“I Don’t Believe in PhDs” and Other Fantastical Tales with Dr. Kathy Gruver

Kathy Gruver, Ph.D. is an award-winning author, professional speaker, and former actor with over 30 years of experience in mind/body medicine and human behavior. An entertainer and educator imbuing all of her programs with practicality and passion.


With a West Coast mentality and an East Coast delivery, her humorous, down to earth and engaging style has captivated audiences on four continents, three cruise ships and a handful of islands. It’s been her true honor to have delivered two TEDx talks.


Dr. Gruver has written eight books which have garnered 12 awards, hosted a TV series based on her first book, developed a stress reduction program for the US military, and cohosts the Fire and Earth Podcast. She has penned countless articles and appears regularly as a guest on radio, TV and in in print media. She recently appeared on the Dr. Phil Show. She has earned her PhD in natural health and has studied mind-body medicine at the famed Benson Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Harvard. Kathy currently lives in Santa Barbara, California with her boyfriend, her guinea pig, Listo, and her cat, Aleister. For fun and stress relief Kathy does flying trapeze and plays dungeons and dragons.


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

  • Following the breadcrumbs
  • Waiting for the inspiration to strike
  • Working on your Ph.D. in a field you HATE
  • Helping more people
  • Doing it … differently
  • The best business card ever

In this episode…

It’s funny, the way life works out sometimes. We make plans, and reality intrudes. But, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t plan…

In this episode of An Unconventional Life, Dr. Kathy Gruver lays out the breadcrumbs of her career for Dr. Russell Strickland. From massage therapist to naturopath.  Along the way she met a client working to finish her Ph.D in a field that she hated, a man who didn’t “believe in Ph.D.s,” and Dr. Phil! She’s now a public speaker, coach, and multiple author. The journey didn’t quite go as planned, but she wouldn’t have it any other way!

Dr. Gruver admits that she’s “one to say ‘yes’ for things.” This proclivity has earned her a Ph.D., her own TV show, and a life at least somewhat beyond her dreams. What are you saying ‘yes’ to?


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 earned 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 [00:00:28] Hello and welcome to an unconventional life. I’m your host, Dr. Russell Strickland, the founder and CEO of Dissertation Done. And I have with me today Dr. Kathy Gruver. She is an award winning author, public speaker. She has been an actor in the past. She’s been on the Dr. Phil show. I can’t wait to ask her about that. She’s had a book that’s come out very recently. One of many. And I just can’t wait to talk to you about all the exciting things that Dr. Gruver has been doing since then because she earned her doctoral degree. Dr. Gruver, welcome.


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:00:59] Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:01:01] You’re quite welcome. I’d like to let folks know that today’s episode brought to you by Dissertation Done. So if you are an adult, an adult doctoral student, and you are getting ready to start the dissertation process, reach out to us for some proactive guidance and support is the best way to get through as quickly as possible. Everybody needs a coach. And since you haven’t done this before. Best thing to do is to reach out and get some help from someone who’s been there before. But it’s more likely you’re kind of slowed, stalled or just plain stuck in the dissertation process. Again, you can reach out to us at DissertationDone.com/done. And for those of you who have been through the dissertation process, you’re out there and you want to operate in the expert space and enjoy some of the amazing opportunities that Dr. Gruver going to be talking with, with you about here today. Reach out to us at DissertationDone.com/book, and we will help you become a published author, which is by far the best way to really, truly establish your credibility. I mean, after all, you will have literally wrote the book on your area of expertise. So you reach out to us at DissertationDone.com/book to find out more about that. Again, Dr. Gruver, welcome. And how are you doing today?


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:02:07] I’m doing great. Excited to talk to you today.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:02:09] Awesome. Well, I like to start with with most folks by asking what prompted you to make this crazy decision to go get a doctoral degree? You know, a lot of us do and and then let a lot of us are successful once we make that decision. So what was it that had you take the plunge in the first place?


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:02:29] Yeah, my whole life has been following the breadcrumbs. So all of this just sort of unfolded on its own. I started out as an actor and then I moved into a healing profession from there. So I was doing massage therapy and I realized that my clients were looking for a true health practitioner, not just I’m going to stick an elbow in the spot that hurt. So I was doing more studying anyway, and I was just really having this pull the sort of like tap on the shoulder of what’s next. I looked in the chiropractic school. I was like, I don’t want to do that. Acupuncture, though I love having it done, did not appeal to me at all to do. And then I found this thing called naturopath. And I was like, oh my God, I totally want to be. This looks great. This is perfect. So I started with a school doing a naturopath program. And as I was doing the program, I realized that the books they were recommending that we had to use for textbooks like my library was filled with them already. And when I finished the the traditional naturopath program, I got something from them saying, hey, you know, we have this master’s and PhD program. And I went, Oh, yes, because I’m one to say yes for things. And I’m a lifetime learner. Like I went from the pre to hypnotherapy to coaching. So it’s like I will never stop learning. And what was so great about it when you were saying that?


