brittany castonguay phd student

Brittany Castonguay, PhD Global Leadership and Change

Current occupation: USAF Force Support Officer

What made you decide to pursue your degree as an adult?

I knew when I was 23 that I wanted to complete my Ph.D., but the time was not right. I also was not sure what I wanted to get my doctorate in. I knew I wanted to work with people, but what that looked like was not clear, so I decided to wait until I found a degree that matched my aspirations.

Why did you choose to study at Tiffin University?

I completed both my undergrad and graduate degrees at Tiffin. No matter how many times I come back, the atmosphere is always welcoming and in pursuit of higher education. The school is forward-thinking with a strong push towards Cultural Intelligence and Diversity and Inclusion. This is a university that promotes the philosophy of global leadership. When you select a degree, the school and its faculty should promote the ideologies they stand for.

What has been your experience with the program so far?

This program has met all of my expectations and pushes you to become a better researcher and critical thinker. When you first read the course outcomes and objectives, it can be overwhelming to think you will master all of those key components but the faculty assist each step of the way. A Ph.D. is meant to challenge and advance your skills, and when you view the experience as a journey, the process becomes less about the grades or personal expectations and more about your projection of growth. We don’t start as subject matter experts, but you see the course material compound and your knowledge base expand as you continue throughout the program. It is an inspiring moment to reflect on because you do not necessarily see it as you go through each course.

A Ph.D. is meant to challenge and advance your skills, and when you view the experience as a journey, the process becomes less about the grades or personal expectations and more about your projection of growth.

The faculty is extremely supportive and invested in your Ph.D. journey. Every one of them was once in our shoes and is sympathetic to the process and finds a way to support each of us individually. Along with your cohort, you are joined together with like-minded professionals with similar goals throughout the program. It is amazing to be partnered with students around the globe who are making this journey with you. We have a group chat to talk outside of class and look forward to residency each year. I remember the first residency when we were all networking and putting names to faces; now, it’s like meeting up with long-time friends. The professors remind us that no one fully understands the Ph.D. journey like your cohort and that truth has become apparent throughout this program. We lean on each on in more ways than one.

How are you juggling work, life and going back to school?

I am an Active Duty officer with three school-age children. When I first began this program, I was in the middle of a hard and long divorce. Starting a Ph.D. program was not something I should have taken on, but it was something I had wanted for almost 7 years. That is life, though; it does not stop or slow down to let you readjust; you have to figure out how badly you want something and what steps you are willing to take to get there. For me, I made my education non-negotiable. I have wanted this degree for so long, and I also wanted to model healthy goals for my children. In the first few years of my divorce, we went through so much that I wanted them to see what a healthy balance and motivation look like.

I get overwhelmed and sometimes feel like the coursework is too much to handle with being a full-time military member with three small children. It’s okay. I set a schedule that works best for me, and I stick to that schedule and flex to the left or right when I need to. I know when the deadlines are and plan each week based on my personal and work schedule. Most importantly, I breathe. I focus on positive self-talk and take those hard moments one moment at a time and focus on what I can control. Nobody in this program is superhuman, we are all average people making the difficult look simple, and we do it through positivity, motivation, and a strong support system.

Nobody in this program is superhuman, we are all average people making the difficult look simple, and we do it through positivity, motivation, and a strong support system.

What keeps you motivated to stay in the program?

Self-determination and sheer stubbornness. I honestly think you need a bit of both to get through the hard days—the days when the burnout is at its peak, and you are grinding towards a break. A Ph.D. is forever, and the suck is only temporary. When you are faced with hard days, it is important to remember why you started. I often keep a motivational phrase pinned up in my office to reflect on when I am struggling to keep going. Still, each semester completed is a semester towards defending your dissertation, and once you are done, you are done! That grit is something that comes from within, and I think you need a bit of determination and stubbornness to see it through.

What advice would you give to a prospective student who is thinking about going back to school?

Do it. Even if you are scared or terrified or feel that you are not good enough, go for it. You will never know what you can accomplish if you do not try. If the whole program seems overwhelming, take it one semester at a time, one class at a time, and focus on what you can handle, but you will not be alone. You will be surrounded by like-minded individuals who are all going through the same struggles and hesitations. If you don’t start now, then when?

TU’s motto is: Without risk there is no gain. Can you tell us about a time when you took a risk and what you gained from it?

I found out I was pregnant with my first child spring of my senior year in high school. At this point, I was ready to leave for Tiffin in the fall to begin my sophomore year. Instead of leaving for college, I had my son that October. Before I graduated high school, I called the advisor at Tiffin and asked what my options were. They suggested online versus seated classes, and I was nervous about taking online classes. Online programming was still in its infancy and was not as widely accepted by today’s standards. I was assured the education I would receive would be the same, and the positive was I wouldn’t have to move out of state and could stay near support systems. What began as a risk turned into a wonderful journey. I graduated with my master’s degree from Tiffin at 23 and had two boys at this time. When I entered the workforce, I had desirable skillsets and quickly rose through several promotions within my first year of employment. The gains I made from trusting Tiffin with my education still have positive implications today.

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