Points of Pride

Doctoral Students Stay Connected and Get Things Done!

Posted on Fri, Jun 20, 2014

Anchor Group Stays Close Through Session and Daily Emails

By Marianne McCarthy

There’s nothing simple about graduate school—especially when you do it on as an adult. Our students have busy lives that often include a job, family, and other commitments, not to mention all the activities that come with them!

“It’s easy to disconnect from school. Other things come in the way and they are all huge priorities,” says doctoral student Dohrea Bardell. “To maintain focus, you need people around you to constantly remind you.”

Dohrea, who runs a Seattle-based manufacturing company with her husband, is one of six members of the Getting Things Done (GTD) group. These Human & Organizational Development (HOD) students originally met at a New Student Orientation (NSO) in 2011. Dohrea and the other members of the group have found that staying connected with each other helps them stay on top of their coursework and their degree progress.

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Getting Things Done group members (from left to right): Dohrea Bardell, Holly Bardutz, Trevor Maber, Susan Miele, Don Khouri, and Sam Jama.

The group’s name comes from the book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen, a veteran coach whose premise is: productivity is directly proportional to our ability to relax.  It made a profound impact on one of the member’s coaching practice, and the group adopted the name because they decided they were going to get things done!

Daily Emails Keep them on Track

At NSO, the GTD members spent a lot of time on the Lifelines component, analyzing each other’s milestones and really getting to know each other.  After returning home, they initiated a system of daily emails at the suggestion of their program director, Dorothy Agger-Gupta. Since then, each member has taken one day out of every week to compose a message to the rest of the group. As a result of this daily contact, they have developed a strong bond, despite their distance.

 “With a daily connection and constant contact with Fielding peers, doctoral work becomes an integral part of your everyday thoughts. You’re constantly reminded about the work that you have to do, but also feel a part of the community via a virtual community,” says GTD member Sam Jama who lives and works in Canada.

Their daily messages comprise something personal or something very practical for the program.

“Whatever you want, even little tips or jokes.” says Holly Bardutz, “I have two kids and a job, but the emails remind me every day that this is part of my life too, and I have to keep going.”

Staying connected with each other has a profound impact on their success, admits Professor Agger-Gupta, who says that students who stay closely connected to others throughout their program benefit from the collegiality and have a greater tendency to complete their program.

“You could go through this program and have little to no contact with anyone else,” says Canadian Trevor Maber. “Some people are great at that, but I like to socialize. I need that connection. I need that sense of belonging.”

Group Collaborates on Coursework

GTD members contracted, designed, and executed several of their Knowledge Areas (KAs) together. Deciding that it’s better to go through courses together than apart, they leverage resources, take turns interviewing faculty, and collectively select the literature.

Susan Miele is raising a teenaged daughter and managing a human resources team at a technology company while working toward her doctorate. For her, working on coursework together was beneficial. “It’s easy to get distracted when you have your own individual deadline versus when you have five other people who are committed to the same timelines.”

“I wonder how people without the support network do it,” says Don Khouri, an executive coach for the technology and healthcare industries in New England and New York. “I’ve talked to other folks who struggle because they don’t have some of the logistical and process knowledge about HOD that we gained from someone in our group.”

Session Has More Meaning

Summer Session is just around the corner and all six members are slated to meet in Chicago this July.

“I don’t think I would come as often as I do if I didn’t know these people,” says Holly. “Knowing that they will be there is what motivates me to come here, and I’m more comfortable.”

GTD group members use their collective bandwidth to capitalize on all the opportunities Session presents. They attend different workshops, then come back together and share what they learned.  They benefit from discussing and debating these concepts and ideas from within their various viewpoints.

“In some ways we are a very divergent group and that brings a lot of richness to our experience in that we bring different perspectives and backgrounds,” says Trevor.  “It challenges us in other ways. If the six of us all lived in Phoenix and agreed on everything, I don’t know if we’d have the same experience.”

Group Provides Emotional Support

GTD group

 “Most people don’t know what it means to get a PhD, not to mention what Fielding is like,” says Susan. “As much as my husband and daughter are supportive they have no idea. They just know I’m busy all the time.”

“I view GTD as a group of lifelong friends. We have really built that bond. It’s not just Fielding stuff we’re talking about on a daily basis; it’s life stuff,” says Don.

The GTD Group of Six” is in the midst of an amazing learning journey, and I know that the strength and insight they each bring to this group will enable them to thrive when they all become the “GTD Group of Six PhDs!” says Professor Agger-Gupta.

Tags: adult learning, Distributed education, national session, graduate education, human development, distance education, learning