Post Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy

The Road to the DPS Degree

An interview with Karen Roston, MA '96, DPS '09

In December 2008, NYU Steinhardt awarded the DPS degree to the first cohort of candidates from the Department of Occupational Therapy. The terminal project for the degree, the Professional E-portfolio, is an integral part of the program and illustrates the dynamic interface of advanced academic and clinical excellence that is fostered throughout the program. We interviewed one of the first recipients of the DPS, Karen Roston, about her experiences in creating the professional portfolio and her path through occupational therapy education.

Describe how you became an occupational therapist.

I have been an OT for almost 14 years now. I was a costume designer for a long time before that. I had really met all my goals and I thought it was time to find a career that I could have for the rest of my life. By chance I read an article in a magazine about the projected top careers in the year 2000, and OT was high on the list. I didn’t know what an occupational therapist was so I set out to find out. It sounded really good to me. I volunteered at Mount Sinai for 2 years, I received a Board of Education scholarship, and completed the Master’s degree in 1995 at NYU.

Why did you decide to pursue a clinical doctorate?

It had been at least 10 years since I had completed my occupational therapy degree at NYU. I wanted to know what evidence there was for what I was doing so I could feel effective and help all the children that I work with. I felt I wasn’t getting answers from continuing education workshops and courses that were offered to OTs, and I couldn’t find anything in the literature about what I wanted to know. I had kept in touch with my mentors at NYU, and taken courses there beyond the MA so that I could use the libraries and other academic resources. I knew a PhD wasn’t for me, but I was told me about a new DPS program at NYU, and how much I would love it.

What kinds of questions did you want to answer?

As well as working in an Early Intervention program with 0-3 year olds, I work in a NYC public elementary school with 4-11 year old students.. We have a wide range of diagnoses, from ADHD to cerebral palsy to Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy to learning disabilities to students along the autism spectrum, all who are having trouble succeeding in academics. Most of our referrals are initially about handwriting. I found no answers as to the best way to remediate these difficulties and that is how I began—and I am still working in this area. Also, we have many more children with high functioning autism and I still cannot find the answers there, but I now know more questions!

The Professional e-portfolio is a crucial part of the DPS program. What is it exactly?

The professional e-portfolio is a requirement for the degree. In short, it is a summation of your professional development and of your professional expertise in the field. If someone reads my e-portfolio, they will know what my philosophy is as an Occupational Therapist, and what my areas of expertise are in detail.

How did the e-portfolio begin?

It began when the program formally started for me (because I had taken some classes before the program even existed). When you start the program you have to set your goals and articulate them by using the TaskStream web-based software program. You had to really think hard about what your goals were, and then you could go on to adapt the program to fit those goals. It is very different from a dissertation or a thesis.

How did the e-portfolio progress from an initial set of goals and objectives to the finished e-portfolio?

In the last class of the Professional E-portfolio it changed completely. You sort of disregarded everything you had done before. The goals you started with had been met. Now, you had to move on to create a metaphor for your development, and for how everything you had achieved fit together. That really forced me to think critically about what I had done, where I was, and what I felt about that. There were reflection sections which helped to start you off.

I think that the assigned readings for the course were geared towards this process. They were really about reflection, about how other professions reflect upon their competence, their management, the workings of their departments. They were helpful – I felt as though I understood the reflective process already, but for others I could see how necessary they would be.

What elements make up the e-portfolio?

The e-portfolio contains artifacts. These document our work, academic and otherwise, and can be anything. For me, I had some obvious things to include because I had an article published in a peer review publication, a chapter in a book, and I presented at the AOTA conference in 2008. So, all those things became my central artifacts. It might sound somewhat like a CV but it is quite different in that you present the artifact and you talk about it. It’s not so much about the artifacts themselves. It’s about expressing your understanding of your area of expertise, and everyone in different areas has to search for their own meaningful artifacts. And then there is the metaphor framework that guides the progression of the e-portfolio in a certain order.

Why did you use a central metaphor of a garden to frame your e-portfolio?

Coming up with your own metaphor was required, and I have to say that at first I thought it was going to be a little hokey. But I had just started my first garden, almost at the exact same time that I started the program, and it instinctively made sense to use it as my metaphor; I was learning so much, and growing, so it made sense. I know so much more about my field now, just as I know so much more about gardening. I really bought into the metaphor frame as an effective organizational and reflective tool and I ended up liking it. It also gave me the opportunity to bring in the visual aspects of the metaphor and integrate those into my e-portfolio as well. How it looked was really important to me.

What were the writing, feedback, and revising processes like?

It was really hard. The whole project took a lot of dedication and reflection, and we all had to dig deep to come up with our own artifacts in our specific areas of expertise. I think all 6 of us in the class really had to work together as a team to help each other. We would give presentations of our e-portfolios in class, one section every week, and receive oral feedback. We also posted our works in progress on the discussion board in the Blackboard system.

What made it even more interesting was the fact that everyone in the class came from different areas. There were managers of huge OT departments, two of us were from the New York City Department of Education, one member of the class had a private hand therapy practice, another worked in a neonatal intensive care unit. There was a wide range of people. We also came from all over the world which was really important, and we were all of different ages. That was great.

Was a formal defense required?

Oh yes. And it was extremely challenging. We presented our portfolios to a panel, including my two advisers. It was academically and intellectually very rigorous, just like everything else in the program. They had all read the e-portfolio of course, and asked me to explain things about my frame of reference, and explain my theoretical bases and how I decided on certain things.

It was one of those terrifying academic experiences where you talk for an hour and a half and then it’s over and you don’t remember the specifics of it at all! I remember feeling totally prepared for it, but the experience itself is quite surreal in retrospect.

What role does it play in your life and career after the DPS program?

I have gone back to correct and update my e-portfolio since then, and when I applied for the teaching position at NYU and needed a CV, it was right there for me. I didn’t need to create it from scratch, so that was easy and time-saving. And there is potential for other things although I haven’t really used it yet. I’m exploring the idea of teaching, so I think that if I was applying for another new job, I could refer people to my e-portfolio.

What did you learn from the experience of creating a professional e-portfolio?

I learned how important and necessary that process of reflection was for me, and how crucial it is to organize your knowledge properly as a professional. It helped me to organize my own thoughts, research and ideas in a seamless and coherent way. Now, if someone asks me to express what I think about a particular issue or idea, I can deliver seamlessly and with confidence. I thought it was valuable, both from my point of view as a therapist and also as a person, because the program gave me the resources within myself to find out what I really wanted to know, and how explore my areas of interest more effectively.

What have you been doing since graduating from the DPS program?

The same thing as before! I work in a NYC public elementary school, where I continue my research in Handwriting, and continue my work in the Early Intervention program. I’m also thinking more and more about teaching and I will be taking a position in the Department of Occupational Therapy at NYU as an Adjunct Professor. It has been an easy transition into and out of the program really—it made sense for me and my goals as a therapist.

How has the DPS training augmented or altered your work?

The DPS program gave me the tools to search for both questions and answers, and to discover what was happening in related fields in research. I am using the tools every day—I consider it a life-long quest—so that I can be a more effective therapist. As I mentioned before, I am also going to be teaching a course as an adjunct professor at NYU in the fall. I couldn't have done that without all I have learned in the DPS program.