When Claudia von Zweck looks back on the time she spent earning her doctorate in Rehabilitation Science, she is amazed at how quickly it passed.
It's a sentiment that most people express when they learn that von Zweck completed her Ph.D. in just three years, instead of the usual four or five.
She had to work fast, since she completed the degree while working as Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists in Ottawa. "It worked out perfectly," she says. "I was able to come down once a week to do the coursework. The coursework went quickly and then the thesis work went quickly too."
Part of the reason von Zweck was able to work so quickly was that she was enjoying the experience. "It was an opportunity to do something for myself," she says. "It gave me a chance to open my mind and learn things. It was such a concentrated time and sometimes it felt indulgent. I didn't need it. It was something I was doing for myself."
After being away from academic life for so long, von Zweck found the experience challenging, but surprisingly relaxing. "It felt good to have someone directing me and providing me with interesting lectures," she says. "When you're in the workplace, you're so self-directed. This was a luxury."
While the experience may have felt indulgent, von Zweck made sure that it stayed relevant to her work life. "I had a contributor agreement with the federal government," she explains, "and I was able to piggyback the research with my work for the association."
Von Zweck's research revolved around integrating newly-immigrated workers into the occupational therapy field. She conducted an environmental scan to determine the issues facing occupational therapists who wanted to work in Canada.
"For me, it was very important to do something meaningful, because you invest a lot of time," she says. "Learning for the sake of learning is important, but it's also important for me to contribute to the knowledge base. It was fun having the opportunity to refresh my knowledge and then to apply it in a way that was relevant to my own work."
After publishing her thesis, von Zweck also published a report that was distributed to governments and advocacy groups across Canada, many of whom are using her findings as the basis for additional research.
They aren't the only ones. Von Zweck continues to work on issues she identified in her thesis. Her work today includes development of a web portal for people interested in coming to Canada to work as occupational therapists.
That work, as well as the work of others who are building on her findings, leaves von Zweck feeling as if her time at Queen's was a valuable investment. "The impact of my research was very real because there were lots of issues we can act upon," she says. "The big impact will be if it becomes easier to work in Canada, but that remains to be seen. Hopefully we'll find out soon."