8 Useful Graduation Gifts for the (Almost) Ph.D. in Your Life

celebrate- hoorayIt’s spring semester ya’ll, and for me, that means graduation season is almost upon us. If you’re like me, “Omg,” “fml,” “I’m so behind,” etc. will be screams heard ’round the world (and certainly from me) as we draw closer and closer to defense dates and final submission deadlines for the graduate school.

As I think back on my life, I honestly cannot believe I’ve made it this far. I’m a Black woman who spent all of my Black girlhood with working-class parents, at public schools where 100% of students received free and reduced lunch lunches, and in neighborhoods where gang violence and murder were the norms. And yet, somehow (we know how but for the sake of dramatics rock with me), here I am, several years and a slightly safer neighborhood later, writing my dissertation.

I’m currently analyzing, recoding, and collapsing codes so I also want to stab my eyeballs out. But every few minutes, I pause and begin to think about graduation because the idea that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel alone is what is sustaining me. Tonight, one of my former grads and friend, Nacho, agreed to look over some of my writing. Nacho, like so many other people, has been instrumental in my continuing forward on this dissertation. And as Nacho agreed to help, I started to think about ways that others could use their talent and gifts as a graduation gift– things that would be useful and helpful for the Ph.D. candidate in your life like they’d be useful in mine. This led me to compile a list of eight things I’d love–with the number eight as my go to because eight years is the average time to degree completion for a Ph.D. student.

SO, here goes– 8 useful gifts for the Ph.D. (or Ed.D. or M.A. etc.) in your life:

  1. Professional editing: If you are great at writing (hey Nacho), consider gifting your time and talent. If not, pay for X amount of hours or pages for editing for a friend who is pressing toward graduation. Gift it early, prior to final deadlines,  so that students can use it before graduation. Trust me, it would help a lot.
  2. Gift Cards: Every Ph.D. student finishing up is going to want to sit and do NOTHING for a few weeks after they’re done. You can help them with this by sending them grocery store, restaurant, airline, etc. gift cards that they can redeem to help them relax a little more.
  3. Spa Certificates: Grad school is sckressful. The amount of tension we carry in our bodies from the stress of the process is always noticeable. A trip to the spa to help recalibrate could make a world of difference.
  4. Dissertation Binding/ Booking: When I finish, I’ll be taking a well earned break from looking at my dissertation. However, it’d be cool to be able to hold a well-bound physical copy of this thing called hell dissertation I survived. Gifting services for binding a copy (or two) could be extra special for the grad in your life. Note: Some institutions have printing services available. Check with the institution your friend attends for more information.
  5. giphy- you look mighty fine and dapperRegalia: Okay, so I pulled out the big gun here. UGA’s regalia is so darn expensive that I’m going to have to take on a fourth job to purchase it. Grab some friends and go in together to gift the grad in your life the NICE, top of the line, regalia (which, at my school, is almost $1,000, but still not as much as the most expensive regalia available). This would def take a load off and make graduation prep less stressful. Also– everytime they wear it, they’ll think of you. (If everyone from #CiteASista gave me 1.00 I could afford mine, just saying.)
  6. Diploma Frame: Despite how much schools get you on the way in with fees (GRE/ Applications/ etc.) and throughout your time enrolled with all sorts of miscellaneous fees (special $400/semester institution fee at UGA, I see you!), it doesn’t let up on the way out. Not only is the regalia ridiculous, but so are the diploma frames. Degree frames allow your gift to be on display, surrounding the paper that represents an achievement (…and the blood, sweat, tears, and sleep deprived days and nights) that your friend worked super hard for.
  7. giphy- martin workout sceneGym/ Fitness/ Personal Trainer Memberships: Okay folks– this is NOT the time to tell someone “you’re getting fat.” *Staring at you Black family members.* However, the average graduate student gains much more than the Freshman 15  we’ve all come to associate with college. In my case? I’m staring at a 45-pound weight gain since I started my degree. The good news? The weight can come off. The bad news? It’s probably going to cost me more financially than the degree itself (eugh!). So, a gym or fitness membership, to a grad you know well enough not to offend, would make an amazing gift. Or maybe I’m speaking for myself– buy ME some personal training. Added bonus? Meal prep to get them through the end of the semester. #GiftGoals.
  8. Graduation Outfit Shopping: Okay, so some of these are way too practical. Perhaps you’re the fun friend/ aunt/ uncle/ etc. Then the number eight is for you. Take your grad shopping. For most of us, defense and graduation are big days. For me–my Ph.D. graduation day matters more than any potential wedding day I might have. This is it– the moment I’ve worked so tremendously hard for. So like most Black folks, an exorbitant amount of thought will go into getting this outfit ready. If you want to get the fun gift, go with your grad shopping and purchase part of the graduation outfit. Perhaps you could even volunteer (with a limit) to purchase an outfit for their graduation pictures. Either way, Black folks love to get dressed up and there’s no better moment to help your grad strut their stuff than this.Edi

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*Bonus*: Sanity. If you can find a way to gift it back, we’ll take it. H/T Chelsea Doub for the suggestion.

