What is a Doctoral Residency?

Industry Advice Education

Students working toward a culminating degree such as a PhD or a Doctorate in Education (EdD) must participate in a doctoral residency. Most programs require the completion of a residency in order to graduate, though PhDs often require one or more years whereas EdD programs are far more flexible.

Despite these differences, at their core, all doctoral residencies offer strategic opportunities for students to meet with their peers, alumni, and industry professionals to network and share ideas related to their advanced area of study prior to graduation. 

While residency is considered one of the most significant components of these programs, students often begin their studies without a clear idea of what this experience will entail. This is often because doctoral residencies can differ in length, frequency, and even purpose depending on the program you’re in and the university that hosts it. 

This article will explore doctoral residencies for Northeastern University’s EdD students, and how these events impact these future change-makers in ways that are sure to stay with them long after graduation.

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The Structure of Doctoral Residency

In some programs, the students can identify the timing of their doctoral residencies, as well as the locations. Within Northeastern’s EdD program—which prepares students to be leaders and change agents within their communities—however, students are given two opportunities to attend a residency over the span of their program. The first occurs during their first year of study, and the second during their culminating year. While both take the form of short, compact events—in an effort to easily fit around students’ personal and professional responsibilities—each residency is structured specifically to meet students’ academic and professional needs at specific points in their educational journeys.

“In the first residency, students are coming to understand more deeply how their own work ties into the broader network,” says Karen Reiss Medwed, PhD, associate teaching professor, and the assistant dean of networks, digital engagement, and partnerships in Northeastern’s Graduate School of Education. “Students step into more of a leadership role in the second residency. They’re coming to say, ‘Here’s my work, I want others to be inspired by it and join me in it.’”

Below, we explore how each of these residencies differs in format and opportunities in order to best prepare students for an enriching career.

First-Year Residencies

The first residency for EdD students takes place at Northeastern’s Boston campus and offers a chance for students attending the program online or in one of Northeastern’s other locations to come together as a cohort of first-year doctoral students. At this stage in their learning, students in residency attend profession-based and content-specific workshops, explore the work of graduating students and alumni, and, perhaps most significantly, network with professors and fellow students within the program.

“The first residency…[offers students] an opportunity to locate their peer groups,” Reiss Medwed says. “We find that students who meet at residency in year one stay connected and often [act] as a support group all the way through the end of their dissertation work.” 

Especially in a program like the EdD, which requires out-of-the-box thinking and risk-taking in order to cultivate change, students can benefit from the consistent feedback and support of their peers.

Second-Year Residencies

The second time students attend residency, both the design of the event and the goals of attendance shift to fit the evolving needs of the students. These residencies take place “around the calendar year and around the world” in order to best set students up for success in local industries and markets. This adjustment in location also allows aspiring professionals to create a network not just with their peers but with industry leaders and changemakers in their own region.

“There’s really an opportunity to experience the global network that Northeastern affords all of us [at these residencies],” Reiss Medwed says. “[Students can] encounter partners from around the country and think deeply about our shared work and our shared language.” 

Did You Know: Though residencies at this stage are often hosted at Northeastern’s campuses in Boston, Toronto, Charlotte, and Seattle, the university works to provide opportunities for students across the globe to come together at this culminating stage of their education.

Rather than simply being in residency to observe and be inspired by others, students at second-year events are also now the ones sharing their work, ideas, and processes with the other attendees.

“Ultimately, we believe that [a second-year doctoral residency] allows us to further our impact in making a difference in the world by bringing together students across affinity groups who are doing the same type of change work,” Reiss Medwed says. “They can [then] build off each other’s energies and move forward knowing that they’re improving the human condition in each of their locations.”

The Purpose of a Doctoral Residency

While each stage of a doctoral residency offers students distinct small-scale goals, the inclusion of such practices in EdD curriculum is quite significant. Below, we explore the three main objectives of a doctoral residency for EdD students at Northeastern.

1. Bringing Students, Faculty, and Alumni Together

Northeastern’s EdD program is offered fully online and is designed in a way that allows full-time, working professionals to pursue their degree without having to struggle to balance school with their existing careers. Yet, while this structure is ideal in terms of flexibility for professionals, it doesn’t allow for many face-to-face interactions or opportunities for idea-sharing among students or among students and faculty—two aspects of learning that Northeastern’s faculty value.

Reiss Medwed identifies this as one of the main reasons that Northeastern’s EdD program has included residencies that allow students to come together across locations as a core component of the curriculum. These events bridge the gap created by virtual learning and provide students the chance to be inspired by their peers.

“Because we are a fully virtual program, the opportunities for students and faculty to come together in that face-to-face environment have to be planned and anticipated,” Reiss Medwed says. “The doctoral residency is first and foremost a way to leverage building that community and those relationships among students and between students and faculty.”

Northeastern has also formatted its residencies to allow for alumni participation. These graduates can attend the event to meet and speak with students, present their completed theses, and help inspire their peers with their ongoing work.

