Category Archives: grad school

Thoughts Halfway Through The Semester (#PhDLife)

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I’m in an interdisciplinary social-justice oriented doctoral degree. I’m currently taking the first two of my core classes. Within the first few weeks of the semester, one of my classmates stated that he’s not comfortable talking about race in “divisive” ways. Last week, another one of my classmates complained mentioned the previous cohort (who was majority African American, btw) and how she felt like they brought personal experience into the classroom too much, as opposed to just sticking to talking about theory. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what they said or what she meant. But when foundational theory includes excerpts like this gem, how do you not bring yourself into the classroom dialogue?

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Kroeber, A. L. (2001). What anthropology is about? In P. A. Erickson, and L. D. Murphy (Eds.), Readings for a history of anthropological theory (pp. 141-154). Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press.

It seems to me that if in the course of learning the theories, one has to be faced with demeaning references to self and others from marginalized communities, yeah, people are probably going to engage critically with the theory in a way that reaffirms their humanity. I get it, we’re supposed to be dry and academic and intellectual. But that’s not realistic. It’s a critical perspectives degree program, people. Like it or not, the influences of those theorists are still present in the discipline, as I noted while listening to a (White) anthropologist talking about her experiences studying village people in Sri Lanka. Too, the point of getting a doctorate, as my professors keep reminding us, is to build the theories and knowledge practices of the future. To shape new knowledge structures, we have to confront the old ones. I discussed this to some extent in my weekly reflection paper:

From its beginning, there seemed to be a heavy focus on the societies anthropologists deemed “primitive” and “savage.” Levi-Strauss (2001) speaks of social anthropology as serving to capture history past in the living incarnation of history present, via the so-called primitive societies. This discipline mission was echoed in Edward B. Tylor’s work, in which he maintained that anthropologists help to connect with the past through “survival” societies, as demonstrated in classical cultural evolutionism thought (Erickson & Murphy, 2001). Kroeber (2001) explained this obsession with non-Western societies as “a desire to understand better all civilizations, irrespective of time and place…or as generalized principles as possible” (p. 144). He goes on to say that sociologists tend to linger on their own societies, as the focus of study, while psychologists have a tendency towards centering their own culture as the norm (Kroebel, 2001). The implication is that anthropologists are broader in their coverage and more inclusive of topic, however the manner in which Kroebel speaks of non-Western cultures, including African American culture, reveals a paternalistic nod towards Eurocentric values and White supremacy…I’m also curious what role anthropology and other social sciences may have played in supporting or subverting colonization and the “civilizing” and assimilation of non-Western societies. What inherent power dynamics are built into the discipline, which might affect how truth is perceived?

Of course, my classmates would likely say they didn’t meant it like that. Sometimes, though, intent is less important than impact. My question is: if you can’t bring personal experience, as a black person, into dialogue with theories in a social justice oriented degree program, when can you?? Also, given that some of the theorists we’ve read have been straight up racist and/or white supremacist in their orientation…is the expectation that we should not engage with that in the classroom? How would one ideally critique racist theorists and theories without bringing up race in uncomfortable and “divisive” ways? I genuinely want to know. I’m trying to wrap my mind around this dynamic of discomfort. Is it that there is fear around Black emotions? Is that what this is? Inquiring minds would like to know.

 

 

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African American Doctorates in Education Disciplines

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“Even after twenty years of affirmative action, African Americans constitute only 4.5 percent of the professoriate (Hacker, 1992). In 1991 there were 24,721 doctoral degrees awarded to U.S. citizens and noncitizens who intended to remain in the United States, and only 933 or 3.8 percent of these doctorates went to African American men and women. If every one of those newly minted doctorates went into the academy, it would have a negligible effect on the proportion of African Americans in the professoriate. The majority of the African Americans who earn Ph.D.’s earn them in the field of education and of that group, most of the degrees are in educational administration where the recipients continue as school practitioners” (Ladson-Bilings, 1999*).

That last line caught my eye. In the midst of a discussion about social benefits African Americans receive from civil rights legislation, as compared to Whites, seeing as that the primary recipients of affirmative action are White women, I was intrigued by this question of why many African Americans choose to pursue doctorates. Since the book chapter I was reading is from 1999, I decided to see if I could find more up to date data regarding representation in doctoral degree conferral. I wanted to know if the statistics remain the same almost twenty years later.

