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.
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
— “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou