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My Experience Completing a Doctorate Program

New Professionals and Graduate Students Graduate
September 8, 2020 Jolyn Brand

With a growing interest in higher education, I began researching doctoral programs in 2015. Since I’m also a mom and run my own educational consulting business, I needed flexibility and online coursework. I was intrigued by the scholar-practitioner focus of some programs, as opposed to a program more focused on students who would like to eventually become professors. In the Northeastern University program, students conduct a doctoral research study that investigates a compelling educational or organizational challenge that is of interest to them. Applicants are asked to identify this challenge as a ‘problem of practice’ in their application.

For the problem of practice, I needed to identify an area of concern that I was familiar with but wanted to learn more about. As an educational consultant, I primarily work with high school students and their families going through the college admissions and financial aid processes. My students were successful getting accepted into universities, but I discovered that some of them felt like they weren’t being supported once they arrived, especially at the larger public universities. After some surveys and talking with the college students, I discovered that many of them felt like “just a number” at their university or had trouble with the initial transition as first-year college students and didn’t know who to turn to. The students who reported the easiest transition were typically enrolled in Honors or Living-Learning Communities (LLCs) at their university. These students reported feeling supported and having a built-in network of fellow students and staff. Based on this information, and the unavailability of good information about college support programs for families, I focused my problem of practice and eventual dissertation on learning more about and then researching students who transitioned as first-year college students in LLCs.

Using this problem of practice, I applied to the professional doctorate (Ed.D)  and was accepted for a Fall 2016 start. Northeastern operates on a fast-paced quarter system. Most students in the program complete two courses a quarter, so eight courses a year, which can be very intense, but lead to degree completion in three to four years. Intense is a good word to describe my first quarter. Combining two classes, after a nine-year hiatus from being a student, with my busy season at work, created 12 weeks of stress and little sleep. Thankfully, the program was flexible enough that I could enroll in one course at a time going forward, when I needed to slow down or needed more time to focus on my business or family.

Students are required to complete two residencies over the summer. I completed mine on the Boston campus, but other options include Seattle and Charlotte. The residencies including fabulous networking opportunities along with a hybrid course and in-person discussions and collaborations.

For the coursework in the Higher Education concentration, I needed to take five core concentration courses, including: 

  •          Global Perspectives in Higher Education
  •          Organizational Systems and Institutional Governance
  •          Legal Environment in Higher Education
  •          Comparative International Higher Education
  •          Strategic Management of Higher Education

The program also offers four elective courses, which students can take within their concentration, or in one of the other two concentrations (Organizational Leadership or Curriculum and Teaching). In 2018, I began taking research courses and by Spring 2019, I was ABD (all but dissertation, meaning done with classes). I would spend the next 12 months defending my research proposal, conducting interviews, and writing the five chapters.

For my dissertation, I interviewed several first-generation college students who were participating in a LLC at a large public university. The research questions focused on the student experiences through the LLC including family support (or lack thereof). I defended my dissertation in March 2019 and was looking forward to being hooded in May with my family watching, although the pandemic canceled all of that. I am looking forward to transitioning my career to  a position at a university assisting students through the college transition soon and I’m sure my studies helped prepare me for that purpose.

Information about Northeastern Ed.D.- https://www.northeastern.edu/graduate/program/doctor-of-education-online-with-residency-276/

Author: Jolyn Brand completed her doctorate from Northeastern University in May 2020, where her research focused on first-generation student experiences transitioning to college, especially in Living-Learning Communities.  She’s a former teacher and current educational consultant who volunteers with ScholarMatch and Communities in Schools. She enjoys reading, traveling, watching way too many crime shows, and spending time with her four kids and husband. #firstgen @Jolyn3208