Resilience is Wonderful…Confidence is Key with Dr. Angela Pearson

Angela Pearson, Ph.D. serves as the President and CEO of OD Synergistics Consulting LLC, which was founded in 2019. She is a trusted Advisor to business leaders in successful companies in the US, working with them to assess organizational issues, reshape structures and processes, and build depth of management capability. She is a skilled diagnostician who helps her clients to understand organizational strategies and systems to make comprehensive decisions.

In addition to her consulting work, Angela is a Navy and Army veteran and a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Coach. In her career, she has worked for many well-known companies in roles such as Operations Leader, Human Resources Generalist, Training Manager, and Environmental Health and Safety Manager.


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

  • The deeply personal nature of deciding to pursue a Ph.D. … and the best thing about graduating
  • The importance of your reason why and late-night conversation with the person in the mirror
  • Why you’re really writing your committee’s dissertation
  • The problem with negative self-talk
  • Rules for winning an oral exam… if you’re a sadistic professor
  • The benefits of getting external support
  • Things that happen when your first name is Dr.

In this episode…

Dr. Angela Pearson is humbled to count herself as the first Ph.D. in her family. Getting there wasn’t easy, though…

In this episode of An Unconventional Life, Dr. Angela Pearson and Dr. Russell Strickland swap war stories about their doctoral journeys. Like working full-time, being part-time military, and raising four kids…while earning a doctoral degree! And that time when Dr. Pearson changed her dissertation topic — twice! And that time when one of Dr. Strickland’s candidacy exam professors posted elaborate rules about how faculty members can win an oral exam…by laying the student out flat on the floor!

The anecdotes keep flying throughout this laugh-to-keep-from-crying episode.

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, a podcast where we share stories about the crazy one percent out there, who earns 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]

Hello, this is Dr. Russell Strickland, and I’m your host for an Unconventional Life podcast. Today, I have with me Dr. Angela Pearson. Dr. Pearson has recently earned her Ph.D. in Organizational and Industrial Psychology. She runs her own consulting firm. She’s the mother of many and several grandchildren. So I’m sure we’re going to talk about that. She’s told me about some of the challenges she faced in her dissertation process. And this is going to be a very inspirational story for you guys that are kind of struggling through the dissertation right now. So I can’t wait to start our conversation with Dr. Pearson before we jump into that. As always, this episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done. So if you are an adult doctoral student, you’re an unconventional doctoral student. You have a family, a mortgage, a job, and you’re undertaking a dissertation project. Reach out to us and let’s see if we can’t help you with our Fas-Track Your Dissertation coaching program. We get our students through the dissertation process, usually in about a year and often a year or two faster than they would on their own. So check us out a That’s a And if by any chance you are done and you’re looking to expand your authority, you want to get your expertise out there into the marketplace so that you can help more people, why don’t you consider becoming a published author? We take groups of people using our Expand Your Authority program from blank page all the way to published author. It’s a lot easier and a lot quicker than you might think as long as you have the guidance and accountability and support along the way. So if you’re interested in that, check this out at And with that, Dr. Pearson, welcome. Welcome, welcome. Thank you so much for joining me here today.


Dr. Angela Pearson [00:02:13]

Thank you. How are you today doing?


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:02:16]

Well, we’re recording this on a Monday, and as both of us have mentioned, it seems to be a hectic day, but always great to be able to take a little time off to to talk to someone of your accomplishment, your stature. And I’m grateful that you had some time for us to talk today.


Dr. Angela Pearson [00:02:32]

Well, thank you so much for having me.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:02:34]

So first thing I love to ask folks is, listen, it’s not kind of a sane or rational decision to go out and pursue a doctoral degree program, especially as an adult. I did it. You did it. A lot of our listeners have done it. Tell me, what motivated you to make that decision and to make that jump to pursue a Ph.D. program after you’d already accomplished so much in your life? What what made you decide to go and jump in for this?


Dr. Angela Pearson [00:03:02]

Well, for one thing, I’m a lifelong learner, but this is a personal goal for me. I lost both my parents at an early age, twenty one and within 15 months of one another. And both of my parents went to college, but neither one of them finished. And I felt like, OK, this is something that I probably could do and accomplish and be the first one in my family to become a Ph.D. and I actually did. So this was very personal for me.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:03:31]

That’s awesome. You know, so many folks do mention that as being a really a a personal goal. It seems to be a it’s an identity issue almost with a lot of folks. And, gosh, I’m sorry to hear about you losing your parents so early. I lost my parents. I was in my late thirties and early forties when my parents passed. And I remember distinctly at that age when I had my own kids and all this already I was, I had already earned my Ph.D. by then. And I remember at that age thinking, gosh, I’m an orphan. And it seems odd, but I think there’s something that affects everybody. And gosh, at your age, I can hardly even imagine. But but you’ve done so much since then. So it’s it’s amazing how the human spirit can overcome those sorts of things.


