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Saturday, September 28, 2013

How to Find the Right Graduate Program

It is always a difficult process to find the right graduate program.  There are a plethora of options out there and locating the perfect place can be tricky and time consuming. I wanted to share my own personal anecdote as well as some recommendations.  I hope that you find this helpful!  
What inspired this post was a question by one of my followers.  Below you will find their question in blue and my answer in red. 

I am a special education teacher and have been for 20 years +.  I also work as an adjunct professor for several Massachusetts colleges.  I have my masters +60 additional graduate credits, but have yet to commit to a doctoral program because I cannot find one that really interests me. I really want to focus on the impact of movement and exercise, cross-body exercises and increased heart-rate on learning.  How did you go about tailoring a degree program to meet your unique interests?  I’m not sure where to even begin!  Any help or advise you could give me would be so appreciated!    

Thank you,  Karen

Dear Karen:

Thanks so much for your question.  I'm happy to share my experience and some advice.  

When I was looking at graduate programs, I too had trouble finding a single college that allowed me to acquire the needed coursework and education I desired.  I did not plan to have an undergraduate, masters degree and doctoral degree in different areas.  I also did not plan to switch doctoral programs three times.  It all seemed so chaotic, but as I traversed this path, it gave me an unusual insight.  I could see that each department lay isolated, there was little to no communication between the fields, and each provided their own perspective, objective and strategies. To my delight, combining the methods and paradigms was an amazing journey and it offered a unique expertise that has allowed me to bridge some important gaps.  For instance, having a comprehensive understanding of learning, cognition and assessment allows me to qualitatively evaluate the needs of my students.  Also, having an artistic background enables me to bring color, images, illustrations and design into my student sessions which ignites excitement and sparks creativity.  This diversity has become my tool box and continuing education in areas such as mindfulness and nutrition continue to expand my multisensory approach.  So, don’t be afraid to mix coursework from numerous departments and look for a school that offers graduate work in all your areas of intrigue.

I love the fact that you want to combine coursework in the mind-body connection.  It is such an important issue and I can tell you that integrating mindful movement can be magical for many students.  It can also help individuals with disabilities to break through difficult barriers.  

To start the process, make a list of the research articles that you find most inspiring.  Note of the institutions that feature their research.  If possible, contact the author.  Find out what schools they attended, and ask them if they know of any programs that would enable you to expand on your interests.  If they are faculty members themselves, find out more about the possibility of working with them in a doctoral program.  The college matters, but the mentors you encounter in the program far supersedes the reputation of the school.  Check out the backgrounds and interests of all the faculty in each department and if at all possible meet them.  For my masters program in educational psychology, I picked the University of Northern Colorado over New York University as well as Columbia.  My friends and family were shocked, but I never doubted this decision.  The faculty were outstanding at UNC and the assistantship they granted me as well as the individual attention and small class sizes were a perfect fit.

I hope this has been helpful.  If I can be of further assistance, please let me know.  I wish you great luck and fortune on your quest for higher learning.

Cheers, Erica

If any of you have additional advice for Karen, please leave a comment below!
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Go Dyslexia, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to https://godyslexia.com/www.goodsensorylearning.comwww.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  
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