By Karin Soweid, SIOP Blogger
Recently, on a flight to Boston, I found myself immersed in thought about the psychological preferences that are categorized and defined by the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. I suppose this is what one does with their ‘off time’ when they are immersed in a doctoral program in industrial-organizational psychology. In parallel with the hum of the engines, I quietly reflected, acknowledging how many times I have taken this assessment tool over the past eight years and my subsequently varying four-letter outcomes during vastly different life experiences in that timeframe. I couldn’t help but remark and marvel at how these considerable transitions in preference underscore a woman in her doctoral journey.
And it’s not the typical image or journey we may expect of the traditional doctoral student, perhaps more commonly understood as someone attending a land-based university, fully immersed in research, perhaps a little student-teaching of undergrads. No, this image is one of an older-than-typical-recently-married-with-a-brand-new-baby-just-having-transitioned-countries-in-an-unstable-economy. Almost the very image described by the keynote address given by the then President of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology at APA Division 13’s Society of Consulting Psychology’s 2010 Mid-Winter conference. As a doctoral student halfway through my coursework at the time, I could feel the blood surge through my veins as I sat next to accomplished, published PhD’s with long careers in the field serving highly reputed consulting firms, as the President described the profile of today’s doctoral student: a woman in her upper 30’s, employed, married, with children, pursuing this opportunity part-time either on campus or virtually. My inner voice screamed, “That is me!!” Yet, perhaps ironically (and self-consciously), I felt invisible as I left the conference during the evening social hour so I could go home to put my child to bed and do my coursework.
It was not without much self-reflection as well as integration of feedback from a series of friends, coaches and mentors that I discovered a voice and context for the academic research and practitioner’s path I envision. In the latter half of 2011, this discovery served as the motivation to begin writing a blog (and contributing to several other parallel online feeds) whose purpose is to analyze the perspectives of women professionals and emerging female leaders in the Middle East region. The relevance of this specific focus fuses my personal and professional life and experiences. The weave, while relevant, still features a distance in attempting to understand the phenomenon. One might muse that it is my attempt to make sense of “it all”. The “it all” being the impending mid-life recognition of a diverse and dynamic life path set to an academic tone, with a practitioner’s heart.
There have been quite a few stories I’ve followed and featured about women in the Middle East workforce. The topic has become so ripe in the past year under the banner of examining women’s rights under the Arab Spring, relevant stories appear on my radar screen almost daily. Under the tagline, “A Quiet Revolution”, the women featured in these stories, sometimes named and pictured, other times anonymous and represented by bold or ironic Twitter profiles, are often described by the media in a relatively muted fashion. All at once positive about their emergent trickle, fully represented by figures such as Nobel Laureate Tawakkol Karman, yet awash in the negative due to the series of electoral outcomes resulting in Islamic rule.
My doctoral journey is also a quiet revolution where I have given more than my waking hours to learning while contributing to the larger academic and contextual conversations around me. I used to feel as though I may be missing out from the land-based doctoral experience, recalling that the salient academic conversations are facilitated by the published professors who are well-versed/traveled/conferenced subject matter experts. Yet, I have learned that synchronous, self-directed virtual academic learning is also encouraged by an equally impressive portfolio of professor qualifications and contributions with undeniable rigor. It is context that differs in these academic discussions, as well as the experience of those ‘lightbulb’ moments. In parallel with my academic learning, I’ve also discovered the virtual contextual conversations, from LinkedIn discussion groups, to Facebook, to #Twitterverse. While it does not supplant the academic voice and dialogue I wish to contribute to, it feeds a curiosity and context; my academic-practitioner-work-in-progress. This quiet revolution is my scholar-practitioner awakening and while I never imagined I may share this so openly with such a specific group of women in the world, it is all I long for at this stage and stretch of my own (r)evolution.