Tuff Talker Walks the Walk with Dr. Charlotte Pullins

Dr. Charlotte Pullins

Dr. Charlotte Pullins is an educator and a mother.

Before earning her doctoral degree, she taught elementary education for nearly 15 years. Dr. Pullins then parlayed that experience into becoming a principal founder of Antioch Christian Academy, where she currently serves as both chief administrator and member of the board of directors.

Dr. Pullins is also host of The Tuff Talks, a podcast that focuses on the tough conversations mothers have with their teenage daughters as they prepare for life beyond the home.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • How a high school GED led a middle school student to earn her doctorate
  • How the dissertation process is like a salad
  • What the dissertation coin flip is and how it impacts your graduation
  • When to appease your committee members and when to change them
  • Everyone deals with loss and setbacks
  • Why you should plan to come back at the same time you plan to leave
  • The importance of celebrating victories

In this episode…

Dr. Charlotte Pullins was inspired by her mother at an early age to value education. She carried that ethos into adulthood, first as an educator, and then as a doctoral student, surprising her family, and herself, along the way!

In this episode of An Unconventional Life, Dr. Charlotte Pullins discusses the losses she overcame during her dissertation journey — the deaths in the family, the diagnosis that changed her life, and the committee member who stood steadfastly in her way. Dr. Pullins overcame these challenges and more to earn her degree and go on to found a not-for-profit organization and host a podcast. And she’s just getting started.

Dr. Pullins story of perseverance is sure to hit home with doctoral students who feel like the deck is stacked against them.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done, America’s #1 authority in dissertation completion for working professionals.

Founded by Dr. Russell Strickland, Dissertation Done serves people in two ways:

  1. If you’re struggling with your dissertation, getting ready to start your dissertation, or just plain wanting to get your dissertation done as soon as possible, go to www.dissertationdone.com/done and Let’s Get Your Dissertation Done
  2. If you’re busy living your Unconventional Life and have a message that you want to share, maybe you should join our Expand Your Authority Program to become a published author. Go to www.dissertationdone.com/book and let me know that you’d like to talk about Expanding Your Authority.

Visit www.dissertationdone.com to learn more about our other services and leave a message or call them at 888-80-DR-NOW (888-803-7669) to schedule your free 30 to 45-minute phone consultation.

Episode Transcript

Disclaimer: This transcript is here for your reading convenience. It was created by machines and may (a-hem) contain some errors. If you email us about these errors, the machines will undoubtedly find out. I hope they won’t get angry.


Intro [00:00:03]

Welcome to An Unconventional Life, a podcast where we share stories about the crazy one percent out there who ends their doctoral degrees and then went on to use them in crazy, cool, unique and unconventional ways. Here’s your host, astrophysicist turned teacher, author, dissertation coach and more, Dr Russell Strickland.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:00:29]

Hi, this is Dr. Russell Strickland, your host for an Unconventional Life podcast. Today, I have with me Dr. Charlotte Pullins. Dr. Pullins has just recently graduated, and I’m looking forward to her sharing her experience with you of going through the doctoral program and getting her Ed.D. In organizational leadership. She is a podcast host with The Tuff Talks and also runs her own and not for profit organization. So lots of great stuff for us to talk about here. This is what An Unconventional Life is all about, is being able to go out and do these fun and interesting things. Today’s episode, as always, is brought to you by Dissertation Done and at Dissertation Done we serve folks in two primary capacities. The first is if you’re working on your dissertation, if you know you’re going to be working on it soon, reach out to us for some help, some guidance, support and direction. It does so much to help you get to graduation so much faster. Our students tend to graduate in about a year, whereas many students take three, four and five years to get through the dissertation process. So reach out to us at DissertationDone.com/done and we’ll see what we can do to help you get your dissertation done. If, however, you’re already out there living your unconventional life, you have your expertize and you want to take it to the next level or Expand Your Authority program helps you go from a blank page to having your book written and published in less time than you would you would think is possible. We do this in a very strategic way to help you build and expand your authority platform. And if you’re interested in doing that, reach out to us at DissertationDone.com/book. That’s DissertationDone.com/book. Now, Dr. Pullins, welcome. Thank you so much for joining me today.


Dr. Charlotte Pullins [00:02:11]

Thank you for having me on your show.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:02:13]

You are so welcome. Now, as I ask a lot of folks, we were talking just before we went on the air here. One of the things that is always interesting to me is to find out why someone made the crazy decision to go out and pursue a doctoral degree. We know that only one percent of the population holds a doctoral degree, maybe about two or three percent try. So it’s a crazy thing to do this. What in the world possessed you to go out and start a doctoral degree program?