The National Science Foundation conducts annual surveys to measure the demographics of candidates who earn research doctorates, their fields of study, and their post-degree plans, among other data points.  In 2015, there were 2,281 research doctorate degrees awarded to African Americans, out of 55,006 PhDs earned nationally, of which 1,468 recipients were African American women. This was compared to 1,121 African American men who received research doctorates. According to the 2015 survey, roughly 15% of education doctorates were earned by African Americans, compared to a 6.5% representation in doctorate conferral overall. The other field listed in which African Americans have a relatively high representation was psychology and social sciences (8%).

Of the 761 African Americans (discipline non-specific) who already had firm employment commitments post-graduation, 53.6% of them were headed into academia. 11.2% had government jobs. 12.9% had jobs in industry-related fields. 8% were bound for the non-profit sector.

So then I decided to find out what African American PhD recipients (from 2015) were studying within education. Was there a singular focus on education administration still? There was not. In 2015, there were 635 doctorates conferred to African Americans in the field of education. But while there were 198 degree recipients in fields related to education administration, there were 308 degree recipients in fields related to education research. The three subfields in education research with the greatest representation of African Americans were higher education evaluation and research (80), curriculum and instruction (56), and counseling education/counseling and guidance (54).

African Americans in education doctorate programs were more likely to finance their own degree (58.8%), as opposed to holding fellowships and grants (16.3%), research assistantships (11.2%), teaching assistantships (5.3%), or having employer financed degrees (8.1%). This is compared to African American doctoral graduates, across all fields, who financed their own degrees (41.1%), relied on fellowships and grants (28.8%),  had research assistantships (13.7%), had teaching assistantships (11.6%), or had employer financed degrees (4.6%). It comes as no surprise, then, that African Americans lead in accumulated debt from graduate degrees overall, with an average debt of $43,337. The highest percentage of those who had accrued debt (21%) measured at $90,001+. Y’all, that hurts my soul.

The number of African Americans studying education doesn’t surprise me. Historically, African Americans were prevented from equal access to education under “separate but equal” Jim Crow laws. Post-Civil Rights era, issues relating to education equity for African Americans remain a concern. Within education, sociology, and family studies research, there has been an increasing research focus on how race, gender, socioeconomic status, and family wealth interact with availability of quality learning experiences and how this affects quality of life and life choice. It’s just kind of jarring that the majority of these doctoral graduates were paying for these degrees out of pocket or via loans. That’s some dedication…but it also leads back into talking about accumulated wealth. My theory is that African Americans are drawn to studying education because of a desire to make a difference. We all know education, academia or not, doesn’t pay that well. This means the majority of African Americans are breaking their backs (financially), to try to change systemic issues. Again, that hurts my soul. While doctoral degrees confer some sort of social capital (in which we use the system to beat the system, only to be beat again by the system), is it really worth it in the end?

One other interesting thing to note is that, while there has been discussion about the role HBCUs play in graduating doctorate recipients, the NSF also did a study in 2006 to measure whether there was any relationship between HBCU undergraduate programs and later pursuit of doctoral degrees. Measuring 1997-2006, they found that the top eight, as well as twenty out of the top fifty undergraduate institutions that produced future African American doctorates were HBCUs. I found this particularly interesting, given the ongoing stigma associated with HBCUs graduates as subpar in comparison to predominantly White institutions (PWIs). The top five schools to produce African American undergraduates who would later achieve doctorates were: Howard University, Spelman College, Hampton University, Florida A&M University, and Morehouse College. I’m curious how these numbers might be different or the same ten years later.

Things that I would love to know more about:

  • What motivates African American doctoral students to study education?
  • How is salary, socioeconomic status, and accumulation of wealth affected by the number of African Americans who self-finance their education?
  • How many African American graduates remain in education-related jobs post-doctorate?
  • What role do HBCUs play currently in producing African American doctorates?
  • The rates for other race/ethnicity groups who fund their own education doctorates is also very high. Where’s the funding for education students?

