This blog was originally designed to document my journey through a Ph.D. program and has been inactive for nearly three years. Additionally, I had used another hosting company for many, many years and they were suddenly bought out by another company about a year and a half ago. At that point, my sites disappeared and I had an extremely difficult time getting backups. Even then, I found it was nearly impossible to resurrect all that I had written and thought I’d try again tonight. I was just about to give up when I somehow managed to not only find the sql file but also, after spending a considerable time tweaking the database, was able to get the blog back up. I’ll probably post more in the coming days and weeks as many, many positive things have occurred since I last wrote.
At long last! My University of California, Riverside Ph.D. diploma has finally arrived (heck, it only took the university nearly eight months to grow the tree and then make the ink so they could run the paper through a laser printer). Needless to say, I’m thrilled! I am also pleased to find that it states that I earned a Ph.D. in Education (Special Education). Although all Ph.D. Candidates in the Graduate School of Education at UCR earn Ph.D.s in “education,” there are several specializations within the field. Obviously, mine was in Special Education and I wasn’t aware that the specialization would be noted on my diploma (my M.A. diploma did not mention my specialization). Anyway, it’s great to finally receive the piece of paper that signifies that I’ve earned a Ph.D.
I’ve long waited for this day! On June 16, 2014 I participated in the 60th Commencement Ceremony at the University of California, Riverside. Although my degree was “certified” on January 8, 2014 and “conferred” on March 21, 2014, UCR only has one set of commencement ceremonies each year – at the end of the academic year in June. That means I had to wait forever for the big moment!
This year, there were seven commencement ceremonies at UCR with nearly 5,500 graduates participating. Fortunately, the ceremony for UCR’s Graduate School of Education (GSOE) is one of the smallest; there were just 105 graduates at our ceremony and only nine Ph.D.s were conferred. Of course, simple math reveals that many of the other ceremonies were huge but I’m glad mine wasn’t.
I’m very grateful that UCR took a video of the ceremony. The following video was created by obtaining a screen capture and then adding some more “fun stuff.” I’ve also reduced the ceremony from approximately 90 minutes down to just 7. Of course, these are the seven minutes that are most meaningful to me – UCR’s bagpipe band (I took bagpipe lessons many years ago), portions of the processional, the “big moment”, and a few still photos that were taken following the ceremony. FYI, the “BIG Moment” (when I am “hooded” by my academic advisor) occurs five minutes into the video. Spoiler alert! The last photo was taken a few hours after the ceremony – my “wild cousin,” who is visiting from Maryland, insisted that I put on my regalia so she could get some photos at the beach. What fun!
It’s hard to believe but on March 21, 2014 my degree was “conferred.” In other words, that was the official date that my graduation was recorded on the University transcripts. Of course, I’ve been done for many months and the conferral of the degree was merely a formality. Just the same, it is now behind me. The only thing I have remaining is the commencement ceremony in June (yes, that’s still a few gazillion years away). I’m really looking forward to that.
For the first time in nearly six years, I’m no longer a student. Although it has been a tremendous honor to have attended a world-class research institution such as UCR, it still feels great that I’m done. I couldn’t have imagined a better university to attend. Now it’s time to move on to bigger and better things!
I have received the official word that I have completed all requirements for the Ph.D. It looks so wonderfully odd to receive an official letter from UCR addressed to Dr. Jeffry P. La Marca!
Perhaps I’ll recount some of the highlights of my experiences at UCR, especially since I took a 4-year hiatus from this blog! The first year was, without question, one of the most grueling experiences of my life. The courses at UCR were extremely challenging and enlightening. If that was all that I had on my plate, I probably would have enjoyed it immensely. However, the personal matters I had to deal with (esp. those related to the extreme family emergency I’ve mentioned previously) were part of the darkest moments of my life. Again, I will not go into the details other than to say that I honestly don’t know how I survived that first year.
Essentially no one at UCR is, even now, aware of the issues I faced. I was forced to drop one class (which I’ve mentioned before) in order to deal with matters. In hindsight, I still wonder if it would have been best for me to just have taken a quarter off to deal with things. Regardless, I survived! That alone, is an accomplishment that I’m proud of. Under no circumstances would I ever want to relive that year.
