Illness and Doctoral Programs

Since I reached my adult years, I’ve had only one career goal in mind…I wanted to be a researcher. I wanted to research how diversity was included in helping professions, I see this as an important topic because helping professionals work with a diverse population. Technical skills and knowledge are not enough and it is my belief that curriculum in helping professions historically focused heavily on the techniques and a little on the people who will receive treatment.

I wanted to become a researcher, so I pursued an advanced degree…in other words I am currently in a doctoral program.

This is great, the education level leads directly to the type of career that I have desired for years; however, I am also chronically ill.

This is problematic, very problematic. I am considered an enlightened thinker by many of my professors, peers, family and friends. It is not shocking for me to be told that my writing is superb and the way that I “think” is unique…it is thought that I would be a valuable asset to the research world.

But I am chronically ill…many of the illnesses that invade my body are exacerbated by stress. Remember I am in a doctoral program, and regardless of discipline, this level of education prides itself on being stressful. I am quite certain that many may disagree with me as to the stressfulness of doctoral programs. For a fact, there is likely some who feel that these programs are only stressful to those who are not quite cut out for it. Bear with me for a moment, I am not suggesting that doctoral programs are stress filled but trust me when I suggest that they are stressful.

Doctoral programs are stressful because they venture away from the normative education process that we grow up with. You reach a point in a doctoral program where you develop your research agenda by creating a project. This project should add to the existing literature in whatever your topical area may be. Additionally, you are supposed to use the knowledge acquired through coursework in this project.

There is nothing wrong with that…but I am chronically ill. Doctoral programs are difficult for individuals without illness, but I am chronically ill. Remember, I have the intellect, willingness, and the grit to complete the doctoral program and I am certain that anyone exposed to me would agree…but I am chronically ill.

My chronic illnesses makes my journey through the doctoral program difficult and makes me question what I want to do for a career. I have always wanted to be a researcher, one who researches how helping professions can improve services through education.

I am chronically ill; however, I am determined to find a way to have the career I dreamed of. My chronic illnesses teaches me adaptability daily…doctoral programs are not designed with me (and the many like me) in mind; however someone (why not me?) must make a path for those to come.

Soon I will finish my doctoral degree, but I will never forget the challenges caused by my chronic illness throughout this process. Now my research agenda has expanded to include ways to improve the process of receiving and utilizing doctoral degrees for those like myself who are otherwise qualified, but chronically ill, disabled.

I will likely always be chronically ill, since at this time there is no cure, but I am undefined by illness alone.

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