The ROI and the PhDLC

Inquiries often ask about the Return on Investment (ROI) for the time involved and the treasure spent in completing a PhD, this PhD. That is a totally understandable question. What measures should we use? New jobs? Expanded opportunities? Enriched professional lives? Personal transformation? Inspired Creativity? For us, the ROI is more than a formula calculating the correlation between doctoral tuition and job compensation although that, of course, is important.

At their Spring 2021 residency, Cohort 18 asked to hear from alumni who have non-academic career paths to share how their dissertation research aligned with professional opportunities and how their passion for justice and equity was impacted by their time and friendships in the program. Below are edited versions of these amazing stories of professional growth and personal transformation, their ROI.

DR. G. MICHAEL Davis , PHD (C9)
Chief in the Office of Recreation and Religious Services,
Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC)

I’ve worked for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC), the state’s adult prison system, since 1998. My pathway into the correctional system wound its way through many ups and downs and twists and turns to include serving as a deputy communications chief, deputy warden in a prison, chief of the Office of Reentry and Enterprise Development, and I currently serve as the religious services administrator. I’m bicultural, I’m urban in that I’m from the southeast side of Columbus and I’m Appalachian, and that sort of intersection really led me into my work. The prison system is largely populated by folks from those two groups, those from urban centers, primarily in communities of color, and from poor, rural and Appalachian whites.

I watched a lot of my friends go into the correctional system, that revolving door. Those experiences led me to want to intervene and advocate for people who’ve been hurt and harmed by crime. What sort of things are we doing to prepare people and communities to receive men and women from incarceration back to these often fragile environments? I wanted to really investigate that. I saw a lot of literature that told us about what happens as a result of mass incarceration and the coercive mobility of large swaths of the population from neighborhood into prison. But I didn’t see anything that really spoke to what’s going to happen when all of these people come back to under-resourced communities. I also saw that there was a tendency toward quantitative analysis and not a lot of space given to the power of story. My dissertation sought to apply both quantitative and qualitative methods so that it would be accepted in the field of criminal justice, but also push people to accept other ways of knowing and exploring.

I recently had a conversation with a group of researchers and oh, I was pushing. I felt the Antioch spirit coming through as we challenged them on best ways to know, right? The lived experience. I’ve been in the room with governors and with people who, when they sleep, dream statistics. The training that I received, the modeling of how to walk the scholarly path, the modeling from the professors, the work of other alumni, I draw from that.I feel capable and able to share, not just in the sort of a narrow space, but across the broad spectrum of ways to investigate and to explore. And the PhD credential seems to get people to pause, to stop and listen to my voice. 

“I feel capable and able to share, not just in a narrow space, but across the broad spectrum of ways to investigate and explore.”

DR. KIRK ADAMS, PHD (C10)
President & CEO,
American Foundation for the Blind

I became blind when I was five. I went to school for blind kids, then went to public school, got good grades, lettered in sports, and got a full scholarship to Whitman College in Washington. I was Phi Beta Kappa and Cum Laude. And then, as a young blind person, I could not find a job. I would send out my letter and resume, get a phone interview. Then I would go in for an in-person interview, walk into the office with my white cane, and I would get a polite we weren’t able to select you. So I sold tax-free municipal bonds over the telephone on straight commission for 10 years, made a lot of money, got married and bought a house and have kids. And then when I turned 30 I followed all the steps in What Color is Your Parachute and came out that I should be in a nonprofit leadership position, an agency devoted to creating opportunities for people who are blind.

That led me to Lighthouse for the Blind, as the development director and then I became the CEO, and was asked to join the Board for the American Foundation for the Blind. I was given the opportunity to be its CEO. There’s only one AFB. It is a truly once in a lifetime opportunity to really make a difference. We use data and research to impact public policy and institutional practice.

“Doing this research and
having a PhD has added gravitas
to my leadership roles.”

In my dissertation I wanted to understand what the opportunities were for blind individuals to succeed in corporate America. Seven out of 10 blind adults aren’t working; 50 percent who are working work for non-profits or government. Their salary is $14,000-$16,000 less per year, with the same level of educational attainment. The band of occupations is narrower. The upward mobility is less. I had originally thought that I would do some sort of three-way talk with the blind employee, their supervisor, and coworkers. And you know what? What I came to realize was that blind people themselves are going to give the true data. They know what’s working and what’s not working and what the opportunities are and what the barriers are. I settled on the ethnographic study. I interviewed a number of people who were self-identified as successfully employed in large corporations and found out that they had gotten there by journeying through rough country.