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:03:37] Oh, I went back to school in my library. I already had all the books that I’m like, oh, that’s that’s all right.


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:03:42] So like I’m going to read the books anyway. Why would I not work towards this illustrious piece of paper that we got, you know, in in so many ways, it was life changing, just going through the process of having to do this. And I remember clients who were doing their PhD and they would be on my table and they’d be freaking out about their dissertation. I’m thinking, what’s the big deal like? Why are you so stressed that I went through it and went, Oh, wow, that’s why you are so that and buying a house where the two things where I went, what’s the big deal. I know. I know now. I know now. So I just said yes. I just you know, I took those those opportunities when that presented itself and I said, yes, I’m going to do that.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:04:19] Well I think that’s awesome. I, I, I’ve long held the belief that I’d rather regret something I did than something I didn’t do. I went through the doctoral degree process myself as a traditional student right out of college and worked on that for a number of years until my my dissertation advisor actually died in a plane crash. And that prompted me to make some life decisions. And I and I pulled away from it at that time because I felt that was the right thing for me to do. But then I felt that calling still, I want to finish this thing. I ended up finishing my doctoral degree in a completely different field, so I didn’t finish it. I started over again. Wow. But I still think that that that once you’re when you’re seriously considering going into a doctoral degree, you’ve already got the bug and you identify yourself as a doctor. Whether everybody else in the world does or not. It’s something that you’re going to be driven to and you’re going to be called to until you get it done. So so, yeah, the saying yes, part makes sense. What about, like you said, the the the client’s on the table we’re all complaining about their dissertation projects and you relate what’s the big deal, and then…


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:05:30] And then I had to write one and then and because mine was more it wasn’t traditionally, you know, it wasn’t like English or biology or, you know, it was alternative medicine. So when I got my master’s, I had the option of either doing more practicum kind of stuff or writing the thesis. So what most people do is they take their thesis. They turn that into their dissertation. Well, I didn’t have a thesis. I went the opposite route. So when I did my dissertation, I was really starting from square one and to throw things in to make it even a little more stressful. The school that I was attending announced it was shutting down.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:06:07] That’s always fun.


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:06:08] So why, while I was trying to finish up my last two classes, I then had to start a dissertation that I had a limited amount of time to finish.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:06:21] So there were teaching out. They were going to let you finish.


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:06:25] OK, but I but I had to do it in a certain amount of time, which was so incredibly stressful. And I remember sitting there typing and typing and I start to cry. My now ex-husband would come over and he goes, Are you OK? No, I can’t write anymore. And he goes, I think you have to. And I would just I just remember sitting there sobbing because I could not put one more word on the on the page. It was so stressful. But having that dissertation, my one hundred and sixty something pages of just gold led to the books. I mean it prompted me to write two of the books that I have. So, you know, it was in the research I did. It was just it was life changing. So I don’t regret a second of it. I wish it would have. I wish the process would have been smoother. But, you know, it makes us stronger.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:07:10] I don’t know how many people have ever talked to and I’ve talked to a lot who find that this is a smooth process. I think that it’s it’s difficult by design. And in a lot of universities, it is it is made more difficult or less smooth, I think, by design as well. You don’t find a whole lot of people who come, come on and say, well, I have this great adviser who just shepherded me through the whole process and everything made sense. And I knew what to expect and there were no surprises. I’ll be surprised when I hear that story. It’s out there, I guess.


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:07:42] But I have to say my advisor was amazing and she really had to do so much support because, again, I had a limited amount of time. So she was a total cheerleader. The days I called her and said, I cannot do this anymore. She’s like, Kathy, you can. Here’s what you need to do. Turn this and let’s make these connections. What was so hard for me, Russell, was I’m so used to writing fiction or I write in the first person I write very casually. I tend to dictate my books. So they sound very as if I’m reading them. Well, you can’t do that or your dissertation. You can’t use contractions and you can’t say I and you can’t say we. And so I think that was the hardest thing for me was was switching that to formal, very collegiate writing when I hadn’t done that for fifteen or twenty years out of college. So that was, I think one of the toughest things. Where was the style of writing is so not the way I write.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:08:32] It’s one of the things that a lot of students I think find very, very difficult is that very formal, very archaic style of writing. APA has started to loosen up lately. You can use first person, which is good. I grew up without any third person. You talked about the author when you refer to yourself writing a paper and really that’s confusing. The author of What?


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:08:58] Who Are You Talking About? Which author? I didn’t see that in the notes and.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:09:01] Just say, Hey, I did this. Yes. It does interject a little bit of personal into the process. And the process is supposed to be about the work. But the fact of matter is, I did this. So say that.


