Another Milestone for Harris College: First Ph.D. Cohort Graduates

Four students with Dr. Debbie Rhea.

L-R: Austin Graybeal, Beth Rogers, Matt Dumican, Zoe Thijs and Debbie Rhea


Four students who have served as trailblazers for the innovative new Doctor of Philosophy in Health Sciences program in the Harris College of Nursing & Health Sciences successfully defended their dissertations and walked across the commencement stage in May to begin their careers as teacher-scholars.

“This is a major milestone for Harris College, which already contributes a large number of doctoral graduates to the university through the clinical doctorates offered through TCU Nursing and the School of Nurse Anesthesia,” said Dean Christopher Watts. “The new research-focused Ph.D. program is enabling Harris College to meet national and international needs for experts to teach, create new knowledge through research and mentor the next generation of professionals of healthcare-related disciplines.”

The Ph.D. in Health Sciences program was developed under the leadership of Debbie Rhea, Ph.D., who held the role of associate dean for research in Harris College for more than 14 years. The program is designed to prepare individuals for research and teaching careers in academia and industry. The interdisciplinary nature of the curriculum allows students to pursue an emphasis in one of the disciplines of Harris College, including Communication Sciences & Disorders, Kinesiology, Nursing, Nurse Anesthesia and Social Work. The innovative program allows doctoral students to create a flexible set of elective courses tied to core requirements, which allows some full-time students to complete all degree requirements within three years.

Emily Lund, Ph.D., current associate dean for research and Ph.D. program director, said the admissions team looks for students who would exhibit initiative to build a line of scholarship and enhance the scholarship of faculty within the college. The teacher-scholar focus of the program also provides mentored teaching experiences for every Ph.D. student so that they are prepared for future careers in academia. At the time of graduation, the first cohort of four students served as the primary instructor for at least three different undergraduate courses at TCU.

The four students – Austin Graybeal, Matt Dumican, Beth Rogers and Zoë Thijs – successfully defended their dissertation projects in late April.

Graybeal’s research focuses on the influence of body compositions and diets on appetite or, more simply, how we perceive ourselves to be hungry. Dumican’s work looks into the swallowing impairment caused by Parkinson’s disease and stroke. Rogers’ scholarship is centered on study of the reliability of nurses’ clinical judgments of patients’ condition in simulation labs. Finally, Thijs’ research is investigating the behavioral and cognitive reactions of speakers with Parkinson’s disease in situations where they are communicating with other individuals.

Lund expressed great gratitude for the entire Horned Frog community in reaching this point.

“This remarkable endeavor and its success are byproducts of the larger support from TCU,” she said.

Specifically, TCU’s Office of Graduate Studies facilitated access for students to conferences and the resources students need to conduct lines of research. The individual academic units within the college also provided needed supports for the Ph.D. students in the form of laboratory space, funding and mentorship.

“Our faculty, staff and I are full of pride for the initial cohort of Doctor of Philosophy in Health Sciences graduates,” Watts said. “The futures of the first four Ph.D. graduates are bright, and we are just as excited about the future of the entire Ph.D. in Health Sciences program.”