So that’s that. Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments with your suggestions.


Editors note: Edited to add a bonus message.

3* Reasons I Decreased My Social Media Usage

I love social media. 

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Okay, maybe not love; but, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and even Facebook have been, for as long as I can remember, ways for me to keep in touch with people from various stages of my life. Or, so I thought. Yet this summer when I completed an internship with a mentor and began to think about the things I wanted to accomplish before graduate school ends in May, something changed. My friend Qua’Aisa often colloquially refers to pre-graduation accomplishments as a “graduate school bucket list” and it has stuck with me ever since. I began to realize that I was spending a lot more time sharing and scrolling through my life and the lives of others than I was living intentionally amongst people with whom I wanted to create memories.

I often joke that I go to bed so late and wake up so early that I nearly pass myself in the hallway.

And while that’s true and I’ve been very productive for the last few years, I realize that productivity came at the expense of sleep and taking care of myself because I was using bedtime for aimless scrolling. Since summer began, I’ve been sleeping more, eating better, and working out exponentially more consistently. So what does that have to do with social media? My uptick in self-care is directly tied to my downtrend in social media scrollage (I’m a Ph.D. student, I can make up words if I want). I used to wake up at 5 or 6am to theoretically be productive and center myself only to realize an hour had passed and all I’d accomplished was failing to sleep and mindless scrolling. But the change in social media algorithms has gone on to make this increasingly visible because when I was mindlessly scrolling things started to look familiar. And then I realized: I was seeing the same. five-ish. posts. all. the. time.

So I said no more. 

No more aimless scrolling.

No more spending time in spaces that drained me emotionally.

No more being entangled on websites that would often lead to drama (ask any graduate student about groupme drama and they’ll tell you stories for days).

So what did I do? And how did I do it? I took the liberty of deciding to–

  • Remove myself from every GroupMe I was a part of and deleting* my GroupMe account.
  • Remove Facebook from my phone (I only posted there sparingly, anyway, after the Russia scandal).
  • Deleted the twitter app (but scheduled posts that align with my research agenda and identities).
  • Deleted the Instagram app.
  • Deleted the Snapchat app.

Typing that out somehow feels harder than actually doing it or having done it.

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My plan isn’t to completely run away from or stop using social media altogether. But it is to be more intentional about how much time I spend aimlessly scrolling and the messages I’m digesting and internalizing as a result of my social media usage. It’s also to allow myself a bit more room to enjoy sifting through my dissertation data and write up–no matter how messy and to finally complete some manuscripts I’ve been working on for over two yearsOkay, so maybe this isn’t simply three reasons I decreased my social media usage in a neat little bow. But I share my story to say it’s okay to decompress. And when people go on social media sabbaticals or decide to engage these platforms at arms lengths, we need not continuously question them about what’s wrong or what happened. In my case? I realized I spent much more time LIVING and enjoying my internship when I wasn’t worried about documenting every piece of it or seeing what everyone else was doing.

I’ll be back online for things that matter to me like #CiteASista chats, sharing my travels, amplifying important writings and research by Black women, and even acknowledging some of my dissertation milestones. But I won’t be online to engage spaces that drain me. I won’t be online to debate or argue points with people who are not interested in the actual exchange of information. And no, I won’t be online to see what else is going on in this government of mine and discussing it in an echo chamber.

Instead, I’ll be spending that time hosting Sunday brunches with friends and making Sunday dinner with my parents and sister. I’ll be writing up the stories of women who’ve entrusted me to shed light on the sometimes volatile field I seem to have committed myself to. I’ll be watching TV shows and movies that bring me joy like Mamma Mia, Grey’s Anatomy, and The Legends of Tomorrow.  I’ll be hiking the Seven Wonders of Georgia. I’ll be moving through multiple European countries to enjoy people, sites, sights, and foods I thought I’d never experience when I was younger (I’m not that old).

