Mele Kramer is a Walden M.S. in Industrial/Organizational (I/O) Psychology graduate and a Ph.D. in I/O Psychology student who presented at the Walden University College of Management and Technology (CMT) 2021 Virtual Research Symposium. She shares her personal, professional, and educational journey and provides helpful tips for progressing through a doctoral program at Walden.
I decided to go back to school to get my Ph.D. in my fifties. My educational path, you could say, was untraditional. Some people are born into families that have dreams and goals for their child’s future from birth. Others declare their future as early as elementary school by admiring a hero, real or imagined, and spend their lives preparing for their goal. Then there are others like me, who had a more ambiguous life path.
I came from a military family. My father was an officer and, therefore, we were constantly moving. His tour of duty was two years, sometimes four, making it a challenge to establish stable roots. On the other hand, there were advantages to belonging to a military family. I was able to see many places and meet different people as we traveled nationally and internationally. I also had to learn about adaptability and adjust to a variety of environments. However, this lifestyle made it difficult to create and maintain consistent friendships and support systems and establish a place in the community.
My early adult years did not focus on education. Instead, I focused on working while intermittently going to school. It was not until I started working in the corporate office of a major national U.S. airline that I learned how important it was to complete my bachelor’s degree. The economic recession brought instability in organizations, and those with a college degree were more likely to survive layoffs. Therefore, going to college became a priority. It was different going to college later in life. By the time I had completed my bachelor’s degree, the complication of being married and starting a family took its toll on all fronts. After I received my bachelor’s degree, I found myself a newly single parent raising a child while trying to continue with graduate school. Much to my heartbreak, something had to give; I had to put graduate school on hold. Twenty-five years later, I resumed my dream of completing my graduate studies, and I became the first in my family to pursue a Ph.D.
Having raised a child alone, I was delighted when my daughter had successfully graduated from college and became a biomedical engineer. With a sigh of relief and the green light to pursue my dream, I returned to graduate school. I chose I/O Psychology because, at that juncture in my life, I had worked for various industries and gained some valuable insights into this field. After many years of juggling the challenges of being a working mother and a person of color, I hoped to improve workplace conditions and inspire positive social change for women in the workplace. I found Walden University’s mission of social change to be the right fit for me. To pursue my doctoral degree, I made significant changes in my career, primarily reducing my workload and taking on contract jobs that did not require as much travel. The flexibility of Walden’s online programs was extremely helpful when balancing work, school, and personal obligations. Walden also had many services conveniently available through virtual meetings, asynchronous paper reviews, and other services that helped me progress without the hassle of in-person appointments. The networking was global instead of local, and being able to meet students from all over the world was a delightful surprise.
Having a global network of colleagues is wonderful in many ways. However, being in an online program also has its challenges. Three tips I learned along the way that may be helpful for others pursuing their degrees at Walden are 1) Be proactive with networking, 2) Stay organized and goal-oriented, and 3) Find the right support! I found these strategies to be vital to my success.
Be Proactive When Networking:
Being proactive in your networking efforts ensures that you are connected to other students, advisors, and faculty; people who can help you succeed in an online program. Being connected with other students starts with your first class. You can do this by reaching out to those you feel were aligned with your thoughts from the class discussion boards. Continue to reach out to other students throughout your program and you will establish a strong lifeline of support. Another way to network is to connect with as many colleagues from your residency cohort, along with your advisors. After the residency, stay connected with them on social media, such as LinkedIn, and make an effort to check in with each other each term. This step will help you develop an even stronger support system after the residency is over, connect with others who understand the challenges of being committed to a doctoral-level program, and find people who will continue to cheer you on.
Stay Organized and Goal-Oriented:
Being organized is more than planning time for your courses or program; it means creating a time management plan for your studies, work, and family life balance. One way to do this is to first be clear on your “why” or purpose for pursuing your degree and program. Then ask yourself what your strengths are, where you will need support, and who will be your “go-to” people for support. First, be sure to include Walden’s support resources, such as your Student Success Advisor, University Professors, Mentors, and the Career Planning and Development team. Make appointments each term to share and update goals throughout your program. This will help you stay informed and updated, especially regarding your career. Your career goals may change as you start establishing your scholarly presence. Secondly, create a communications plan so that the supportive people in your life are clear about what to expect in terms of balancing your needs, responsibilities, and limitations. Be honest with yourself and clear in your communications with others. Be sure to get “buy-in” and agreement with your plan, so they feel involved but are not controlling your journey. Be sure to build self-care into your organization plan. Finally, you are ready to create your long-term plan to complete your program, with a reverse timeline. Add phases and use SMART goals to achieve milestones, staying both goal and task-oriented while focusing on your long-term vision. Share your long-term plan to complete your program and goals from the outset and create a timeline for all the benchmarks so you can track your progress.
Celebrate your milestones and achievements with significant others, friends, and family members in your life. Help them to feel that they are part of your success and acknowledge their support frequently. Build in celebration benchmarks into your reverse timeline and invite them to participate in the celebrations. For example, completing your 1st year – dinner celebration, 2nd year – spa day together, 3rd year – day trip escape, 4th year and prospectus approval – weekend getaway. This way, you have a built-in cheerleading team on your side enjoying the celebrations as you achieve your goals along the way!
Find the Right Support:
Leverage the Department of Career Planning and Development to make sure you are adding your scholarly accomplishments to your list of academic and professional strengths. I contacted the Department of Career Planning and Development many times throughout my program. My skills and knowledge changed significantly during my academic journey, and I found the assistance and support from the Career Planning and Development team tremendously helpful. One of the career advisors provided feedback on my resume, and we updated it to reflect my scholarly strengths as they pertain to the needs in my profession. We also revised my LinkedIn profile to highlight the skills and knowledge from my resume and created strategies for networking. I highly encourage you to leverage the career services provided to ensure your resume and social media profile are relevant to the marketplace. I also recommend networking and engaging with professional organizations, student organizations, and professional groups. I became a member of honor societies and professional organizations in my field and volunteered to help with events and conventions. Not only did I get to participate at student rates or less, but I also got to meet key leaders and learn what was trending in the field. By networking, I found many pathways to engage with supportive professionals; this is how I was invited to present my research proposal at the 2021 College of Management and Technology event and speak at the Asian American Psychological Association (AAPA)national meeting.
In closing, I am grateful for all I have learned in my Ph.D. program in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. I especially am grateful for my Chair, Dr. Amy Hakim, who has been supporting me from my first course at Walden; my committee members, Dr. Debra Wilson, for her expertise and guidance with my research methods, and Dr. Jon Cabiria for guiding me and paying attention to details of my research that make it relevant and meaningful; and our Department Head, Dr. Alina Perez, for overseeing the Psychology programs. It takes a village to raise scholars! Best wishes to everyone in your program and on your scholarly journey! What I learned through the years is that it is never too late to follow your dreams, especially when you are passionate about your research and have the right support.
Learn more about Mele Kramer’s Professional and Academic Activities:
Presenter, Walden University College of Management and Technology (CMT) 2021 Virtual Research Symposium:
Asian American Psychological Association (AAPA) 2021 National Convention:
Reporter, AAPA Newsletter (Articles on p.8 & p.33):
Additional Career Resources:
Written by Mele Kramer, Walden Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology Student