As a former Division 1 student athlete, I had trouble with identifying my next steps, so I understand how challenging that time and process can be. Before starting my graduate career, I had not really given much thought to pursuing a master’s degree, let alone a doctorate. I wish I had known that it was ok to take the necessary time to fully research and understand all of the PhD programs that were available to me. I did some research based on my understanding as a career counselor, but it wasn’t until a year or two into my PhD that I realized the program I had entered into, was not the right fit for me. Had my pre-doctoral research been more thorough, I would have started in my current program (Educational Leadership and Policy Studies.) Although this little detour has extended my time to completion, I learned a lot through the process and am happy for the experience and knowledge I have gained thus far in pursuing my doctorate.
As my research centers around identifying ways to best assist collegiate student athletes in their transition out of college sports; now that I have gone through this process myself, I know better how to guide other students, especially student athletes, through the process of pursing an advanced degree. I think my matriculation experience adds some fruitful wisdom to share with others like myself who are first generation African American undergraduate or graduate students.
My Mantra: “Life is a journey filled with lessons and blessings.”
Sherrina Lofton, PhD Candidate
Florida State University
Higher Education: Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
I really wish I knew that pursuing an advanced degree would expose your character and commitment! It has been a challenge, not because I’m unintelligent, not because I am incompetent… but because I felt as though I was indebted to everyone who came before me, and that load was a heavy one to carry. Being “the one” in the family can lead to imposter syndrome, unrealistic expectations and unnecessary stress. But this process has taught me more about myself than any other experience thus far.
Working a full time teaching position during the day and classes at night have taken a toll, but I have become intentional about, as Erykah Badu would say, “packing light”. I’ve learned to prioritize my expectations of myself over anyone else’s. I have included mental health checkpoints for myself to ensure I am well during demanding times, while also establishing boundaries and actually enjoying the journey to my end goal. I never want to be so focused on the finish line, that I do not celebrate those in between “wins” that occur during the journey. This has been a transformative experience, and I’m thankful for it all.
My Mantra: “I’m not saying I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.” -Tupac Shakur
Masters of Arts in Education Degree candidate, May 2018
What I wish I knew going into the master’s program for Public Health is such a long list. But the one thing that stands out to me is knowing how to handle course work because it was so much material that I needed to know and understand. The master’s program for Public Health was very hard, especially epidemiology. I say epidemiology because there’s a lot of research that you need to do in order for you to know the work.
Epidemiology was challenging because the many diseases that you have heard throughout the years is something that you will get to know and read about once you were in the subject. For instance, the Black Plague was one of the killers in the 1920’s and 1930’s due to the fact of contaminated water, dust, Etc but there were no vaccinations. After doing more research on particular diseases out here, I have grown to appreciate subject matter as it comes along and in this particular case, I truly appreciated the work epidemiologists do. Learning about them got me one step closer to my Masters Degree.
“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again” – Sojourner Truth
As a chemical engineer and polymer scientist, I was blessed to have an amazing graduate advisor who is also a black woman and has been extremely successful in her career. However, I was always afraid I would mess up or disappoint everyone who believed in me. I wish I knew that it was okay to not have all the answers and to be vulnerable with trusted mentors. Chances are they have had similar experiences and can offer great advice on how to move forward.
I also wish I knew that it is okay to say “no” or “not right now” to extra responsibility. As black women in the academy, we are often called upon to do more because we represent gender and racial minority groups. Looking back, saying no to unnecessary responsibility would have allowed me to put more energy into causes I am passionate about, and would have prevented some of the “burn outs” I experienced.
We have made so much progress and are knocking down racial, gender, and class barriers left and right! I’m so proud of and encouraged by all the brilliant black women I encounter in communities like Black Girls Guide to Grad School. I have hope that if we continue to connect with and support one another, there’s nothing we can’t do!
My Mantra: “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” – Anaïs Nin
Symone Alexander, PhD Candidate
NSF Graduate Research Fellow
In honor of Black History Month, Black Girls Guide To Grad School will be featuring amazing women in graduate school who continue to create history by just their very presence. They will be featured in a “What I wish I knew” Series. As a prelude to the amazing story and thoughts that are to come, I thought I would share mine:
As only the second black woman to enter my PhD program, I already felt the pressure to succeed and I also learned that mistakes were not a luxury I could have. I wish I knew that I could ask for help earlier and that others were willing to help me without judgement. I wish I knew how to speak up with the realization that asking a question does not mean you are incompetent. Asking questions are necessary and it is important to be assertive and to make sure that you understand every aspect. Your education and your growth is the most important.
I wish I knew that being alone did not always mean that you had to be lonely. There are so many of us, women of color, who are the only ones or only a few. If we truly came together and supported each other, do you know how great our community could be? What an impact that would be.
My mantra: “All great achievements require time” – Maya Angelou
Sometimes for reasons unknown to us, we lose our motivation to continue the clock work grind that we have been doing day in and day out. When was the moment I realized I did not want to go into the lab or write another paper? I asked myself this question so many times, and there is going to be a time (if you have not already done so) that you ask yourself the same thing. All this means, is that you are human and some days are going to be harder to find the meaning of it all; more than the other days. Most times, we choose our research topics and questions based on key moments that take place in our lives or we form them based on our passion or a derivative of our passions. This does not mean that in some instances we would not rather learn or discover something else, even if just for a brief moment. When you eat, breathe and sleep the same topic, an underlying feeling of frustration develops, especially when it is not always smooth sailing. So how do we step back and regroup in order to prevent our frustration from evolving to disdain?
The first thing to ask yourself is why did you sign up for this program? At some point, there was a belief that the world can be changed by a novel idea or expanded knowledge. Something someone missed before that you have now uncovered. If that reason is not groundbreaking enough for you then think about the opportunity you have. You are in the minority. More clearly, you are in the very small percentage of folks who have taken the step to get an advanced degree.
Let’s be clear, yes you are doing this for yourself, but you are also doing this for the young black girl who has been observing your journey. You may not know who she is and she may be the most unlikely person you had in mind. But because of your courage, she is now hoping to become you when she grows up.
Never forget about your tribe your tribe will keep you going so let them. When you misstep, they are there to encourage and let you know that you got this. When you succeed in even the small things, they will be there to say they told you that you were magic! Just by their presence, you are going to realize, these people have been on the journey with you and you owe it to them to see it through.
Lastly, it may sound cliché and many of us are afraid to admit it. But God can do anything, and he will do it! I have a praying family and I am not ashamed to say that they prayed for me every single day. In the same breath the question of why am I feeling this way is asked, self-reflect and ask for the guidance and motivation that is needed. Ask for the extra push. It will be provided.