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I’ll be living my life on my own terms without the pressures I’d previously placed on myself to do social media. And I’ll do so without feeling like I am traipsing through life on an auto scroll. I write this because I find it amusing that the very things that have saved me and propelled me thus far (#CiteASista, #SisterPhD, #FirstGenDocs, etc.) are the very things I’m still engaging but have also led me to move back and take rests from for my own health and sanity. This is not a plea for people to self-reflect, a critique of others who share nearly every piece of their day online, nor is it a call to action… It’s simply a post by a woman who has helped create online communities explaining in those same places a why I decided to step back from the performativity social media requires. It’s my way of doing something not because something is wrong, but because I needed to care for me before something became wrong.

Cheers to personal growth and self-reflection after unplugging.

Lessons Learned: Reflections on Graduate School 10 Years Later

Just before I began the first semester of my graduate program, I nervously drafted an email to my advisor. To my surprise, I had been accepted into a program that would help me fulfill my goal of a rewarding career in health education. But part of me thought maybe the selection committee had made a huge mistake. Sure, I had enough experience, foresight, and passion to know I wanted to be in the program. I had the test scores and recommendations to get into the program. But for some reason, there was a small part of me that thought maybe they accidentally accepted me into the program and would rescind the offer any day. I was dealing with a major case of imposter syndrome before I ever knew it had a name. So, I emailed my advisor partly to be sure that my acceptance letter was not going to be rescinded and partly to get to know the person who would guide me through the process in a way that led to my successful completion of the program, assuming they had accepted me on purpose.

 

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During that first meeting with my advisor, he lauded the strength of my application package, specifically my references and my potential as demonstrated in my thoughtfully chosen work experiences. He mentioned the high ratings across the board but particularly in the area of ’emotional intelligence’, which at the time I thought was an odd thing to rate an applicant on.  He said that in a graduate program, you move from consuming knowledge to applying and contributing to the body of knowledge. He also mentioned that I had applied for entry into a selective program at a rigorous research university where the selection committee wouldn’t have accepted anyone who they weren’t absolutely sure could finish. I exhaled. It wasn’t a mistake after all. I left that meeting feeling supported by my advisor, curious about how I would develop in order to be prepared for graduation, and absolutely determined that I would indeed graduate. And I reflect on the lessons I’ve learned in the 10 years since graduation, the importance of those things, support, curiosity, and determination, stick out to me.  Here are a few things I’ve learned:

 

Be determined to build a life, not just make a living. 

Capitalism will try to convince you that making money is the most important thing. Academia will try to tell you that teaching and publishing are the most important things. Working in a helping profession will have you convinced that changing the world and helping others is the most important things. But what I learned in graduate school is that building a life you love is more important than all those other things. In fact, building a life you love, filled with people who add value to your life will motivate and inspire you to do everything else.

 

It took me an extra year to complete my Master’s because I needed to work while attending school. At the time, I was very conflicted about that. I wanted to focus on school so I could move on. But at some point, it dawned on me that life as a student is unique and fleeting and I was well advised to focus more on maximizing the opportunity, not rushing through it. I didn’t want to be in school a day longer than necessary. But the extra year allowed me time to improve my employability by gaining invaluable part-time, volunteer, and unpaid work doing exactly what people paid me to do when did graduate. I also had time to focus build some amazing and professional relationships that have been invaluable to my career and some absolutely priceless friendships that have been invaluable in my life.  

 

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Be willing to seek and receive support.

Listen, asking for help, of any kind, is tough. I know. There was a time when my pride wouldn’t let me do it.  But, there is something about being committed to reaching a goal you’re not sure you can reach that will force you to either get some help or fail.  You can do what you want. Whatever you want. But you can’t do it alone. This is true in graduate school and it’s true in life.

 

I’m not a numbers person. If it’s not about counting money, I leave the numbers to other people. Like many women, I was steered away from math at a young age and since I never liked it anyway, I was fine with that.  But I loved all manner of human and behavioral sciences, which eventually requires some competence of numbers.  I knew I’d have to take some statistics courses in graduate school so I got my mind right and took the first one during my second semester.  I figured I should get the most difficult subject done and over with so I could quickly move on to more interesting things.  This turned out to be the right strategy for me because I dropped out of the course the first time.  It would take a second attempt at the subject (during which dropped out a second time) before I set aside my ego and sought out the support I knew I needed.  On my third attempt, and armed with an in-person tutor and every single book my university’s library had on statistics, I completed the course with a high “B”. Of all the grades I’ve ever earned, this was the one I was most proud of, partially because I had to work so hard at it and get a ton of support to get it done.

 

Similarly, the work experience I have been most proud of was not the one where I received the most accolades or the most money. It was developing a workplace wellness program from scratch and I was proud of the work because it required me to rally the support of dozens of people across several departments in county government.  It required me to ask people for money, time, and commitment and it required me to be more committed to the goal than I was to my own ego and my own comfort, lessons I learned in graduate school. 

 

Stay curious.

