In early December, Boston College School of Social Work (BCSSW) doctoral students Melissa Bartholomew, Ngozi Victoria Enelamah, Kerri Evans, and Jaime Perez-Aponte presented their research and draft dissertation proposals as a requirement for Professor Shanta Pandey’s Dissertation Preparation Seminar. To better simulate the dissertation proposal defense experience, Dr. Pandey opened the presentation to all members of the BCSSW doctoral community. The following conversation with audience member Pooja Paul, PhD ’21, and presenter Kerri Evans, PhD ’20, offers highlights and key takeaways from the event.
Q: Kerri, how was this event helpful to you?
A: When I arrived to present my research draft proposal early that Friday morning, my face lit up when I saw the room filled with fellow doctoral students and BCSSW faculty members. I was excited to be sharing my ideas with new people, but more importantly, I was excited to hear what they thought about my research topic, proposed analytic plan, and chosen data sets. This forum was not only an opportunity to practice my public speaking skills but also an opportunity for idea sharing, which could lead to revisions and improvements. I think one of the best parts of the event were the questions the audience asked; it was a test to see if I was able to defend my rationale in a clear and adequate manner well in advance of my defense.
Q: Thanks for sharing that, Kerri! You mentioned that a large number of people were there, tell me more about that—do you feel the event brought about a sense of community?
A: Absolutely, Pooja. As I mentioned, I was surprised that close to 15 students and faculty took time to come and support us in this endeavor. I was even a little overwhelmed with excitement. Seeing both faculty and students in the room made me a little nervous, but knowing that I was supported by a roomful of friendly faces really helped put me at ease and appreciate the community at BCSSW.
One of the benefits to a small PhD program like Boston College’s School of Social Work is the supportive community we have. I have benefited from support and camaraderie not only from the four people in my cohort but also from the people with whom I’ve shared classes as well as everyone in the program. The fact that classes include individuals outside of my cohort offers the benefit of hearing perspectives from a wider range of PhD students, and will help with networking in the future. Similarly, the monthly doctoral lunches for PhD students, as well as the periodic speakers and trainings, provide opportunities for both social relationships and professional collaborations to flourish.
When I was working as a social worker, I became close friends with my colleagues and it really helped to deal with the day-to-day stressors. It was also comforting to know that you could always ask a favor from a colleague, because they were true friends. When I was applying to PhD programs, I was hopeful that I would find a program where my cohort would provide a similar level of peer support. Because of the model at BC, I have both developed friendships and benefited from social support from a wide range of people in the program.
Q: OK, Pooja, now I'm curious. Can you share what it was like being an audience member? Why did you attend this event? And what do you think of the peer support in the BCSSW PhD program?
A: When I heard of this opportunity to attend the mock proposal presentations, I definitely wanted to show up, both to support my peers as well as to learn more about the research they were involved in!
As an audience member, the presentations helped me see the range of research designs and methodologies being used and learn about four unique topic areas from the perspective of the presenting doctoral students. What was particularly important was the space this event provided for me to discover potential areas of overlap with my research interests, and opportunities for future collaborations with fellow doctoral students.
I think this was one of the many events within the BCSSW PhD program that has helped build a sense of community and provide us with the opportunity to support our peers. Clearly the event was a great success, evidenced by a room filled to capacity!
Q: So, Kerri, given the feedback from this event, what are the next steps for your cohort?
A: Most of us are using our presentations, and the final paper we wrote for Dr. Pandey’s class, as the first draft of our dissertation proposals. We are now working with our dissertation chairs to edit, expand, and improve the written work while identifying our dissertation committee members. Over the course of the next few months, we will each set a date for a dissertation proposal defense. Our dry run will soon be put to the real dissertation defense test—it’s all really exciting!