The value of an Ed.D. degree, as told by a Wall Street consultant

BY Kenneth PartridgeDecember 22, 2022, 2:17 PM
Courtesy of Rita Meyerson

The last few years have seen a surge of interest in doctorate in education (Ed.D.) degrees, which are applicable—and valuable—in a number of fields. While many Ed.D. seekers are educators looking to teach in college or make the jump to principal or superintendent, plenty of people in the corporate world are also able to advance their careers with the help of this degree. Case in point: organizational expert and leadership coach Rita Meyerson

Meyerson earned her Ed.D. in the field of human and organization learning from George Washington University in 2019. She got the idea to pursue the degree from a mentor at BlackRock, one of the many major financial companies that have hired her as a consultant since she started her firm in 2007. 

“He said to me, ‘If you want to continue doing this work on your own, you absolutely need a doctorate, and you have to be affiliated with the university once you finish,’” Meyerson says, recalling the fateful conversation that sent her on a six-year journey to earn her Ed.D.

Meyerson already had a master’s degree in industrial/organizational psychology from New York University and a work history that included stints at the consulting firms Watson Wyatt (now Willis Towers Watson) and Andersen (now Accenture). She also served as a director in corporate communications and human resources at American Express. But the Ed.D. was a way for Meyerson to kick her career up another notch and make the leap to university teaching. In addition to running her consulting practice, she’s now an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

Fortune sat down with Meyerson to learn more about why she opted to get an Ed.D., what the degree has done for her career, and how she decided on George Washington. Meyerson also shared some advice for those people thinking about getting an Ed.D.

The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

What an Ed.D can do for your career

Fortune: Your mentor at BlackRock said that if you wanted an independent practice, it was essential for you to get a doctorate degree and become affiliated with a university. Is that because it gives you credibility, or because it makes you better at doing your job?

Meyerson: It does both. The credibility of doing the doctoral work and being able to weave multiple concepts together and do your own research and really pull these constructs and thread a theme and create an argument and find the research to support it—all of that is a tremendous way of thinking. You’ve heard lawyers say, “Just going to law school is a great education,” right? So there’s that.

In terms of the coursework, 100%. And I would even say doing my dissertation for three years [had a huge impact]. On the research aspect of it, I learned so much. The rigor that went into that and how I went about doing that is so different than being on the client side, where you’re getting paid, and they want a specific outcome. If you go in and do some sort of organizational assessment…the client might have a predetermined outcome, or they want some sort of outcome associated with this work. Often, organizations partner with consultants because they want to complete large-scale changes and need an objective third party to execute this vision. 

Further, when you do research in an academic environment, and you’re looking at a problem, obviously, we bring our own biases. There’s reflexivity and your own worldview, and all these things that you’re bringing in are going to be there. But you’re not being paid by a client to figure out what the problem is or support whatever it is that they want to achieve through your research. 

So to answer your question, it’s both. It’s credibility—definitely being affiliated with the university versus me just being Rita Meyerson.com is really important. I didn’t know I’d be at Columbia. That’s kind of a surprise. And it’s the work. I’m constantly bringing in those six years and the rigor and the course work, etc. It’s just at a whole other level.

What other opportunities come with an Ed.D.?

You can’t teach at the university level without a doctorate. You can’t become a tenure track professor—a lecturer or whatnot—without a doctorate. Maybe in medical, business, and law schools, if it’s specific, you’re not going to have a Ph.D. But in general, the Ph.D., Ed.D., whatever it is—you need that to be able to teach. That’s a really important part of the whole doctorate pursuit. 

The Europeans, in this area of expertise—organizational development and organizational theory—are much stronger than the Americans. I wouldn’t be able to do this work if I didn’t have the doctorate. If I want to teach at any business school in Europe, I need this. If you want to be able to contribute to the peer-reviewed literature, you need to be well schooled in this—theory, practice, and research.

Choosing the right Ed.D. program (and deciding whether the degree is right for you)

How did you decide on George Washington?

I was a mom. I was working. I had to find a program that was going to work for me—that was like an executive program—where you did it at night and on the weekends and it wasn’t a traditional full-time doctoral program. So it was very much driven by where I was in life. Maybe if I did this when I was 25 or in my late 20s, I’d have a different perspective. I was 40 years old, and I had a seven-year-old, so I had to figure out how I was going to do it. 

I looked at a Ph.D. program at Pepperdine in organization leadership. I looked at the GW program, which was the Ed.D. Initially, I was like, “I don’t want to do this. I want the Ph.D.” Because you have to constantly be explaining [the Ed.D.]. Now I realize it doesn’t matter. 

GW’s program was the perfect fit. Prior to that, I was pretty academic—with a BA in the biological basis of behavior from the University of Pennsylvania and an MA in industrial/organizational psychology from New York University—and I was heavily influenced by Wall Street and Fortune 500. I’m in New York—most of the clients are financial services, or Big Pharma at the time. I had no experience with the military, and that was a really important leg of this stool that I was missing. If you think of three legs, I had the academics. I had Wall Street or global finance. I did not have the military. If you’re going to be doing this work, I really think you need that exposure. No one does leadership better than the military. 

I had generals, colonels and lieutenant colonels, and senior members of the Department of Defence in my cohort at GW. I had the Army. I had the Navy. I had the Coast Guard. I had Air Force, intel, all of [Department of Defense]. It was great. I would not have had that exposure had I not done this particular program. Also, it was a cohort program, like any other executive MBA or anything else. From the doctoral standpoint, I still did two and a half years of course work. I went every month for a weekend for two and a half years, plus weeklong residencies. So they got in all the course work for a full-time program. I just did it in a different way.

What advice would you give someone who’s considering getting an Ed.D.?

The founder of my doctoral program, Dave Schwandt, professor emeritus of human and organizational learning at The George Washington University, said that with every doctoral program, you really need to look at who’s running it. Universities operate as loosely coupled systems, meaning it all depends on which department your doctorate is aligned to. So an Ed.D. in K-12 education is going to be completely different from mine. It really depends who’s running the program and who the dean of the school is and how much funding it has and how well supported you’re going to be. Additionally, you’re not going to get your dissertation done without the right chair. All of these things are so important. It’s very hard to generalize.

The reason why I chose this program was because the cohort style was really important to me, the mid-late career students, and the whole schedule works. So again, I might not have done that when I was 25 years old. Also, you want to look at where the graduates are. It’s the same thing you would look at if you’re going to an MBA or law school. It’s program specific, and you need to look at where the graduates are today. 

Check out all of Fortune’rankings of degree programs, and learn more about specific career paths.