Donna Bradley PhD in Criminal Justice

Before pursuing a doctorate, Donna Bradley already had an educational and professional background that was both broad and deep.

She started her career as a labor lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board. She then switched to working in inner city ministry, acting as an advocate for criminal offenders. Now, she’s the director of graduate criminal justice programs at Lindenwood University.

So how did Bradley get her dream job? She shares how getting her PhD helped make it happen.

Developing an Interest in Criminal Justice

Bradley’s first experience with the criminal justice system was working with victims of sexual assault. “I was working with a disenfranchised population,” she says. “Acting as a liaison for the population piqued my interest in criminal justice. I witnessed disparity in the treatment of offenders from one jurisdiction to another. I wanted a deeper understanding of how the criminal justice system works”

She decided to pursue a master’s in criminal justice (her bachelor’s was in political science). Earning her master’s served its purpose, but also drove home another truth to her: “The master’s reminded me of how much I love learning,” she says. “I didn’t want to stop.”

Throughout her career, she’d had experiences with training and teaching people, which she grew to enjoy more and more. “I also loved criminal justice,” Bradley says. “I had no experience teaching it, but I knew the field, and felt I could become a good teacher.”

Turning to Teaching

Bradley began teaching as an adjunct faculty member at Lindenwood in 2013. Before long, she was also teaching as an adjunct at four other colleges, as well as working part time. On top of all that, she added a PhD program.

“One of my sons died in October of 2009, and my other two sons were worried about me because I was depressed,” she says. “They told me I needed to do something new, to work on something. I’d been thinking of pursuing a PhD, and it seemed right.”

Preparing for the PhD in Criminal Justice* at Capella University gave Bradley something new and positive to focus on.

*Capella University retired the PhD in Criminal Justice program in 2019.

Opening Doors

Bradley’s doctorate was conferred in October 2016. Besides helping her through the grieving process, it also opened doors for her almost immediately. She was still working as adjunct faculty, but as she entered the dissertation process, she began applying for full-time jobs.

“The PhD helped me get my dream job, a full-time job at a university,” she says. “But before I got it, I took a risk. I was offered a full-time teaching job first, but I turned it down in hopes of getting a job that would also offer me administrative experience.”

It was a gamble that paid off. As the Director of Graduate Criminal Justice Programs at Lindenwood, Bradley not only teaches, but advises nearly 150 students and oversees the graduate program system across eight campuses. “I recently prepared and submitted a major proposal accepted to strengthen the rigor and quality of the program,” she says. “That’s so exciting to me!”

Bradley explains that without the PhD, she wouldn’t have been considered for the director position. “Even having a law degree is not enough,” she says. And it will possibly open more doors in the future. “I have my eye on a dean’s position someday. I love leadership.”

Juggling Many Balls at Once

So how did she do it—manage a PhD program while working five adjunct faculty positions? The online factor was certainly helpful, but she also notes that Capella’s content and format were highly motivating. “Capella really prepared me well for the dissertation,” she says. “There was no meaningless work. Everything we did prepared us for our end product and built on what we’d previously learned.”

She adds that Capella’s support systems were invaluable. “The staff really cared that I grasped the concepts,” she says. “They’re really committed to helping students complete their degrees.”

The bottom line, though, was staying focused and motivated. “One professor kept telling me, ‘Keep your eyes on the prize,’” she says. “I kept that phrase in mind whenever things got tough. Keep your eyes on the prize, and strive for excellence.”

Learn more about Capella’s PhD in Criminal Justice.