One of the beautiful things about attending a research university was the ability to engage in inquiry at every level, in every class, about any topic. I found spaces to safely inquire about why African-American women in the south often have disproportionately poor health outcomes and how to assess the value of a healthcare system where such inequalities exist. I had space to ask questions about what can be done to change such a system. I took deep dives into the reasons it so challenging to change human behavior, even in the face overwhelming evidence of that we ‘should’ do. Being able to ask these questions guided me toward doing work that helps answer them.

 

Professionally, I attribute much of my career success to being curious. Asking ‘how does this work’ or ‘why are things that way’ allows me to dig below the surface to a deeper understanding of the world around me. Asking similar questions of the people I come in contact with not only builds rapport, but it also helps me to continuously develop that emotional intelligence I once thought was non-essential for someone applying for entry into a graduate program.  Now, 10 years later, I understand its value more than ever and I’m grateful for a graduate school experience that allowed me to practice being curious in a way that got me comfortable asking questions and even more comfortable not having all the answers.

 

I’ve sometimes wondered, especially as I consider applying to a doctoral program, if the years I spent in graduate school were worth it. It didn’t provide me with a one-way ticket up the career ladder.  Though I have progressively moved into more challenge roles, made more money, and had a larger impact over the years, none of it was without many, many challenges. But as I reflect, what I know for sure is that the journey to achieving any big goal is not really about the goal.  It’s about the person you become on the way to achieving it.  And for that reason, it was absolutely worth it.

 

I could go on and on about what I learned about myself and the world while enrolled in school.  But, I’d much prefer to hear about the lessons you gathered along the way.  Type them in the comments below.

Beyoncé Level Presentations

Finals are around the corner and presentations are happening right now. If you’re like me, you probably have four finals, a report due for work, five presentations, and a bunch of other deadlines that sneak up on you after Spring Break. Have no fear; there is a way to Beyoncé through your presentations. (For advice on how to attack your finals, check out the Finals Attack plan.) Here are seven tips for Sasha Fierce presentations:

1) Be Entertaining

You don’t have to put on a concert because having an entertaining and captivating presentation does not require glitz and glam. Tell a story that relates to your topic. If you do not have a story that is relevant to your presentation, use a video clip from YouTube to set the stage for your presentation. You could also use Prezi, gifs, or memes to add excitement to your presentation.

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2) Command the room

It is no secret that everybody is working on finals or something else during class. As a presenter, it is your job to hold everyone’s attention during your presentation.

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3) Select a format that works for you

We often feel pressure to make a PowerPoint or a Prezi to present information, but those platforms are not the only ways to present information. My best presentations have lacked visuals and forced the audience to pay attention to me. You should consider the information you are presenting and select the best aid that will assist your delivery.

4) Don’t Read

Your audience does not want to watch you read your presentation notes. It is your presentation. You have researched the topic, and you have to be confident that you know it well.

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5) Do not overload visuals with information

Too much information in visuals will ruin your presentation. Information overload is a real thing. If you give someone too much to take in at one time, they will not listen or take in what is most important to the presentation.

6) Get to the point

Your audience will lose focus if you go on too many tangents. Compose a list of talking points to keep you on track, both you and your audience will appreciate it. Sometimes it helps to create an outline of what you are going to talk about. It can help to break down the specific points and mention the main things you what to hit. At the end of your presentation make sure to reiterate what is most important that you want your audience to take away.

7) Leave space for questions

Do not give your audience all of the information you have on your paper or project. You want the audience to ask questions. Plus it makes you think through some parts of your paper or project that you are struggling with.

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8) Move around the room

It will help ease your nerves and assist you in commanding the room.

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9) Remember you’re a FLAWLESS, and you can do anything!

 

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10) Don’t forget to smile and breathe.

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In Service to Sisterhood and Scholarship (#BlackGradWomenSC)

This past March, Dr. Marvette Lacy and I hosted this year’s Black graduate women and alumnae photo sista circle (#BlackGradWomenSC) at our alma mater, the University of Georgia- a historically, predominantly white institution. The response from sista-scholars to the 2017 Black Graduate Women’s photo experience encouraged us to (re)turn to the same space and (re)claim the joy, support, and sisterhood that we co-created the year prior with sista-scholars.

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Marvette and I conceptualized and embraced this work as a Womanist project designed to create and foster a space and experience dedicated to  fellowship, sisterhood, and community building among Black graduate women and graduate alumnae (read: Black women who had graduated from graduate and professional programs at UGA).  The goals remained the same: expand the networks within communities of Black women in graduate and professional studies at the university, remind sista-scholars that they are not alone on that campus because they are part of a larger network of sista-scholars, and (re)claim space on a campus that denied/denies us space as African ascendant people.

