Posted by: Dorianne Cotter-Lockard | 4 September 2009

Reflection – My Doctoral Journey to Date

What follows is the reflection paper that I wrote for my portfolio review.  Some of the terminology I used is Fielding University-specific, but I included it anyway in this post.

This has been an amazing two years of my life.  I experienced a huge shift in my sense of identity and in my worldview as I quit my executive position to pursue this program.  At first, I found it difficult to adjust to the slower pace (I didn’t consult during the first nine months) and the fact that I didn’t have an administrative assistant and all the perks of working in the corporate environment.  However, I really enjoyed having the flexibility and time to dive deeply into my studies.

My worldview also changed radically.  As I came to understand human development and systems, I let go of my success-oriented approach to life.  I now see everything in life as connected, with multiple ways to understand and make changes to systems.  As a result, I have a renewed interest and appreciation for social activism.  At first, I rejected post-modernism as an “anti-everything” perspective.  I now see it as a “beyond-modernist” view, accepting that my reality is relative and context-based.  I had to let go of my complete reliance on my rational mind in order to embrace this worldview.  It was a painful process for me, as I feel that I no longer have solid ground on which to stand.

The Learning Curve

I knew nothing about scholarly writing before I started this program.  Coming from the business environment, I wrote good business documents, plans, and reports.  Scholarly writing is completely different – it took time to acquire the basic skills.  I still have a lot to learn about writing arguments and critiquing others’ work.

The Doctoral Competencies (DOCS) course gave me a taste of what I needed to learn in several areas, most notably in conducting database research for a literature review and the importance of accurately citing references.  I immediately bought a copy of EndNote and learned how to use it.  I am quite fluent with EndNote at this time, automatically downloading citations into it from my library searches and inserting and editing citations while I write my papers in Microsoft Word.

During my first year, I decided to conduct a research project for Knowledge Area (KA)702 so that I could experience the Institutional Review Board (IRB) process and all of the steps required to conduct qualitative research.  I learned a huge amount while completing that KA.  Not only did I get IRB approval, I applied for and received a Fielding Research grant, learned how to use a digital recorder for in-person and phone interviews, sent the recordings off to a transcriptionist, and conducted a phenomenological and hermeneutic analysis of the interview texts.  Dr. Valerie Bentz provided wonderful guidance and mentorship throughout the project and invited me to present my paper on a panel at the Society for Phenomenology and Human Sciences. Finally, I created a research poster, which was displayed at the 2009 Winter Session.

Going into my second year, I taught a graduate level course at California Lutheran University.  The learning curve was much larger than I anticipated.  I learned how to create a syllabus, grading rubrics, and homework assignments.  I learned to use WebCT and set up the course online.  I was really nervous about teaching and I believe it set me off on the wrong foot with my students.  The preparation time and time to grade homework was far greater than expected.  I received mixed reviews from the course evaluations.  Even so, the university asked me to teach the course again the following summer (2009), which I turned down due to a busy travel schedule.

One would think that conducting one research project to support KA work would be enough.  However, after completing 753B and attending a talk by William Torbert at the Academy of Management last year, I decided to conduct an Action Research – Appreciative Inquiry project for my KA703.  The IRB process for this project was much more complicated and took longer than for my first project.  I decided to finish my KA703 In-Depth/Applied paper prior to completing the research project and now I plan to write up the results of the research for a future KA.

My Topic and Questions

I began the program with several dissertation ideas.  I desired the freedom to explore many topics rather than decide on a topic too early in my program.  I created two concept papers and included my second idea in the portfolio review.  Therefore, my concept paper is still in a preliminary draft form.

Finding My Scholarly Community

I established close relationships with four of my anchor-teammates.  We maintain regular contact via a private blog, where we post all of our trials and triumphs.  We read each other’s papers and provide feedback as well as share our learning experiences as we all progress through the program.  I was very active in the Santa Barbara cluster the past two years and co-organized a regional KA706 intensive in collaboration with the San Diego cluster connect in May 2009.  Last month, after polling students who live in Ventura and western LA counties, I founded the Ventura County cluster and will be the initial cluster connect this coming year.

