Reflections on Completing My Master’s Degree

Richard Thripp's M.A. Degree

I am still mentally adjusting to the fact that I’ve completed my Master’s degree and am about to start my doctoral studies. It’s been nearly two months since I completed my coursework. I haven’t read a journal article since, and while I’ve been doing academic work, it’s on a volunteer basis without a semblance of deadlines.

My Capstone projects for my degree were creating a financial literacy course and writing a paper about the course. In late March 2016, my professor looked at my course and was so impressed that she said I didn’t have to do anything else. The course was two-thirds done, and remains in that state as of June 2016. Though I enjoyed working on the course, my motivation has evaporated without the extrinsic drive to complete my degree. I have literally done nothing on the course since late March, and haven’t thought much about financial literacy since completing my paper in mid-April. This is a topic I love. This does not bode well for any topics I am lukewarm about!

The Applied Learning and Instruction Master of Arts at University of Central Florida is a great program. Drs. Hoffman and Gill, the two UCF professors who co-founded the program and instruct the core courses, pushed me to be critical, to examine scholarly sources and use them to support my arguments, to think big yet be meticulous, and to read thousands of pages of journal articles that I never would have been motivated to read on my own. It would be tenuous to say that reading journal articles has become an ingrained habit, being that I can go for months over summer break without thoroughly reading one, but it’s certainly a skill I have acquired and perfected, that will remain valuable during my career in academia and perhaps even outside academia should I “defect.”

What follows may incur rebukes or criticism should any of my colleagues read it. Fortunately, my blog’s audience is so small that I can pretty much write whatever I want without anyone noticing.

Some misgivings about the program I have completed: Basically, any applicant with a Bachelor’s degree and a pulse is admitted. That is not to say that the program is not rigorous, nor that all applicants persevere. Of course, space fills up and applicants in June or July might not get admitted for the fall semester. ALIMA is a rare program because not only does it not require the GRE, but no references nor letters of recommendation. It is not wise for me (or anyone associated with the program) to parrot this about. To be honest, not having to approach professors for another round of recommendation letters, after my unsuccessful psychology applications, was a selling point. I would definitely say that ALIMA is a hidden gem, belied by its lack of exclusivity.

The Education Ph.D. program at UCF which I am about to enter naturally has higher entry requirements and a lower admission rate. I have been criticized by classmates and colleagues for only applying to one Ph.D. program, forgoing more prestigious programs. It is simply not an acceptable answer, among American academic culture, to attend a graduate program close to home so I can keep living with my parents. To be honest, I thought even applying to this program was a long shot—I have no publications, no conference presentations, and little extra-curricular activity to speak of besides Toastmasters. Recall that two years ago, I was turned down for UCF’s Clinical Psychology M.A.; Applied Learning and Instruction was my second choice and gained preeminence since I was not enthusiastic about trying to become a social studies schoolteacher. I really do not think I am cut out to be the LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Counselor) that UCF’s Clinical Psychology M.A. program prepares you for; being rejected was a blessing in disguise, particularly since I enjoy education and education psychology research greatly. Another perk is the difference in credit hours—33 versus 61! While in a job interview for a financial aid specialist position at Stetson University in June 2014, I pitched working for Stetson full time while pursuing my M.A. in the evenings, I certainly did not have knowledge or experience with financial aid work and am pretty sure my interviewers thought I was wasting their time. Therefore I pursued my M.A. full-time.

ALIMA is only 33 credit hours, but several core courses are only offered once every two years, due to the lack of dedicated faculty for the program. Additionally, students are required to begin work on their Capstone projects or thesis after completing all coursework, meaning the program could take up to three years! I had originally anticipated this, planning to graduate in spring 2017 and take additional psychology electives with the aim of eventually completing 18 credit hours of graduate psychology courses to be qualified as an instructor. However, I was one of two students who petitioned and were offered to complete Capstone projects along with the required course, Seminar II in Applied Learning and Instruction, in spring 2016. This was a ton of work—in addition to my financial literacy work, I completed a massive literature review on mindsets, a conference proposal (it was accepted—I will be going to the Association of Teacher Educators’ conference in Louisville, KY to present on mindsets on Sunday, 2016-07-31), and a take-home, comprehensive exam which took me well over 30 hours to complete, since I had to go back through two years of courses to enter past references into EndNote X7 and review and apply them to a motivational case study. At the same time during this semester, I was preparing for two interviews for UCF’s Education Ph.D. program, and possibly a third, which never happened since they accepted me without scheduling it.

The combination of Seminar II and Capstone projects often ends in disaster for ALIMA students. In fact, I am told no future students will be allowed to take on this dangerous combination. In my case, being unemployed and without children, it was tenable. However, I am atypical—most ALIMA students are older with families and full-time work. Delaying my Capstone projects until fall 2016 would have set me back an entire year on my doctoral studies—my program and most Ph.D. programs only take applications for fall semesters. Of course, I am quite pleased with myself now, but there were plenty of days in March 2016 where I suffered anxiety, dread, and little sleep. Generally, I put way too much effort into my coursework—far more than what others do and far more than what is technically required to succeed. This, combined with subpar time management, is why I struggle to meet deadlines despite plenty of free time, while the other student who took this combination in the same semester succeeded even though she has kids and a full-time job. If I were her, I would not have done well.

