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PhD Defenses around the world: a Defense in Nursing from the United States

Today, I am inviting Dr. Susan Bartos to talk about her defense. Susan completed her BS degree at Moravian College, graduating with honors in Nursing. Upon graduation from Moravian, she enrolled in the BS to PhD program at the University of Connecticut. She completed the program and successfully defended her dissertation in 2016 entitled, “The Self-Care Practices of Women with Heart Failure: A Mixed Methods Study.”

She has experience practicing in acute, adult medical/surgical and remains a practicing critical care nurse. She has obtained her Critical Care Registered Nurse certification through the American Association of Critical Care Nurses. She sits on a hospital wide committee that strives to bring Nursing Research and Evidence Based Practices to the bedside. In 2014, she joined the Fairfield University faculty to spread her passion of nursing to a new generation of students.

I sat in the classroom and listened as everyone introduced themselves.
“I have 13 years of experience.”
“I have been in a leadership position for 7 years.”
“I have worked to develop protocols that are now implemented hospital wide”
Oh no. It was almost my turn. Do I lie? Quick! What is believable? Oh no, oh no! I’m next- think of something!
“Hello, I’m Susan and I have about 6 weeks of experience.

Halfway through my undergraduate education, I transferred institutions from a large, public University to a private, liberal arts college that better fit my personality and my academic goals. This switch and transfer process put me on the five-year baccalaureate plan and presented me with the opportunity to take additional classes to fill my time at the college. I decided to pursue an independently designed research study and found that I enjoyed the research process from beginning until the end. The idea of pursuing a PhD was introduced to me and three months before I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in nursing, I had accepted a position in a bachelor’s to PhD program and while many of my friends planned graduation parties, I planned a relocation across three states.

I began the program 6 weeks after graduating with my bachelor’s degree and starting my first professional position in nursing. I had worked on a cardiac medical/surgical unit while continuing to complete graduate level classes. Practicing in the hospital allowed me to closely link my practice and my research area of cardiovascular nursing.

I faced a fair share of challenges throughout the program, as many that have gone through the PhD process will agree. I often felt as if I was being guided in the wrong direction and often had conflicts with my major research advisor. We had slightly different writing styles but I learned to accept her edits and continue to learn about the research process.

Completing a mixed methods study had many challenges and out of a cohort of 5 students, I was 4th to defend. From beginning those first graduate level classes to my defense on October 31st of 2016, it took me 6 years and 3 different nursing positions taking me from medical/surgical nursing and into the intensive care unit. I dubbed the day as the “Not-So-Scary Halloween,” as I felt prepared and excited to finally present my work to my faculty advisors. In addition to my 3 major advisors, a few other faculty members attended and a handful of current students. A link was e-mailed out via listserv to the students in the graduate school, inviting them to virtually watch my defense.

I did a traditional, five chapter dissertation and was given 30 minutes to present two years of planning, data collecting, and data analysis. Because I was constantly refining my dissertation manuscript, the presentation came together relatively smoothly. I used a traditional PowerPoint and wrote out what I wanted to say, word-for-word, as to not exclude any information that was integral to understanding my study. However, once I was at the podium, I barely glanced down at my notes. It was in that moment that I truly recognized how close to this information I had gotten and spoke from my experience. It became more of a privilege to share my discovered knowledge with my colleagues and less of a “final assignment.”

Overall, I had a positive defense experience. I had been working with the concepts of my dissertation for years and felt well prepared going into the day. As I left the after-defense reception, the harsh reality of, “…now the real work begins,” had hit me. I had already accepted a faculty position at a different University and am still working to publish my dissertation findings (almost a year later). I am still excited about research and I enjoy being a resource to my colleagues to help others pursue their research goals.

Whenever I am in a new environment, I tend to look for the most wide-eyed, fresh face in the room. The desire to contribute to scientific research may be more impactful than time or experience within a practice area and I hope that more young scientists will find motivation in my story.

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