Many times over the years, I have regretted not pursuing a doctorate immediately following the attainment of a master’s degree, back in 1988. My advisor at Cal State San Bernardino strongly encouraged me to continue with my studies. Instead, I wanted to focus on “settling down” and having a family. It would have been far easier for me to continue with my education then. However, I most certainly would have not been interested in a Ph.D. in special education. Little did I know that many of my experiences over the next twenty years would lead me down this path. That is not to say that I didn’t have a lot of meaningful experiences. I had many wonderful times as both a classroom teacher and later a music specialist. I became involved in higher education very early on in my career too – I’ve taught innumerable graduate level courses as well as a six-year stint as an adjunct instructor at a community college (which I found to be very rewarding). In addition, I was very active with a number of professional organizations.
Prior to the time I became a music specialist, I observed school districts doing heinous things to children with special needs. That was the beginning of my current career path although I certainly was not aware that my experiences would ultimately lead to enrolling in a Ph.D. program in special education. Early on, I spent one summer as a teacher for special needs kids. At the time, I believe those kids were labeled “educable mentally retarded.” Although I was not prepared to be a special education teacher, I did enjoy the experience despite the fact that it was a very difficult position.
I would later do a considerable amount of work as an advocate for kids who were being denied services by the very school districts that were required, under Federal law, to help them. Briefly, I observed, first hand, school districts denying services to children with very severe special needs (not to mention higher functioning children who also needed assistance). I was appalled that such things could happen in our schools. Just as appalling were the schizophrenic responses of the very governmental agencies that are obligated to enforce education laws that are supposed to protect the educational rights of children. Although I have prevailed in large number of state and Federal cases, I’m also disgusted with the fact that helping these children is entirely dependent upon the whims of obviously incompetent government “investigators.” Over the years, the incompetence has only grown and I’ve become increasingly cynical.
My first year at UCR was clearly an outgrowth of the previous twenty. It was a cathartic experience that seemed to launch me down a new path were I could put my skills to use in a new, meaningful way. Although I find educational law to be fascinating, my disgust for most of those in the “legal professions” is absolute. I do not believe that our courts and law enforcement agencies are capable (or willing) to protect our children. I do, however, believe that a more positive path can make a difference – specifically research into educational practices. Laws can be altered and changed by lawyers and courts who twist both their meaning and intent. Research, on the other hand, cannot be altered in the same way. Sure, there can be very heated debates about research but scientific inquiry has one advantage over the games played by lawyers and governmental agencies. Specifically, research must be objectively based and must be replicable. Genuine scientific facts cannot be altered – only denied by those who are either ignorant or malevolent (and yes, plenty of lawyers and governmental agencies do ignore research findings). Just the same, research provides an venue to explore positive things in order to promote change. That made pursuit of a Ph.D. particularly attractive.
In summary, my first year at UCR was painful (although much of it was not related to my scholarly pursuits). Arguably, the most difficult academic challenge for me was dealing with the development of research-based writing skills. I’ve lovingly referred to this style as “academic BS” because, in many ways, it’s so pretentious. Having now read a few million (or more) research articles, I’m amazed at how some can say so little while pretending they have a lot to contribute. On the other hand, good research-based writing is also an art. True experts (to borrow a phrase attributed to one of my professors), “can make the data sing.”
Interacting with my professors has been a wonderful (and humbling) experience. One of my professors has had more then 350 articles published in peer-reviewed journals – he’s absolutely amazing! My advisor is a brilliant scholar. Her research skills are impeccable and are only exceeded by her ability as an editor.
