Profs balance doctorate study and teaching
What is life like for an associate professor at Biola who works full-time as a youth pastor, has a family, and is also working toward his doctorate?
“It’s like I’m trying to tread water, but I’m not doing it very well,” admitted biblical studies professor Dave Keehn.
Whether they’re on the faculty track and doing much of the class work on their own time, taking their classes as a residential student or even taking online classes, a doctorate degree will require a huge commitment for anyone.
Keehn, one of several Biola professors currently working on a doctorate, is certainly not alone in his sentiments. English professor Shelley Garcia has finished the coursework for her Ph.D. in English from UC Riverside and is now studying for her qualifying exams in December, alongside teaching two sessions of a literature class at Biola.
“It’s kind of me in my room with my books,” Garcia said with a laugh. “Sad, I need to see the sun more often.”
Although the challenge of diving back into textbooks and picking up the sometimes long-discarded student routine might seem daunting, the stresses of school work are not always the most prominent factors in a professor’s decision to pursue even higher education.
Communication disorders professor Yvana Hernandez said the decision process concerning her doctorate was quite different from those for her two master’s degrees, especially before she was married.
“There’s no one to really think of but yourself, right?” she said. “The first two I just did. I didn’t really consult people.”
Hernandez, who has a master’s degree in communication disorders and speech pathology, would have liked to continue studying speech pathology; however, the only doctorate program for that topic available in California is in San Diego.
“It was not something that I could do,” Hernandez said. “I could not commute to San Diego, nor was I going to pick up my family and move to San Diego.”
Hernandez, as a faculty member at Biola, had to begin doctoral work, so instead she began working on her Ph.D. in educational studies at Talbot last year. Although adjunct professors have no set requirement concerning doctoral work, all associate professors are expected to be working on their doctorates while teaching at Biola.
Such a packed lifestyle involves a lot of prioritizing and energy, according to Keehn.
“My days are long in order to do everything right,” Keehn said. “In other words, to not shortchange the church, to not shortchange the students here at Biola, to not take the easy way out of classes.”
For Keehn, being intentional about keeping up with relationships, especially in regard to family, is key. Keehn, who has a 15-year-old daughter, Aimee, and an 11-year-old son, Adam, included his wife and children in the process of deciding to continue his education.
“We had a lot of discussions about what kind of sacrifices we can make,” Keehn said. “We actually went to our kids and talked about, we’re not going to put [you] on the shelf for four years, but you have to realize that I’m going to be reading.”
A commitment to a doctorate degree often requires such sacrifices from family members, with each person lending a hand in any way they can.
Communications disorders professor Tonya Dantuma is fortunate to have a flexible husband who, although he owns a construction company, still helps in other areas.
“He’s very hands-on with the kids, with the housework, with those things that are typically dubbed the ‘mom’s job,’” Dantuma explained. “He helps out with all that stuff.”
Hernandez, like many parents, has especially wrestled with the fact that working toward her doctorate means less time with her 4-year-old son, Joshua, and 2-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.
“I’ve had my moments of, ‘Oh, I feel guilty. I should just be at home, and that’s all I should be doing,’” Hernandez said.
But Hernandez has developed specific ways to help keep the balance between family and school aligned.
“I try to do as much [school work] as I can while [my children] are asleep. Once I’m home, I’m with them,” Hernandez explained. “I wait until I put them to bed, and then I do either work stuff or Ph.D. stuff.”
Keeping in mind the personal motivation for getting a doctorate is necessary for trudging on through the challenges along the way, according to Garcia.
“Being in the class [teaching] is the reminder of why I’m ever doing it because grad school is difficult,” Garcia said. “It’s challenging. It’s a lot of work. But when you keep in mind why you want to do it, that’s what helps you get through it. For me, it’s always been those moments where you come out of the classroom and go, ‘Yes! They got it!’”
Keehn, who had taught as an adjunct professor for 12 years, finally became an associate professor and began working on his doctorate this year and is driven by the opportunity to mentor and disciple future leaders. Although he had served in youth ministry for 22 years, Keehn concluded that he could impact others in a different and equally important way through teaching, particularly teaching with a doctorate.
“One thing I realized was how much as professors we can be pastors to students. In other words, we’re not just there to teach content and grade papers. I really hate grading papers,” Keehn said.
Although life situations and strains will vary greatly from professor to professor at Biola, one universal fact will always connect: God has plans for each one.
“Sometimes you put yourself through additional training because down the road God can use it in some way you don’t know yet,” Keehn said.