What on earth made you decide to get a PhD?

This is actually a question I get a lot. Everyone knows pursuing a PhD is no easy journey – it really takes guts and dedication so it’s not something you just wake up and decide to do. And even if so, majority of those who start do not finish once they realize how cut throat it is. In this post I will focus on why I started. Sticking with it once you are in is another can of worms I will open later.

So, WHY? I’ll start by saying that education has always been a priority for me. I grew up in a house where going to college wasn’t optional. To my family, it was just something you did after high school. In fact, it wasn’t until my senior year when some of my friends were deciding not to go that I learned it was a choice. My parents also taught me to always strive to be the best, reach for the unthinkable, and to be better than I was yesterday. With that mentality, I already knew I was going to grad school. The shift from masters to PhD is where the insanity really lies. I had 3 specific reasons for going for it, even when I was told I shouldn’t.

Career Insurance:

My mom raised me to always have a back up plan, and so initially this was just that. I wanted to take risks in my career and knew that if I ever needed something to fall back on, I could always go back and be a professor to financially sustain myself between jobs. Interestingly enough, this has shifted SO much since graduation. I decided to become a professor right away, no longer as a back up plan, but because I want to help build the cyber security talent pipeline of the future. I am super passionate about supporting the next generation of cyber professionals and this is a perfect way to do that. So it’s no longer “career insurance”.  Teaching part-time has become a critical part of my career because it keeps me sharp on evolving industry concepts, helps me connect the private sector with academia, allows me to build an army of next gen talent, and the extra money is nice!

Challenge and Growth Addict:

I still remember a very vivid moment during my undergrad graduation ceremony. I was sitting near the stage so excited for what I had accomplished, but also smiling at all of the people graduating with their masters and thinking: “That’s going to be me soon!”. Similarly, at my masters degree graduation ceremony I remember looking at the small pool of doctoral grads and thinking: “I’m proud of how far I’ve come, but it’s time to turn it up a notch!” My addiction to continuous growth and elevation played a huge role and, while I don’t think I will be pursing any additional degrees, I still continue to experience this philosophy in so many areas of life. You can always be better and do more.

I also just wanted to test my own capacity and power. I knew this was one of the most uncomfortable goals I could possibly pursue and that excited me because discomfort equals opportunity for evolution and growth. The best life teachers to me are ones that provide a structured yet chaotic challenge – which is exactly what a PhD program is. STRUCTURED CHAOS. To master such a challenge is rewarding for any student who makes it. For me, also knowing that I was experiencing this in a newly established field was even more exciting. Unlike the medical industry, Physics, or Math for example..20 years ago formal education programs in cyber security didn’t really exist. Being on the forefront of that has inspired me, especially since you are sort of paving the way for others and contributing to shaping an industry for years to come.

Because I was told “You Cant..”:

Ever want to see my beastmode switch flipped? Tell me I can’t do or have something I truly want. In this journey, doubt became a great source of motivation. I wanted to show my critics and even myself, that this little girl from Missouri City, Texas didn’t care about ceilings, status quo, or not having role models. I was going to do this, and I did!

There are many reasons people choose to take this path, and these are just a few reasons why I decided to a pursue a PhD personally. Again, your reason for starting may not be what gets you all the way through to the finish line either. I found that as I progressed, my motivation and priorities began to shift based on the environment I was in. Learn more about how I stayed motivated and pushed through in the next post. There are also some additional cyber security specific reasons I will touch on as well.

Until then, go out and beast!

Dr. Christine Izuakor

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