My academic advisor gave me the best piece of advice, regarding starting your PhD, that I have heard thus far: “Do not take this the wrong way, but completing your PhD is not about intellectual strength, it has much more to do with consistency. Can you work on something, everyday, without any breaks, for the next five to ten years?”
This is the mother of commitments; working on something, everyday, for almost (and quite possibly) a decade? Wow, but why can’t I? Why should I choose to whimper, shake and run away from such a great opportunity to challenge my mind, discipline myself and add value to my life?
Has society taught me that this isn’t for me? Has my gender? Has the colour of my skin? Everyone fears failure when thinking about pursuing their doctorate program, but for some, the stakes are higher and more jagged than for others.
So many people talk about the extremely negative experience they had while pursuing their doctorates; some of them completed, many of them did not. There are so many statistics on the subject, but one stated that every year about 50% of grad students drop out of their doctoral program.
That is a bleak number, but it is not a lie. What I find even scarier are the personal stories I have heard from individuals who have graduated. Working at the University of Alberta, for the past six years, has afforded me the privilege of meeting, working and speaking with many highly educated people and many of them regret attaining their doctorate, are not any happier, than prior to attaining it, or wish they never went through the struggle because the end results just were not worth it.
I want to do my PhD in Education.
I want to research the lack of women of colour in senior management within post secondary institutions. I want to learn the language to further enhance and empower individuals who do not see themselves amongst the leaders of educational institutions.
I want to be one of the leaders of an institution and I am no longer scared of saying so. If a privileged, white man can do it, why can’t I?
I am tired of women weaning themselves off too early in the professional game and want to show that we can play the game better than it is being played today.
PhD’s are no longer used just to become a professor; if you want to be Dean or a part of the elite senior management on campus, getting those letters added to your signature line can be a great step in the right direction.
I also understand my privilege in this situation.
I get tuition remission because I am an University employee, so I paid very little for my Masters and will pay very little if, and when, I pursue my doctorate. I also understand that as a woman of colour, we are strongly underrepresented in senior management and we cannot keep looking around for someone to take the lead.
Why can’t I be one of those leaders? I want our tomorrow’s to be better, so I have to play the game today, whether I agree with all levels of it or the systemic issues with it.
I can be the angry, coloured woman, screaming from the sidelines about how the game is rigged, or I can pull up my bootstraps (not my words, the words of the majority group when minorities complain about inequality) and do the work that the elite deem necessary. However, if I check off that box and still do not gain acceptance into the ‘in’ crowd, at least now I will have the language, education and credential backing me up to have a more respected voice at the table.
What makes me think I can pull off getting a PhD?
Nothing…I suffer from extreme impostor syndrome, but I cannot allow fear to take over. I remind myself daily that I am no less worthy or capable than anyone else, but I have to remind myself of that everyday, because I do not see successful people who look like me (hardly ever).
It is really hard to believe in yourself when you do not see a representation of yourself in the successful collective.
Even though it might be over-ambitious, I might look like a crazy person, thinking that I am capable of changing the world, or overly optimistic, but this is something I can do, which I think helps change the collective conversation for the better.
Cheesy? You bet it is, but in such a bleak world, isn’t a little gouda needed?