Monday, August 5, 2013

That's Dr. TJ to You!

Happy Monday, good people!  I'm back and ready to blog!

First, a little music to capture the moments I'm about to share.  Today I present Momentinlife by Musiq:

"You never want that moment to end." 

After a brief hiatus, I'm happy to report that I am now blogging as Dr. TJ!

My dissertation chair sharing the good news! 

I submitted the document to my committee on July 15th.  They had 2 weeks to read 352 pages of blood, sweat, passion and tears.  Folks say that your dissertation isn't your best work, and I agree; there's so much more I want to do, and I know my scholarship will improve over time.  But you know what?  The dissertation was the beginning of my life's work. I poured my heart into it (in addition to my intellect), and it paid off.  I meant every word of everything that I typed.  I passed with no revisions, meaning that the only thing I had to do was fix typos. Um, that's a rarity, and I had a hard time wrapping my mind around it, but more on that another day.  Today's a day for celebration!

I woke up the morning of the defense (last Monday, July 29) feeling hopeful and full of peace.  I had some jitters, but I knew that soon enough it would all be done. And thanks to my sister's fashion advice, I had a great defense day ensemble.  I wore what would soon become my power-purple-presentation slacks. Y'all know how a good outfit can boost your confidence!

Anyway, I drove to campus early, leaving my husband, sister, and one of my besties (all the way from St. Croix!!!) to meet me on campus soon after with some refreshments for the defense.  On the way to school I prayed, got crunk, got scared, and prayed some more.  when I arrived on campus, I stopped in my program's office and took a seat at the conference table to review my slides.  This was the same conference table where the professors that were going to usher me into academia had spelled out the details of the program I was thinking about joining back in 2008. This is the same table where I had shared ideas about papers for classes, given and received encouragement, and had some laughs and shed a few tears over the years.  I'm just realizing what a full circle moment I was having as I sat at this table, reviewed my presentation slides, and prepared to leave the world of graduate school behind.

While reviewing my slides, I decided to call my mom.  And, as expected, she prayed with me and gave me some awesome encouragement.  As I hung up the phone, one of my committee members came in the room and we chit-chatted for a bit. After seeing his smiling face, I started to feel ok.

My family arrived with the refreshments, and we went to the room where I'd be presenting and set up the room.  Slowly folks started to trickle into the room - classmates, friends, my in-laws, and my committee members.  While I was still nervous, having a couple of committee members tell me that my dissertation was "fun" and "a joy" to read let me know that I was gonna be alright.

Getting ready for my talk
The time was finally here.  All of my friends, family, and colleagues were seated.  I had about 20-25 people present, and that was, by far, the largest dissertation defense I've ever attended.  My dissertation chair welcomed everyone and introduced the other committee members.

He then asked us to leave the room so that the committee could convene to make sure I was ready to defend.

Leaving the room gave me a moment to clear my head, organize my thoughts, and get ready to give the talk.  I can't wait to be on the other side of the door to know more about the conversations that take place when the committee convenes. 

My mother-in-law came over to comfort me and to give me a few words of encouragement. 
And then it was time to begin.  I shared with friends that giving my talk felt like an out-of-body experience.  As I think back on the defense, I can recall the exact moment when I took back my power and began to feel comfortable.  When I began my talk, I heard noise from outside of the door.  There was a camp for middle school boys taking place in the room across the hall, and the buzz from their room was disrupting my flow.  Mid-speech, I walked across the room, moved the doorstop, and closed the door, all while talking about my study.  In that moment, I said to myself, "Hey girl, this is YOUR STUFF! You used to stand before people and talk all day for a living as a teacher. Go on and teach this dissertation!!!"  I closed that door, faced the folks in the room, and it was ON!

I found my groove and got through the talk. I ran over time a little, but it was my first time giving the talk in its entirety.  I don't like to do full run-throughs.  I think better on my feet.  After the talk, my committee members had the opportunity to ask questions, so I took my seat and prepped myself.

They asked. 
I answered. 
All in all, the committee and I had more of a discussion than an intense Q&A.  I was prepared for the worst, and, thank goodness, it was much better than what I had anticipated. One of my girlfriends described it as a "Love Fest" and I'd have to concur.  The highlight of the defense - having one of my committee members tell me that he thought I was underselling my work. I wanted to cry - happy tears of course! After all, this was the same professor who had assigned articles that I didn't even understand during my first year of school.  Yeah, y'all. Full. Circle. Moment.

