The Power of the Right Advisor with Dr. Matthew Montgomery

Dr. Matthew Montgomery

Dr. Matthew Montgomery is the superintendent of Revere Local School District in Bath, Ohio, where he has overseen major building projects, spearheaded a district-wide 1:1 technology initiative, and resolved crisis situations as they arose.

Dr. Montgomery earned his Ph.D. while juggling a myriad of competing priorities, including a family with four children and an up-and-coming career. His dissertation project helped ignite a passion for learning more about the impact of leadership vision in the growth and transformation of our schools.

Dr. Montgomery continues to pursue this passion through his frequently updated blog. He is also working on a book which he plans to publish soon.


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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • “Old school” notions about how the Ph.D. is different from other doctoral degrees, and why the notions are probably irrelevant to you
  • Dr. Matthew Montgomery discusses how a single committee member can make or break your dissertation journey
  • How the dissertation process is like a protein soup
  • Who you’re really writing your dissertation for
  • How Dr. Montgomery has successfully led his to to in-person instruction five days per week during the pandemic, and why one size doesn’t fit all
  • The importance of vision in transforming our schools
  • Why writing a book is a great next step for many new doctors
  • The importance of distilling your dissertation experience into 2 – 3 sentences, and this means for current dissertation students
  • Training for a marathon as an analogy for the dissertation

In this episode…

Adult doctoral students share a history of past success. Unconventional doctoral students have established successful careers, helped to raise families, and served in a variety of leadership positions. As such, it can be difficult as a student to be told what to do. It can be even more difficult when you’re not told what to do, but have to meet your committee’s expectations, regardless.

In this episode of An Unconventional Life, Dr. Russell Strickland and his guest, Dr. Matthew Montgomery, discuss their shared affinity for science, the difficulties associated with completing a dissertation as an unconventional doctoral student, and several interesting metaphors related to their respective journeys. Dr. Montgomery underscores the importance of your dissertation chair and of steadying yourself in the face of good news or bad news from this most critical dissertation committee member. Don’t miss this one!

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done, America’s #1 authority in dissertation completion for working professionals.

Founded by Dr. Russell Strickland, Dissertation Done serves people in two ways:

  1. If you’re struggling with your dissertation, getting ready to start your dissertation, or just plain wanting to get your dissertation done as soon as possible, go to and Let’s Get Your Dissertation Done
  2. If you’re busy living your Unconventional Life and have a message that you want to share, maybe you should join our Expand Your Authority Program to become a published author. Go to and let me know that you’d like to talk about Expanding Your Authority.

Visit to learn more about our other services and leave a message or call them at 888-80-DR-NOW (888-803-7669) to schedule your free 30 to 45-minute phone consultation.

Episode Transcript

Disclaimer: This transcript is here for your reading convenience. It was created by machines and may (a-hem) contain some errors. If you email us about these errors, the machines will undoubtedly find out. I hope they won’t get angry.


Intro [00:00:03]

Welcome to An Unconventional Life podcast where we share stories about the crazy one percent out there who ends their doctoral degrees and then went on to use them in crazy, cool, unique and unconventional ways. Here’s your host, astrophysicist, turned teacher, author, dissertation coach and more, Dr Russell Strickland.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:00:28]

Welcome to An Unconventional Life. This is Dr. Russell Strickland, founder and CEO of Dissertation Done and your host here today. Today, I have with me Dr. Matthew Montgomery. Dr. Montgomery is a shining example of someone who really, really fast tracked his career. He’s currently a superintendent in the state of Ohio and has some interesting stories to tell about how they’re handling. We’re in the middle of the COVID crisis. I hope that we’re in the middle or to pass the middle as we record this. And he’s going to share some of that with you. But he is, well, gone up the ranks in education from being like a teacher, a principal, a superintendent, rose through those ranks very quickly, earned his Ph.D. along the way. And he’ll tell you if he did that quickly or not. As we talk. But I can’t wait for our discussion here with Dr. Matt. I also want to thank Dr. Mike Lubelfeld, one of our previous guests for introducing us. So shout out to him. And today’s episode, as always, is brought to you by Dissertation Done. If you’re working on your dissertation, you’re an adult struggling through the dissertation process or you’re about to face the dissertation process. And you’d like someone to provide some some accountability, some guidance and direction. A proven path to get you from here to graduation as quickly as possible. Reach out to us at That’s a And if by any chance you actually graduated, you finish your dissertation and you’re out there living your unconventional life. Why don’t you consider getting your message out there in a book? We can help you out through our Expand Your Authority program at So, again, Dr. Matt, thank you so much for joining us. I’m so glad to have you here today. How are you doing?


