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  • Writer's pictureMatt Garris

Lessons Learned

The following post is adapted from my personal academic coursework.

Final Thoughts

My perspective of the Doctor of Strategic Leadership (DSL) program has changed since the beginning of this term because the depth of the required research surpasses what I expected. Interestingly, at one point in time I had narrowed my terminal degree options to the DSL or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Organizational Leadership. I ultimately decided the Ph.D. was a better fit for me because it focused more on research and less on practice—a better fit for my career intentions. When I entered the Executive Certificate in Strategic Leadership (ECSL) program, I expected my early experiences to affirm my decision by reinforcing my belief that it was not very research-oriented. However, this was not the case at all. While I will continue pursuing the Ph.D., I now realize that the DSL has a robust research component.


My biggest surprise this term came from outside the course. When I registered, I planned on only having one job, but I have worked two full-time jobs for over seven of the eight weeks of this course. I believe I will complete all my coursework in time (albeit at the last minute), but it has certainly proved to be a challenging situation.

Annotated Bibliographies

Another surprise this term was the requirement of the annotated bibliographies. While these were initially a thorn in my flesh, they helped me learn I grew more familiar with them. In the beginning, I did not even know what an annotated bibliography was. Then, I struggled to piece together 250 words about a source. However, towards the end of the course, I was able to select better sources, better understand them, and better utilize them in the development of my papers. Lantz et al. inquired about ways to extend the impact of research instruction on the quality of student research. I think the consistent nature of the annotated bibliographies is one answer to that question. Additionally, the annotated bibliography helped me to better understand the research process and common methodologies as I tried to comprehend and summarize the research presented in my sources.

Time Management

The workload of two jobs combined with my family and church commitments left me with little time to manage this term. One success in my time management this term was my commitment to keep going. There were times where my work was late and it would have been easy to just give up, but I determined that I would complete everything and that it would all be quality work. Despite this area of success, there is much room for improvement. I have resigned from my night job which frees up about 60 hours per week. While I must commit some of these hours to my family, my students, my church, and other projects, many of them will also be dedicated to my studies and I believe that this will help me be more successful in the coming term.


My three greatest takeaways from this course include understanding the importance of consistency, understanding the research expectations of scholarship at the doctoral level, and committing myself to do my best work each week.


While I got a little bit of a late start in this class and had a second job working against me, one thing that has helped me not get too far behind is consistency. The more I have established routines or when I can complete schoolwork, the more successful I am. I plan to expand this habit in the next term and believe it will improve not only the quality of my academic life, but also my family’s quality of life.


I learned a lot about the expectation for doctoral scholarship this term. Using the annotated bibliographies has helped me better understand which sources to use. Additionally, the assignments on academic integrity drew my attention to the often-overlooked issues of accidental plagiarism, unintentional plagiarism, and self-plagiarism discussed by Panjoi et al. So often, I pick up ideas from others without even realizing it. I am working hard to be more cognizant about where my thoughts originate and to be more intentional about crediting others when I use their ideas.


On one occasion, Winston Lord, former speechwriter for Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, submitted nine consecutive drafts for the same speech, and each time Secretary Kissinger asked him, “Is this the best you can do?” The ninth time, Lord replied in exasperation, “I know it’s the best I can do; I can’t possibly improve one more word!” Secretary Kissinger then famously replied, “Well, in that case, now I’ll read it.” Secretary Kissinger demanded the best work from his staff.

As a Christian, God demands my best work. His Word tells us in Colossians 3:23 (NKJV), “Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” Sloppiness has no place in my life. I commit to produce substantive work each week which meets or exceeds scholarly and academic integrity standards. I will do my best for the glory of God.


Holy Bible, New King James Version. (2020). Thomas Nelson (Original work published 1982).

Lantz, C., Insua, G. M., Armstrong, A. R., & Pho, A. (2016). Student bibliographies: Charting research skills over time. Reference Services Review, 44(3), 253-265.

Pandoi, D., Sanjaya, S. G., & Gupta, A. K. (2019). Role of virtues in the relationship between shame and tendency to plagiarise. The International Journal of Educational Management, 33(1), 66-85.

Sullivan, B. (2016, June 2). “Is this the best you can do?”: Henry Kissinger on work ethic. Leading with Questions.

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