Ph.D. Student Spotlight
BA in English, Writing (Modernist Poetry) (Boise State, 2015); Master of Public Administration (MPA, Boise State, 2019)
You have an interesting academic background. Tell us about your studies prior to the Ph.D. program and why you decided to pursue a Ph.D.?
While my transition from the Boise State MPA program (2019) to the Public Policy and Administration program in 2020 felt like a natural (and predictable) succession, taking up governmental reigns with an academic background in poetry—and for most of my undergraduate experience, a double major in literature—was completely bewildering. Albeit only a few months’ time, I credit my experience at the Library of Congress and the Poetry and Literature Center’s incredible staff for introducing me to a philosophy privileging both public service and the transformative power of the arts. In D.C., I discovered (what someday I would understand to be) my public service motivation, which only evolved through the positions I’ve held with the State in the years since. I see the Ph.D. as a culminating vehicle for both my poetic worldview and regulatory passion, which combine to form a unique perspective in my area of research (contractor compliance) that I am excited to share with others through writing—which has always been my home. The Ph.D. is a reflexive, performative means for students in the School of Public Service to express their ideas, their passions, and the needs of their communities. If a bright young scholar—not knowing that they are, in fact, a scholar—can assuage their nervosity for long enough to get on stage, it is theirs with which to share their world. In a word, the Ph.D. is the slam poetry of all academia. A dissertation asks to be written.
You studied creative writing as an undergraduate. Does being a creative person help or hinder you in studying public policy issues?
One of my favorite quotes has always acted as both a professional justification and theoretical bridge between my creative and regulatory interests:
“Poetry is about the grief; politics is about the grievance.” – Robert Frost
This quote posits poetry as reactionary. But if the personal truly is political, is there really a difference? The proliferation and polarization of contemporary identity politics makes telling apart the grief from the grievance—or poetry from politics—much more difficult. I believe that creative interpretations of policymaking sympathize with the strife of the creators, like that of the poets’ readership analyzing his/her motive, diction, and metaphor. Creativity helps us to see—or better yet, feel—that grievance more clearly, giving researchers another psychological lens from which to view political decision-making and irrational behavior.
But for all that creativity is praised for in modern policy arenas (e.g. innovation and fresh perspectives to stagnant issues), it also brings drawbacks seemingly incompatible with formalized environments in which policymaking occurs: idealism, curiosity, wishful thinking, and nonconformity. Creative thinkers struggle to find and maintain political identities when their own may be more fluid. Creative thinkers must hope for the best but prepare for the worst, tempering their big ideas with pragmatism. But there is a place for creativity in this field: while the canonical oeuvre of public policy and administration may be a science, the field’s technical skill is still considered by many to be an art—and our interpretation of art changes much faster than public policy.
What makes Boise State a good place to study Public Policy and Administration?
Let’s be clear: Boise State is a good place to study nearly everything (but hey, I’m biased). While Boise’s growth has fueled a revolution in the city’s culture, resources, opportunities, economy, and industry—among other incredible changes!—it has uniquely retained its “small town” atmosphere when it comes to state and local governance. Boise State’s geographical proximity to the Capitol and administrative proximity to public employees and officials makes it easy for students of the School of Public Service to collaborate, intern, and—for our Ph.D. students—research. Cohorts in the Public Policy and Administration program come from diverse personal and professional backgrounds, and many are actively working in the public sector while pursuing their degree. At Boise State, students can develop an intimate knowledge of, contribute their expertise to, and experience an immediate relationship with government unlike the opportunities provided at larger universities. This program is a great fit for any student looking to not only support communities but create them—with other students, enthusiastic faculty, committed public employees, and a city on the rise.
What are the most important things you’ve learned in the program so far?
To quantify what this program has taught me would be innumerable, and to list them off might sound a little like an Oscar acceptance speech that needs to be played off with an orchestral overture.
Students enter the Ph.D. program with at least some modicum of confidence that they will finish. Despite the imposter syndrome that doctoral coursework and related activities inspire, the students admitted to the program deserve—and are qualified!—to be in the program. With a background in public administration or political science (or something weird like creative writing), students should understand that the program requirements will provide them with most of the tools they need to fulfill the degree requirements—except one.
The most imperative tenet of program success is both informal and underemphasized: it is the role of others. While of immense importance, what I have learned cannot hold a candle to the question of whom is important. Students may unexpectedly find their most sympathetic and inspiring support network sitting next to them in the classroom. Nurturing professional relationships and personal friendships with peers, attending social events (yes, even the seminars and conferences), both receiving and providing mentoring, and seeking out opportunities to work with and learn from faculty members keeps students engaged, motivated, and crucially unafraid. The transitory Ph.D. journey can create unforeseen challenges; getting your doctorate is a daunting and notoriously isolating experience that a student’s loved ones may not fully comprehend—and that’s okay! You will find comfort in the company of those around you and those that came before you. So pull up a chair. We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad. You must be, or you wouldn’t have come.