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The seventeen of us, as well as two baby sista-scholars (read: daughters of two sista-scholars) began the experience with a few words to set the intentions for the space and experience at the Holmes Hunter Building named for Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Hamilton Holmes, the university’s first accepted Black students. From there, we moved to several locations on North Campus, beat out the rain that tried to steal our magic (but only refreshed our coils and curls), and saw this thang through.

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As alumnae, Marvette and I were extra excited because this was a reunion with some of our sista-scholar friends still in study there, as well as a welcoming of new(er) sista-scholars who we only knew because they signed up for the event. The hugs, loving embraces, hand holding, and varied facial expressions felt so familiar, even among sista-scholars who were knew to us. We were blessed by the individual and collective presence of each sista-scholar that day.

Marvette and I want to thank each graduate and alumnae sista-scholar for sharing time and space with us. Based on verbal and written feedback from sista-scholars, the feelings of joy, wonder, familiarity, and community were mutual. In our research with Black women in higher education, sista circle methodology, and this photo experience, we are reminded that our commitment(s) to community and one another requires our attention and dedication to survive and thrive.

Thanks, Honors, and Acknowledgments

We want to thank the photographer, Tiffany R. Smith, for her creativity, craft, and fellowship.

We honor Mary Frances Early, a graduate student who made history as the first Black graduate of the University of Georgia in 1962, just a year after Hunter and Holmes’ admittance to the institution.

We honor the work(s) of Black women, past and present, who have made/are making our way possible.

We would like to acknowledge that the land we gathered on during the photo experience in Georgia is home to Native peoples, including the Creek, Chickasaw, and Cherokee. Sista-scholars honor and respect the rich and diverse traditions and beliefs of Indigenous peoples connected to the land that greeted us as we gathered together for this experience. (Adapted from ACPA- College Student Educators International)

Memories from the #BlackGradWomenSC

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“I love everything about Black sisterhood. For me, there is something spiritual about seeing us work, push through obstacles and win.” Participating Sista-Scholar

 

IMG_8435“Taking pictures with my peers to celebrate our beauty and strength as black women would be a positive experience.” Participating Sista-Scholar

 

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“It will be empowering to be around so many accomplished Black Women.” Participating Sista-Scholar

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“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

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“But it’s in the speaking that we find our voices.” Dr. Cynthia Dillard

 

 

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“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” Shirley Chisholm

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“That’s the thing about knowing exactly who the fuck you are. No matter what anyone has to say, you can always draw power from that truth. You can’t be tripped up. A rose is a rose is a rose.” Munroe Bergdorf

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“I’m convinced that we Black women possess a special indestructible strength that allows us to not only get down, but to get up, to get through, and to get over.” Janet Jackson

 

 

“I say ‘magic’ because it’s something that people don’t always understand. Sometimes our accomplishments might seem to come out of thin air, because a lot of times, the only people supporting us are other black women.” CaShawn Thompson

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Departing Intentions

May we give light so that people will find the way (Ella Baker). May we give up the things that weigh us down so that we can fly. May we create the experiences and content that we wish to engage when we recognize its absence (Toni Morrison). May we be deliberate and afraid of nothing (Audre Lorde).

In service to sisterhood and scholarship,

Sista-Scholars Joan Collier, PhD and Marvette Lacy, PhD | Co-Creators and Sponsors

 

Joan Collier, PhD, is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio in San Antonio, TX. 

Marvette Lacy, PhD, is the Director of the Women’s Center at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee in Milwaukee, WI. 

When Life Happens…

At the start of my doctoral journey, one of my professors had a real, raw, and relevant conversation with my cohort. It started with her simply saying “Life Happens” and she paused, looked at us and repeated, “Life Happens”.  She talked about her stories of seeing divorces, deaths, sickness, job shifts, etc. happening to students on this journey and she finished it by saying “how you handle it and what you decide to do with it up to you”.  We heard her but I’m not sure we were truly listening; that is until once of our “family” (cohort) members told us that her mother passed unexpectedly.

What I’m about to post couldn’t be made up if I tried but this is what happened to my “family”.

At the start of our second year our first “family” member lost her mom and after the first year of losing so many cohort members, we had grew close. We thought about her and if she would push through or step away since a few weeks went by and we didn’t see her. Finally, she came in and we had cards and flowers for her and welcomed hugs.  When this happened a lot of us thought how would we push through. Then another “family” member lost his father and his mother within months of each other. Again support was ready for him if he came back, and you know what? He did. Then I got a call that my father was sick and they were there and celebrated when he beat it.  But then my father got hit again and this time it was terminal, I had no clue how I would go through the year holding the weight of losing my father and focus on school. My parents are retired teachers so they were very clear that my focus should be on my education and they had each other, so I stayed and traveled home often on the weekends. When my father passed I lost motivation because I was brave for a year and now I was deflated. I put on a good face and smiled and pushed through but when I went home I was lonely, sad, and I felt like my heart got ripped out of my chest. So life happened… to all of us so how did we handle it?

