Journey to doctoral degrees takes baby steps – and a lot of support

From left, Nina Geoffroy-Suppes, BreAnna Matthews, Raxel Ann Phillips and Sydney Wilde mixed academics with pregnancy in GCU's College of Doctoral Studies' residency program.

It’s often a pleasant surprise to professors when students complete their assigned work well ahead of schedule.

But for Nina Geoffroy-Suppes, there’s added incentive.

She's expecting to deliver her first baby in June. She learned of her pregnancy days before starting her first residency in Grand Canyon University’s College of Doctoral Studies.

But Geoffroy-Suppes isn't worried. She has plenty of company and support.

Raxel Ann Phillips completed her first residency at GCU while pregnant with her third child.

Fellow doctoral learners BreAnna Matthews and Sydney Wilde also were in their first residency and are expecting this summer.

And if they needed more advice on motherhood, they could look to Raxel Ann Phillips, whose third child was three months old when she took her to residency.

“Pregnancy is a lot,” said Phillips, whose husband serves in the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton, California. “Then you add a degree and you’re trying to complete a residency, it multiplies the difficulty of what we’re trying to do. It seems you’re tired all the time, and there’s this one big thing you have to do.”

Phillips, a native of the Philippines, has two older daughters, ages 6 and 4, and has received baby-sitting help. But the challenge becomes greater when her husband is deployed.

It’s no coincidence that her dissertation is “Experiences of Immigrant Military Spouses Seeking Employment During Transitions.”

“Active duty service members change duty stations quite often, and that’s what I’m trying to explore with my dissertation,” said Phillips, who enrolled in the doctoral program in August 2022 and hopes to finish in July 2025.

Wilde, who is 25 weeks pregnant, credits a precise schedule that keeps her from falling behind with homework, house cleaning and raising two sons.

“I schedule my day hour by hour,” said Wilde, who lives in a Houston suburb. “You've got to figure out what works for you.”

Sydney Wilde completed her second residency with the support of husband Alex and children Lincoln (left) and Easton.

Wilde said the plan went well during her first residency. Her dissertation is  “How Dispositional Gratitude Affects the Level of Burnout Syndrome Among Health Care Professionals.”

“I feel the ball is now rolling, and I know what I need to do,” said Wilde, who wants to teach at a university and be a business consultant.

The camaraderie among the four expectant doctoral learners alleviated many of the nerves Matthews initially experienced.

“I look at is as I’m not alone, it’s a community,” she said. “It’s more people in the same boat.

“The crazy thing is this is my first time being a mom. At first, I was being insecure and was in my head (thinking), ‘Oh my God, I hope I can finish this. I got one more year left of classes.’

“For other people, it’s normal. Sometimes as people, we have to see the normality of this and say we can do this.”

Being surrounded by students juggling motherhood and academics boosted Matthews' confidence.

“I’m crying about one child, and they have two or three kids,” Matthews said. “It’s possible.”

She conducts discussion polls and performs classwork Thursday through Saturday and reads from Sunday through Tuesday.

“I try to be disciplined,” said Matthews, whose dissertation is “Urban Middle School Teachers Integrating Culture in Classroom and Discipline.” “Not every day is promised.”

Phillips thought it would be great to reunite at Commencement with their babies, but with different projected graduation dates for each of them, it's likely they'll have to make different plans for a reunion.

But they were happy to share in their academic and motherhood journeys at the same time, even when life became demanding.

“GCU has been great,” Geoffroy-Suppes said, adding with a laugh that they accepted her reality, "... that some days I had to work sitting by the bathroom."

GCU News Senior Writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]

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