Thursday, March 18, 2010

So I don’t get it, what are you doing??

This my friends is a question I get a lot and something most of you reading this most likely have so I figured I would go ahead and answer you! I think for most the whole “dual doctorate thing” is a confusing process, it sure was to me and I admit I didn’t fully understand all that was involved when I started my program! Sad but true!

I have had this question a lot now that I am on the job market so thought if there are still any of you out there who are wondering what the heck is going on in my world or thinking.. didn’t you already graduate, why are you still in grad school?? Hopefully this will help.

What am I doing? The program I am in is a dual PhD program in both developmental psychology and educational psychology. This program provides me with a solid foundation and understanding of development throughout the lifespan (primary focus is on child development) as applied to education. Many have asked if it is a 4 year program, oh how I wish that was true. Often times PhD programs are a go at your own pace kind of thing where there are general guidelines to follow and keep you on track but for the most part you reach each milestone based on your own work. Some research like survey research doesn’t take long at all and other research, like when you are testing participants takes a while. I would venture to guess the average time in my program is around 6 years although some have finished in 5 and many have taken much longer (I refuse to!). The masters degree is incorporated into our program so that we get our masters degrees along the way (usually after first 2 or 3 years) but there really isn’t any fuss or big to do over it at all, we don’t walk for graduation (we prob could I guess) and most of us still have our diplomas still rolled up in their tube, sadly. In fact, mine is safely in its tube waiting to be framed as I type this. It is not out of disrespect for our masters degrees, it is just that they aren’t really what we are working for.

What do I study? My research is focused on the cognitive development of children from low-income families. I study their problem solving skills as related to their school performance. I use behavioral techniques (they play some games on laptops that allow me to get a good measure of each skill) and physiological techniques (I measure their heart rate while they solve problems so I can get idea of how much sustained attention they have while playing). My study is a three year grant funded study, so I started testing them when they were in preschool and kindergarten and I have followed these same kids through second grade. I have their academic records from the school board so that I can relate their performance in my study & over time to their school performance.

Why? Most kids in poverty/ low-income families have delayed cognitive and language development and poorer school performance. Early intervention programs like Head Start help to close this gap in achievement BUT effects are not as far reaching as expected. I suspect that kids need a well developed set of problem solving skills (attention, working memory, planning, strategy usage, cognitive flexibility, inhibition, etc) to be able to sit in a classroom and learn the basics of early literacy and math. These skills seem almost foundational and are obviously critical to academic success and I expect that training Head Start kids in these problem solving skills in addition to early literacy and math will better prepare them for kindergarten so that they can start closer to the same level as their more affluent peers. So far, the results from my research confirm this.

But didn’t you graduate? What was the hoopla a few months ago? Oh how I do wish the answer to that was yes but no, I have not yet graduated. The program is set up so that after you get your masters you must pass a set of qualifying exams (quals), to move on towards doctoral candidacy. This is what I passed (thank you JESUS!) in November and I am now working on my dissertation. After we pass our quals we are labeled ABD which means “all but dissertation”.  It is all downhill after the dissertation proposal, where we present our dissertation plans to our committee members (6 professors who are experts in our area). So basically we just need to analyze our data and write the equivalent of one giant paper. Easier said than done since we go through many drafts before it is “cleared”. Then we have the dissertation defense where we submit the written version of it to our committee members and give an oral presentation of our dissertation. After this is when I will hopefully hear the only words I have longed to hear more than “Well done good and faithful servant” when I die & see my Savior face to face, and those other highly desired words will come from Keith’s mouth and will hopefully be “Congratulations Dr. DeLucca”… oh that will be one glorious day for sure. 

So you’re a child psychologist right? Do you counsel kids? Actually I am a developmental psychologist and in the field of psychology there are basically 2 areas or ways to go with the degree. One can either go clinical and counsel/treat patients or can go the more nerdy route of research which is what I do. So yes I am a psychologist but I am on the research side of things and haven’t ever seen patients. Although at parties I often get asked if I know what people are thinking at that very moment and THAT my friends is a slippery slope and so easy to play with. haha! Hey, gotta have some fun right?

When will you finish? Oh that is the age old question, if only I knew for sure! I can’t say with certainty but what I have discussed with my dissertation committee is that I should have my defense in August, so the end of this summer. Unfortunately though, due to timelines with the grad school I am not allowed to walk for graduation or get my diploma until December b/c I have to wait one year after my qualifying exams. If however I find a job before that they agreed it would be ok to go ahead and accept a position and continue working on my dissertation from wherever we will be living and fly/drive in for my defense.


I hope this helps everyone and can clear up some confusion, although I like the thought of being a woman of mystery. Seriously though, don’t feel bad if you have asked me about it. I’m sure you quickly found out I love to talk about my research and can go on and on. Asking a researcher about their work is like asking a parent about heir child, we just can’t help but talk about it because it is so kewl!