Dr. Charlotte Pullins [00:02:45]

Oh, I know. I know those numbers are really slim and it really is. It was a journey for me. But for me, what motivates me? Seeing my mother in middle school, she received her her G.E.D and she went back after having six kids and going through life. And it really was an inspiration to me that she did something unconventional. She put herself through something even when she had a full family. And she was my inspiration. So I decided, OK, wants to become fearless, life becomes limitless. So I when I applied, I applied. And it was a shock to think my whole family, because I had hinted around that I was going to do it. And then all of a sudden I got my approval letter and I tell my husband I start in August. OK, good, you’re going to do it. So but definitely my mother motivated me to to do this.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:03:49]

Awesome. So you you were in middle school, you were going through school. You were, I guess, a teenager at the time. And that’s when your mom decided, I’m going to go back and I’m going to get my GED. I never finished high school and I’m going to do that. I hear that from so many students. They will they’ll tell one of those two stories. Either someone went out and motivated me because they they saw how important education was. And even if it was just going back and getting that high school GED, that was what prompted me to go and get my doctoral degree eventually. Or the flip side is I ain’t letting my kids not get through high school or not get through college or whatever the case might be. So and I’ve heard so many stories about Mama or Daddy graduating along with their son or daughter. I was getting the doctoral degree, the other graduate from high school or something like that. I had a friend who had a lot of family support around there, all the siblings. And yes. So that’s awesome. Absolutely. OK, so you take the dive. I like that. What was the thing you said before? When when when you when your fearless life becomes limitless? That was awesome.


Dr. Charlotte Pullins [00:05:06]

When you’re fearless life becomes limitless.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:05:09]

I like it a lot with this and with this.


Dr. Charlotte Pullins [00:05:13]

You have to be fearless. Take on that challenge.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:05:17]

Right. And that’s I think that’s what gets in a lot of folks way initially at least, is just this notion of what can I do this? Is this something that’s right for me? Is this something that is. Is even possible for me and and luckily in today’s environment, you can say, yes, we have traditionally this is where our podcast, An Unconventional Life, came from, is that you have students who go through middle school, high school, college, and then they go right into graduate school to get a doctoral degree. That’s kind of the traditional path. We like to talk about this unconventional path as being the folks who did go out and start their careers and start their families. And you’re like a legitimate adult and then you’re going back to school going back. It’s not like you’re leaving any of that stuff behind. You’re still doing all the other things, too, to the fact that the label to us these days is really, really awesome.


Dr. Charlotte Pullins [00:06:13]

And that’s kind of what I did.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:06:15]

Awesome. So. Tell me that you took the plunge, you decided to be fearless and go to class, and how how did that doctoral program work out for you?


Dr. Charlotte Pullins [00:06:26]

What was the what was the experience like, you know, at the beginning and the class experiences where we’re pretty good. There were steady study, basically writing papers. And I did a hybrid method. I did online and in class. I get class actually here and there, more classes. So it was good in.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:06:51]

And what does that mean? What is the class look like?


Dr. Charlotte Pullins [00:06:55]

So we were it was a traditional class. There was a group up. Maybe 10 of us went through this journey all three years together in the class. We had Monday night classes where different professors every eight weeks, both with the same four students. So that method was good for me. You could have done it all online, but it’s just a different modality of learning. So, yeah, three years of that. And in that one year of this one and a half year dissertation writing.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:07:31]

Well, that’s not too bad there. Let’s go back to the classes for a minute because you mentioned, OK, I’m going to be fearless. What was the experience of those classes like? Did you find that was really difficult? Did you find it was surprisingly easy? What was your thought process as you were going through those classes?


Dr. Charlotte Pullins [00:07:51]

It was more it was it was more so you had to be you have to learn to be a critical thinker, a different mindset within the class. It wasn’t as easy as the Masters classes because you knew things. You were learning how to write in a different and a scholarly writer. So the pieces were they were challenging at times, especially statistics classes. But overall, it wasn’t as…


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:08:26]

Nobody likes the statistics class.


Dr. Charlotte Pullins [00:08:30]

Yeah, for some reason.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:08:31]

I have a numerical mathematical kind of background, so I actually like that stuff. To me, it’s it’s something you can hold on to, you know, what is what’s going on. But yeah, so many of our students are like, I don’t want to do that stuff.


Dr. Charlotte Pullins [00:08:47]

I don’t want to do it. Yeah.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:08:48]

And luckily, even you’re working on your dissertation, you don’t necessarily have to is one of the few things that universities will actually let you get help with. Like someone can do that for you. So don’t let that necessarily keep you away from doing a quantitative study if if that’s that’s something you might be interested in. But, yeah, I did read the whole statistics things a lot, a lot from people.


