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.

One of the reasons I enjoy being a teacher is that, in ways large and small, I can make a positive difference in the lives of others — just as many of my own teachers have done for me. Today’s Music Monday investigates this idea.

For me, one teacher — Professor Eloise Hay — who I only knew briefly in 1996 during my last class at UCSB made an impact on me, though I wasn’t initially aware of her influence when it happened. (I was too concerned with graduating).

William BlakeIt was in this class — English 40, English Literature 1800 to 1900 — that I was first introduced, at least academically, to William Blake.  Since then I have always felt an emotional and creative connection with Blake, and his imaginative interpretation of humanity.

My interest in Blake inspired me to launch “WilliamBlake.com – Cybersongs of Innocence.” While it has not yet evolved into the resource I envisioned, I hope to eventually expand it into a user-created Wiki (as time and resources allow).

Why I mention this is that it was on this date  — April 30, 1996 — that Professor Hay died of inoperable brain cancer. Although I only had her for that one class, and never knew her beyond the 12 weeks of my last quarter at UCSB, I remain grateful for the opportunity to have learned about such a wonderful craftsman of creativity as William Blake.

One of Blake’s more famous works is a short poem titled “And did those feet in ancient time”  which can be found in the preface to his epic 1804 work Milton a Poem, one of his collection of Prophetic Books. Today this short piece is more commonly known as the anthem “Jerusalem” — for which, in 1916, Hubert Parry wrote the music to accompany Blake’s words.

The theme of the poem is that, during his lost years, Jesus travelled to (what is now) England and visited Glastonbury. The song is a popular English anthem and is performed at various events each year — including the April 29, 2011 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (another coincidence and reason why I share this song on this date).

Although I am not religious, I appreciate the works of Blake and find the song based on his poem inspiring and uplifting. There are many versions of it available online, but I selected a more modern version of it as performed by the English rock group Emerson, Lake & Palmer below:

For reference, the text of Blake’s poem follows:

And did those feet in ancient time.

Walk upon England’s mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land.

Have you declared your independence from indifference?liberty-bell-656871_640

Today, as Americans celebrate the ratification of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress, many of us repeat the following passage:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Thinking about the “pursuit of Happiness,” I find myself wondering if indifference prevents people from experiencing the happiness of  their life’s purpose? This leads me to ask questions like:

  • How many of us truly pursue that which makes us happy?
  • How many of us have a longing for something greater?
  • How many of us envision a path we have not pursued?
  • If obstacles were removed would we pursue our dreams?
  • Do we limit ourselves with fear and excuses?

Like the character Neo in The Matrix, there are times when we sense something is not right, but we choose the blue pill because we fear the reality of the red pill. Fortunately Neo embraced the unknown, but not everyone makes the same choice.

In his inspiring TED talk, Why we do what we do, Tony Robbins argues that, despite tremendous obstacles, we all possess the power to realize our dreams. Robbins explains that we fail to achieve our dreams not because we lack resources, but because we lack resourcefulness — the emotional ingenuity to achieve our dreams:

Consider the seemingly insurmountable odds America faced when it declared its independence from England.  The odds of success were minuscule, but those odds discounted how driven to dream the colonists were. But they weren’t naive either; instead the colonists embraced the philosophy that would later be defined by Jim Collins as the Stockdale Paradox:

“Retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties – and at the same time – confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.”

Certainly, we all face limitations, but I encourage you to look to what is, rather than what is not. The past two years have been challenging and rewarding to me personally and professionally, but I continue working on moving forward rather than back.

Reinforcing this philosophy, Fortune Cookie: Discover the Power within YourselfI recently received a fortune cookie that read “Discover the Power Within Yourself.” As trite as this message sounds, it inspired me. Taking those words to heart I continually re-frame my situation to see it realistically while retaining faith I will prevail in the end.

So, whenever you find yourself encountering adversity, I encourage you to declare your independence from indifference and discover the power within yourself to achieve what you dream!