have been waiting to meet you,” a complete stranger said to me at an alumni event. I had just shared stories about my experience earning a doctorate in health administration when she approached and said, “You know how I feel and what I’m going through... don’t you? Tell me about your journey.”
I wasn’t exactly sure what she meant, and I didn’t ask; however, I’m fairly certain she was curious because of my age. Like me, she went back to school later in life and in her career.
Earning a degree later in life, and while working, is a unique experience that requires careful balance. Learning is a powerful force for inspiring and motivating yourself, as well as others; it makes you a better leader.
While my own experience may differ from yours, here are just a few of the reasons I pursued additional education—and some of the benefits along the way.
Learning teaches you what you don’t know
I didn’t choose to pursue a doctoral degree because I wanted to teach. It wasn’t because I was ready for a career change. And it certainly wasn’t because I was dying to complete an original body of research.
I wanted to learn and discover what I didn’t know. As you consider continuing your formal education, consider your own goals: from self-empowerment and self-discovery to leadership development and career advancement.
Learning helps you rediscover your own organization
I was fortunate to be in a position where I could study U of U Health through a different, more objective lens. This is one of the key benefits you’ll notice as an existing leader pursuing formal education. Unlike students with little professional experience, you have access to an enormous range of real life learning materials. I felt like a comedian—I had access to so much material. I was “that girl,” full of ideas and optimism that I could bring back with me.
Learning reminds you that the journey matters
I’m enthusiastic about solving problems, but often the process is as important, or more, than solving the problem quickly. The academic path reminded me that there is a deliberate approach, science even, to change management and how we approach leadership. While much of what we learn as leaders happens during the course of our careers, formal education can give you the chance to fine-tune your skills, or even learn new ways of doing the things you’ve always done. Additional education gives you a place to take safe risks, mentor and collaborate with other students, and advance your leadership proficiency to influence a broader agenda.
Two years after earning my degree, I can say that I underestimated the power of learning in inspiring and motivating others. I have a renewed appreciation for the way researchers think, their methodologies and their skill sets. I’m also grateful for continuous learning opportunities, and the way it connects different generations. As you go back to school, you’ll see that young professionals are immensely supportive. They encouraged a spirit of mentorship that I didn’t know I had. My peers nationally are very proud. And most importantly, continuous learning sets an example for family, friends and others.
University employment has its benefits
Whether you're considering returning to school or encouraging your staff to broaden their horizens, remember The University of Utah provides reduced tuition benefits for current faculty and staff who have been employed for at least six months full-time.
The complete University of Utah policy can be viewed here.
As president Ruth Watkins has said, "You have the opportunity to connect with this university in your lives and your work. Take advantage of that educational component to hone your expertise. That’s a tremendous asset of working at a university, and it’s part of what makes the University of Utah a great place to be."
*Originally published August 22, 2019