconstruct information. Even after venturing into the world of consulting I find myself relying on the perfunctory “5 Ws” of journalism: who, what, when where, why.

This strength has become particularly relevant as I’ve endeavored further into higher education. I’ve always had an aptitude to “sort through the clutter and find the best route,” (Buckingham and Clifton, 2001, p. 115), which is the foundation of my ability to learn and to communicate my discoveries in a clear and compelling manner.

Application: While most of my professional past has involved creative areas, I’ve always had focused and practical mindset. My challenge is to find a professional situation that will reward me for this strength while engaging my others.

The most feasible route is a career as a college professor (either in a full-time or adjunct capacity) while also remaining engaged with the “real world” from which the curriculum I teach is extracted.

When I initially proposed this idea, I had not yet begun teaching at the college level: I started my first online class with Axia College of University of Phoenix on June 18, 2007 and my first onsite experience began with DeVry University on October 30, 2007. However, once I understood my natural strengths I began working towards making the dream a reality.

3. Input

Meaning: I naturally crave more information, I need to know more. I like to collect and archive all kinds of information.

Interpretation: Even as I wrote this paper I couldn’t resist the urge to check various websites for the latest events around the world. As Buckingham and Clifton (2001) explain, I “collect information – words, facts, books, and quotations,” (p. 105).

Beyond collecting information I have a need to “connect the dots” between each individual piece and clarify the meaning of each to hopefully reveal a larger truth.

Considering the mind of someone with a strength in ideation, “is always looking for connections [and is] intrigued when seemingly disparate phenomena can be linked by an obscure connection,” (Buckingham and Clifton, 2001, p. 102), my need for input shares some characteristics with ideation.

Application: Information overload and analysis paralysis are weaknesses that can impugn the effectiveness of “input” and are issues with which I have dealt. The main obstacle with “input” as a strength is that it can be a solitary, passive endeavor.

On the positive side, the big picture of my strengths reveals someone who is introspective, analytical, and clear minded, but who also enjoys close relationships. As a leader, I can share this strength with the people I lead to facilitate their specific needs. There is also an implication that someone with an “input” strength is also a good listener.

On a related note, Max DePree writes  in Leadership is an Art (1989), “The leader listens to the ideas, needs, aspirations, and wishes of the followers and then…responds…in an appropriate fashion,” (p. xxi).

When powerless people feel those in power have a genuine interest in them those people feel hopeful. When the reverse is true, people are consumed with resentment and disdain for their leaders.

4. Intellection

Meaning: I enjoy a high degree of intellectual activity. I am introspective and enjoy engaging in intellectual discussions.

Interpretation: I am an intellectual who enjoys “exercising the ‘muscles’ of [my] brain,” (Buckingham and Clifton, 2001, p. 106). However, I also have a strength in “intellection” which “may very well lack focus,” (Buckingham & Clifton, 2001, p. 106) but I do have a strong “strategic ability.

I suppose this is an example of nature finding a balance: while I enjoy intellectual flights of fancy, I am also grounded by a need to remain clear and have my research serve a practical purpose.

I think one of my most unique strengths is being an academic who can also take action, combining the theoretical with the practical.

Application: Having “intellection” as a theme enables me to provide well researched and well organized information about the competitive landscape and well reasoned thoughts about options. I generally consider all available options and only take action when the best one reveals itself, but also I sometimes make decisions based on instinct alone.

Realistically, in an average day, I must make hundreds of decisions and not all are worthy of intellectual investigation. I have been accused of “over thinking” decisions and taking too much time to choose a course of action. Maybe therein lays the difference between a manager and a leader?

Whereas a manager must make immediate decisions based on the information available at that moment (in conjunction with the knowledge gleamed from past experience), a leader can afford to be more systematic and pensive. I am unresolved on this, but know that if “intellection” is a strength, it is anchored in a natural talent and therefore worth embracing.

5. Relator

Meaning: I prefer to establish close relationships with others and I find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a common goal.

Interpretation:I find it interesting how, “the Relator theme pulls you toward people you already know. You do not necessarily shy away from meeting new people….but you derive a great deal of pleasure and strength….from your close friends,” (Buckingham & Clifton, 2001, p. 110).

This theme reflects my focus on honesty and my preference for a smaller circle of friends. I am not superficial and don’t want my relationships to be. Although I don’t have many close friends I do have several hundred acquaintances.

Confiding in a close cadre of colleagues is a powerful way of living; one that reflects the actions of many noted leaders who only had close friendships with a few very special people despite their being followed by thousands.

Application: The most powerful component of this theme is that “you are comfortable with intimacy…for you a relationship has value only if it is genuine,” (Buckingham and Clifton, 2001, p. 110).

I remember wondering in high school why I didn’t have more friends – not because I wanted more friends but because I thought I should have more. On one level my wanting to develop fewer, but closer relationships demonstrate a self-confidence I didn’t realize I had and a deep personal conviction that my friends are meaningful people to me.

I value people and seek to validate them by acknowledging their individual strengths. The secret is to pick the right people with whom to entrust my friendship, but more importantly to not totally shut out anyone new who might prove to be a valued ally.

So now that you know my greatest strengths, what are yours?


Last week, I received an e-mail from Kelly Sonora on behalf of Online Degree World with the following message:

We just posted an article, “Top 100 Edu Tweeters” (http://www.onlinedegreeworld.com/blog/2009/top-100-edu-tweeters/). I thought I’d bring it to your attention in case you think your readers would find it interesting.  I am happy to let you know that your site has been included in this list.

Prior to receiving this e-mail, I had never heard of this list or received an inquiry from anyone producing it. So, without question, my being on it came as a total surprise.  I replied to the e-mail I received, asking Ms. Sonora how she found my Twitter account and chose to include it on the list, but I have not yet heard back.

UC Santa Barbara: 1109 North HallNevertheless, despite the mysterious nature of this recognition, I am honored to receive the distinction.

According to my colleague Bill Sodeman, PhD — with whom I became friendly on Twitter —  his inclusion on the list is a noteworthy event at Hawaii Pacific University where he is an associate professor.

The list itself, which was written/compiled by Courtney Phillips, counts me as one of 29 educators. I am number 84 overall in what appears to be a randomly organized list. In other words, I am not ranked 84 out of 100, but rather I am listed in the 84th position on a list of the 100 top people or organizations using Twitter who are involved in education.

When you review the list you will note that I am in good company. Other educators on the list include the following notable folks:

Universities and educational institutions include:

Publishers, Libraries & Librarians include:

Resources and support for educators and academia include:

All things considered, this was a pleasant surprise and an honor I am proud to have earned. Thank you, Online Degree World, for recognizing my efforts to share knowledge about education on Twitter!