A Doctorate Degree Cannot Open All Doors



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A routine faculty consultation on lecture slide design changed my dream job as Academic Technology Lab Manager into a stepping stone for my career. After a productive work session, I was surprised to hear, “No, that won’t be needed.” Professor Sherman continued to speak with a sly snicker and flat tone, “…the presentation slides are fine as is.” 

I wondered why he was not open to the educational technology advice I offered. After all, he asked me for help! I had expertise in using multimedia design theory to improve the presentation’s instructional flow and visual representation of information for his English Literature course lecture. I felt slighted by his response during our consultation. He so quickly brushed off good advice for slide presentations. At that time, I was enrolled in a master’s degree program in instructional technology! Now, I felt really inadequate. Prof. Sherman was certainly the content expert with a doctorate. Still, I was “only” the education expert earning a master’s degree!

Ah, there is the rub! Prof. Sherman is a classic example of the faculty who had taught my undergraduate courses at that same university a decade before. As an undergraduate, I struggled to learn in a manner the faculty taught. As I developed instructional design expertise, I knew how educational theory and cognitive development explain the teaching-learning paradigm as a communication loop. He didn’t get it.

Aha! My epiphany after the consultation rebuff was not that my ability to learn needed improvement; instead, it was the faculty’s teaching ability that needed correction. I concluded that Prof. Sherman may not have given credibility to my advice because he didn’t grasp the educational theory that supports good teaching. So, now what? I needed to earn my own doctorate to achieve the same academic level as the faculty. They really needed to listen to my research-based educational advice. I need the doctorate club key to open the door for the conversation!

A few months later, I completed the master’s degree. Guided by the strong encouragement of two faculty mentors, I immediately applied for a doctoral fellowship in instructional systems, took the GREs, and waited for a reply. Would I be good enough to get in and then persevere to earn the doctorate?

“Steve, congratulations,” my dissertation chairperson calmly said in a phone call after a years-long journey. Whoo-hoo! I earned the doctorate degree and already held a faculty position in another university. I felt confident that I could now open the door of respect where faculty are open to listening to sound instructional advice. Insert doctorate key to unlock door, turn the knob to open, wait, push harder, wait…what do you mean the “door is blocked?”

Ah, there is the rub!