by • February 25, 2011 • Leading, Leaders and Leadership, Professional DevelopmentComments (1)1609

The Post Nominal Paradox

I’ve been trading tweets and emails with the amazing Bryce Hughes over the past month and just as I have inspired him to write this post about mentorship (one of my favorite SA topics), he has in turn inspired me to write following this great post about needing a Master’s degree to work in Student Affairs.

While the graduate studies machine in student affairs is different here in the Great White North than in the U.S., there remains considerable debate in both countries around the merits and values of a Master’s degree in our chosen field. Having completed my Master’s degree fairly recently, the proverbial wounds are still fresh and I look back on the experience with a mixture of fondness, nostalgia and a side of ‘what the heck was I thinking?’

Bryce very articulately discusses the value of learning student development theory that frames our professional practice. I wholeheartedly agree that learning these and other paradigms impact our work with students, allowing us to not only name and identify where students are coming from but also to choose appropriate mechanisms to help propel them forward. I would also argue that learning these theories and ideas gives us a common language we can use to discuss best practices in student life. Creating and sharing this common language is another wonderful way to build and strengthen our student affairs community.

I also agree with Bryce’s comment around pursuing higher education as part of our roles as mentors and role models. Regardless of whether we pursue a formal degree, individual courses or just pick up a new article or blog post to read, what we are really doing is modelling the important value of lifelong learning. I think it is important to ensure when we model a strong value for education, we ensure we speak of both formal and informal means of learning and growing.

In addition to these points, I would add that going through the process of obtaining a Master’s degree has not only taught me valuable knowledge, but has trained me in the skills necessary to apply that knowledge in my daily professional life. I have been taught to practice critical thinking skills that allow me to continually apply theory to practice and to critically reflect on that practice on an ongoing basis. These skills were taught and practiced in every class, allowing me more freedom and flexibility of thought than I ever thought possible.

As I alluded to earlier, I am also fond of the professional community of practice I am privileged to be a part of in student affairs. Studying in a Master’s program, attending conferences and completing internships allowed me to network with many fascinating and inspiring people, many of whom I still keep in touch with today.

I titled this post the Post Nominal Paradox because a) I thought the alliteration sounded cool and b) I wanted to highlight that getting a Master’s or any advanced degree isn’t just about the letters behind your name that may lead to a higher pay grade. What it’s really about is connecting, sharing, learning and growing in what is perhaps one of the most amazing communities I have ever been a part of. How about you? What would be the greatest lesson you learnt in your Master’s or PhD program?




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One Response to The Post Nominal Paradox

  1. Bryce Hughes says:

    Thank you for such a great reply, and of course for the shout-out! I’m glad that you decided to turn this into a blog post rather than simply a comment because there are a couple of additional points that you added that I think help even better articulate the value of a student affairs Master’s degree.

    The common language point is crucial! As we understand our profession more and more, we need to develop scholarship that describes–and defines–the work that we do. The more we can theorize about how our work, our educational role, helps students develop, the more effective it can be at adding to students’ experiences in postsecondary education. But if we don’t develop a language to describe what happens, how in the world can we support/learn from each other? Graduate studies in student affairs provide scholarship that allows us to grow together–and obtaining that Master’s degree introduces us to the language of the profession.

    And I’m glad you added the paragraph about how obtaining a Master’s degree changes how you think. In my reflections on the value of a student affairs Master’s degree, I’ve thought about how we define “undergraduate studies” and “graduate studies,” particularly what type of learning outcomes would be expected for successful Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctor’s degrees. From what I saw, there are different levels of critical thinking and research skills that are expected to develop at each of those different levels. Getting a Master’s degree should provide us more refined critical thinking skills (more complex cognitive processes) that should be reflected in how we approach our work every day. And, based on the amazing people I’ve met through my program, my job, and now #SAchat, that outcome is fairly evident.

    Anyways, AWESOME post. Perhaps this is turning into something bigger?


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