Alumna Profile: Dr. Lisa Smith

What began as the original intention of pursuing a doctorate in Counseling Psychology gave way to a fateful meeting with current Graduate School of Education (GSE) Dean Richard De Lisi who inspired a change in perspective and a different academic focus. Dr. Lisa F. Smith GSE ‘89, ‘93 looks back on that moment as a turning point in her education; one that sparked the beginning of a fulfilling career that would soon take her on the adventure of a lifetime.

Shortly before receiving her Ed.M. in Counseling Psychology, “Richard De Lisi called me aside, pointed out that I was far better at telling people what to do than helping them work it out for themselves… and that I might want to consider another path!” Calling it “the best advice that I could have received,” Dr. Smith pursued her Ed.D. in Educational Statistics and Measurement, went on to become the RA in the GSE Statistics Lab, completed some adjuncting, and never looked back. Now as Professor of Education and Dean of the College of Education at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, Dr. Smith is enormously proud to claim the GSE as her home and takes every opportunity to show GSE pride and school spirit across international borders.

Dr. Smith’s current role has her situated in the oldest university in New Zealand, founded in 1869. The University of Otago is one of the fifteen most beautiful campuses in the world according to Huffington Post UK. The College of Education is ranked number one in Education in New Zealand in the Performance Based Research Funding (PBRF) results, and in the top 100 for the 2013 Annual QS World University Rankings by Subject. As Dean, Dr. Smith is leading the college, teaching, continuing her research, and engaging in service.

As an academic under the UK system, Dr. Smith has the opportunity to wear her GSE academic regalia frequently, giving her an opportunity to tell others about her education at the GSE. She explains, “I tell them about how I received a top-notch education and was well-prepared to become an academic, and how I truly value the combination of classroom instruction, the encouragement to think critically, and the opportunities to participate in academic conferences and meetings that were part of my GSE education.”   

When referring to her accomplishments, Dr. Smith does not hesitate to share how proud she is of her daughter, but then provides some cultural input. In New Zealand, it is viewed as impolite to discuss one’s personal accomplishments, noting “we refer to those who engage in that behavior as ‘tall poppies’ and tall poppies are the ones who get their heads chopped off first!” However, at “the risk of being a tall poppy” Dr. Smith’s achievements include receiving two major awards and more than 200 citations for her dissertation The Effects of Motivation and Anxiety on Test Performance, and co-founding a peer-review APA journal, Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, which currently has the highest impact factor in that field.

Regarding the future, Dr. Smith plans to continue her work leading the College of Education as faculty are ready to “meet some exciting challenges including the possible introduction of requiring a postgraduate entry-level qualification for initial teacher education,” as well as continue teaching and conducting her research. Eventually, she plans to retire to her family’s small farmlet overlooking the South Pacific.

Her advice to doctoral students is highlighted in four key points:

1.     Choose a topic that you love. She emphasizes that “you’re going to want to toss your dissertation out the window at some point no matter what, but if you love it, you’ll regroup and keep at it.”

2.     Choosing a topic that is “do-able” meaning, “your dissertation isn’t your life’s work. It’s what will allow you to do your life’s work”

3.      Get involved in the academic community through volunteering for committees, networking with academics in your field, and participating in conferences.

4.      Network with fellow students from all different levels in the program to build a strong community of support.

What stood out to Dr. Smith during her education at the GSE was that “students were considered emerging professionals rather than simply students in a classroom.” The combination of professional opportunities and high expectations in the GSE provided what Dr. Smith recalls as “wonderful preparation for being successful in my position and has helped enormously in mentoring graduate students and new faculty.”

Clearly, Dr. Smith’s accomplishments are vast as she continues her duties as Dean and as a respected academic, but even across international borders, she is always ready to share with others how proud she is to be a part of the GSE community.