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Busy technology director turns to online option to earn PhD

Before earning her online PhD in technology and leadership in 2004, Dr. Dani Babb worked as an associate professor at Loma Linda University School of Allied Health in Southern California. During her tenure, she taught health information systems in a hybrid format, rotating weekly between traditional and online instruction.

When she decided to advance her career by pursuing a doctoral degree, she found that an online education not only worked best for her learning style, it also best suited her busy work life. Dr. Babb is founder and chief executive officer of The Babb Group, which has offices in California and New York. Babb also teaches a variety of subjects online, including economics, technology, statistics and health care information technology.

Q: Why did you decide to earn your PhD online? Did you have other options?

A: I was accepted into two schools that were local in California. At the time I was working as senior technology director for a national home builder, and I was on the road about 10 months of the year as my company acquired new businesses. The admissions staff at the local colleges suggested my life "simmer down" before I pursued my doctorate. They were adamant about me being free from a job because they didn't want my job to conflict with my schoolwork. But that wasn't an option, and that was when I decided to look online.

q: What were the challenges of earning an online technology degree? How did you overcome them?

A: Technology is a very practitioner-based degree and requires some concepts that are sometimes easier understood in front of a teacher in a classroom. It's really up to the learner to take the material from the instructor and then to do labs, programming assignments, networking assignments and so on without having someone show you in person.

Technical courses aren't easy to take online -- technology and statistics are the hardest subjects to grasp in an online environment. Visual learners may struggle more. My best method of learning is reading, then re-reading, then writing down what I read to help me grasp the concepts.

When I was at home I set up a small lab environment to simulate what I'd have in a university lab. I set aside time that was best for me to study -- on airplanes and late at night. I did lot of work in Miami, and that's a 6.5-hour flight. I'd print and read scholarly journals on long flights, draft homework offline on planes and upload my responses when I landed.

Q: How did you interact with professors and other students through online study? What method worked best?

A: Online discussion boards/threads were the predominant method. Course-based messaging was crucial to send private notes to the instructor, and email of course was a vital part of communication. Interactions also took place through virtual presentations. I defended my dissertation on a conference line -- traditional students do it in a classroom. It's the same process just using different technology.

Q: Any advice for students considering an online doctoral degree?

A: Know your learning style. If you are a visual learner and need to stop in for office hours to see your professor, this may not be the right way to learn. If you need to be motivated externally by professors or peers, this may not be the right method. But if you are internally motivated, driven, can write well, enjoy an online environment and gain satisfaction from creating friendships and collegial working relationships online, it's fantastic.

Also, find a regionally accredited school to make sure the quality of education is there and that your units will be transferable should you want to change universities.

Q: What's the best thing you can recommend about an online PhD program?

A: Determine if you have the ability to go to residencies -- my program required three on-ground intense research residencies that were done on my vacation time. If you can't possibly attend one, find a program without a residency requirement. And start reading books on proper APA formatting!

Q: With your PhD in hand, how have your career prospects opened up?

A: My consulting rates for being a subject matter expert, course design, teaching and speaking went up dramatically. It's difficult to begin and build credibility and having a doctorate helps do that out of the gate with new potential business partners.