I guess I’ll go finish my readings now…

 

 

 

*Ladson-Billings, G. (1999). Just what is critical race theory, and what’s it doing in a nice field like education?. In L. Parker, D. Deyhle & S. Villenas (Eds.), Race is…Race isn’t: Critical race theory & qualitative studies in education (pp. 7-30).  New York, NY: Perseus Books, LLC.

PhD-ing It

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This week, I started classes for my doctoral degree. I must say, I’m glad the week is over. It’ll take a little while to get into the rhythm of being back in school.

I became serious about applying to a doctoral program in 2015, when I first heard about the Language, Literacy, and Culture (LLC) program that I am now enrolled in. However, I’ve had a Ph.D. in the back of mind since I was still in undergrad. One of my professors in my Bachelor’s program really wanted me to go to grad school, because she thought it would be a good fit for me. She was my favorite professor, so I gave it some thought. When I did go back, however, it was to get a Master’s in Library and Information Science, not a Master’s in Reading Education, as she’d suggested.

But I also remember, while still in undergrad, presenting a career plan to my parents with alternate paths. One track was to teach K-12 for a little while and slowly move in that direction and then ultimately get the Ph.D., if I was still interested when I tired of teaching K-12. I remember my dad saying if I was really interested in a Ph.D., why didn’t I just go straight for it and not meander about on my way? That stuck with me.

Later, at one of my teaching jobs, I had a coworker who was in the process of applying for her Ph.D. in Communications. We were pretty good work friends and hung out a lot outside of work. Talking with her about the process and expectations reminded me that maybe I wanted to enroll in a doctoral program as well.

I started my MLIS in 2013. The further along I got in the program, the more my interest in doctorate studies reemerged. At that point, I was interested in teaching in academia as a tenure-track professor, so I started looking into the tenure process and reading blogs by academics and former academics. Honestly, they made it sound like academia was a scourge worse than death to be avoided at all costs and that one should not pursue a Ph.D. if one did not want to be a professor. Because no jobs.

As time went on, I graduated from my MLIS program, but I was no longer sure that I wanted a doctoral degree. So I tabled that idea and set about finding a job.

By the time I found out about the LLC program, I was an academic librarian and I knew I didn’t want to be a tenure-track professor. I was more interested in leadership and research. The LLC program was attractive to me immediately, because of its interdisciplinary nature and potential for application across different platforms. It was all the things I love to the learn about and discuss! Sooo…basically spend several years reading and writing about social inequalities, so I could research action-based solutions to social problems?? Yes please! Sign me up. I remember telling my coworker at the time (well, okay, I told pretty much everyone) about the program and she was like, “When you talk about this program, your eyes light up. You should do it.”

I decided to wait until the following year to apply, so that I would be finished with my residency by the time I started the program. I spent that year investigating the program more in-depth and talking to professors, current students, and alumni of the program, as well as reflecting on what I wanted to gain from this experience. The more I learned, the more I felt this was a great match for me and my research interests. I also wanted to be able to develop my research a bit more, to inform my writing sample and the application. I decided if I was going to get a Ph.D., it would be this program or nothing. Because I didn’t want to get a degree just to have a degree.

I applied to the program in December, interviewed in February, and was accepted to the program a few weeks later. (In hindsight, that process went much faster than it felt.)

I will be pursuing the doctoral degree while continuing my position as an academic librarian full-time. (Yeah…bye-bye free time.) At times, this blog may serve as a reflection space for ideas I encounter in the curriculum. For example, I’m currently reading articles about critical pedagogy and critical race theory, which is giving me all the thoughts and feels, so that will be a topic in the near future. 🙂

Now, I do have to admit, being in a doctoral program feels weird at times. Or all the time. I come from a family that places a high value on education, but for whom the opportunity to pursue education has not always been a reality. Of my grandparents, only one ever completed a Bachelor’s degree. All four of my grandparents came to the DMV from southern states during the Great Migration, looking for opportunities and change in the 1940s and 1950s. Neither of my parents had a chance to finish their Bachelor’s degrees and it’s our (my siblings and I’s) generation for whom a college degree is somewhat taken for granted.

As a family genealogist, my family history is almost always on my mind. I’m in this program for me, but in a way, I’m also in this program for them. My focus on literacy, race, and social inequities, is because I have seen the very real effects of what it means to withhold literacy from an entire population when economic success, power of voice, and humanity are granted to those who can operate within a specific knowledge sphere.