Doing this research and having a PhD has added a gravitas to my leadership role, which is an asset which helps me be more impactful in fulfilling our mission. We have a beautiful national board with chief accessibility officers from Google and Apple, and the chief human resources officer from Hewlett Packard. I’m able to talk to them and help them to understand the dynamics in a way that not many people can do. I also am able to look at other people’s research and data and statistics and understand how useful or meaningful that data and research is for us.

DR. AMY CLIMER, PHD (c11)
climer consulting, llc innovation consultant

I work with teams and organizations teaching them how to be creative and innovative. I also teach team development and leadership. In the last year, I’ve also been teaching people how to facilitate virtually. Not Zoom 101, but how to make virtual trainings and meetings engaging and interesting.

I started my consulting practice in 2009 and I started the Antioch PhD in 2011. One of the reasons I started the PhD is that I was a bit intellectually bored. I had a lot of questions about creativity in teams. I’ve applied what I learned at Antioch to enhance my consulting practice.

My dissertation chair asked me, ‘What can you do in your dissertation that’s going to directly help your consulting practice when you graduate?’ That question prompted me to develop an assessment scale that measures three elements teams need if they want to be creative together. The research and results have evolved into a model called the Deliberate Creative™ Team Model. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been talking to a potential client and I draw the model for them and briefly explain my research. Then, all of a sudden they’re much more interested in working with me.

There’s a level of credibility that comes with having a PhD; it’s credibility from the outside, but there’s also some internal credibility that I have felt. I’m confident in my own research and knowledge.

“There is a level of credibility that comes with having a PhD, credibility from the outside and some internal credibility as well.”

I also have had the privilege to collaborate professionally with several Antioch colleagues including Tami France and Kirk Adams. Kirk brought me in to one of the American Foundation for Blind Conferences. And Tami brought me in to do a program where I taught leaders at the Mayo Clinic the Deliberate Creative Teams model. Those connections that emerged at Antioch have been wonderful.

DR. TAMI FRANCE, PHD (C11)
Leadership Development Practitioner &
Executive Coach Assistant Professor Medical Education,
Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science

I’ve worked at the Mayo Clinic for the past 10 years in leadership development. I run year-long leadership development programs. I’m an executive coach with physician leaders, administrative leaders, scientists, nurses, all of the most brilliant humans who bring patient care to people around the world every day.

My PhD is so helpful and relevant in the work that I do, in the life that I live, and with the people that I connect with everyday. It’s this integration of deep expertise and deep knowledge in my PhD in Leadership and Change coupled with expertise in our specific fields and those stories and contexts that we bring to what we do, our capabilities, our methods, our talents, and our data. So being able to leverage our doctoral education and expertise with many options and many ways forward, I think has been a key for me to really leveraging my PhD.

Gosh, my PhD is pretty tattered and torn right now because I’ve been using it a lot lately. As I shared, I do a lot of work with leadership development and I do executive coaching. I’m a people leader. I’m an international consultant for the Mayo Clinic. We opened a hospital in Abu Dhabi last year and I went and brought 100 nurses on a chartered flight from Rochester, Minnesota. We got into that hospital and did incredible work and served patients that were waiting for us on the other side of the world. Wow.

My dissertation was related to cross-cultural professional success. And now Mayo Clinic uses the model that I created as we send expats over to Abu Dhabi. They are physicians and administrative leaders, scientists, nurses, radiation radiology technicians. They are excited to go and I get to teach them my model, which is unbelievable to me, quite honestly.

“My PhD is pretty tattered and torn right now because I’ve been using it a lot lately in my work with leadership development and executive coaching.”

DR. SHANDELL MAXWELL, PHD (C14)
Founder of Byrd & Maxwell Coaching Institute
and Practice Manager at Covina Animal Hospital

I am a change management strategist, diversity advocate, and do lots of leadership and leadership development in different industries. I’m sort of a jack of all trades. I started in health care, both human health and veterinarian health, working in laboratories both in human and animal, back in 1998. From 2018 to 2020, I returned to veterinary management for a corporation where I got great experience with managing multiple hospitals and, more importantly, managing and leading people.