  1. As a cohort, we grew close and called ourselves “The Family” and that’s what we were. When life happened we were there for each other whether it was a phone call, text, cards, flowers, or even office visits. Having that sense of family reminded us that what we did was greater than a moment in “life”.

 

  1. Communicating with professors was key to ensure they understood what was going on and to make sure you were able to make updates missed. At my institution, you can contact the division of student affairs and they can also send a notice out to the professors.

 

  1. Remembering why you started has a different meaning when life happens because you truly question it. For me I didn’t want to finish because of the thought of not having my Daddy there and how bittersweet it will be, I wasn’t ready to face it so I avoided writing. What snapped me back is I found my Daddy’s bucket list and seeing me get my doctorate was on there.
  2. Seek counseling if needed and if your institution offers sessions (some have the first few sessions free) take advantage of it. For me, I subscribed to a 365 daily affirmations that really helped me through my first year dealing with my Daddy not being there and provided me with journaling that in turn became an awesome tribute to his life and so much more.

Again life happens and although it may not look like our story, it will show up in some way. If it’s happened to you on this Doctoral Journey or period, leave a comment below with advice on how to persist through.

“I Expect You to do Well”: Diary of a High-Achieving Black Girl

After writing extensively for three weeks, waiting off and on for written results for another three weeks, and then anxiously counting down the days until the oral defense of my preliminary exams…it happened. I was FINALLY a Doctoral Candidate! It was by far the happiest moment that I have experienced since getting the call with my acceptance into my PhD program two years ago.

The process was generally nerve-wrecking and anxiety-producing, but I was determined to conquer my nerves and reach this next major milestone in my doctoral journey. I had been #ChasingCandidacy for what seemed like forever. I had set a strict schedule since January, accounting for 10 hour+ writing days, a full-time academic load, anxiety-induced heart palpitations with every submission to my committee, the mounting frustrations when I couldn’t get my words just right, and the day-to-day reminders to myself that this process wouldn’t last forever.

However, after standing in the hallway while my committee deliberated, I finally heard the words, “Congratulations, you PASSED!”. My advisor took pictures of me signing my official documentation for the graduate school, I thanked and hugged my committee, and then we took a group selfie in celebration. And I was over-the-moon. And grateful. And humbled. And relieved. And proud. Proud because I was exhausted and nervous and stressed and anxious…but I was finally a Doctoral Candidate! I persisted and endured and achieved; I could have lived in that moment forever.

Once I gathered my thoughts, I could only think of a few people whom I wanted to call and share my exciting news with, so I made my way down my contact list. I made FaceTime calls that weren’t answered, but I told myself that it was the middle of the day and adults were at work. Though disappointed, I continued calling those closest to me until I finally got an answer: “Good job! I expected you to do well”.

Just because you expect excellence from me, that doesn’t mean that I don’t work hard. I know that Queen Beyonce’ changed the game with, I woke up like this, but I worked hard for this. I am inherently brilliant, yes. I am more than capable, yes. AND I worked really, really, hard to accomplish this milestone.

As a high-achieving Black girl, I expect myself to do well. I hold myself to higher standards so that others don’t have to. And because of this, I have to work twice as hard to celebrate myself when something incredible happens. I have to intentionally and consciously remind myself that every accomplishment, whether big or small (to me), belongs to me and is worthy of celebration. The (my) truth is, when the world expects greatness from you, you have to work overtime to appreciate your struggle.

To all those who know and love #highachieving Black girls and women, be mindful of how you respond to our sharing of accomplishments with you. Stop qualifying your well-wishes with your (undue) expectations for our successes. Be proud. Be happy. Be enthusiastic. But please, don’t be dismissive. We EARNED this. Acknowledge that or don’t say anything at all.

Are you a high-achieving Black woman with a similar story? I’d love to chat with you in the comments!

Unleashing your Inner Child to Master Graduate School

Last week, a few articles discussing the importance of being more child-like regarding professional life were highlighted in my blog subscription emails. This post will focus on the “Adulting is Killing your Vibe–Master these Toddler Moves Stat”  from Shine and “8 Reasons Thinking Like a Child Will Make You Happier” from Mental Floss stood out most. Both blog posts provide tips detailing the importance of going back to your child instincts in your adult life. I found both articles inspiring and decided to try being more like 5-year old Jessica, particularly in regards my graduate career.