Dr. Matthew Montgomery [00:02:22]

Well, let me begin by thank you for having me. Russ, it’s exciting to talk about this, especially after it’s complete. So there’s a great deal of joy in my life right now. And I’m happy to share that message and the trials and tribulations. So I appreciate you giving me this opportunity to be with you today.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:02:36]

You’re welcome. You’re absolutely welcome. And when we say complete recently, complete tell folks, how long ago was it that you defended and graduated?


Dr. Matthew Montgomery [00:02:48]

So I defended in May. May 13th of this year. So it was in the throes of the pandemic. It was a virtual defense, which was interesting in its own right. And then ultimately a virtual graduation in August. So fresh off of the Ph.D. And still licking their wounds.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:03:09]

Absolutely. So. So, guys, you know, there’s going to be some some realism in some emotion as we talk about this dissertation journey, because here he is, as we’re recording right now, we’re early in October in 2020. So hopefully this episode will be out there a long time from now. And you guys will faintly and fondly remember the pandemic and how we handle that. Let’s hope cross fingers. But Dr. Montgomery was actually completing his dissertation during this pandemic while still working in the school system, no less as a superintendent. So I can’t wait to get that story out to you. But let’s go ahead and backtrack a little bit and. Tell me about why you decided to pursue this path in the first place. Hey, this is not a decision that most reasonable people make. Ninety nine percent of the population never really tries or certainly lets it succeed in earning a doctoral degree. What made you decide to take the plunge?


Dr. Matthew Montgomery [00:04:07]

So I’ve always wanted to get a Ph.D., ever since I started, ever since I became an actual teacher at that point. But even when I was going through my undergrad, I always look to those doctors that inspired me and hope that one day I could do that. And as a lifelong educator, it’s overused. It’s cliche, but it’s it’s a calling for me, which is also a cliche. But it’s true. I feel it and breathe it every day and to fulfill that for my own personal belief system. I wanted to go as far as I could in this career, and I thought the doctor was the shining capstone to that experience. You’re right. I don’t think a lot of people do it. It’s the same reason that I run marathons. It’s just something that is is challenging and difficult. And it’s something that excites me to be able to be immersed in something that a lot of people don’t do or haven’t succeeded in, or I think that I can’t. When I start when I take the first step.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:05:10]

Well, I tell you, I. I hear a similar story when I ask people why they decided to pursue this. And to me, it comes down to what I’ve identified as identity. I think that this is something that we somehow attribute to ourselves before we ever even start the doctoral journey. That’s what I am. I am a doctor and I just have to go out and do the work to make that happen, to get the credential to back it up. But that’s who I am. And and I know personally, I’ve talked about this on the podcast before. I actually began my doctoral journey straight out of college and hit some bumps along the way. My research advisor died and I decided that point. Well, maybe it’s not for me. I’m going to move away and actually make little money or or as a graduate student. And it wasn’t long before that calling, as you put it, came back, because I think that’s what I identify as. And I had to finish it. I had to get it done for my own sort of psychological well-being. It’s who I thought it was. And if I didn’t do it, there would always be a conflict. So I don’t know if you I feel that way as well. You mentioned calling.


Dr. Matthew Montgomery [00:06:21]

Yeah, there’s a lot of times, quite frankly, over there. It was a long trip. Ten years of this process, not active writing. So rest assured that it wasn’t that long for writing. But it was a start and stop. It was a lot of the coursework I found quite easy. Not in an egotistical way, just that it was structured. And there were deadlines and it was purposeful and it was checking off boxes and learning along the way.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:06:48]

This, again, is this very common conclusion people draw. And I, I liken it to the fact that there is more you have more in common with your last class, you taking your doctoral program and what you were doing in third grade than what you’re doing for your dissertation, because in third grade and my youngest child’s not that far removed from it. Now, they start talking about we’re not no longer learning to read, but we’re reading to learn. And once you do that, they tell you to read something, write something about it. It gets to be more and more significant, what you’re writing and what you’re reading as you go through the process. That same structure that you mentioned that’s there throughout. And then with a dissertation, it just, you know, it’s like, well, right away.


Dr. Matthew Montgomery [00:07:29]

Right. I’ve got to play sports. That’s what I do for a living. That part, I very much enjoyed the district and was much more that phase was much more challenging. I would argue for me at this point, being fresh off of it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. And that’s not to say it can’t be done, but that’s what it was for me and I wouldn’t take it. There’s lots of times where I thought maybe, maybe I should walk away. But it was always on my shoulder, always a cloud over me. And I heard this a lot from other folks that whenever I wasn’t working on it, I felt like I should be working on. And there was that constant portion of my conscious that said that this should be something I’m focused on and why are you enjoying yourself doing something else? And and maybe you should hang it up, but I couldn’t do that. It was something that it wasn’t for anything other than my own personal satisfaction that I was able to do it.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:08:30]

Yeah, I would say that you Jewish mothers and Catholic priests have nothing on doctoral student when it comes to guilt. I think about all the time. It feels like you should.