Dr. Angela Pearson [00:04:18]

Yes, resilience is wonderful.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:04:19]

And I’m sure it was useful as you went through this doctoral program as well.


Dr. Angela Pearson [00:04:27]

It was.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:04:28]

So tell me a little bit about you made that decision. Why did what made you decide at the time that this was the right time to do it? Because obviously there’s no right time. But what made you decide after after a while you have been doing? I’ve been wanting to pursue my doctoral degree and now I’m going to do it. What was that moment for you?


Dr. Angela Pearson [00:04:50]

I don’t know, I guess I would say that moment was I felt I had extra time, even though I really didn’t, because when I started, I was actually in the military part time and working full time, of course, four children. And so I said, hey, if I’m going to do it, I better get started now, because if I don’t, I’m not going to do it. So I wanted to push myself to get it completed in a timely manner and not have so much time between my last master’s degree and the Ph.D.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:05:19]

Yeah, getting back up on the horse, getting back into school is always tough because you kind of earn your degree and you feel like you accomplished something and then you get to live your life for a while. And then when you decide to go back, you’re kind of giving that back over to that school again. So that’s tough. One of my students who we’ve had on the podcast, Dr. David Braswell, when he graduated, I asked in the best part about it and he said it was getting his life back. And I’m sure folks will resonate with and you’re kind of not you when you’re when you’re working on your dissertation. So so you had a little extra time, even though, like you said, busy life. Still, you go back into the doctoral program. And what was it like getting started going through those classes?


Dr. Angela Pearson [00:06:05]

It was tough having to understand scholarly writing and then write to that degree in in order to accomplish what needed to be done was a struggle again, especially having work, having family, being in the military part time. So, you know, I almost gave up within the first year simply because I said, I can’t do this. It’s just too much. And then I remembered the conversations that I have with my parents before they passed and years before. And I said, OK, I did this for a reason. So I’m going to push forward. And that’s what helped a lot of as can be.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:06:47]

Yeah, that’s one of the things that I always talk to our students about as well, is, is you’ve got to have a reason why. And you need to keep that like in sports, they talk about bulletin board material, when someone says something to you about how you can’t do it or whatever the case might be, that motivation to keep going and and it shouldn’t be to show those guys that’s not a good reason why whatever it is that’s in your heart is driving you. If it was something your parents inspired you, if it was a goal that you want to be able to accomplish for yourself, it’s like you want to inspire your own kids, whatever it is, it’s really important to keep that front and center because there’s going to be a late night at some point when you look in the mirror and you ask that person, what are you doing to be? And if you don’t have a good answer, it’s so easy to walk away or just not to do what you need to do to be successful. That’s most students don’t walk away. Right. They just put off the working on the dissertation for one night and then for two nights and all of a sudden things aren’t getting done. So that’s that’s the trap you can fall into.


Dr. Angela Pearson [00:07:48]

That’s so true.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:07:48]

So so the classes started to be a difficulty and the time was starting to be a difficulty, but you push through that after you kind of re committed yourself to the process. Did you find that things started getting easier or how did how did it work out for you after you got to that point where you thought, I’m going to quit and then decide that you’re not and kept moving forward?


Dr. Angela Pearson [00:08:15]

Well, I’m a spiritual person. I won’t go too deep into that, so I did pray a lot and ask for guidance, patience and strength to continue to push forward. So it didn’t get easier at first, but as I started to get more organized and become more intimate with my committee, then things started to get better and then they started to get easier.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:08:43]

So this is now you’re in the dissertation process and when you about your committee, is that right?


Dr. Angela Pearson [00:08:48]



Dr. Russell Strickland [00:08:48]

So what was what was that like starting off like the transition between classes and then working on your dissertation, what was that like for you?


Dr. Angela Pearson [00:08:57]

Well, I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was, even through all the residences that I went to, but once I actually got the committee chair, I failed to realize the relationship I needed to build with them immediately in order to get them in sync with my topic. And so I went through a phase where I actually changed my topic three times over the first two times.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:09:21]

We’ve got to talk about that. How did that happen?


