NIU Today | Gudrun Nyunt prompts students to research, publish motivations for Ed.D. persecution

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NIU Today | Gudrun Nyunt prompts students to research, publish motivations for Ed.D. persecution

Gudrun Nyunt
Gudrun Nyunt

What inspires someone to pursue Ed.D. in higher education? Why do they choose this degree over the PhD?

Gudrun Nyunt I wanted to know.

“As a faculty member, I’m always curious about what drives our students into our programs: What are they really interested in?” says Newnt, assistant professor of Department of Counseling and Higher Education.

“Obviously, we as educators set the curriculum. We say, ‘Here’s what we think you need to know.’ But, especially in graduate programs, I think students really come in wanting to learn certain things,” she adds, “and so I think a little bit of a better sense of their motivation can help us to direct our curriculum and our teaching to their needs and interests”.

Nyunt invited doctoral students Dawn Brown, Andrea Jensen, and Cindy Schaefer to help her research this topic—and their paper, “Motivations for Pursuing an Ed.D. in higher education”, was published in Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice.

Conducting qualitative interviews with 14 recent graduates of the same Ed.D. The program produced findings that “underscore the complexity of participants’ motivations” and which “show that participants’ life circumstances and self-doubt can easily become barriers to program enrollment.”

The article provides valuable insight and information for administrators and faculty developing or renewing Ed.D. programs, curriculum design, or creating promotional materials and strategies, Nyunt says.

“I think it allows people to improve some of their marketing materials,” she says.

Gudrun Nyunt
Gudrun Nyunt

“It also highlights the importance of personal professional networks and helps us all realize that we need to continue to build these networks with administrators in our regions so that they see us and know about our programs so that when they run these conversations with their subordinates, they don’t just say “You should get a Ph.D.,” but “You should get a Ph.D. and think about an Ed.D. here“, she adds.

“For me, it changed the way I think about how we engage alumni and how we create regional connections. It also makes me – and hopefully other people reading this paper – think differently about how we teach these courses. The students are no looking for a lightweight version of a Ph.D.’

A “Lightweight Version” of a Ph.D.?

Some consider the Ph.D. “where you go if you’re really interested in getting an intellectual degree,” Nyunt says as they look at the Ed.D. for “people need this degree in order to advance.”

“I remember when I was thinking about a PhD; people told me, “Don’t just do this to get a degree. You have to love learning and you have to love doing research or you’re not going to succeed,’ and there’s a lot of talk about the importance of intrinsic motivation to help you succeed,” she says.

“On the other hand, Ed.D. sometimes perceived as a kind of easier degree – but Carnegie Project for the Doctorate in Education has done a lot to dispel these myths,” she adds. “Ed.D. is no just a Ph.D. It stands on its own and has value as a practitioner qualification.”

Meanwhile, the interviews revealed surprises.

“What was interesting to me was that many of the Ed.D. alumni talked about intellectual curiosity and internal motivations that made them want to go back to the classroom, to want to engage in intellectual conversations, saying that they miss that because they haven’t been able to do that,” she says.

“Sometimes there’s a perception that students just get that degree because they need those three letters behind their name to get the next promotion — and we definitely had a few graduates who took that approach — but that was really the minority of participants.”

Others talked about choosing an Ed.D. route because they thought it would require less stat work.

“A lot of students come into these programs with some kind of impostor syndrome,” Newnt says.

“They’re just worried about doing research because it’s not something they’ve done before, or it’s not something they’ve seen them do, and they say, ‘I don’t know if I can do a Ph.D. Ed.D. it sounds more manageable,” she adds, “which is kind of funny because we need a statistics course or at least some kind of quantitative research course. The same was true for my Ph.D. program.”

Nyunt and her team also heard their interviewees talk about “how strong their personal and professional networks were” in the decision to return to school.

Just as impactful were the words of trusted mentors: You are the kind of person I would expect to get a Ph.D. one day. It’s not a question of whether; it’s a question of when.

“Some of them were first-generation and never saw themselves getting into a doctoral program,” says Nyunt. “These personal and professional networks have led many of them to consider an Ed.D. and then actually walking through it.

For Brown, Jensen, and Schaefer, the collaboration provided training on two fronts: the actual research results and the behind-the-scenes methods of scholarship.

Research can feel like “this mysterious process,” Nyunt says, and diving in builds confidence by collecting, analyzing, and narrowing down evidence.

“When I started thinking about it, I also had two students get in touch and say they were interested in getting some research experience and doing some projects so they would feel more comfortable starting the dissertation,” says the professor.

“It allowed them to see what to do,” she adds. “You look at your data; you code it; you make sense of it; you try to understand topics. It’s sometimes a messy process, and that’s OK. You work on it and try to figure out what it all means.

Dawn Brown
Dawn Brown

Nyunt also knew Ed.D. students would make perfect teammates.

“I enjoy mentoring—that’s part of the reason I’m on the faculty, because I love teaching and I love mentoring—and it gives me a chance to teach and mentor in a way that’s different from the classroom,” she says.

“It made sense for me to include them in this project because it’s also something they’re interested in.” It gave them a chance to think about their own motivations for entering the program and whether what they got out of the program met those initial expectations of things they hadn’t thought about. We hope that this self-reflection will better prepare them to apply what they have learned to their own practice.

Brown, assistant professor of academic affairs and assistant professor in the department of physical therapy and human movement sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, appreciated the invitation.

“Dr. Nyunt piqued my interest in educational research, and her background in research and scholarship compelled me to conduct research with her,” says Brown.

“I was also able to effectively use the knowledge and skills regarding the qualitative research process that Dr. Nyunt taught me in her courses,” she adds, “and our research on motivation to pursue an Ed.D. will positively impact how Ed.D. programs consider contextual factors such as program flexibility, faculty characteristics, and marketing materials when attracting and retaining prospective students.”

Cindy Schaefer
Cindy Schaefer

Shafer, dean of the Early College at Rock Valley College, found that confidence Nyunt hoped to provide.

“It allowed me to get my feet wet with the whole process before starting my dissertation,” Schaefer says. “It was almost like a road map for me and it made my dissertation process much easier. I also learned that I really enjoy the research process, including conducting interviews, analyzing data and forming conclusions.”

She is also convinced that the research will benefit universities.

“This research sheds light on why people pursue Ed.D. and gives those in leadership positions an opportunity to reevaluate whether the programs are truly meeting the needs of the student,” Schaefer says. “I think it will be easier for those who administer the Ed.D. programs to tailor programs to meet the unique needs of Ed.D. students, most of whom have multiple identities, whether they are full-time employees, parents, guardians, caregivers for elderly loved ones, or a combination of all of the above.”

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