Dr. Matthew Montgomery [00:08:42]

My mother has got Catholic guilt under control. I love her dearly. That’s how I was raised. So I was I guess I was prepped already for the dissertation.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:08:52]

Already ready for it. Yeah. Well, one of my students from Dissertation Done commenting on when she finished her. This is a couple few years ago when she finished her dissertation and defended. I asked her, well, what are you gonna do now? And she said, I’m going to go to the football game and I’m not going to feel guilty about it. She actually worked for a small school and they had a Division II football team or something like that. And they wanted as many of the faculty out there supporting it because like no one else. It wasn’t like they had a huge fan base or it was a community as family. And she’s like, I to go out there because that’s what we do. I’m not gonna feel guilty about this for the first time in a couple years.


Dr. Matthew Montgomery [00:09:30]

So the new guilt does. Now, what are you gonna do with it? So I think that that that mindset is is always there for me. So it’s been interesting, but I don’t feel bad because not work. I’m working Zober.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:09:43]

Right. Weight off your shoulders. And that that’s huge out. Another one of my students who actually was a guest on the podcast a few weeks ago when I asked him what what was the best part about graduating? He told me, Dr. Strickland, I got my life back. And that’s that’s how he described it, because it’s almost like it’s not you during this process. There’s just so much weight and so much stress. It’s like if you see the Snickers commercials right where they have this child, there was an outcry with ads and they’re crying or whatever it is, hey, eat Snickers bar. And then all of a sudden it’s this big football, dude, you’re not you when you’re on the dissertation.


Dr. Matthew Montgomery [00:10:23]

Yeah, it was Betty White. Aretha Franklin in those commercials. Yeah, more than. Sadly so. Well, you’re right. I did get my I’m sorry. I felt like I got my life back. It’s interesting with with children that and a father that wait on you that there were times because of my career choice that there’s not a lot of free time during the day. Right. That I had to dedicate family time to writing or reading. And it’s almost as if they just knew that. I think sometimes in the last month or so, they wish I was reading or writing something because I’ve been much, far more attentive. But it did feel like I came alive a little bit more as a father after completion.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:11:13]

Yeah. My timing was that we had my wife and I joke that our our first born child was born five years past his due date because we had a lot of a lot of trouble starting off there. But he was actually born in December. And I defended my dissertation in April, but it was all done except for the paperwork, so to speak, the getting getting the I’s dotted, the T’s crossed. Really that time is for. And honestly, I don’t know exactly what I would do if it had been a couple of years later, because, yeah, it’s it’s a lot to juggle that.


Dr. Matthew Montgomery [00:11:52]

But I have a 10 year old, a nine year old, seven year old and a six year old. So these babies are wonderful. And I did my best during this time, but I definitely that was part of the sacrifice. There was some time with them that I could not give to them because I was hidden in a Barnes and Noble or a Starbucks or a park or in the basement hiding writing right now.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:12:24]

I definitely understand. Now, you mentioned that you thought throughout this process or from time to time about, you know, giving it up and walking away. And when we were talking before, you had mentioned to me that that wasn’t just, you know, I thought the back of your head that someone was putting it there. Can you tell folks a little bit about what happened with your advisor? That was your advisor as you go through this process?


Dr. Matthew Montgomery [00:12:49]

If I talk if I talk a little bit about my journey. Sure. Which I think will help help answer that question, Russ. So I taught for five years in a high school setting high school science teacher and loved every every bit of it, every moment I come alive when I’m teaching. And that was very hard to walk away from.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:13:13]

That’s my first love by the way, my undergrad degrees were in physics and math and I absolutely love it. Still wonder that walking away from astronomy, which was my original graduate work, because it’s a very interesting time over the past 20 years to be an astronomer. All the things have been going on so we can kick out about that probably for a long time.


Dr. Matthew Montgomery [00:13:34]

We have good luck. I got a I have a calculus teacher, friends and just retired. He has a new fancy telescope that’s taking pictures and he’s sending me pictures of all this exciting stuff. Why can I be out there with you so we could geek out for a long time? But walking away from science, that passion and impressing high school students was was just something that I still love. But I wanted to see if I could make a bigger impact. I think that’s why a lot of people go into administration. And after five years, I became a middle school principal and the middle school principal turned into a middle-school/high-school principal role. And after two years, then I landed myself in a superintendency. So things move extremely fast for me at a very young age. I was superintendent first and I was I was 31. Wow. And that is not, I don’t know if it’s common. It seems uncommon. It is fate. I don’t know. The stars aligned. Luck. And I reflect on was it too early? That’s a question that I often wonder about. But when I took my oral comps, I was a principal oral written comps. I was a principal. And then when I became superintendent, that was in conjunction of when I was supposed to start the district station. And at that point, then the fourth baby also arrived. So there were four babies. And now you fast forward four years back and imagine how young they were. And I was then the start stop phase of writing. And I had I was going to I think my first topic was on the new teacher evaluation system that was happening in Ohio and wondering wondering what it was. To teacher efficacy and were we essentially evaluating our efficacy because of the model that the state was working on? Right. That didn’t get anywhere. It didn’t get off the ground. There were a couple of those ideas that just I just recently went through my cabinet and through all proposals away, which was refreshing. It was exhilarating, actually. But my chair at the time was very much in tune with. I was in this practitioner mode and I was teacher, principal, superintendent, fast tracked. And she was encouraging me to take a break for a year and research because she said…


