This post is written by Maryanne Long, Ph.D. student, Higher Education Administration, University of Florida (she/her/hers)
I’d like to take a moment to tell you my story of transitioning from the practitioner side of student affairs into a Ph.D. program.

A very common thing to hear when asking someone why they chose a career in higher education, particularly in student affairs, is “I caught the bug.” This bug, or purpose, is typically a result of an undergraduate leadership role, a mentor relationship, a particular experience, or a combination of the sort. For me, my passion for student affairs manifested while I was a resident assistant at my undergraduate institution in 2007.

Upon completing my bachelor’s degree, I pursued graduate school, internships, full-time employment, teaching positions, conferences… and yes, enjoyed a social life. Most of my work history is in residence life but I also held positions in academic support, disability services, student activities, and tutoring services.

In light of these opportunities, I experienced challenges. I quickly came face-to-face with issues that I didn’t learn about through my master’s program in student personnel administration. Nothing prepared me for student crises, the death of a student, managing conflict, institutional politics, budget issues… and on a lighter note, how to wash off window paint on the rental van I drove to take students to a conference. Certainly I received departmental training. However, I’m sure my fellow student affairs professionals would agree that very little prepares someone for handling the magnitude of issues that the field is sometimes associated with.

Nonetheless, my career was far from grim. As I progressed through the field, I developed positive relationships with paraprofessionals and professionals I supervised, students I advised, and colleagues I met along the way. I expanded my knowledge by attending trainings, giving presentations, serving on committees, and completing a second master’s in business administration.

My years working as a professional inspired me to pursue a Ph.D. Full disclosure, when I made the decision to accept enrollment, I was a bit giddy that I wouldn’t be on-call or busy spending my time setting up for midnight breakfasts. These weren’t my motivators.Rather, my journey in the field has fostered my goal of becoming a faculty member in a student affairs/higher education graduate program. Reason why: I want to help emerging professionals prepare for the future of working in higher education.

This brings me to the purpose of this piece: handling the transition of a Ph.D. program. My goal is not to persuade or dissuade a person from pursuing a doctorate, I am simply providing my own anecdote in hopes it will help others.

Similar to learning-on-the-job as a student affairs professional, I learned on-the-job as a doctoral student. When I started my program in the fall of 2017, I missed student interaction. Thanks to my days in residence life, I was equipped to become a member of the university’s conduct committee. I had much support from my faculty as I pursued teaching a freshman-seminar course and most recently, a course in the master’s of student personnel program.

Twelve years later and I still find myself with the “bug” I caught in 2007. Only now it has manifested into a personal epidemic, one in which I’m resistant to all vaccines. My bug has led to my passion for working in student affairs, only now it has spread to my aspiration to explore the academic side of things. I certainly hope there is no “cure” in sight.
Originally from Buffalo, NY, Maryanne is now thrilled to call Florida her home… and never have to use a snow brush again! Her professional experience was in student affairs and academic affairs, including positions in residence life, student activities, diversity affairs, disability services, academic advising, and support for academically at-risk students.

Currently she is a Ph.D. student in Higher Education Administration at the University of Florida and holds a Graduate Research Assistantship. Her research interests include exploring the experiences of master’s students in higher education graduate programs, both face-to-face and online mediums.

Maryanne earned a bachelor’s in finance from SUNY Fredonia in 2009. She completed her master’s in student personnel administration from SUNY College at Buffalo in 2011 and earned an MBA from Marist College (Poughkeepsie, NY) in 2014.

She has the hopeful intention of graduating in May of 2021 with the goal of becoming a faculty member in a master’s of higher education/student affairs program.

Connect with Maryanne on LinkedIn.


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