I will not be the first person in my family with a Ph.D., as I have a cousin with a doctorate (shout out to my cousin). But it is sobering to look at my many lineages and remember that just a few short generations ago, my ggg-grands were bending over backwards to move on from slavery and give their children a chance to become literate, even though they themselves never would.

I’m currently reading the memoir by Trayvon Martin’s parents. His mom, Sybrina Fulton, discusses how she made the choice to go back to school to finish her degree after having her children, because she wanted to set an example for them to always seek excellence. She said, “…each generation has to do a little bit better than the last generation.” Each of my generations have tried to do a little better than the last, in terms of opportunities, education, and resources. It’s that determination that has allowed me to be here.

So for you. My dad. My mom. My grandparents. My greats. My great-greats. My great-great-greats. My great-great-great-greats. And all the ones whose names I don’t know and may never know. Thanks for getting me here. I stand on your shoulders.

I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise. 

— “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

 

“In which we look to the future…”

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Most of the time, that just means applying for jobs. Just saying.

This time last year, I was gearing up for one last year of grad school. I am excited to announce that I have now completed my graduate studies in Library and Information Science!! It was tough going at times, particularly while juggling a full-time job and my personal obligations, but I am so happy to have persevered and finished. I am also thankful to my family and friends who supported me in achieving my goals. I know good people.

So what’s next? As most of you know, I am interested in working with African American collections and/or supporting research in African American history and culture. To this end, I have been seeking out opportunities on the job to create research tools and better support academic programs in this area. Most recently, this included creating a LibGuide for African American Studies. I’m continuing to work on that, as well as one for African American Literature. One of my courses involved developing a guide for African American Art and Artists, which was probably the highlight of that class. These experiences have helped me to not only navigate diverse information organization tools, but also to strengthen my skills in information design, user experience, and consumer outreach. I’m also taking this time to develop general practical skills in librarianship and information sciences. Part of that will involve working part-time as a reference librarian at my academic institution, which I am really psyched about. Hopefully, in the near future, I will be writing about my first teaching experience.

Oh, but speaking of African American art, I had the opportunity to stop by the National Museum of African Art this weekend and view the Conversations: African and African American Art in Dialogue exhibit. It was a beautiful and thought provoking exhibit. I encourage all to go see it! It’s not easy to comprehend the magnitude of the African diaspora, but the cultural context that is shared across continents…it’s something. It inspired me to return to my art form(s). There’s such a voice in creating. Art transcends boundaries and it challenges people.

Have a great beginning of the year!! Happy 2015!

Technology Trends: Adapting the Library for Mobile Users

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  • Kim, B. (2013). The present and future of the library mobile experience. Library Technology Reports, 29(6), 15-28.
  • Zimerman, M. (2011). E-readers in an academic library setting. Library Hi Tech, 29(1), 91-108.

Between circulating mobile devices and designing web apps and mobile friendly websites, libraries both have a long history with mobile devices and are currently seeking ways to better improve the experiences of users with mobile devices. Kim mentions how some libraries develop their own websites and apps, but because this process is costly and lengthy, most libraries simply utilize services designed out of house. DC Libraries was one of the examples of an institution that uses an in-house design. But it doesn’t stop at the website shell. For many academic libraries in particular, the databases are a significant part of their online offerings. Ensuring that database information systems support mobile search and browse is crucial. Because mobile platforms are generally not as detailed as desktop centric sites, the placement, visual layout, and size of icons and menus lends itself to a positive user experience. Also, the order within menus can help to direct users in their search for information, by making popular destinations the most obvious. With mobile devices being increasingly more sophisticated, as well as designed with greater speed, memory, and connection services, the range of activities patrons can undertake from a mobile device has developed. Planning for library services and web offerings should take this into consideration.

