The Two Gs of Doctoral Work: Grit and Growth Mindset

I am very excited to contribute to the OWHE blog! I served on the OWHE board from 2011-2016 in various positions. It was an amazing opportunity for me to collaborate with others and serve the awesome professionals in Oregon. I am forever grateful for what OWHE has given to me. I left the OWHE board to pursue a doctoral degree which I am currently finishing my second year. I am enrolled in the educational leadership doctoral program at Portland State University and work full time in residence life at the University of Oregon. 

Working full time and being in school full time has taught me countless life skills. I have utilized a growth mindset; where I push myself to learn and believe that I can continue to learn. Carol Dweck coined the term ‘growth mindset’ and ‘fixed mindset.’ Carol outlines that having a growth mindset means that people believe they can improve by hard work and dedication. Installing a growth mindset is easier for children than adults. But, I have learned to take steps at developing mine! I learned to hear my fixed mindset voice and then recognized that I have a choice. I can choose to have a fixed mindset; or I can push myself to believe I can grow. This might seem very basic; but being in a doctoral program is challenging and if you are anything like me…… I needed to push myself to become a better writer, find discipline in my life to believe in myself, and know that I really can be engaged in the processes to make myself smarter through hard work. 

This season in my life has also pushed me to have grit. Angela Lee Duckworth describes grit as having passion and perseverance for long term goals, having stamina, sticking with your future day in and day out, and working really hard to make the future a reality. During my second year of the program I have been drawn to the concept of grit. Part of the doctoral journey is to receive critical feedback, incorporate it, and continue the cycle of feedback and incorporation. At first, it was a hard processes to receive feedback and now it is normalized. I am grateful for the feedback because it has pushed me to be a better scholar and writer. During my second year of the program I pushed myself to take better care of myself. I needed to prioritize my health and wellbeing as it was in the back burner my first year. It is grit that makes me wake up at 4:15 each morning where I either work out or I work on class work. My new routine of not watching TV during the week, going to bed a reasonable time, eating well and working out has made my work life and doctoral journey more fulfilling. I have to keep thinking that this is only for a season; and I am motivated with that in mind. As I finish up classes it is now on me to finish my dissertation. This will take hard work and dedicated time. Having a growth mindset and grit have been the two stable things to push me through this journey and I am forever grateful.

I was drawn to the program because it is cohort based. This past January I attend OWHE with 6 other classmates that you will see in the picture. Having a cohort has been my saving grace for me. I have valued the deep connections with the group. I also asked a few of them their thoughts on the program and grit and this is what a few of them shared:

I asked Becky Sanchez what advice she would give to someone looking into a doctoral degree. She encouraged others to, ”make sure you need it for what you want to do, though you will never regret it, going into the right program for your lifestyle and aspirations is key. Start shaving off commitments now and flex your "I'd love to do that but I am not able to commit to an additional responsibility at this time" muscle.”

I also asked Becky how she utilized grit while in the program. Becky answered, “I lean on my resolve consistently as I am managing being a mother, an executive director at work, a student in the program, and a researcher. I remind myself how great the end will feel and I try to give myself as much grace as I would give others I love. There have been times when my grit feels like sand slipping through my fingers, at those moments I close my fist tight and persist.”

Sheila Mullooly also shared the following, “I find myself reflecting on and using a lot of related concepts like fascination, passion, purpose, growth, neuroplasticity, stamina, and persistence. I've noticed that I essentially always have big questions related to my doctoral work running at the back of my mind. The clearer I become on the purpose and scope of my work the more the fascination becomes an obsession about the potential positive contributions to best praxis yet to be made. Approaching ABD status has prompted me to look back at the coursework completed, challenges met, and learning and growth experienced. It motivates me to continue because working and studying full-time is exhausting, and it has to end precisely because it's not a sustainable load. I've also had to learn to see the value in hitting the pause button, getting out of my head, and moving my body whenever needed. Pausing can create space and time to reconnect with purpose. I find it easier to persist when feeling purposeful and grounded in my body. Geeking out about neuroplasticity and growing neural pathways is passion that has long infused my work with multilingual international students actively language learning. In short, "the only way out of the doctoral program is through it" has become my daily mantra.

To individuals considering applying to doctoral programs in Education or related fields, I'd offer the following reflection questions:

  • Are you ready to say "no" to free time and social events like birthday parties, book clubs, spontaneous day trips, etc?
  • Do you know how to ask for the personal, professional, and academic help you will need to work and study full-time?
  • Is your family unit/personal support system ready to sustain you through a degree program and cheer you over the doctoral finish line?
  • When you are stressed to the max and stuck in your head, what does your self-care and self-love regimen look like?
  • Are you passionate enough to devote the next 3-5 years of your life to in-depth learning and solving a problem in praxis in your field?
  • Do you day dream about applying to grad school?
  • Do you find yourself imagining that you might regret not having attempted a doctoral degree?”

Being in a doctoral program is an amazing opportunity to meet a cohort of outstanding professionals and an amazing season in life to challenge yourself. I am forever grateful for this season!


Picture in order from top to bottom: Sally Mudiamu, Heather Kropf, Sarah Kutten, Becky Sanchez, Marleigh Perez, Trish Dorman, and Sheila Mullooly

For more information on growth mindset and grit:

Heather Kropf is an Associate Director of Residence Life at the University of Oregon and can be reached at




Connect with Leaders

Networking with women, non-binary, and trans leaders in the state of Oregon will enhance your professional experience. We look forward to creating opportunities to meet, connect and develop together.

Engage in Professional Development

Participate in opportunities for professional growth through educational programs that are provided by our campus contact network right on your campus, in your region or at a state wide gathering. The focus is on providing you with the leadership skills and mentoring necessary to lead.

Lead Change in Higher Education

Higher education in the state of Oregon provides a dynamic environment where women, non-binary, and trans people can impact change. Whether in the community college, 4-year institution, public, or private, we want you to be a part of shaping the future of higher education by empowering and affirming your leadership abilities.