Dr. Charlotte Pullins [00:09:11]

Right. And, you know, I actually did a study, so I use SPSS. So it’s not as bad as you think. It’s just something new that you have to learn. But and if you stick to it, you’ll get it. Get it. Yeah.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:09:29]

So the classes were a little bit of a mixed bag, some more challenging. Some were definitely what you expected. But then comes the dissertation. How was that different for you from the classes? Did you did you experience any kind of shift when you moved from classes to dissertation?


Dr. Charlotte Pullins [00:09:46]

I did. I did. When you start working on a dissertation on it, it’s more like you are preparing a salad in class. So you’re getting the little pieces from each class to go into your dissertation and kind of you’re bringing all those things you’ve learn together and to the to write this dissertation. So it’s a harder process because it’s critical thinking, synthesizing that itinerate process. You’re constantly revising and reading and learning and changing. So the process itself is tedious. They don’t just hand these things out.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:10:32]

They don’t.


Dr. Charlotte Pullins [00:10:33]

They don’t. So you have to really I use the term buckle down and you have to really learn a lot of things that you weren’t traditionally taught in undergrad. But the classes are there to help you and your committee is there to help you. So the dissertation is going to be, say, hard, but it’s going to be…


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:11:06]

It’s OK to be honest, right? It’s hard.


Dr. Charlotte Pullins [00:11:07]

Yeah, it’s hard. It’s rigorous.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:11:10]

I tell our students all the times like, listen, we make this as easy as possible, but I don’t want to lie to you. It’s not easy. We’re just an. It’s possible, yeah, that’s the answer to as easy as possible, it’s still hard because, like you said, they don’t hand these things out. The the the attrition rate is just a horrible thing. I mean, when you go into a doctoral degree program, like a 50 percent success rate, I call it the dissertation coin flip because it’s like it’s really like some guys tossing the coin heads or tails as to whether you graduate or not. And yeah. Yeah. So so it is a way of describing it.


Dr. Charlotte Pullins [00:11:49]

Yeah. Yeah. But when you say that, think about my first class and there were over twenty five people in there and then down to ten and then so far out of the ten. So only three of us have completed it.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:12:07]

Wow. Well so that’s worse than that fifty-fifty. So first person first they’re still on the way. Yes. Yeah. So you mentioned this idea of it being hard. One of the things that I’ve noticed in working with a lot of different students is that. The thing that makes it so difficult for students is there seems to be no structure, your classes are very structured, they tell you what to read, what to do, when to do it, deadlines, course requirements, assignment requirements, all of that. Did you find that your dissertation had the structure you were used to or did you find that that the structure that was part of what was making it difficult for you?


Dr. Charlotte Pullins [00:12:59]

The structure you had to learn, the structure of the dissertation about the different chapters, what essential things need to be in them, and continuity is very important when you write a dissertation, as you know, what you say at the beginning has to correlate to what you put at the end and then have that whole little line.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:13:21]

They called that alignment.


Dr. Charlotte Pullins [00:13:21]

Alignment. Yeah, alignment. It has to be aligned. If it’s not aligned, it’s not going to get done. And you know that.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:13:30]

And some people think, gosh, that can’t be that hard. What’s the problem that you can’t say here? The same thing you’re saying there. But what students because of this lack of structure of not knowing exactly where you’re going when you start this dissertation process, what happens a lot of times as you start off thinking that this is the direction I’m going to go and you change course, along the way, which is fine, but you’ve got to go back and then all the stuff you wrote before, you’ve got to reflect that.


Dr. Charlotte Pullins [00:13:59]

You have to change.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:14:01]

And that’s where the problem is that you start off thinking, this is the way I’m going to go. You end up going another way. And your paper then doesn’t make sense all the way through. And because people don’t usually write it from page one to page one hundred and whatever. Right. Skip around and figure out, well, I wrote this three months ago. I wrote this six months ago. And so that alignment thing can be tricky. It can definitely be tricky.


Dr. Charlotte Pullins [00:14:22]

It can. It can. If you change something in chapter one, you might have a ripple effect in Chapter two the way.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:14:30]

So what were what were some of the challenges that you faced as you were going through this dissertation process beyond just learning the structure and learning what was in the dissertation? What other challenges did you face in this process?


Dr. Charlotte Pullins [00:14:43]

Now that you get a committee, so you have a chair, you have the methodologies, you have a constant expert and have what’s called for us an AQR reviewer, and you have to juggle these people, these different people and what they want in your dissertation. One might say they want one thing, one might say they want another. And they actually, through different sections of your dissertation, are made when the challenge is was my methodologist. We had a disagreement and..