Along the same lines, library users have come to expect greater integration of electronic readers. Many public libraries support the download (or temporary download) of e-books through external vendors, such as Overdrive. Because of complications with vendors, licensing, and rights, academic libraries lag behind in this area. For libraries that do offer e-books, the format and appearance, as well as ease of use, tends to differ from one vendor to another. This leaves patrons without a real consistency and dissatisfied. Given the amount of reading that students in academic settings are required to perform, the cost of books and the physical challenge of transporting these materials around makes the possibility of e-books attractive. However, many e-books and electronic formats of books as available in academic libraries either do not allow for download of content to personal devices or to do so would be extremely cumbersome. Digital Rights Management (DRM) prevents copying and creating duplicates of electronic content files. Finding ways to work around these restrictions is something libraries have not yet accomplished. The struggle for open access and flexible content to support research needs is something that is ongoing. Right now, e-books are still entrenched in the for-profit tug of war between vendors, publishers, libraries, and users. There seems for be hope of future development, but right now it’s still slow moving.

Library 2.0

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  • Elching Chingiz oglu Mammadov. (2014). Opportunities for using Wiki technologies in building digital library models. Library Hi Tech News, 31(2), 5-8
  • Kaushik, A. & Arora, J. (2012). Blogs on marketing library services. DESIDOC Journal of Library & Information Technology, 32(2), 186-192.

Elching Chingiz oglu Mammadov discusses the possibilities in using Wikipedia to create interactive information system platforms. It would allow for more visible content and because user could participate in the building process, it encourages ownership and crowd involvement. Metadata would be incorporated as created. Possible downfalls to this model are a cluttered appearances, as it is harder to shape information for aesthetics in a raw display. Also, it would be necessary to establish rules and guidelines with users, to lessen the likelihood of irresponsible users. Benefits include the increased likelihood of collaboration, availability of information on a free and more easily manipulated system, and the ability to be transparent before user bases. Accountability of information accuracy and consistency is possible.

Blogging is very prevalent in social media. Per Kausik and Arora, about 120,000 blogs are created in a day and as of 2011, there were almost 160 million public blogs published to the internet. That’s a lot of voices and a lot of information content! Because blogs encourage communication and e-based connections, through comment features, they can provide wonderful opportunities to build support bases and share information across a vast expanse. Blogs that market library services are currently few and far between. Because of the ability to link to external (and internal) sites, videos, and other media forms through hyperlinks, blogging could be a great tool to announce upcoming events, share new content (research collections) or recently published/acquired materials. When/if institutions decide to engage in blogging, it is necessary to utilize tools that allow users to remain updated and plugged into the content, such as RSS feeds and podcasts. From my personal experiences, it seems that archives and research facilities are much more likely to publish blogs than libraries…but this may be just my limited experience.

Web Accessibility

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  • Fulton, C. (2011). Web accessibility, libraries, and the law. Information Techoolgy and Libraries, 20(1), 34-43.
  • Gruder, C. S. (2012). Making the right decisions about assistive techology in your library. Library Technology Reports, 48(7), 14-21.

Gruder mentions the college student who relies on the the academic library to provide access to the learning tools she needs to succeed academically. Fulton describes the scenario in which a visually impaired student is unable to adequately complete a quiz worth twenty percent of their grade. Accessibility, referring to support of users with differing accommodation needs, is something the library should especially be concerned with. Given that the library’s purpose is to facilitate information access for all patrons, accessibility of software, hardware and information systems is of utmost concern.

When making choices about what, how much, and when to buy, Gruder suggests not getting carried away over the shiny things. Most people are familiar with voice recognition software, OCR scanners, or text-to-voice options on popular software, such as Adobe. However, there are many other options. Know your users and make sure that whatever tools and technologies are purchased will serve them well and meet their needs. This includes taking learning abilities and prior technological experience into account. This would be especially prudent for public and public access libraries, as their patrons are such a diverse group. Also of importance is know restrictions on licensing for specific programs.

In some cases, libraries or other learning centers may have separate rooms, such as campus disability support centers. Marketing tools and technologies to users is also important. If no one knows the resources are available, they’re unable to take advantage of them. Also, training staff to be able to work with systems, troubleshoot, and otherwise support users.

Fulton mentions steps that can be taken to address basic web accessibility issues, such as proper heading data, alternative image descriptions, and captioning images and audio files. For example, when creating LibGuides at my place of employment, creating an alternative description for images, links, and embedded content is something that we’re mindful of. As Fulton mentions, individuals in  need of accommodations are consumers and patrons too. They deserve to get every as much out of the services they pay for as anyone else.