Hear from IPhD Alumni
The Interdisciplinary Individualized Ph.D. program provides highly motivated researchers an opportunity to explore questions so multi-faceted, they can’t be tied to a specific field. For nearly 50 years, students have entered the IPhD program from academic backgrounds and careers across the sciences, arts, government, business and more. While their interests and academics are extremely diverse, they share a drive to discover and a passion for pushing boundaries. Below, several of our distinguished alumni tell about their stories and the program that helped make them possible.
Andrew Bartlett, senior program manager, world competitive strategy and negotiations, Amazon: At Amazon, I’ve helped launch the music category, a publishing house, an online show hosted by Bill Maher, a thriving book of business in online advertising, and a global program that helps people negotiate more effectively. Before that, I created an iPhD program, freelanced hundreds of music articles and reviews, and published scholarly works in refereed journals.
Kevin Haggerty, MSW, PhD, director, Social Development Research Group, UW School of Social Work: Kevin Haggerty is an associate professor at the UW School of Social Work and is the Director of the Social Development Research Group. He specializes in prevention programs at the community, school and family level.
Ainius Lasas, dean of the faculty of social sciences, humanities and arts, Kaunas University of Technology: Before moving to Lithuania, Ainius Lasas used to work at the University of Bath and University of Oxford. His research focuses on the politics of memory, moral emotions and informal political culture.
Maura O’Neill, distinguished teaching fellow, Haas School of Business, University of California-Berkeley: Maura O’Neill, serial entrepreneur, started four companies & advises numerous others. She served as Chief of Staff in the US Senate and served as Chief Innovation Officer of US Agency for International Development under President Obama. Maura teaches at UC Berkeley and won 2016 & 2017 Cheit Award for Teaching Excellence.
Janet Powell, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, associate professor and head, Division of Occupational Therapy, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, UW: Janet Powell has been an occupational therapist for over 40 years and is an expert in the rehabilitation of adults with acquired neurological conditions such as traumatic brain injury and stroke.
Maura O’Neill, distinguished teaching fellow, Haas School of Business, University of California-Berkeley: I was interested in a truly interdisciplinary degree with coursework, academic advisors and a dissertation that were focused on both the breadth and depth of the areas that would lead to the best scientific discovery in the area of my focus. I also wanted to have the breadth of resources, caliber of professors and the rigor of a top-tier research university.
Ainius Lasas, dean of the faculty of social sciences, humanities and arts, Kaunas University of Technology: I sought for a flexible arrangement, which would provide me with ample opportunities to draw on a variety of interdisciplinary resources available at the University of Washington. Because I had a clear research question from the very start and knew what needs to be done, the program served me well.
Andrew Bartlett, senior program manager, worldwide competitive strategy and negotiations, Amazon: Utilizing more than one department to achieve a scholarly path allowed and encouraged different disciplinary approaches. The program let me find ways to stitch together social history, cultural criticism, and literary analysis and apply all these elements to narratives, visual art and music. Additionally, I could have a committee comprised of people who utilized different analytical and critical methodologies.
Kevin Haggerty, director, Social Development Research Group, UW School of Social Work: The interdisciplinary nature of the program offered me the opportunity to take a broad set of courses to build my knowledge base. I was able to combine coursework from Nursing, Education, Social Work and Psychology into a Prevention Science framework. This broad integration of different disciplines would not have been available in a more traditional disciplinary program.
Janet Powell, associate professor and head, Division of Occupational Therapy, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, UW: Absolutely. There wasn’t just one field that I wanted to focus on in isolation as I would have had to do with the traditional PhD programs that were available at that time. I was interested in gaining and synthesizing knowledge from multiple fields, which I was able to do in my IPHD program.
Maura O’Neill, distinguished teaching fellow, Haas School of Business, University of California-Berkeley: One feature that benefitted me most was to present my plan of coursework, proposed committee and preliminary dissertation plan to an independent committee of the Graduate School as part of the Admissions process. It required that I had thoroughly thought out and prepared for the rigors of an IPHD program, which requires so much individual initiative throughout the entire program to be successful. Also, the independent admissions committee made extremely valuable suggestions and even one requirement that ultimately led directly to the pathway that resulted in my discovery…I also benefitted from having an outstanding IPhD committee. They were both task masters and coaches throughout the process – holding the bar high and encouraging me to do the best work I had ever done. And when during the course of my research I stumbled across a truly important discovery, they supported a pivot to write my dissertation on that topic.
Janet Powell, associate professor and head, Division of Occupational Therapy, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, UW: The ability to set an individual course of study was one of the most beneficial aspects of the program to me, along with the relationships with faculty that I was able to build. The knowledge I gained was highly influential in informing my thinking just as I had hoped. Many of the faculty who supported me in my IPhD program became writing and research collaborators and several continue to serve as mentors today, 15 years after completing my program.
Andrew Bartlett, senior program manager, worldwide competitive strategy and negotiations, Amazon: Yes, because the program allows a governed but free-ranging inquiry into an area of study that is beyond any single discipline’s scope. IPhD formalizes that point by forcing the candidate to include multiple departments on his/her committee (which in turn forces the candidate to develop a program that merits additional departments).
Janet Powell, associate professor and head, Division of Occupational Therapy, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, UW: Yes, I would definitely recommend the program to potential applicants with interdisciplinary interests that cannot be met with existing programs, especially those who are comfortable working independently and in networking with faculty to establish mentoring and collaborative relationships.
Maura O’Neill, distinguished teaching fellow, Haas School of Business, University of California-Berkeley: It has helped me in numerous ways. Having a high-level Presidential appointment (my first position after obtaining my IPHD), it added credibility in every setting. As a faculty member of a top university, it has helped in terms of credibility with other faculty members and administration. Also, the specific areas of coursework and research were enormously valuable in terms of pedagogy for my classes and depth and breadth of knowledge. I gave a TEDx talk on the topic of my dissertation and it attracted a top New York City book agent who wants me to put it into a popular book.
Ainius Lasas, dean of the faculty of social sciences, humanities and arts, Kaunas University of Technology: It was less about the IPhD degree as such and more about the publications I was able to produce. When applying for a job, nobody asked whether I am a graduate of this or that degree program. They were more interested in my interdisciplinary research focus and that is what landed me further career opportunities. In general, you need to be quite proactive in order to build up a broader network of colleagues and find ways to fit into the current still disciplinary-driven academic system.
Janet Powell, associate professor and head, Division of Occupational Therapy, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, UW: When I started my IPhD program, I hadn’t intended to pursue an academic career. I was happy in my clinical role as an occupational therapist and intended to go back to the clinical world in some capacity after finishing the program. However, the experiences I had in the program led me to realize how much I loved the academic world and the responsibilities of faculty while giving me the background and preparation I needed to move to an academic position and the skills to be successful in that new role.
Andrew Bartlett, senior program manager, worldwide competitive strategy and negotiations, Amazon: I work at Amazon, where for the last 18 years I’ve been able to move around between disciplines in a way that recalls what I did in grad school. I can get “a degree,” for example, in the music business and then get another “degree” in entertainment contracts and booking a show before getting another “degree” in sales and presentation and yet another in negotiating for literary contracts and publishing genre fiction. Finally, I can apply all these “degrees” to my current role, where I manage a team that conducts negotiation training sessions and owns content for a global audience of many hundreds of people who negotiate with Amazon retail-business counterparts.