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Family, Work and Doctoral Studies

By: Dr. Abrilene Cynthia Johnston-Scott – Organization of American States (OAS) fellow from Jamaica, pursued Doctor of Education degree from Nova Southeastern University.



The Scholarship

I was introduced to the Organization of American States scholarship program by a former colleague at the College where I worked in Jamaica as a teacher educator, who knew I had taken leave of absence from my Doctor of Education program of study and wanted to get back on board. I immediately made contact with the Ministry of Finance in my home country and got further details on the scholarship. I applied and attended an interview in 2009 which was grilling and lasted for about 40 minutes.

After seven months on leave of absence from the university, I received a call from Washington, DC informing that my scholarship application was approved for the prestigious Organization of American States (OAS) program to complete pursuing my doctoral degree. This was like a dream come true! I was able to get back on board and complete my doctoral work in two additional years with the unprecedented support from my esteemed professors, remarkable scholarship advisors at Laspau, my ardent academic advisor at Nova Southeastern University and my family.


Work, Family and Online Study

Pursuing full time job, full time studies and full time family is not a piece of cake! In relentless pursuit of my doctoral degree, I demonstrated grit, determination, very high level of self- discipline and met all deadlines. This was fundamentally what I used to succeed. I had to carry a full teaching load as a lecturer throughout the duration of my studies and my application for study leave was declined because of the online nature of the program.


The demands of the children were great. I managed with strong support from my spouse, family and a child care provider. The commitment of these persons held my family together until I completed my program. To them, I am still indebted.

I shared in information rich online learning communities with international students and professors from diverse backgrounds. This international space was ideal for the development of connections, tolerance and respect for divergent views that were useful for my cognitive and affective development. I remembered that the discussions and debates were intriguing.


The Challenges

One of greatest challenge studying online was slow Internet connectivity in my home country at the time. My computer froze many times during online chat sessions, frequent power outages, and slow connections were like lingering nightmares. I had to listen to the recorded classes to catch up. Through it all I developed persistence and learned to treat with challenges at hand.

I remembered breastfeeding my daughter while browsing through the online libraries to find scholarly articles to complete assignments. The most challenging aspects however were the times when my children were ill with very high fever and having deadlines to meet. I had many sleepless nights and missed opportunities to see my daughter go through her early developmental milestones, like taking her first steps and saying her first words.


Transformational Experience

Earning a Doctor of Education degree was extremely transformational for me. In the first instance, it has bolstered my cognitive development in terms of my reasoning abilities, critical thinking skills, emotional intelligence, information literacy and collaborative skills and spirit. I benefited immensely from my involvement in extensive research work which has helped to shape my worldview of education and my approaches to students’ learning, their collegiate experience and development.  I became the youngest faculty member with a doctoral degree.


Currently, I lecture in Education, Philosophy and Research Methods at Bethlehem Moravian College in Jamaica. One of the greatest impact of my education was the role I played in conceptualising and nurturing a research culture at this College. This role involved my contributions in reviewing the College vision statement to include a focus on research, the training of faculty to adequately supervise students’ action research papers, taking students to multiple research conferences, hosting research conference at my College and allowing students to present their papers at this conference. I created and used a Research Blog to further stimulate discussions on issues/topics in educational research which was also novel and effective in building this culture.

Earning a doctoral degree also impacted my career interest and teacher education in Jamaica as my dissertation focused on improving students’ collegiate experience by creating greater opportunities for co-curricular involvement. This paper was presented in multiple research conferences in Jamaica.


This blog is not an official site of the program sponsors. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of the author and do not represent the views of the program sponsors or partner organizations

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Laspau is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization affiliated with Harvard University. We focus on strengthening higher education in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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