Dr. Javaid Siddiqi: What balance looks like
Dr. Javaid Siddiqi’s passion for education was instilled in him by his father, who emigrated from Pakistan in 1965 to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of South Carolina. Siddiqi earned his Ph.D. in Educational Leadership & Administration from the VCU School of Education in 2012. He served as Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s deputy secretary, and then secretary of education from 2011-2014. Today, Siddiqi represents the Midlothian district on the Chesterfield County school board and is president and CEO of The Hunt Institute, a nonprofit organization and affiliate of the Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy, dedicated to improving education policy.
What led you to pursue your doctoral degree at VCU SOE?
I had just earned my master’s degree in educational leadership from Virginia State University. I thought I would take some time off, when Dr. Billy Cannaday, Jr., who was then superintendent of Chesterfield County Public Schools, and Dianne Smith, who was director of leadership, approached me with an opportunity to be part of the first VCU-Chesterfield County Public Schools doctoral program cohort. The timing wasn’t ideal – my wife and I had a two-year-old at the time – but it was a unique opportunity that allowed me the flexibility to manage and find a balance between my family, work and academics. They say there’s never a good time to pursue a doctoral degree, but looking back now, it was the ideal time and opportunity for us.
Do any faculty members stand out during your time at SOE?
I can’t emphasize enough how impactful Dr. Cheryl Magill, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, was to me. Dr. William Bosher was one of my professors and my advisor at one point. He passed away while I was in my doctoral program, and Dr. Magill stepped in and helped me refocus during that time.
I’m sure you’ve heard this from a lot of doctoral candidates, but once classes are over and you’re working on your dissertation, you can begin to feel out of balance and lonely. You’ve essentially been with a cohort of 20 people for two or three years, after which it feels as though they take those 20 people and put them on 20 different islands and wish them well.
Cheryl understood my needs, probably better than I understood them myself. She had a way of checking in with me – without overwhelming me. By this time in the program, I was an assistant principal with two young kids. I don’t know how I would have finished without her support and the way she managed me through it all. I owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude.
Any tips for incoming doctoral students?
You’ll be taking on a huge lift over the next three to five years. Compartmentalize your world, and determine where your job, your faith, your family and your friends fit into all of it. Determine what balance looks like for you, and how that balance will manifest itself in your day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-to-month activities.
You’re going to have to make sacrifices, but if you can anticipate those sacrifices and control them, they become easier to process. I remember the day my son was born. I was in class that evening. After class, I was back at the hospital. Pursuing a doctoral degree is a huge demand on your time as well as your family’s time. There’s no way around it, period.
What do you do to relax and have fun?
I enjoy spending my time on the sidelines at my kids’ soccer and basketball games. My wife and I are very active parents. We enjoy it. We appreciate the small window of time that we have with our children. Our daughter recently started driving – another new phase of life that we’ve entered. We also enjoy traveling, learning about different parts of this country and experiencing other areas of the world.
Aside from these things, we enjoy being with a small group of close friends. We don’t have a huge social circle. We have a very focused circle of friends that we trust and count on, and we enjoy spending time with them.