Senior-level professionals from various sectors who are motivated to create change within their organization can benefit from New York University’s (NYU) online Doctorate in Education (EdD) in Leadership and Innovation. Open to experienced leaders both in and out of academia—those in government, nonprofits, philanthropy, education technology, and the private sector are welcome—the EdD program stresses hands-on learning in real-world scenarios to develop advanced leadership skills.

The admissions process is competitive. Beyond submitting standard application materials— letters of recommendation, transcripts, and resumes—prospective students must propose a Problem of Practice (POP). Your 750–1,000-word POP application essay is crucial, as it creates a framework for your course of study for the duration of the EdD program. This article explains what a POP is, how to identify one, and how it plays a central role in the program. 

What is a Problem of Practice? 

The POP is the cornerstone of the NYU EdD degree, replacing a traditional dissertation. You should base your POP on an idea that can make a lasting difference in your current organization. 

POP examples in different fields include:

  • Education K-12: How do I create a culture that supports teacher learning and growth in my district?
  • Higher Ed: How may we use technology to coordinate student services effectively and affordably?
  • Corporate/Private: What is the best delivery method for educating, retraining, and/or credentialing talent within my company?

Follow the steps below to shape your POP

Step 1: Identify a Problem of Practice

To identify a suitable POP, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Why does this problem matter to you, your organization, the people you serve, or the larger field? 
  • How do you anticipate a solution to this challenge would impact your organization? 
  • How will you measure success? Consider what would be testable one year into your EdD studies and what metrics you will have after two years. Use the SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-based) goal strategy to set realistic goals.
  • What knowledge or experience will you gain from the NYU EdD program that will help you execute your POP?

Step 2: Contextualize the POP Within Your Organization

To ensure you fully understand the problem and what would be required to solve it, contextualize it within your organization. To do this, ask the following questions: 

  • What makes this a problem for my organization? What is the level of impact? Does it hinder key performance indicators? 
  • What systems have previously prevented this problem from being solved, and what would need to change to address it now?

Your POP should be specific; thinking too broadly can result in unattainable or impossible-to-measure objectives. However, you should also consider the wider impact of your innovations. 

Step 3: Establish Your Authority and Confirm Access to Necessary Support

Your chosen POP should relate to a familiar topic related to your day-to-day work. The application asks you to demonstrate that you are uniquely positioned to address the problem by obtaining a reference from a senior-level executive in your organization. This reference should speak to your influence, ability, and support from the organization to address the POP.

During this phase, also consider the potential organizational support and resources you will need to bring the project to fruition. This could include input from fellow leaders, thought partners, or external experts. It might also require access to data, strategic plan documentation, and other potentially confidential or proprietary information. Be sure to describe the resources available to you in your POP.

How Are Problems of Practice Assessed?

The POP included in your application is just a starting point. It will evolve throughout the program as you apply the knowledge gained through the curriculum and perspectives shared by expert faculty and peers.

The final POP product is a written document that includes different components, such as:

  • Research question
  • Organizational improvement plan
  • Bibliography
  • Results from an action research project
  • Metrics and indicators of success

Implement Your Innovation, Solidify Your Thought Leadership

NYU online EdD students work on their POP throughout the program, examining the problem through an academic lens and mapping approaches to confront it. Students produce strategies for  innovation or improvement and build project plans for further impact. Leveraging guidance from faculty, cross-disciplinary research, other cohort members, and support from industry experts, students may implement solutions to their POP during the program. However, most students implement these solutions after graduation.

To learn more about the program and the POP, contact an enrollment advisor or attend an alumni-led information session to jumpstart your application.