Setbacks and Missteps: A Conversation about Failing Comps


Welcome to The Academic Life! In this episode you’ll hear about:

  • Dr. Heather Wagoner’s experience failing her doctoral qualifying exam
  • How she responded as the shame set in
  • What she did to regroup and find a way forward
  • The meaning she’s made of that experience and how it changed her
  • Heather’s advice to advisors and graduate faculty
  • Her advice to students facing a crossroad in their educational journeys

Our guest is: Dr. Heather Wagoner, Director of Student Engagement and Campus Life at Virginia Tech. Heather has been a higher education practitioner for almost 20 years, working at institutions including Longwood University, University of South Carolina, and University of Kentucky. She specializes in college student involvement, experience building, communications, strategic planning, and leadership. Heather loves spending time with her little family, listening to musicals, and dancing around the kitchen. She dabbles in academic and creative writing and hopes to use her dissertation “Determined to Make a Difference: A Qualitative Study of College Women Leaders” as a launching point for future articles and conversations.

Our host is: Dr. Dana M. Malone, a higher education scholar and practitioner specializing in college student relationships, gender, sexuality, and religious identities as well as student success and assessment planning. Dana first met Heather at University of Kentucky when they were both doctoral students. Dana was and continues to be impressed with Heather’s commitment to students, enthusiasm for her work, and the authenticity she brings to her life. Dana enjoys engaging conversations, delicious food, practicing yoga, and wandering the Jersey shore.  

Listeners to this episode may also be interested in:

  • Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown (Gotham Books)
  • Pivot: The Only Move That Matters is Your Next One by Jenny Blake (Portfolio/Penguin)
  • Switchers by Dawn Graham (Amacom)
  • Leaving Academia: A Practical Guide by Christopher L. Caterine (Princeton UP)

You are smart and capable, but you aren’t an island, and neither are we. We reach across our mentor network to bring you podcasts on everything from how to finish that project to how to take care of your beautiful mind. Here on the Academic Life channel, we embrace a broad definition of what it means to be an academic and to lead an academic life. We view education as a transformative human endeavor and are inspired by today’s knowledge-producers working inside and outside the academy. Wish we’d bring on an expert about something? DMs us on Twitter: @AcademicLifeNBN.

Your Host

Dana Malone

Dr. Dana Malone (she/her) is a scholar and practitioner energized by facilitating meaningful learning experiences for students and educators alike.

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