Dr. Angela Pearson [00:09:26]

So my first topic since I was in the military and I was doing safety, I want it to be occupational safety and health. And that was a topic that my committee was not familiar with. So then we decided, OK, I’ll change it again. And I want it to do domestic violence related material, which is very common. And that was a no-go as well. So then finally,.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:09:52]

Why was that a no-go, how did that idea fall apart?


Dr. Angela Pearson [00:09:57]

Well, I was told that that topic was so broad and so many different elements of that topic had already been explored. So being able to come up with new research was, you know, it was kind of tough.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:10:09]

Yeah, well, we weren’t we weren’t talking at that time because that that’s one of those things where a lot of students do have this idea of I have a very broad topic and I like to tell them, no, it’s an area of interest. Like until you have something that you can actually research and there’s a plan for collecting and analyzing data is really not a topic yet. And you just keep narrowing down and narrowing down and tightening that focus. But clearly, like they said, there’s a lot of research has been done on that. And you can always plant your flag right beside some other project that’s very, very similar to do a new project is very similar to something that you’ve read about. And that’s new as long as it’s not the same thing that’s been done before, it’s new. So that’s something that I would have probably encouraged at the time to look at that. But because when a committee says you have to narrow things down, usually it’s not narrow it down over here. But let’s just keep tightening up the idea that you have until we can turn into a really small, laser focused objective.


Dr. Angela Pearson [00:11:11]

That’s true, I agree, and I was actually kind of glad that they brought that to my attention because it helped me actually refocus to the third and last topic that I chose, which was LEAN strategy deployment. I was actually a continuous improvement coach at the time. So very, very good topic. It wasn’t broad. A lot of people had not studied it to the capacity that I did. So that helped a lot.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:11:35]

And that was something because of your existing affinity that you’re actually working in that area. I assume that was a little easier to collect data on that as well versus domestic violence. We’ve had several students that have done projects on domestic violence, and it’s tough to to to get folks to want to be part of your study or agree to be part of your study because that that issue is so sensitive and brings up memories that that folks aren’t really interested in reliving a lot of times.


Dr. Angela Pearson [00:12:04]

That is so true and that when I was thinking about that topic, it was because I’m a domestic violence survivor, so I felt at that time that I had a lot of information to contribute. But as you said, it’s a very sensitive topic. And getting people to participate in that is very difficult because no one wants to relive a negative situation.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:12:25]

So even so, the way that a lot of folks, a lot of our students have been able to broach that topic is that these people are not just survivors, but they were kind of how you want to say it conquerers or overcomers. They they they’ve done things to change who they are since they were in that that situation. And then by sharing with other people that might be going through that right now, you can help them. And so, yes, the reliving part can be difficult. But when you talk about you, not only are we going to be reliving the moment that we were able to talk about how you overcame that as well, that’s been a good strategy for recruiting. We found that folks are interested if they’re talking about both parts of the story, they’re much more interested in that than if they’re just dwelling on the negative, so to speak.


Dr. Angela Pearson [00:13:14]

I agree, I agree.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:13:15]

But it also brings up an important point for anybody who’s working on their dissertation right now, which is make sure you know where you’re going to get your data. When you pick a topic, you know, the universities will tell you all the time, pick something you’re passionate about. I actually disagree with that because it can kind of get you stuck. You know, you start saying, I want to do it this way in your committee, wants you to do it that way. Well, you graduate when your committee is happy with the project. Now, when you are so, you want something that you that you’re able to kind of be flexible. And if your committee says to move over a little to the left or a little to the right, you’re like, OK, I’ll do that. Instead of feeling like, no, you’re taking away my passion project from me. So that’s one thing I’d be careful about. But the other thing is just the logistics like how are you going to get your data? You should know where it’s coming from way before it’s time to start collecting data, because otherwise you can fall into this trap of everybody likes your project, but you can’t actually get it done. And that’s obviously not something that would be helpful if you’re trying to graduate.