Of course, being accepted to UCF’s Education Ph.D. program on 2016-02-15 was a powerful motivator. I was elated and stunned to receive an admissions offer with both a 20-hour per week job and a fellowship. Unlike my M.A., which I had to pay for completely out-of-pocket, I will be paid, and quite handsomely so, for my Ph.D. work and studies. Of course, all of this was contingent on me completing my M.A., which I did, and now I am here.

I am eternally proud of my GRE scores from 2013-10-07: 160 Verbal (84th percentile), 164 Quantitative (89th percentile), and 4.5 Analytical Writing (78th percentile). In fact, being able to re-use them for my Education Ph.D. application was a bigger motivator than it should have been for me to pursue my Ph.D. now, rather than after several years working in the mythical “real world.” (Previously, I had used my GRE scores for unsuccessful applications to UCF’s M.A. Clinical Psychology and UC Berkeley’s Ph.D. Clinical Psychology programs; GRE scores expire after 5 years.) Of course, applying to only two psychology programs and to only one education doctoral program is just a manifestation of my half-assed approach to life. Any normal, forward-minded, sane person should be applying to 6–10 graduate programs.

I am actually pretty happy that I have three hours of mandatory meetings at UCF on my 25th birthday on Wednesday, August 17, 2016. These meetings are to orient me for my track (Instructional Technology track in the Education Ph.D. program) and for being a Graduate Assistant. Turning 25 is such a big milestone. I like having it entangled with beginning my doctoral studies. I didn’t even have a birthday party last year, so missing out on one this year is no big deal (and a party could always be postponed to Saturday).

A grand irony is that I am studying education coming from a home-schooled background. To be technically accurate, I attended private schools in Florida—Gold Medal Honors Academy for high school (now defunct due to Lily T. Schwarz’s untimely passing), but completed all my studies at home, with my textbooks being approved by Mrs. Schwarz. Had I been legally home-schooled, I would have needed a 30 on the ACT college entrance exam instead of 28 to receive the highest Florida BrightFutures scholarship, the Florida Academic Scholars Award. On my first and only attempt at age 14 on 2005-12-10, I scored 28 (92nd percentile), with a rather weak 23 in math and 25 in science compensated for by an ungodly 34 in reading (99th percentile) and a more modest 28 in English. The irony of the State of Florida requiring so much less of public- or private-schooled students, at least as of 2007, remains palpable. (Yes, I graduated high school at 15 and started community college at 16.)

The education I have pursued in my post-Associate post-secondary studies is mockingly referred to as the incestuous academic path. I have a B.S. in Psychology (May 2014), an M.A. in Applied Learning and Instruction (May 2016), and anticipate a Ph.D. in Education (August 2019), all from the same institution: University of Central Florida. To be fair, all three programs have entirely different faculty. In fact, I completed my B.S. online and at the Daytona Beach regional campus—I did not even start attending the main Orlando campus until starting my M.A. in August 2014. I don’t see this as an issue, and am in fact proud to be a 7-year knight. The coup de grâce, of course, would be to become an adjunct instructor or assistant professor at UCF after graduating, but in lieu of the half-assed approach, I will probably conduct a national job search, or at least a regional job search that avoids really cold parts of the United States.

While I look forward with some consternation to beginning UCF’s Ph.D. Education, Instructional Technology track, and my Graduate Assistantship, on Monday, 2016-08-22, overall I am optimistic and excited. While plagued by office politics, inequities, posturing, and pandering to grant money, at its core, academics at least publicly aspire to the search for truth, accuracy, and social justice. It would be foolish to say academia is pure, but it is certainly less tainted than other career paths, and can afford one a rare combination of meaning, security, and autonomy. Moreover, studying education as an academic is a meta-field—that is, it involves investigating and questioning the underlying assumptions about what we are doing as educators. Tantalizingly, the implications are broad and all-encompassing—occupational training, user-interface design, community nursing, and outreach programs are just a few of the divergent areas that educational theories and principles can be applied to.

Me at the UCF fountain, 2016-05-16

I remain,
Richard Thripp, MA, ACB, ALB
Doctor of Philosophy, Education, Univ. of Central Fla., August 2019 (in progress)
Master of Arts, Applied Learning & Instruction, Univ. of Central Fla., May 2016
Bachelor of Science, Psychology, Univ. of Central Fla., May 2014
Associate of Arts with Honors, Daytona State College, May 2011, Phi Theta Kappa
Graduate Assistant, University of Central Florida, 2016–2017
Recipient of the Graduate Dean’s Fellowship, Univ. of Central Fla., 2016–2017
Recipient of the Florida Bright Futures Academic Scholars Award, 2007–2014
Recipient of the Dana Rodman Tiffany Scholarship, Daytona State College, 2011
Recipient of the James Fentress Scholarship, Daytona State College, 2007–2008
Toastmasters Advanced Communicator Bronze Award, May 23, 2016
Toastmasters Advanced Leader Bronze Award, February 10, 2016
Toastmasters Competent Leader Award, February 2, 2016
Toastmasters Competent Communicator Award, July 29, 2015
Toastmasters Triple Crown Award, 2015–2016
Toastmasters League of Volunteers Award, 2015–2016
Toastmasters Club Ambassador Award, 2015–2016
President of Port Orange Toastmasters, 2015–2016
Vice President Membership of Port Orange Toastmasters, April 22–June 30, 2016
Writer of the Toastmasters District 84, Area 74 Newsletter, January–June 2016

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *