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Ph.inisheD—How I Went from GED to Ph.D

Laurie Buchanan

2020-11-01 17:30:39

Following thirteen months behind my only sibling’s academic footsteps was hard. From elementary school on, she was a glowing student; absorbing, digesting, and understanding information seemingly by osmosis. She maintained straight A’s throughout her academic career and earned a college scholarship. I, on the other hand, struggled to maintain a C average and ran away from home at the age of fifteen.

Let’s take a moment and rewind...

I thought I was stupid. Compared to my sister, it certainly appeared that way. However, it wasn’t until many years later I discovered that I learn differently from how I was being taught.

There are three recognized learning styles:

  • Auditory learners grasp things by hearing—the worst type of test for them involves reading passages and writing answers. They’re best at writing responses to lectures they’ve heard, and are also good at oral exams.
  • Visual learners comprehend through seeing—the worst test type for them includes having to listen and respond. They’re best at diagramming, reading maps, essays (if they’ve studied using an outline), and showing a process.
  • Tactile (kinesthetic) learners understand through experiencing/doing—the worst test type for them usually has lengthy tests and essays. They’re best at short definitions, fill in the blanks, and multiple choice.

When I was in school, the general teaching population were auditory teachers. A heavily tactile learner—with a smidgen of visual thrown in for good measure—I was missing the boat!

Fast forward...

Not having done any planning before running away, I didn’t know that if you leave high school before you graduate, you can’t test for a GED—General Education Diploma—until two years after your graduating class.

Biding my time, I went to work for a large, everything-under-one-roof store. Over the next few years I worked my way up to managing the women’s wear department, then added men’s wear, and topped it off with housewares and furniture.

I gained valuable life experience during that window of time. Part of this seat-of-the-pants wisdom was learning to say, “I don’t understand. Can you please explain that differently?” And that’s when I noticed that no matter how many times someone “told” me, it wasn’t until they “showed” me that I got it! When shown, I not only met, but exceeded what was expected of me.

I left high school as a sophomore in 1973. For four long years I waited and prepared to take the GED examination. On a hot day in late June of 1977, with the cut-grass tang of summer in the air, I slipped into a front row seat at the testing center; one of about twenty other people enveloped in the sterile classroom setting.

The all-day test was given in seven parts: Language Arts (writing), Language Arts (reading), Social Studies, Science, Math (calculator allowed), Math (calculator not allowed), and United States Constitution.

Hours later—head held high with a face-splitting grin—I left the facility with every confidence that I’d aced the test. Six weeks later I received my GED certificate, and that was just the beginning. Over time I earned my associate degree, then bachelor’s, followed by a master’s degree. Finally, two weeks before my fiftieth birthday, I sat and defended my Ph.D. thesis.

Hard-wired for buoyancy and tenacious as a terrier, when I set my mind on something I go after it with tremendous resolve. It took a while, but I eventually went from GED to Ph.D. And while I’m Ph.inisheD with brick-and-mortar academia, I’ll never be done learning.


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