Student Spotlight: Michelle Donahue, DPT – Ed.D. Program 

Michelle Donahue, Doctor. of Education program, Ed.D.Michelle Donahue has her Doctorate of Physical Therapy and is now pursuing her Ed.D. in order to advance her career in academia. Here she talks about what drives her, how she relates her current studies to her professional life, and her best advice for incoming Ed.D. candidates.

Tell us about yourself, and what led you to get your Ed.D.

I’m a Physical Therapist (PT) and board-certified pediatric specialist, working extensively in the early intervention setting with children from birth to 3 years old and their families. I began as a clinical instructor for physical therapy students completing full-time clinical education experience, then began taking on work as an adjunct faculty member teaching students during on-campus clinical experience and teaching lectures.

When offered a full-time position as a Director of Clinical Education, I made the jump into academia. As my career evolved and I began to take on leadership and administrative roles, I found that I needed to earn an academic doctorate degree to advance my career.

Why did you choose UNE for your Ed.D.?

Flexibility and value. I needed the flexibility of an online program so I could work and go to school at the same time. I also needed a completely online program because I travel a lot for work and my schedule can be unpredictable.

As for value, I shopped around and found UNE to have one of the most affordable programs. I also value my time, and it was also nice to not have to go through the hoops of taking the GRE since I knew I was going to come in with the skills I needed to be successful.

You have your DPT, so this will be your second doctorate. What are you hoping to get out of the program?

I chose to earn my Ed.D. because I needed a doctorate to advance in my academic career and complement my clinical background. I didn’t see myself working in a lab, so I eliminated Ph.D. programs. I chose to earn my Ed.D. entirely online to work simultaneously, and I wanted a program where I could balance personal and professional obligations.

I’ve enjoyed the discussion boards as opportunities to bring in work experiences, and have those be the focus of discussion. It’s nice to talk through issues with my colleagues who are dealing with similar challenges and have different experiences, and then be able to apply that information directly to my issue.

The program topics are more than hypothetical – the entire program is built on practice, and many of the learning activities allowed you to do just that. There’s absolutely no busywork. I’ve also appreciated the diversity among my cohort, and the varying perspectives that people in different fields bring to the situation.

What accommodations have you had to make personally and professionally to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic?

When the pandemic hit in March, I transitioned to teaching remotely, working at home, but my Ed.D. coursework didn’t change. I’ve been able to stay the course with one part of my life being relatively unchanged.

In some ways, my research has actually been easier through Zoom because everyone’s schedule is more flexible working remotely than in pre-COVID times and the uncertainty of video conferencing is no longer a barrier.

I’d say that the pandemic has had a minimal impact on my academic journey – it was nice to have something that didn’t change, actually. I never really skipped a beat.

So the pandemic has had a minimal impact on your academic journey?

That’s right, not much changed. I was writing my dissertation proposal when the pandemic hit, which didn’t prevent my research team from meeting weekly via Zoom. The support of my team has been invaluable.

We share our struggles and met every week to provide feedback and motivation to meet our deadlines. It was nice to have something that didn’t change, actually.

What kind of person would you recommend this program to?

This program is good for people who are independent, organized, and can hit the ground running. I chose this EdD curriculum because I wanted to strengthen my leadership skills and gain research experience to address a problem of practice in the early intervention setting.

You meet with your cohort regularly, but you need to be self-directed. Consistent deadlines throughout the program (assignments are typically due on Wednesdays and Sundays) helped me to find the time I needed to complete assignments. It’s a great program for a working professional, especially if face-to-face is not a reasonable or preferred option.

An Ed.D. is an asset for a career path in academia, but it also applies to many other professional settings. Many colleagues in my cohort are K-12 educators and administrators looking for leadership roles in their organizations. Many individuals with a military background are in my cohort, and it has been fun to learn from their leadership training and experience. The diversity in my cohort has been invaluable.

Tell us about your dissertation.

One of the reasons I chose UNE for my Ed.D. is that the dissertation process is embedded in the curriculum to give you time to develop your knowledge and expertise in the topic you want to study. The dissertation process is as rigorous as a Ph.D. program, which provides the research skills necessary to be an agent of change.

My dissertation is exploring the experience of physical therapy students as they transition to becoming clinicians working in the early intervention setting and their perceptions of preparation as they start work with young children and their families.

Physical Therapists are licensed to treat patients across the lifespan after they pass the National Physical Therapy Exam, and many love working with kids fresh out of school, but they don’t necessarily have unique knowledge and skills. For my research, I’ll be interviewing new graduates who are transitioning to becoming a working clinician and getting their perceptions of how prepared they feel.

Have you been able to relate your studies to your professional life?

Studying and working toward my Ed.D. has allowed me to apply much of the leadership information learned to my administrative responsibilities, specifically the value of diverse opinions to solve complex problems and consistent communication.

I taught online classes before the shift to online learning due to COVID-19, but taking online classes gave me a unique perspective on the needs of my students and how to help them succeed as an online student. My ability to mentor student-faculty research projects has become more structured as I have progressed through the research components of the curriculum.

Any words of advice for students looking to get into an Ed.D. program, especially in the midst of this pandemic?

Starting right now during a pandemic may be easier with fewer things pulling on your time. Since I couldn’t participate in a lot of my regular activities, such as playing hockey, tennis, and going to the gym, I had more time in the evenings to complete assignments and I didn’t have to work as late.

Support is built right into the program. My Student Support Specialist, Jason, is always there for me if I had questions with a quick response. Faculty is easy to get in touch with, even on the weekends when many students spend a significant amount of time working on assignments. They know that you’re working on schoolwork at night and on the weekends, and are available to help, too. Learning how to use Blackboard wasn’t difficult, and the library is very intuitive to navigate and get help any time of the day or night.

Take the time to think about your professional goals and what you need to achieve them. An Ed.D. is a very achievable degree as a working professional that opens many doors in many different fields.

Learn more with the Ed.D. Program Guide

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