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:15:19]

Actually, you’re the first person ever tell me that. And it seems to always be that methodologist, too.


Dr. Charlotte Pullins [00:15:28]

It’s always the methodologies that you have. And I had to you’re almost trying to appease everyone within your committee. Yes, you can. Sometimes it can conflict with the other person and what they think and what they approved. So for me, the challenge was working with my methodologist for me and eventually I had to change my methodologist.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:15:56]

Now, that’s tough because I can take some time right back, can take some time.


Dr. Charlotte Pullins [00:16:01]

And that that’s not to say if the next person will like what you wrote either. So in the changing of the methodologist, it took me all the way back to Chapter One. When I was at Chapter Three, they had to go back and approve. So that that was a definite challenge because then you had to change with the next person wanted to change as that process can be really tedious of rewriting. So that was one that was hard.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:16:33]

Yes. And one of the things that when you mentioned you have to appease these different people, one of the things I tell my students all the time is, listen, you’re going to be listed as the author of the dissertation. But very quickly, you need to come to grips with the fact that this isn’t your dissertation. Actually, it’s your committee’s dissertation. They they hold all the keys. They think about it as if you’re you’re creating a suit of clothes, a dress or whatever it might be. And it’s got to be tailored for those committee members. That suit might be OK. The first time you put it, you put it together. It might be just fine. But when you put it on your committee, you’ll find that parts of it don’t hang quite right. It needs to be nipped here and there and to get it to fit them. And once it does, then they’ll approve it. And and that can be a tough pill for some students to swallow because they think that this is this is all theirs and it’s up to them to just do it right. But there is no right or wrong with this. You go out there to your university’s library and you pull a dissertation was just published this year. Take their name off of it, give it put your name on and give it to your committee. And I guarantee you they’ll give you a list as long as your arm of things that they want you to fix of the changes has as well. And they’ll use heavy hand language to fix that dissertation. Somebody graduated, but it was perfect or it was good enough for that persons committee. Right. Your committee is going to want to see things a little bit different. And that’s that’s that’s the tough part, is that students think going through school for so many years, it’s either right or it’s wrong. And with your dissertation, it’s just got to fit your committee. So you’ve got to kind of abandon those sort of perfectionist tendencies. And that’s right. And just give them what they’re asking for.


Dr. Charlotte Pullins [00:18:25]

Give them what they’re asking. And a lot of times the professors say, do you want to graduate? Please, please, I am done. I would like to be.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:18:35]

And and you mentioned before that sometimes committee members will ask you for different things. And a trick that I found is that if you give the first committee member what they’re asking for and then later on somebody else asks for something different, you can usually go back to that first committee member, whatever their title or role in the committee, and say, well, so-and-so, it’s just really asking me to do this. Is it OK if we make that shift and psychologically, generally, they’re going to think, well, this person did what I asked them to do, I’m OK with it. Whether what I asked for is in the final edit or not, I don’t care so much because I was kind of honored and respected by the person doing what I asked her to do. Exactly. The next committee member just shift it back. And I find that works a whole lot. If it’s something your chair was asking for and one of the other committee members disagree with the chair, usually the chair will just acquiesce after you’ve you’ve done what they wanted to in the first place.


Dr. Charlotte Pullins [00:19:32]

Were you sitting by me the whole time I was writing, as you just said, you didn’t know that that happened. That was everything that happened with my dissertation. Really, exactly, verbatim, they say you have to appease and you have to go through, but like you said, maybe they’ll just say you did it and then that’s, you know.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:19:53]

That’s really tough because students who go to doctoral degree programs, they generally got there because they were good at school. Right. I mean, some sounds obvious, but the selection of school with classes is all about right and wrong. And you just have to give that up when you get to the dissertation phase because, yes, there is such a thing as being wrong, but there’s not such a thing as really being right when it comes to the dissertation. If it’s if it’s not wrong, that doesn’t mean it’s going to get accepted. You’ve just got to make sure that your committee is happy with it and whatever it takes to get that happen. My advice is just do that as quickly as you can. If you don’t want to graduate as soon as possible, if you would rather stick around and stay in school for a long time, you can fight with your committee members. I mean, that would be fun.

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Dr. Russell W. Strickland

RUSSELL STRICKLAND, Ph.D., has been referred to as a “rocket scientist turned management consultant.” In truth, he applies an eclectic body of work from astronomy and nuclear physics to dynamic inventory management to market research to each of his student engagements.