Dr. Amy Paris was. She was one of American College of Education’s first doctoral graduates when she defended her dissertation in October 2017 and walked the commencement stage in July 2018. And now she serves on ACE’s Institutional Review Board, reviewing dissertation proposals from current candidates to ensure the research methods employed meet sufficient ethical and safety standards.
We asked Dr. Paris to share what her doctoral experience was like and her advice for current doctoral candidates.
ACE: Please tell us about yourself.
Dr. Amy Paris (AP): I live outside of Chicago with my husband and four kids. My middle two children have Type 1 Diabetes so much of our free time is dedicated to fundraising with the JDRF, either participating in 100-mile bike rides or running marathons.
My professional direction has shifted many times, as life has thrown some curves. I got my undergraduate degree in English education at Purdue University. When I moved back to Illinois, I was told the English courses I had did not match up with the state’s teaching requirements. They wanted me to take an additional 24 hours of undergraduate English. Instead, I started a master’s in English and began teaching high school English.
Later, I found myself teaching a new high school reading curriculum and I ended up enjoying this new challenge so much that I began a second master’s in reading. Over time, I became fascinated with figuring out why children could get to ninth grade without decoding or comprehension strategies. So after six years of teaching high school, I took a risk and moved down to elementary, as a reading recovery teacher and interventionist, working one-on-one with first- grade students.
I’d never thought about working in administration at the high school level, but my experience in elementary school drew me toward the principal role. That’s when I found American College of Education. I went through the M.Ed. in Educational Leadership program, promptly became principal during summer school and then went to the district office as Director of Literacy for preK-5.
This year, I decided to step back into a full-time teaching role after six years at the administrator level. I am working with our very lowest readers, trying to make a difference before they hit third grade.
ACE: What made you choose to pursue an Ed.D. with ACE?
AP: My first two master’s programs were at traditional brick-and-mortar institutions. When I tried out ACE’s online format, I was instantly in love. Writing papers and watching statistics lectures on repeat at the wee hours of the morning fit my lifestyle. When ACE was developing the Ed.D. program, I received a phone call asking me to come to a meeting to hear the plans. At the time I thought there was no reason for me to go after a doctorate, especially because I was in the first year of an administrative position. But I went and could not pass up the opportunity or the price.
ACE: How has ACE’s Ed.D. program evolved since you were a student?
AP: The level of sophistication is noticeably higher, while the technology of online learning has also rapidly improved.
ACE: Has ACE’s IRB changed since you were a student?
AP: I know my own proposal would probably be rejected today. Questions of subject safety have not changed, but the IRB is much more stringent on requirements for the paper itself. The larger IRB now has the facility to dig into papers more closely. It’s not uncommon for papers to go back for revision when documentation like site approvals are missing, when participant select is not clearly defined or if data destruction is not long enough.
ACE: You have experienced the doctoral process from both sides of the coin – as a student and on the approval board. Based on your experience, what advice do you have for doctoral students who are formulating their dissertation topic?
AP: You need to have a passion for your topic, and it must have a foreseeable future. In my case, I was working on a mixed methods project on reading interventions up until the last course prior to proposal submission. Although I was passionate about it, I saw that changes in the district’s vision were going to make my research difficult or even obsolete. I essentially had to start from scratch and began again.
You don’t have to solve the world’s problems with your dissertation, but it should be meaningful and useful to you when you are knee-deep in the process. I’ve had colleagues say to just grab some archived data and do a quick quantitative study. I guess if your goal is to get a degree that might be an option. But if you want the experience to shape your personal philosophy and open opportunities for you to grow as a leader, I highly recommend finding a topic of great interest to you, one that is being talked about in educational communities.