Dr. Debra Blackett is a Ph.D. in Health Education and Promotion alumna who spent substantial efforts throughout her doctoral journey gaining advice and support from others, obtaining new knowledge and skills, and taking time to reflect on her own career interests, passions, and future possibilities. She shares her insights into how she maximized her Walden experience, landed a position after graduation, and continued to learn and grow after earning her doctoral degree.
Reflecting on Interests and Passions
I realized early on that I needed to develop a road map to succeed and keep me focused on my program and my new career. I began asking myself questions about the necessary steps I would need to take, such as identifying a dissertation topic that would create social change in the world and that was most near and dear to my heart. I wanted to find a topic that I could write about, dream about, research endless hours, enjoy, and live with for 4-6 years without ever tiring or giving up. I began the dissertation process by getting advice from experts in the field. I also reached out to my professors, the dean of the program, dissertation specialists, writers, senior editors, academic skills staff, librarians, IRB advisors, Form and Style editors, and my career advisor. I networked with my chair, Dr. Linnaya Graf , my methodologist, Dr. Kimberly Brodie, and the URR reviewer, Dr. Yitza Arcelay Rojas, to gain insights into the dissertation process. You now understand, I did not leave any stones unturned. I took the time to research and plan how the successful completion of my dissertation could impact my life, family, and career. My enrollment specialist asked several pertinent questions that I reflected on throughout my program such as:
- For what reason am I pursuing a Ph.D.?
- What is it that I would like to change in the world?
- What topics and career areas would I need to learn and know more about?
- What topics must I research to create a set of aligned research questions?
These types of reflections helped me identify my interests in researching maternal care utilizing Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM). My doctoral research led me to areas of health education and promotion that are grounded in CAM and helped me build upon my prior experience as an integrative CAM practitioner. As a part of this journey, I also became certified as a doula, obtaining a deeper understanding of how CAM can guide individuals who are embarking on their maternal care journey, and how best to enhance the life of the unborn child and its mother if experiencing nausea or vomiting during pregnancy (NVP).
Embracing the Doctoral Journey
I would be remiss if I did not speak to what I believe are Walden’s best-kept secrets. Walden offers two programs that were instrumental towards my success: 1) the Doctoral Degree Coach, which empowers doctoral students with data and information to accurately pinpoint steps along their doctoral journey, and (2) the Ph.D. Residency Intensive program, which is designed for doctoral students to acquire specific tools and develop an action plan for completing their definitive Ph.D. program of study. During the Residency Intensive, I was introduced to faculty members and tapped into their vast knowledge, met with Form and Style editors, and interacted with department committee chairs. During this time, I received critical feedback while honing my academic writing skills. I also had an opportunity to meet and collaborate with other students who shared their specific academic and professional interests with me.
Tapping into the Knowledge of Others
As a doctoral student, I made a conscious effort to reach out to experts inside and outside Walden for academic and professional advice and inspiration. Some of the people who influenced me were:
Professors and Dean:
Each professor I interacted with took the time to genuinely open up and share their pearls of wisdom on how to succeed and complete the Ph.D. program. Many would share their pitfalls, what made them stronger, and how best to establish a daily schedule to move forward with my academic research and writing. Every experience that was shared with me was invaluable, positive, heartwarming, and appreciative. When I struggled in my Prospectus class, I learned how to overcome Imposture Syndrome and gain confidence in my abilities to eventually reach the finish line. I received a great piece of advice from my dean, and that was “to keep my eye on the prize.” What she meant was to think long-term about the success associated with graduating and reaching the top of the mountain of this spectacular journey.
Career Planning and Development Staff
My career advisor provided career and professional tips from the beginning of my program, all the way to the end, and continued to support me after graduation. I scheduled an appointment with a career advisor on a quarterly basis from the very first year I became a student at Walden University. One might think that would be odd; however, I was presented with a host of activities that prepared me for graduation. For example, my career advisor helped me learn LinkedIn networking strategies and improve my LinkedIn profile. Even after graduation, I stayed connected to my career advisor, which broadened my insights and career opportunities. My advisor provided me with recommendations, support, brainstorming opportunities, access to career blogs, and timely career webinars that would help me on my career path. Not to mention, the career advisor helped to alleviate the stress associated with finding a position by offering tips on updating my curriculum vitae with appropriate academic and professional skills, activities, and action verbs. My career advisor also provided guidance on how to create a cover letter for health education careers. The tips I received from Walden’s Career Planning and Development department reinforced the importance of seeking a meaningful career opportunity, even if it took some time and persistence.
Health Professionals Outside of Walden:
I made it a point to keep in touch with mentors who I met while completing my undergraduate studies. They offered support throughout my academic and professional journey. They shared post-graduate tips and made recommendations on how to best showcase my skills.
Finding New Ways to Make a Difference After Graduation
After graduating from Walden, I applied for four positions at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). I thought to myself, what an opportunity and privilege it would be to work as a health educator during the COVID-19 pandemic and make a difference in the world! My academic and professional preparation helped me land a position as a Frontline Health Educator at the CDC where I apply research and writing skills, create training materials, and educate the public on COVID-19 prevention.
Along the way, I learned that personal and professional growth does not stop after earning a doctoral degree. My next steps are to engage in research and write articles to share my knowledge on prenatal, perinatal, and postpartum development in the field of Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) with individuals who are experiencing nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. There are plans in the works to create a textbook for public health students. On the top of my list of post-doctoral goals is to teach at a higher ed institution like Walden. I find that earning a Ph.D. from Walden University provides many endless opportunities. There are no limits to what a person can accomplish by fulfilling their dreams of earning a doctorate degree.
Written by Dr. Debra Blackett, Walden Ph.D. in Health Education and Promotion Alumna
Edited by Dina Bergren, Associate Director