August 2020 has been a month I’ve looked forward to since I started my doctoral journey in 2013 with American College of Education. That was when I expected to defend my dissertation in leadership, after which I would be given the title of doctor and be able to list Ed.D. after my name. But something sudden and drastic put a dent in those plans: COVID-19.
At the onset of the pandemic, I was taking a course designed to help me finish my dissertation proposal, including chapters one through three. I had ten weeks to make sure the introduction, literature review and research methods were airtight. The proposal also needed to include permission from my district’s Research Review Board to study human subjects for my qualitative case study – getting public school teachers’ perspectives on student-based budgeting. Only after receiving this permission could I submit my proposal to ACE’s Institutional Review Board.
Getting permission from my school district in March wasn’t easy. When I went to the district website to download the required forms, I was met with shocking news. All student and employee interviews being done by researchers had to cease and no new approval letters were being issued until further notice.
I panicked. ACE needed my district’s approval before I could move forward but there wasn’t a way for me to get that in the foreseeable future. My dissertation stalled and I ended up having to repeat the 10-week course. But I didn’t give up. I used that time to perfect my three chapters with more research and ensure there were no grammar errors.
After two weeks of daily revision, I downloaded my district’s research request form even though they still were not accepting applications. My need to do something, anything, that felt productive was strong. I even emailed one of the district’s Research Review Board committee members and told him I was a 16-year employee of the district, less than a year away from my doctorate and asked if an exception could be made in this case. Two weeks went by with nothing.
And then, an email came. “We will review your proposal.”
I rushed to call my dissertation chair. In order to move on to the next class in my doctoral program, I had to have district approval but the course was starting in less than a month and I feared my district wouldn’t get back to me in time. So I contacted ACE’s IRB and explained why I needed to submit my proposal without my district’s approval, along with proof that it my district was in the process of reviewing it. My dissertation chair warned me that the IRB rarely accepted proposals without district RRB approval but three weeks later, I was granted conditional approval. One more obstacle down, one more to go.
A week later, my district’s RRB reached out with modifications I needed to make before my research proposal would be accepted. Thankfully, it was only three minor revisions, which I sent in the next day, praying it was good enough.
Another week later, I was in the grocery store standing at the checkout counter when I received an email from my district. Heart racing, I clicked on it and saw one glorious word: Approved. I started screaming through my mask and dancing in the aisle. Shoppers laughed, but I didn’t care.I’m proud to say I am back on my doctoral journey. Through perseverance and compassion from both ACE and my school district, COVID-19 will only push my graduation date back from August to November.
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