Doubt: When Do You Know You Can Successfully Pursue That Advanced Degree?

CTU Alum Heather Thompson, DMFor some, pursuing a master’s degree or doctorate is a matter of fact. It’s something s/he has always planned on earning because of a chosen career, family expectations or personal interest. For others, it’s one of the curveballs that life throws. For whatever reason – and there are many – it suddenly makes sense to pursue higher education, despite the fact that doing so involves more hurdles than an Olympic competition. Heather Thompson, DM, MBA, fell into the second category. And the curvy, uphill road full of potholes and detours that she took in order to succeed ended up being one of the best defining experiences of her life.

Murky Beginnings

Despite being a “non-traditional student,” Thompson began her higher education at a state university. And while she eventually earned her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences, it was not a pleasant experience. “I constantly struggled to manage school alongside a full-time job that I needed to support my family and myself,” she recalls. “That experience was definitely not a fit, but I’m not a quitter, so I pressed on.”

The degree, however, was not a guarantee of personal success and happiness. After graduating, Thompson spent five years working in restaurant management before taking an administrative position with the government. During that same time, she got married, relocated “to the middle of nowhere” and had two children. Ironically, it was during that time when many women put their careers on hold that Thompson began to take hers firmly in hand.

“What truly inspired me to continue with my MBA was finding out that I was expecting my first child,” she says. “I was working in an administrative position, and I knew that I wanted more of a future for my child.”

A Scholar Is Born

Motherhood proved to be a wellspring of academic inspiration for Thompson. Not only did she earn her MBA at Colorado Technical University (CTU) over the course of having two children, but those same children were major motivators for Thompson to eventually pursue her doctorate. “I had not pictured myself as ‘the type’ to pursue a doctoral degree,” Thompson explains. “There was a part of me that questioned my ability, but at the same time, I figured it was worth a shot.”

Considering Thompson’s subsequent success, her self-doubt might be surprising. But at the time, she had experienced such disparate levels of educational success that it was hard to know if pursuing a doctoral degree would be advisable or even possible. On the one hand, Thompson had struggled to earn her bachelor’s degree at a traditional university. On the other hand, she’d flourished within CTU’s MBA program. “I loved having the ability to do most of my coursework online. I don’t think I could’ve earned the MBA otherwise,” she says.

But there were other factors at play as well. Thompson’s MBA was a pleasure to earn, but in the small town where she lived, it disqualified her from many jobs for which she applied. Plus her personal life began to unravel. “My marriage was falling apart, and I eventually went through a divorce,” Thompson says. “I also lost my mother. It was a very, very difficult time.”

Around the Bend

Thompson, however, has said she is not a quitter, and she isn’t. Once the circumstances of her life, both personal and professional, knocked her down, she got right back up and landed a job as a part-time business instructor at her local community college. And that doctoral degree she’d considered, both to set a positive example for her girls and, more practically, to be better able to support them, was becoming a reality. Thompson once again matriculated at CTU, this time to pursue her Doctor of Management in Organizational Development and Change.

The experience couldn’t have been more transformative. “I remember starting the doctoral program and being told that the process would be ‘life changing,’” Thompson recalls. “This proved true.” Her professors supported her through thick and thin, she says, and opportunities were uncovered. She even found, through Higher Ed Jobs, her current position as Assistant Professor of Business at Montana State University-Northern while immersed in her doctoral program.

“Being a student at CTU will change your life,” Thompson says to prospective students. “I have met some great people – peers and faculty – whom I know will be lifelong friends. The networking at CTU is phenomenal. Most of all, my experience at CTU has given me the confidence and clarity to finally know exactly who I am and where I want to be.”

To think that this Assistant Professor once doubted her ability is at once shocking and affirming. Who, after all, hasn’t doubted his/her abilities at some point along the way? The difference between indulging those doubts and ignoring them lies in searching out the right path. The course flexibility, professional network and relevant areas of study at CTU translated to a golden opportunity for Thompson. And her drive to succeed, both for her own and her daughters’ sakes, led to success. What’s more, this is a path, she says, that anyone can follow. “Keep focused on what you want for your future, your children’s future, while remembering to take time to get outside every now and again to enjoy nature,” she says. “I am very blessed to have the best of both worlds in family and work.”

Image Credit: LinkedIn