I reviewed recommendations in the blog posts and selected the following:

  • Be unapologetically carefree (8 Reasons Tip 1& Shine Tip 3),
  • Wander more (8 Reasons Tip 2),
  • Be impulsive (Adulting is Killing your Vibe tip 4),
  • Be more decisive (8 Reasons Tip 7), and
  • Look for new experiences (8 Reasons Tip 8).

I completed this challenge for almost two weeks and here is what happened.


I became more adventurous and carefree. This change was a combination of tips one, two, seven and eight from Mental Floss and tip three from Shine. In an attempt to reduce my concern for other’s opinions, I worked on 8 Reasons Thinking Like a Child Will Make You Happier tip 1 (Stop caring what people think of you) and tip 3 (be your carefree self) from Adulting is Killing your Vibe. My concern for other people’s opinions of me is already pretty low in my personal life; however, I do worry about my professional brand when committing to tasks. I feel like my name is on the line and any wrong move could tarnish my reputation. So, I gave it a try. Applying this attitude to my graduate career reduced my stress and it was unexpectedly rewarding. I was still productive but my focus shifted from worrying about how projects, reports and my presentation could influence my professional future to being happy with completing tasks.

8 Reasons Thinking Like a Child Will Make You Happier also discusses the importance of being decisive (tip 7) and tip 4 in Adulting is Killing your Vibe recommends that you take more impulsive chances and see where it takes you. Typically, I am indecisive. I take my time making decisions about invitations because I consider everything else I have going, which usually results in me not doing what I want to do because I prioritize other things. Following the guidance of this recommendations increased my network and community engagement. I noticed a spike in my social activity. I started saying yes to more invitations for networking opportunities and creating some. Forcing myself to say yes to more social opportunities was probably the best part of this experiment. My network has increased, and more people are helping with my job search. I made new high profile contacts in various organizations, which have resulted in new unique opportunities.

Basically, I stopped boxing myself in. This meant speaking with my supervisor about working from home, coffee shops, parks or other places I felt inspired to work. These subtle changes in workspace resulted in unplanned creativity with projects and reports. It also helped me think outside of my office and our network for partnerships and how my colleagues and I interact with the community professionally.

Overall, being more kid-like in my professional and academic life has yielded excellent results. I suggest that you take time to read the articles and select the recommendations that are relevant to your graduate school career. If you try these suggestions, leave comments about what worked and did not work for you.

Not you too, sis?: Taking Advantage of Fellow #BlackGirlMagic

As a co-founder of #CiteASista and one of five founding members of #SisterPhD I am no stranger to spending a lot of my time working towards (and on) supporting Black women.

My research is about Black women.

My life’s work is on centering and supporting Black women.

I work, every day, so fewer Black women have to suffer the ways that I have…

W.O.R.K.

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It’s in everything that I say about myself. And while so many of us have no idea who we are outside of work (and that’s another post entirely) for those of us who love the grind, need the hustle, and appreciate everything that comes with it, work is an integral part of who we are… But In watching last week’s Grey’s Anatomy episode and looking at just how much the Dr. Miranda Bailey’s and Maggie Pierce’s work, I realized I and many of my girlfriends do the same… Sometimes to a fault… And I’ve found it difficult to have real conversations about what it means when we take advantage of each other. Afterall, it’s easy to tell a classmate or coworker you dislike to stop messing around or that you’re #ReclaimingYourTime, it may not be the same for a friend, though and especially another Black woman as we try to coalesce and support each other in the name of sisterhood.

 But what about times we need to?

The other day,  a friend and I vented to one another about our frustrations with co-writing, working, and doing projects with other Black women because it was starting to feel like people were taking advantage of our labor and work. I was crushed when a friend and sister of mine thought it okay to “let me work my magic” on a joint project as if the skills I’d be employing at that moment weren’t things I had to learn. I texted her back, “additional labor, sis” as a means of pointing this out. And while this particular friend was receptive and I was able to push her to see she could do more of the heavy lifting WITH me, some friends simply are not as amenable.

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So what do we do when we feel like fellow Black women are asking us to join forces on school and work projects only for them to slack off every time? What does it mean to trade being bamboozled and used for your knowledge by non-Black women, for Black women who do the same and offer little in return? eh… QTNA, amirite? Let me admit right now that I don’t have all the answers to these questions and certainly not any definitive ones. When I tweeted to ask about how you tell friends you feel you’re being taken advantaged of, most people said something along the lines of address it directly. But not everyone, friend or not, can take this kind of feedback.