Mentioning editing . . . I still laugh about an experience I had many years ago when I first started teaching for the child development department at a community college. It was reported to me that several students in my class were overheard stating, at the beginning the semester, that “Mr. La Marca thinks he’s a damn English teacher.” Of course, I thought that was hilarious and was actually delighted to be accused of such a thing (not that I have ever had a desire to be a real English teacher). I’m pleased to say that I persisted and soon the rest of the instructors in the department were demanding that their students write in complete sentences (with correct grammar, punctuation, spelling, and syntax – gasp)!!! Over time, we observed a distinct improvement in student writing. I suspect that learning to write as a true academic has been equally painful for me – I especially have a penchant for using superlatives and inserting loaded terms. Not that such things are bad except that in academic writing, all subjectivity must be removed. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks but my professors were finally able to break me from my old habits. Oh well . . . obviously they didn’t break me entirely as this post is already far too long. Good thing this isn’t my dissertation! I’ll write more later . . .
It seems like a million or more years since I last posted here. I’ve had an extreme family emergency that erupted a few weeks ago that has severely interfered with the rest of my life. Unfortunately, I’ve had to drop one of my classes at UCR as a result (which was very hard for me to do because all of my courses have been fantastic). Family must come first though so I’m just hoping and praying that I’ll get through my other two courses. I’ll write more later but I’ve got to get back to dealing with life.
Well, I’ve had a few days of sleep (still need more) and I’ve already ordered and received my first set of books for next quarter from Amazon. So far, there are only nine books on my list (for three classes) and I’m going to start reading one tonight. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to make a dent in them before classes begin in three weeks. After last quarter, which I hit running, I get a bit of a head start and am very grateful for that.
In addition, I’ve got to spend some time before the next quarter learning how to use MS Word and a couple of other programs a bit better (I was a whiz with Office 2003 but Office 2007 is another animal). Off to read a bit before calling a night!
It’s been awhile since I was last able to post here (I had originally hoped I’d be able to do that once a week) but I’ve just been too busy. In fact, I’m absolutely EXHAUSTED but I survived (I hope) my first quarter. The amount of reading, writing, calculation, writing, reading, calculating, reading, calculating, writing, (did I mention calculating, reading, writing?), that I’ve done over the past couple of months has been absolutely incredible. Oh, did I mention I’m EXHAUSTED?
In case I’m not coherent (in other words, no synapses are currently firing) it’s because my brain (what’s left of it) is currently dripping out of my ears. My last class/final was two days ago – on Monday, and I was so tired by the time I arrived home that I slept for twenty (20) hours yesterday!
Am I complaining? Absolutely not (well, maybe just a little bit). All of my classes were fascinating, my professors were extremely intelligent, the work challenging (now that’s an understatement), and I learned a lot. Was it easy? Again, absolutely not! If finger tips could get callouses from typing, mine would be eight inches thick and bleeding. One of my classes was especially grueling (statistics) – at least for me. I intend to keep working on the material I’ve learned so that I can, hopefully, retain it.
Things would have been a bit easier if other matters in my personal life weren’t so chaotic – the amount of endless stress has been unbearable. There were many times when taking my classes at UCR was a pleasurable relief from the other messes. I’m just hoping that things will settle down, a LOT, next quarter but there are some matters (not related to UCR) that have to potential to cause more havoc. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a good New Year.
As unbelievable as it may seem, my first set of midterms is already upon me and I’m studying hard for them. As to be expected, I’ve had a huge amount of reading and a tremendous amount of other work. With the exception that my personal life is so chaotic (will someone please wave a magic wand and make it go away), I am really enjoying the experience. Just the same, I’ll be glad to make it to the end of this week – when my first two midterms will have been completed.
Again, this past week was extremely busy and I had far too much to do (besides UCR). I would greatly like to devote 100% of my time to UCR but, alas, that is not currently possible. As I’ve previously reported, all of my classes are fascinating and, fortunately, they take turns frying my brain each week (I wonder if they’re planned this way).
While I’ve got to get back to other matters, I did want to mention that one of the most fascinating things I’ve noted about my personal experiences at UCR (besides meeting a lot of extremely fascinating and intelligent people) is that my perspective of the way in which I look at my studies is very different from when I was younger. Sure, I’m a lot older and wiser (hopefully) but that has also given me a very different view of the material discussed in most of my classes – I have far more biases and experiences to draw upon which makes everything so much more relevant. As an undergrad, as well as a grad student (twenty years ago), many things which seemed entirely theoretical are now much more than that.