Name: Gerald “Jerry” Clark
Hometown: Erie, Penn.
Profession: Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice, Gannon University
Degree Earned from Capella University: PhD in Criminal Justice
Q. Why did you pursue a PhD?
A. I wanted to take my 27 years in law enforcement [including being the FBI’s lead investigator on the “Pizza Bomber” case] and add an academic component. Then I’d have both the practical and the academic side to enhance my career.
Q. Why did you think education was the answer?
A. I wanted to go into teaching. With my background working investigative cases, I knew that I had significant experience and knowledge to share with students. But after some research, I learned that to teach in higher education I needed a PhD. Getting it has opened so many doors for me. The combination of my extensive hands-on experience and the PhD really made the difference.
Q. What was the PhD process like for you?
A. It was much harder than I ever imagined! In the beginning, I thought, “How will I ever do this?” I almost quit during the first semester. I thought, “I’m a special agent for the FBI. Why am I doing this?” But I’m so grateful I never gave up.
Q. What was the best part of getting an online PhD?
A. The best part was seeing successes in small increments. I took at most two courses at a time and focused on those, not the overall looming PhD. Also, the people were phenomenal. There are people I met in my residencies that I’m still close with today. You make a powerful bond because you’ve all been through this together. Plus, you get access to so many different perspectives. In my career, I only saw the law enforcement side, but in residencies I met people with different backgrounds and experiences that helped shape my thinking.
Q. What was the hardest part of getting a PhD?
A. Stress. The dissertation is a grinding wheel. But it’s a necessary process. I’d write something I thought was good and end up with lots of revisions. There are always a lot more perspectives out there.
Q. How has the PhD changed your career?
A. All the ads for teaching positions I thought I wanted required a PhD. A master’s wasn’t quite enough in the academic world. Without the PhD, I wouldn’t be where I am today. It’s also given me great credibility for some government contract consulting work and confidence when it came to writing my new book, A History of Heists. (Clark’s first book was Pizza Bomber.)
Q. What advice do you have for future and current online PhD students?
A. Don’t look too far ahead. Look straight at where you are right now. I’m a perfectionist, but it was overwhelming to try to look at the whole journey. Stay in small increments, and become organized. And don’t miss deadlines! Otherwise you’ll always be working on catching up. Just know that the process is hard work, and it does involve personal sacrifice.
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