I will spend my last breath, dollar, and give the clothing off my back for my fellow Black women. Period. Full stop. End of story.

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But I also want us to be able to hold each other accountable and to have difficult conversations so that we can become better, stronger, and more prosperous friends for having done so. And while I won’t pretend to have all the answers, I want to be a part of the solutions. I want my friends to call me in, love on me hard, and help me be better even if I am initially combative or resistive to it because while my brain may not want to hear it, my heart will know I need to feel it.

So, here are three ways we can start to protect our Black Girl Magic together:

1. Name It/ Point it Out

Although we often have a sixth sense and can say pretty much anything without talking to each other in meetings when ridiculousness is at play, this is not always the case within our own friendships. Sometimes we have to name and make plain the fact that we are feeling taken advantage of to our sisters– this means creating space for one another to talk it out in meaningful ways. Taking a moment to name it can prevent any issues with holding one another accountable for things we do not realize we’re doing and enable us to move forward in manners productive for everyone involved.

2. Set Boundaries

Sometimes, sistas need to know what you can and can’t do. I despise group work because I always end up doing most of the work. These days, I simply do not have the time to control every single detail imaginable for a smaller project. By setting boundaries, we can make clear our expectations for engagement before we get to a point of having to have the difficult conversation, and be sure the collaboration we’re envisioning is one that can take place, to begin with.

3. Set a plan for Reevaluation

If you’ve done one and two but still find yourself struggling, you may need to reevaluate what you have in place. Letting those close to us/ we work closest with know that there have been shifts in our priorities and that we need to adjust can help lessen the tension and ultimately the load. By reevaluating our priorities, we can choose to move forward or stop the things we are doing. Not every project has to have us (control freaks/ overachievers) at the helm. Sometimes we have to let go of control and trust that others will see things through. Besides, if it all falls apart because of someone else, that’s on THEM– not you.

Protect your energies, time, and space at all cost– even if this means having to sit another sister down. It’s okay to say no and hold one another accountable– it’s not okay to make someone feel as though people are taking advantage of them.

What do you all think? What ideas and plans do you have for holding yourself and your sista friends accountable? What strategies might you suggest I employ? Sound off in the comments and let us know what you think!

A Cautionary Tale *With Advice!*for Doctoral Students

“I’ve been robbed!” and then the tears fell.

“My entire Dissertation is on there what do I do?!? Somebody help me!” more tears fell.

This happened to somebody I knew who had their laptop stolen and had planned to graduate in less than 12 weeks. The look of distraught on their face shook me to the core and made me think, what if that was me? How would I handle this situation? Is there anyway to prevent having the feeling they had? 

 

I decided to reach out to Doctoral students who recently graduated this past year and asked them for advice for those of us who are navigating the college experience and here’s what they said:

“Don’t do what I did; please get an external hard drive and keep extra copies of your work. I heard people say get on but I figured why would I waste my money? That is until I lost my ENTIRE dissertation and didn’t back up any of my information. My heart sank when it happened and the only saving grace that I had is that I had turned in my chapters to my chair however that was before all the edits. I had to rewrite ALL the edits and remember what articles I pulled and other relatable things that I saved to my desktop that are now gone.”

“I celebrated the little things. If I made it through a semester, or if I added a paragraph to my chapter I celebrated it! Sometimes you can get so busy in the hustle and bustle of classes and writing that you forget to pause and celebrate the little things. This helped me refocus and motivated me to move forward in this program.”

“Don’t compare yourself to everyone else.  I always felt I wasn’t good enough and I moved at a much slower pace than everyone else but you know what, I graduated just like everyone else.”

“I had a hard time focusing so a friend told me to try using the pomodoro method (google tomato timer) and you know what it helped me focus. This method had a series of times where you focus on your work and you take short and long breaks along the way. Knowing I had a break coming kept me for drifting into my social media and staying there. Once I got used to this method I then shifted to setting a plan where I wrote down my goals for each session and checked off each time I completed it. I saved those sheets and I was in awe at how much I completed especially at times when I felt like I didn’t do anything.”

“Understand that your chair/committee will be your colleagues one day. They play a pivotal role in your doctoral journey and beyond: chose wisely.”

“Don’t take the feedback from your work personal, remember their goal is to get you to the finish line. Writing at the doctoral level is different and you often feel that you’re over citing at times but you’re not. Keep the APA format book near and know that in time you will be fluent in APA.”

This by no means is a comprehensive post on advice for Doctoral Students so we would like to hear from you.  Post in the comments below and let us know what advice have you received? What about those of you working… How does advice about a dissertation project mirror your experiences in the office setting. Let us know!