Ruth Fagan-Wilen - Doctorate, Social Work, 1995

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I began commuting from San Antonio to UT Austin in August 1990 to work on my doctorate in social work — this journey continued weekly from that date until May 1995! Five years of driving the IH-35 corridor (otherwise known as “the luge”) can take its toll. In fact, besides finally achieving my goal of the doctorate, as a most unusual bonus I also knew EVERYTHING about the Serbian/Croatian/Herzegovian war via NPR radio. Go ahead, ask me!
But I learned something else too. As a single parent in San Antonio with two wonderful but at times challenging teen children, and holding two professional positions necessary for our financial support, I found the ONE part of my life where I could feel relative peace was in the doctoral program at the UT School of Social Work…… an oasis, if you will! Most doctoral students would not describe their doctoral experience as “an oasis” I’m quite aware. But I found humor, support, conceptual inspiration, collegiality, and demand for rigor and challenge in the program.
What infused my graduate school oasis, in fact its underpinning, was a most humane understanding that doctoral education does not come in “one size fits all.” I was allowed to test out several avenues of interest as I moved towards my dissertation topic. I was motivated to achieve far more in each doctoral class than I ever dreamed possible simply because the environment was collaborative, interesting, and flexible. A commitment towards academic rigor was constant in the doctoral program, yet balanced with an appreciation for the individual. I found this to be the case with my dissertation committee, other professors, and fellow graduate students as well.
Now, 15 years post-doctorate and as a school of social work faculty member, I carry the oasis within me — and hopefully within the classroom. Graduate learning can be a place of peace and reflection — it can rejuvenate and excite, and ultimately inspire graduates to leave their own “oasis” of learning, ready for the journey. I am so pleased to have experienced a doctoral education that was transformative.

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