“It’s really important to see where you go after you graduate, and so we always make sure there’s alumni engagement [at these events],” she says. “[Besides], when you’re in a room with 100 students at a residency, and 15 alumni are presenting their work, it’s impossible not to feel inspired.”

2. Practicing Your Professional Voice

Across industries, leaders consider well-developed presentation skills some of the most important for professionals to obtain. For students hoping to use the power of communication and presentation to elicit change as leaders in the world, however, these skills are more than just useful—they’re mandatory.

This is why the faculty who designed the doctoral residencies within the EdD program created an opportunity for second-year students to present their work as part of the event. “We like to leverage time at the residencies for [students] to practice presentation and delivery skills in that face-to-face environment while they’re still part of our program and we can offer them insight as to how they use [this experience] to advance their own professional skill sets, voices, and careers,” Reiss Medwed says.

Though some may worry that a presentation component of a doctorate degree could be stressful, students actually work up to this high-level presentation over the course of the program. “One of the final courses in the program [has you] prepare your proposals and your presentation for this type of event,” Reiss Medwed says. “This is intentional because then you’ve practiced doing that amongst your peers.”

These presentations work to inspire students in the early stages of the EdD program, while simultaneously allowing presenters to prepare for the next stages of their careers. “We want you to [eventually] go out there and talk to people, present your work, put it on a TED Talk, [or] go present to your school board,” Reiss Medwed says. Before students are faced with those real-world applications of their work, however, she encourages them to “practice on your peers first inside a residency; it’s a nurturing safe space with your colleagues and with faculty who can offer feedback.”

3. Professional and Career Development

One of the most significant components of the EdD’s doctoral residency is the array of workshops students can attend. These workshops, led by faculty or alumni, offer tailored guidance in regard to professional and career development that students can call upon for years to come. These might come in the form of a seminar on improving your resumé, a discussion on how to best leverage your LinkedIn profile or online portfolio, or even a mock interview session for those embarking upon a job search.

Northeastern’s faculty believes that including this element into the residency allows students to walk away with not only a broader understanding of their industry, but actionable tips as to how to establish the career they want within it, as well.

Doctoral Residencies at Northeastern

Although Reiss Medwed identifies that some form of face-to-face experience is common in doctorate programs across the board—especially those held mostly online—she notes that “Northeastern has a few unique approaches to it” that have been incorporated to set EdD students up for substantial success.

An Experiential Approach

Residencies led by student voices are fairly uncommon in this space, yet this key component has evolved to define Northeastern’s event. “We first began residencies with faculty presenters, transitioned into bringing in our alumni as panelists, and now we [operate on] a conference model where students themselves present their work to one another with great intentionality.” 

While this approach has many benefits—including the honing of these professionals’ vital presentation skills—perhaps the most significant is its tie to Northeastern’s experiential learning model. “What it means to do experiential learning is to practice the work that you’re doing,” Reiss Medwed says, emphasizing that this presentation element of residency provides students the perfect chance to do just that.

Cross-Industry Exposure

Another way in which doctoral residencies in Northeastern’s EdD program differ from others in the sector is that students are encouraged to explore opportunities that are related to more than just the education industry. In fact, these events strategically provide chances for students to network and learn across a variety of impactful fields and organizations.

“Our residencies are spaces…[that allow us to] build a network in a connected way across the pipelines of education,” Reiss Medwed says. “This isn’t just a space for doctoral students to talk amongst themselves. We reject the ivory tower notion. [Instead] our students are working with alumni or partners in the field, teachers or supervisors in the K-12 world, business leaders, non-profit leaders, and much more.”

This exposure to industry leaders across a variety of sectors and even a variety of physical locations provides a unique chance for EdD students to build connections with those they may encounter or work with during their pursuit of change.

Reiss Medwed observes that “there is a commonality about the passion our students have for making a difference in the world. There is a commonality about the ways in which they think about approaching research, and about the questions, they are asking about how to make the workforce a better place which translates across topics.”

Embracing Reflection as a Key Part of Learning

With so much going on in such a short time, events like doctoral residencies may seem overwhelming to the average student. Faculty at Northeastern, however, embrace the robustness of these events and ask that their students properly record their experiences using Northeastern’s Self-Authored Integrated Learning (SAIL) tool, which allows students to reflect upon the presentations that sparked their interest, people they met, ideas they fostered, and inspiration they took from the event. By writing all of this down within the tool—and drawing parallels for future reference—students should be able to call upon these defining experiences even as they advance in the program and in their careers.

Reiss Medwed hopes that using the SAIL tool in this way will “allow students both to be more self-reflective about their experiences at residencies as a conference and as an experiential learning opportunity, and also to be able to identify the professional growth that these conferences afford them.”

Earning an EdD at Northeastern

Alongside a unique and well-developed residency component, the EdD program at Northeastern provides students looking to elicit change in their environments a clear and effective path toward success. Learn more about doctoral residencies and Northeastern’s Doctorate in Education program, then reach out to an enrollment coach today to learn how an EdD can positively impact your career.


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