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:09:13] Exactly.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:09:14] But that’s one of the things that we find our students, you know, struggle to get into that mode. And then when they turn around, they want to write a book like now you’ve become so prolific at writing, then they have to shake themselves out of that mode again and go back to now writing in a conversational tone because no one wants to read a dissertation. Your advisor doesn’t want to read your dissertation. I had a student that I asked. I ask a lot of my students at Dissertation Done, how many people you think are going to read your dissertation when you graduate? And one person thought about it and he said one. I was like you’re talking about your mom? He’s like, yes. Your mom’s not going to read your dissertation. She’ll say she read it. She’s so proud of you. And you’re not going to call her out on it because.


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:09:59] Right. Yeah, well, what about that study I did on page twelve. Yeah.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:10:05] Pages a good job. Really cool. So I’m going to tell the people down at the coffee shop, your dissertation was 12 pages.


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:10:16] Yeah.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:10:18] So what was it like? You mentioned that obviously you were under the gun in terms of getting things done besides the the harsh and imposing deadlines. Were there any other things that really stood out as obstacles that you had to overcome?


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:10:36] Yeah, I think not to take putting the deadline deadline aside, it was just the time working full time. So I’m also the type of writer where I write when the urge strikes me like I’m not one of those people that can be butt in a chair every day from eight to nine to write. That’s just not my process. And it had to be so I would wake up in the morning and I’d get on the computer and write and then I’d put on a completely different hat and I’d go see clients all day. Then I’d come home and eat dinner and I’d sit down at night and write times when I didn’t want to be writing. And I think that was part. One of the hardest things for me is if I feel like writing, I can tear out page after page after page. If I don’t, it seems like a nightmare. And it’s not writer’s block. It’s I’m not in that ego state to write right now.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:11:20] And I had to be I actually this in part because we a lot of our students to do that exact same thing. You just this is this is a job. You have to do the job. It’s not an inspirational thing. It is a getting it done thing. And I know that people who like to write when the inspiration strikes them, it can feel very, very foreign. But I haven’t come up with a better way because if you wait until the inspiration strikes, who knows when you’re going to earn that, right?


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:11:47] Yeah, it’ll be the night before it’s due, like those turn papers I did in school. Yeah. So I think it was that I think and which is the formalness of it, you know, the fact that I had to have it done at a certain time in a certain way, I think that was just what was so challenging for me to do it, finding the time in my life. Yeah. You know, I remember the after weeks of writing when I finally got to get back to dance class for an hour and just like do my it was a joy. You know, I like I loved having the space that I created to do that kept me sane.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:12:16] So what was the big thing like after you graduated? What was the what was the best part of graduating? Finishing the dissertation and graduating?


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:12:25] The day the diploma showed up was actually pretty exciting, and I remember holding it up in front of my door and pointing and taking pictures, and my assistant at the time put D-R on a Post-it note and stuck it on the nameplate on my door.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:12:38] Oh, that’s awesome.


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:12:39] And it’s still there. So there’s still Post-it note, doctor. And then it’s as Kathy Griffin. I’ve never taken it. It’s been years. I’ve never taken it out because it’s just that reminder of why I did that thing. You know, it was really it was it just to have that sense of accomplishment.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:12:52] It’s a great endorsement for Post-It Note people at 3M, too


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:12:55] Right. Exactly.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:12:56] Years it’s been up there.


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:12:58] It’s not there. Well, sure. Well, they didn’t sell more because I just kept that one. But now just that it’s such a huge accomplishment and you’re met with such respect and admiration and what people who know what it is going through it. It’s like, wow, good for you, good for you for doing that.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:13:13] So, yeah, I got to say. As you were saying that I was thinking back, I don’t remember receiving my diploma. I remember the conference call, so we did it was done over the phone. I remember the conference call. I remember congratulations, Dr. Strickland. At the end of my defense, I remember that very clearly. I remember going halfway across the country to my commencement with my eight month old First-born in tow. It was awesome. We had one of my favorite pictures still to this day. I have three kids. Thousands of pictures of them is me holding him. He’s wearing the silly hat and I’ve got the gown in the hood and all that kind of cell that’s grown. Yeah, it was awesome. But I honestly don’t remember getting the piece of paper. It’s over there. It’s hanging on the wall.


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:13:57] So you did get one.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:13:59] Yeah, I got it. I can get it. Was it. That was the moment for me. That wasn’t the it was for me. It was the it was the conference call really. Because that’s that’s the thing that was you know, that’s the thing that meant something basically I guess technically getting my transcript in was the thing that meant something to you because that counts with the transcript.