Currently I’m the practice manager at a veterinary hospital in Covina, California, which is comparable to a COO in other industries. The veterinary industry is very White dominated, and so we are introducing more people of color to the industry and making animal health care more

 

accessible. I’m speaking at different conferences within the industry about diversity, equity and inclusion and using storytelling to really share and to teach mainly our White owners, and to help young people with their misperceptions and preconceptions about what others can afford and how others care for their animals. As a hospital, we’re very diversified and so we want to be a role model in the industry on what it means to actually practice diversity, equity, inclusion and to have those hard conversations.

So where did all this come from with me becoming an activist and getting involved in diversity and equity and inclusion? In 2013 I created a film, “Black Behind the Orange Curtain,” about Orange County, California. The black community is two percent of the population in Orange County. There’s a lot of discrimination, microaggressions, racism, not only my own experiences, but others as well.

“I’m a mother, researcher, scholar, transformational leader.The PhD Program
has helped me achieve many of my goals.”

The community’s response to my film and passion for social justice inspired me to apply to Antioch. I wanted to explore how the Black Church could help marginalized communities thrive, like during Civil Rights era. I needed to understand the power of stories and what am I doing because so many people were inspired and asked, ‘What’s next?’ I was like, I don’t know. And the PhD Program helped me answer that question. I launched a program called Care to Share as my Change Project in the PhD Program. That project was pivotal in my PhD journey because it helped me understand that I was so focused on the solution to racism and discrimination. I had to shift my mind to exploring the circumstances and consequences of racism and discrimination to support my research on religious racial socialization.

I want to be known as someone who inspires positive change in people. I’m a mother, researcher and scholar, and a transformational leader in the veterinarian industry. I’m doing speaking engagements. I’m a songwriter, filmmaker, community activist, African-American educator, and then an entrepreneur. The PhD Program has helped me achieve many of these goals.

DR. NIKKI SMITH-KEA, PHD (C14)
Founder and Principal,
Smith-Kea Consulting; Consultant on Police Reform

This past May I started as an Executive-in-Residence at the Philadelphia Police Department advising them across a number of different areas including community engagement, police accountability, and officer safety and wellness. Prior to this, I worked as a criminal justice manager at a foundation that funded a lot of work in the criminal justice space. And before that, I worked in policy at the intersection of law enforcement, mental health, substance use disorder, and homelessness.

I’m also really passionate about diversity and gender, specifically inclusion in the policing space, which led me to dissertation on ‘Saving a Seat for a Sister.’ I wanted to understand the journey of women in executive leadership positions in law enforcement. I’m involved in a campaign called 

30 by 30, which advocates to increase the number of women in law enforcement by 30 percent by the year 2030. There are 18,000 agencies in the US and currently there are only 12 percent women, which has been the case for over 25 years, and only three percent in executive leadership positions.

So, my life is not separate from my PhD. I am my Ph.D., it’s a part of who I am. I am a lifelong learner. I consider myself a tempered radical. I push every button and boundary. The year I started in this program, I did a site visit to a very large police department, and we were talking about the intersection of law enforcement, mental health and substance use, and a a male captain stood up and said, ‘We’re not doing that work. We’re not social workers.’ OK, so I’m a civilian, a woman and I’m Jamaican. When he said that, I patted him on his shoulder and said, ‘It’s the 21st century, you need to step into it.’ The room went totally silent. If you understand policing 101, a woman should never speak up or out and worse, a civilian. At the end of that meeting, 

“My dissertation has opened the door to so much.”

two women who were at the same rank as the men walked by me and whispered, “Thank you.” I wanted to understand why women never had a voice in policing. Research tells us there’s less use of force with women, there’s more community engagement, there’s fewer lawsuits. But it’s such a White male conservative profession it continues the way it is.

The PhD letters have made a difference. My dissertation has opened the door to so much for me because now I am able to speak at different engagements. I get to write blogs. I’m now writing grants and grant proposals to get funding to make change happen within a space that I genuinely think can change.

One last story. Don’t think you need to go into your dissertation alone. Reach out to your support systems, whether it be relatives or friends or folks in the cohort. There are three of us, we call ourselves sisters now, from Cohort 14, because we stuck with each other for two years while writing and we checked in with each other every month. We defended a week apart all three of us. It has made such a huge difference just going through this journey.

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Since our founding 1852, Antioch University has remained on the forefront of social justice, inclusion, and equality – regardless of ethnicity, gender, creed, orientation, focus of study, or ability.

Antiochians actively reflect these shared values to inspire positive change in the world. Common Thread is where we document the stories that showcase our communities actions, so the change we work for can be shared widely.  

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