Dr. Angela Pearson [00:14:16]

This is true, I like the point that you made about when your committee is asking you to move to the left or move to the right, so many times I found myself wanting to be resistant and saying, no, I think what I’m doing the right thing, but understanding where they’re coming from because like you said, you don’t finish until they say you finish. Right. And they have a lot more experience than you have. So definitely being able to listen and take that advice and run with it is great.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:14:45]

It’s not even just about their experience, though. It’s their proclivities, their biases, their history, their prejudices. You have to satisfy that committee. And the dissertation is not about being right or wrong. You can do it your way. And it’s perfectly good for the right committee. But for your committee, you’ve got to do it however they want to see it. So that’s why we tell students that we who are really passionate about what they’re working on, let’s just hold off on the passion for right now. And when done, when you graduate, you can write your book. You can get that message out to the world. You can see it the way you want to say it. You can include all of the emotion and all of the passion that you’re feeling because that doesn’t belong in your dissertation anyway, to cut that all out in the editing phase so you can really communicate with an emotional level and help people who need your help by doing it in the book later on. And that’s something I’ve had a lot of fun working with folks on those projects because it was kind of like the gloves are off with the dissertation. You’ve got to be careful. You got to listen to your committee, give them what they want. But with your book, you can do whatever you want. So that’s a very liberating time for a lot of our students.


Dr. Angela Pearson [00:15:57]

I like that.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:15:57]

And the other thing that they have in mind is, you know, we talk about the dissertation committee kind of holding the keys and and then they they say, go think about it a little differently. Think about it like it’s not your dissertation. It’s theirs. You’re making a custom suit of clothes. And it’s got to be tailored to your committee or your custom building a house. But it’s got to be according to their specifications, not yours. So, yeah, you’re the one building it or you’re the one putting it all together and that’s your work when you’re all said and done. But his work is being commissioned by someone else and they’re going to pay you with a degree when you finish. So if you can think about it that way, that it’s a professional endeavor rather than a passionate endeavor that can be helpful to.


Dr. Angela Pearson [00:16:43]

Most definitely.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:16:44]

So so you mentioned the topics and you had to go through three different iterations for your topics once you kind of were able to settle on something that your committee was happy with and that, you know, you could finish. Tell me a little bit about the story then. How did things go from that point?


Dr. Angela Pearson [00:17:02]

Well, it wasn’t that simple either with that third topic. They were they they had no knowledge of the topic. So it was interesting, actually pull together a Web conference so we could all see each other and talk, because a lot of times when you’re doing things online, it’s just email and maybe telephone. But we saw each other. We talked about it, explained to them that I was exhausted with topic changes and that this was an area of expertize to me and I felt that there was research that could be done. And so with that, we all agreed to disagree, but agree that I could move forward with that last topic.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:17:43]

So and I’ve actually found that when a lot of times when the committee isn’t necessarily an expert on a topic, it’s a little easier for the student because they can basically, as long as you tell a good story and everything’s believable and everything’s backed up, you don’t get the committee arguing as much. Rather, they’re learning. And if they have questions for you where they think, oh, I didn’t quite get something, then they’ll ask you to improve something. And it actually works really well in that regard. Versus if you’ve got a committee member who feels like they’re a real expert, then you’ve got to make sure you kind of honor that expertise. And more so, they’re going to be telling you what they want to see and what they expect a little bit more so than if they don’t really know the topic. And then they’re just looking to see, does it look like this was well researched? Does it look like the story makes sense? Do I understand what she’s teaching me here? And if I do and she’s doing a good job and if I don’t, I’ll tell her where I’m confused so that she can sometimes they won’t use language like that. Sometimes they’ll say, you got this wrong or this isn’t clear or something like that. Then you have to go through and deal with that. But but that’s ultimately what they’re doing, is they just want to understand the story you’re telling them and make sure it’s being laid out, obviously, the very strict way that academic writing requires.


Dr. Angela Pearson [00:19:06]

Yes, definitely, I did feel like I taught them about a new topic.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:19:10]

Yeah, so how did how did the defense go then? When when you got to the point where everything was done, you collected your data and made sense of it and everything. What was the defense process like for you?


Dr. Angela Pearson [00:19:23]

It was nerve wracking. All of the stories that you hear about, oh, you know, like you’re standing in front of a judge and the jury and so on and so forth, it did feel like that. But I made that situation. I made myself feel that way. They actually made me feel very comfortable. But I was a little bit more than that.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:19:41]

What do you mean by you made yourself feel that way?


Dr. Angela Pearson [00:19:44]

In my mind, I did some self taught some negative self talk based off of the stories I had heard about all you know, they’re going to eat you alive if you say this or if you don’t say that. So I went into it with that mindset, unfortunately, but I was able to bounce back and give a pretty good first round oral defense. And my second oral defense, of course, I realized in between the first and second practice makes perfect. But you have to be careful not to practice the wrong thing because you want to have perfect as well. So I did have a different demeanor going into that second round that I owned it and that I was going to show them what I was made of. And it went very well. Very good.

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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.