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:14:20] That’s actually that’s true that getting the transcript was an I ordered so many copies because I knew I was like, the school’s not going to be here. I better get a bunch of like twenty copies of my transcript, all sealed with the school, Narumi, all that stuff.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:14:33] So we had we had a few students that were with Argosy when they closed down a few years back. And yeah, that was one of the things that we were trying to find out about is how will they get transcripts. And I forgot how they’re doing it, but they actually did have something in place where folks can order them in the future. So that’s a good thing. But yeah. Yeah, something to lots of interesting things you have to be aware of.


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:14:56] Yeah.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:14:57] So, OK, so you graduate, you get the cool piece of paper you mentioned, you get to start going back to dance class. What other opportunities start to, to, to blossom at that point, which you once you have that first name doctor?


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:15:11] You know it’s it’s a perception thing. Yeah. Right. I mean quite honestly the books that I wrote after the dissertation weren’t any better or worse than the ones I wrote before. But as soon as you have those initials, people perceive you differently now and you’re you begin to be taken more seriously as a speaker, as an author, as a practitioner, of course. Then also the jokes came up. You can write me a prescription. You could be out of work, can you? Not that kind of doctor. So, yeah, I just I mean, for me, it was it was not only the learning, but it really was about the credibility, because I knew that would help me in my writing and in my speaking. Right. So that was part of why I did it. Not only I mean, again, I was reading those books anyway. So let’s do an official program and let’s learn in that more formal setting than what I was getting in my own living room.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:16:04] And that’s really what I was thinking, too. I got my as I mentioned, I was setting in another field, ended up moving away from that field. My my advisor died, started a career in a in another area and began growing in that area. But I had no formal educational background there whatsoever. And so I could either go get a master’s degree in that in that area or I already had a master’s degree with doctoral work I had been doing. I’ll go ahead and just enroll in a Ph.D. in that field because it’ll pay out in terms of credibility and things like that can teach and things like that. That just wouldn’t be at that master’s level. So it was a little more difficult, I guess, but well worth it.


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:16:50] Yeah, that’s it’s such an interesting choice, and it’s it’s to me, it’s kind of exciting that you left that one program and then went back to it when you had something you were passionate about. I remember talking to a student. She was at UCSB and she was doing her PhD the same time I was. And we were talking about how hard the program was. And she’s actually twenty two. And I at that point was in my late 30s and she said, boy, it must be really nice to be working on your Ph.D. and something that you like. And I went, I’m sorry, what. And she said, I hate psychology. Wait, hang on. I said, you’re you already finished your master’s. You’re in the process of getting your own psychology and you hate psychology. I said, why are you doing this? And she said, it’s my parents. They’re pushing me to get a PhD. And I thought, what a horrible waste of time and money. And I said, Well, let me ask you this. I said, what do you really want to do? And she says, Oh, this sounds dumb. And I said, No, don’t tell me. She goes, I think I want to be a baker. I said, Really? She goes, I love baking. I’m really good at it. I think that’s what I want to do. And I said, well, have you ever worked in a bakery? And she said, no. And I said, I have an assignment for you. She goes, OK. I said, Do you have to get a summer job? She said, Of course my parents make me. I went, OK, right. Yeah. We have so many bakeries in town here in Santa Barbara.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:18:06] We know what your summer job is this year.


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:18:08] Right, exactly. I said, I want you to go to one of the bakeries, get a job. If nothing else, get an internship, work for them for a day and just see what you think of it. And she went on her way. I didn’t see her for months, six or seven months later. Now, summer had passed. She shows up at my office. She’s there for another session and she goes, Kathy, you change my life. And I said, Really? What great. What did I do? She goes, I work in a bakery this summer. I said, Oh, that’s great. What did you think of it? And she looked me. She said, I hated every second of it. I went, Oh, my God. Really? What that. And she got jazzed about psychology, she now works with women, with eating disorders, because she had had a history of that as well, and that she would have regretted her entire life, like you said, regret the things you do do rather than what you don’t do. She would have always wondered, should I be running a bakery? And that helped give her clarity.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:18:58] So it’s like you buy these things out for a day because she might show up and they’ll they’ll have her handing out the pretty little cupcakes and everybody will be happy and all that kind of stuff. They’ll get up at like three o’clock in the morning and bring the wheat in.


Dr. Kathy Gruver [00:19:12] And make bread. And she hated it. And she realized she wanted that to be a hobby and she really wanted to pursue it. She found that passion by elimination, which is really kind of fun.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:19:22] Yeah, well, you got to come to it on your own. I know we had a guest on the podcast not long ago who it was just it was expected in this family. You’re going to get a doctoral degree of some sort. Yeah. And if you just completely flake out, then we might consider a J.D. to be OK, but it’s going to be an M.D., PhD, you know, that’s the expectation. And that wasn’t his choice initially. And he went through a very different path for a number of years. But then he came back to that in part because of exposure, I think, but then also because he found that path for himself, not because of what he was told was dictated. And that was one of the themes of our conversation, was our choice is very, very important. It’s important work he does now.

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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.