Since I’m an extrovert, I reach out to others and form new connections with ease.  I have serendipitously met so many wonderful new colleagues outside of the Fielding community, especially with Academy of Management members.  I am well-connected with scholars and doctoral students from the organizational development and Change (ODC), Organizational Behavior (OB) and Management, Spirituality and Religion (MSR) divisions.  I see many possibilities for future collaboration with scholars in these communities.  Through a separate introduction, Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman (2006, 2007, 2009)  recently asked me to co-author a paper and assist in a research project with of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Spirituality and the Mind.

I created a blog in September 2007, called “phdconfidential” and post regularly to it (  I receive many hits and comments on my blog from all over the world.  I plan to use this blog and my anchor team blog as sources for my comprehensive exams.  Finally, I have met Fielding students and alumni with whom I see future potential opportunities for collaboration.

The Fielding Experience

I really like the balance between independent study and group study that I have achieved at Fielding.  Both are stimulating and positive.  With one exception, my faculty assessors have all been very responsive.  I greatly appreciate the guidance and support from my faculty mentor, Dr. Valerie Bentz.  She has provided gentle, yet specific guidance to me throughout the past two years. My faculty assessors have also taken the time to answer my questions and follow up with me after an assessment is complete, for which I am grateful.  I believe the faculty are genuinely interested in nurturing students’ development.

I like the KA framework that has been provided to guide students through the program.  The New Student Orientation (NSO) was helpful, but the doctoral program flow was still a mystery to me during the first year.  DOCS helped to clear up some questions, and recent improvements in program content on FELIX (Fielding’s online forum) provided to students also clarified milestones and graduation requirements.

Now that I know how to use the Fielding library databases, I can find most of the articles I require for my studies.  However, Fielding’s limited eBook resources force me to purchase any books that I need for KA work.

I enjoy the national sessions and attend about three per year.  As mentioned previously, I really enjoy the cluster connections.  I also use Facebook and email to connect with fellow students.

I have two major issues with Fielding’s resources.  The first is a significant lack of scholarship funds.  I applied a couple of times unsuccessfully.  There is so much competition for very few scholarships and the award amounts are so small ($2,500 maximum) considering the high tuition costs.  Since I am funding this program myself, I have taken out tens of thousands of dollars in loans.  The second issue is the ancient technology in use for FELIX.  The forums are cumbersome and difficult to use.  There is no easy way to stay in touch with people or to update content.  Therefore, we tend to use outside technologies, such as SKYPE, Facebook, and Blogspot or WordPress to create communication venues.  At least Fielding has started to use WebEx for the Final Oral Reviews (FOR’s) and other meetings.  I see this as progress.

Loves and Dislikes

I love conducting qualitative research and writing.  The process of exploring questions, collecting research data and analyzing the results is fun.  I love to write.  Though I’m not yet up to speed on scholarly writing techniques, I enjoy the process of putting ideas, explorations and critiques into words and communicating to an audience of readers.  I also love to read, as long as the articles and books are well-written.  The jury is out regarding teaching.  I need more experience to decide if it’s for me.  I love consulting and will continue as a consultant regardless of other aspirations when I graduate (and I will graduate).

Newberg, A. B., & Waldman, M. R. (2006). Why we believe what we believe : uncovering our biological need for meaning, spirituality, and truth. New York: Free Press.

Newberg, A. B., & Waldman, M. R. (2007). Born to believe : God, science, and the origin of ordinary and extraordinary beliefs (1st Free Press trade pbk. ed.). New York: Free Press.

Newberg, A. B., & Waldman, M. R. (2009). How God changes your brain : breakthrough findings from a leading neuroscientist. New York: Ballantine Books.



  1. Hi Dorraine,

    I have just joined the Fielding community (HOD). I was filling out my contract for DOCS and Epistomology when I found your blog.

    Your personal epistomology part 1, is a very well articulated description of my state. knowing that i am not alone in the way i feel is very heartening.

    Thank you for putting it down so calmingly.


  2. Dorianne,
    Thanks for taking the time to journal your process! I’m in my final stages of the application process at Fielding for the Human Development doctorate and your blog really gave me a boost. I’m looking forward to reading more of your experiences. Keep inspiring us to be more.

    • Good luck on your journey Kevin – let me know if you join the Fielding community!

  3. I stumbled upon your website tonight and found it wonderfully illuminating and inspiring. I am considering returning to school for my PhD and appreciate knowing others are making this trek midlife and learning more than was expected. Keep up the good work – I look forward to reading more!

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