Deborah Gist, the Rhode Island commissioner of education who based her doctoral dissertation on her job, asked for her research to be embargoed because she was suffering from writer’s block, and thought shielding it from scrutiny might help.
She said she was having a “hard time writing” about the incidents relating to her work between 2009 and 2011 (when asked what, she declined to answer) and her academic adviser suggested a public embargo might alleviate immediate ramifications of her research.
“And indeed it did help me write about my work,” she said in an interview yesterday.
Gist pursued a doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania while simultaneously being employed as the state’s commissioner of education. Last week, Wendy Holmes revealed that her dissertation had been embargoed and the Providence Journal followed up on that report yesterday.
Her dissertation, called, “An Ocean State Voyage: A Leadership Case Study of Creating an Evaluation System with, and for, Teachers” is more about leadership than teacher evaluations, she said.
The specific type of research she was doing, known in education and academia as practitioner action research, meant she was studying her own ideas and performance, as well as that of her employees and the community, she said.
“My dissertation was about my work,” she said.
She was adamant that no state employees helped her produce her research, and said she did U Penn work “at nights and on weekends.” But said there was a necessary overlap between her job and her studies and cited staff members Lisa Foehr, director of teacher evaluations, and Mary Ann Snider, director of educator excellence, as being particularly helpful.
“I considered them part of my team,” Gist said.