After the Q&A, we were all asked to leave the room again so that the committee could convene - again.  This time as I left the room, I lost it.  I barely made it out of the room before the tears began to fall.  I'd done it.  I'd done research about something that was so incredibly close to my heart, and in turn, it was rewarded.  More on the spiritual perspective of writing this dissertation in a later post.

And my husband got some great candids of us as we waited for the news.

Getting a hug from Dr. K

My sister and close girlfriends chatting it up
Chatting with a student that I used to tutor.  Her mom was a committee member. 
Posing with my "big" little sister
Grabbing a pic with my hubby and my sister, my #1 cheerleaders

And out came Dr. C with the good news!

There are no words to explain how special Dr. C is to me.  I wouldn't have wanted anyone else in the whole wide world to walk with me on the dissertation journey.

And so there it is! The defense in a nutshell.  The moment that I dreamed about from Day 1.  There are so many things I want to say, and I'm working on organizing all of my thoughts into something cohesive.  There are some life and spiritual lessons I've learned that I feel the need to share, and I will.  But for now, I'll just leave you with some pictures of folks in my circle.  I was surrounded by love that day, and I'll never, ever forget it.

My dissertation committee
Post-defense conversations and congratulations
The department administrative assistants got word of my defense, and came down to show me love.
Don't know where we'd be without them! 
My bridesmaids and besties (minus a few!)
My hubby, in-laws and me! 
Talking about next steps 
Posing w/longtime girlfriend Dr. RAP; she put me on a writing schedule that got me over the hump! 
Making sure the paperwork was right! 

Until next time . . . I'll be over here still trying to take it all in.


  1. Congratulations. I was getting teary-eyed just reading about your experience. I don't real-life know you, but I'm still beaming with pride. Congrats, doc.

    1. Thanks Nicole! We're in the DC area, so I know we'll real-life know each other in the near future! I want to check out some restaurants! You always blog about some good ones.

  2. Oh Toya.. I stumbled upon your blog via Shawns post and I'm so happy I did.. What a beautiful post to start my morning with.. Heck I feel inspired! I got a bit choked up midway but only because your excitement and joy shouts through the screen... Congratulations! Hope to see you soon to do some celebrating.. And I look forward to catching up on your blog. Big hug

    1. Thanks! Big hugs, and yes . . . lots of celebration (and cocktails) in out future!

  3. Hello and congratulations! I came here through a link Shawn posted on FB. Thanks for the morning inspiration! You're a beautiful writer and I LOVE the power purple pants. :-)

    1. Thanks so much, Akilah! My sister was the best dissertation stylist ever! Thank you for taking the time to read. It means a lot.

  4. Great post Dr. T! Wish I was there to celebrate with you. Congratulations!

    1. Thanks K! We're going to celebrate soon! We're gonna have a party when I formally walk across the stage.

  5. Congratulations Dr. TJ!

  6. What a wonderful recount of your experience! It was all that and more! Keep the inspiration going!

  7. Jeff VanCollins, JD, PhDAugust 6, 2013 at 11:09 AM

    I'm sitting here with tears of joy in my eyes -- literally. I feel like i'm at your defense hearing with you; i remember those experiences like they were yesterday. I am SOOOO happy for you, Dr. Toya Jones (Frank)! ... no revisions!?! AWESOME!!!

    1. Dr. Jeff!!! Thanks so much for reading and commenting. You've written a dissertation, and you know the struggle. LOL.

  8. Congratulations Dr. TJ!! As other bloggers have noted, I arrived here via your husband's link. You both are such an inspiration. Continued blessings on academia, newlywed life and all that is to come. Happy tears and "gallons of Blue Bell" to celebrate!!!

  9. @Dr. TJ I really do enjoy your blog in the way that it captures your emotions while maintaining a logical flow. Congratulations on your achievement. Just out of curiosity, what was your dissertation about?

    1. Thanks so much for reading! My dissertation was about how middle-school teachers attend to mathematics identity, meaning how they help their students see themselves as competent in math class, how they create assignments to send positive messages about mathematics, and how they motivate their students and how they help them understand the importance of math for their future endeavors.

  10. Congratulations Dr.TJ! That's an incredible achievement.

  11. Congrats Toya!!! You're such an encouragement!!!

  12. Awesome...I felt like I was there! I finally have some time to catch up on my blog reading..