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:16:03]

And you say “a break,” a break from what?


Dr. Matthew Montgomery [00:16:07]

Good. Thank you for the clarification. Stop being take a sabbatical from being a superintendent for a year and devote yourself to research because I was pursuing a Ph.D. and in her mind, that was different from an Ed.D. in that it needed to be more rigorous. You can imagine just the speeches that people talk about, right or wrong and different. That was her viewpoint. And she was a wonderful lady and trying her very best to guide me. But she wanted me to take a year off and I couldn’t. Nor did I. I didn’t want to. Nor can I financially support my family. And then with the position you don’t hear of superintends taking a year off. That doesn’t happen.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:16:49]

Those positions grow on trees. Right. You’re lucky to get that early on. But that doesn’t mean the next one is going to happen.


Dr. Matthew Montgomery [00:16:55]

I’m taking a break for a bit. And then I no longer have a position. So that was a feasible. And then she encouraged me to maybe look for an Ed.D. Because while the universe Kent State University didn’t offer it at that point, she thought that maybe there was another university or maybe Kent would offered in the future and maybe that would be a better fit for me as a practitioner. So what? After she gave me that speech, as well-intentioned as it was and as amazing as this individual is, it still took me about a year to recover from that conversation because I had a lot of self-doubt then and I thought maybe I wasn’t. This was never gonna pan out for some of the reasons she shared. And I’ll echo that. She didn’t do anything out of ill intention. She was really trying to help me. It just didn’t jibe with what I wanted to do. And after my ego healed. It sometimes gets in the way, right? So after that healed, I was even more impassioned to to complete the degree. And that chair retired and I was very fortunate to get another chair who agreed to take me on. And she had been a sitting superintendent for a period of time. And I think that’s what… The connection was better and she understood what the job was. From a practitioner as well as from a theorist, and I think that she without her, I don’t know that I would have without her and others, but her leadership really made it possible that she wanted to take me on. And in my sitting role in that, I didn’t have to give up my job. But I think there’s times where she thought Matt, you’re running a high performing district. There are things in my job that we’re taking a lot of deal, my degree at some time in the last four years, we’ve been working on eighty six million dollar building project, of which I’m one of the owner representatives and I have four children. There’s a lot of reasons why it shouldn’t have worked. But she was there saying it could work if I was willing to sacrifice some time. I just had to make the personal commitment and also make the choice of what I was going to give up to do this. And that was a family conversation of how to what we could do because I still wanted the family when this was all over. Right. I mean, that was as important.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:19:36]

You have to know what your priorities are. Right. When you’re going into this. And the story that you tell me, it reminds me of I tell our students all the time was in there. As far as I’m concerned, there’s a lot of ways you classify things. But there are two types of doctoral students. One is the traditional doctoral student. And then the other is what I call the unconventional doctoral student unconventional. Obviously, that’s where the name of this podcast came from, because we have folks who are following that path. To me, I define it as anything other than a doctoral student who intends to go into academia. Academia, meaning research professorship, grant writing, doing research. Those things, not administration in education. That’s a different industry than  academia. And people who go into academia, they follow this path that was set out in the Middle Ages. Honestly, that with the trade guilds of this master apprentice relationship where you’re doing your adviser’s research for them for a while and learning at the foot of the master, and eventually you take over and you become that master when that’s not your objective and that’s not your goal, then you really need to take a different path and you really need to envision the dissertation differently. That doesn’t mean the rigor is different. It just means that the goal for you is to get the degree and move on to these other things that you want to do in your life. Whereas the traditional doctoral student, the degree is just sort of a way station along the way. The goal is to do this research and whether they’re doing it as a group, as a student or a postdoc or a or an assistant professor or a full professor. That’s just, you know, splitting hairs, so to speak. It’s just the part that that happens along the journey. So I don’t know if I identify with that difference at all.

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Dr. Russell W. Strickland

RUSSELL STRICKLAND, Ph.D., has been referred to as a “rocket scientist turned management consultant.” In truth, he applies an eclectic body of work from astronomy and nuclear physics to dynamic inventory management to market research to each of his student engagements.