Former First Lady Michelle Obama once said: “To me, there was magic in the learning. I got a buzzy sort of satisfaction from it. For one thing, I’d picked up on the simple, encouraging correlation between how long I practice and how much I achieved.” Her words reveal a simple truth that BAUCEs appreciate: knowledge is a powerful pursuit. Lifelong learning and exploration take many forms. One formal path to building subject matter proficiency includes pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy, which is also known as a PhD. These programs allow candidates to delve deeply into their fields of interest and write a dissertation that encompasses what they’ve learned. Earning a PhD can be a long journey, so BAUCEs who are contemplating this path should consider the following points.
Proactively Manage Your Mental Health
All of the BAUCEs who shared their perspectives for this article emphasized the way that a rigorous program can be detrimental to one’s mental well-being. Cydnee Patterson cites better.com as a vital tool for PhD candidates. After tragically losing two family members during her PhD program, Cydnee learned tools to work through her grief. When reflecting on those obstacles, Cydnee shares: “Having to navigate a full-time job, rigorous program, and grief was something that I did not plan on my journey. I needed to take time to grieve and do it in a healthy manner. Then I had to advocate for myself and let my professors know that I needed the grace to submit assignments on a different deadline.”
Do Research on Your Program
According to Franklin University, a PhD can take up to eight years to complete on average. Given the time commitment, it’s crucial to complete your homework upfront and learn more about your program. Look beyond rankings and envision what you want your daily life to look like. If you can’t stand the cold weather, then you may want to avoid universities in the northeastern or midwestern United States. If the hustle and bustle of major cities feel overwhelming, then you should focus on programs in suburban settings. Prioritize opportunities where you can learn from professors whose research you admire. Review the gender and racial diversity of the graduate student population. Reach out to alumni and glean insight into their experiences working toward the degree. Use every resource at your disposal to paint a picture of what your life could look like in this next chapter.
Logic and due diligence represent core components of the PhD experience. But, passion should be part of this process as well. Dr Tajanae Barnes advises: “The best advice I would give someone pursuing a PhD is to make sure your heart is in it, especially when you are in the humanities. The amount of research that goes into a PhD is exhausting. The things you discover about yourself can be heart-wrenching and eye-opening, but it’ll be so worth it when you are on the other side of it.”
Seek out Sisterhood
A PhD program can feel isolating as you spend countless hours researching, synthesizing, and iterating on different projects. Community is key to combating any loneliness you experience during your journey. After completing her PhD program, Dr Malika Grayson built a community for Black women who are navigating the PhD journey. In 2020, Dr Grayson published her book Hooded: A Black Girl’s Guide to the PhD, which shares helpful tips alongside personal trials and triumphs that may occur during the program. In addition, Dr Grayson serves on the planning council of STEMNoire. This year, STEMNoire will be holding an event in Puerto Rico where Black women pursuing P.hDs in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math can convene and share personal and professional insights.
Find Funding Opportunities
It’s no secret that the cost of living has skyrocketed due to inflation. The financial burdens of a graduate degree should not be taken lightly. PhD programs offer stipends to subsidize living costs, but those amounts vary based on several factors. For example, Columbia University, which is based in New York City, offers stipends ranging from $39,324 to $45,320. North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University, which is situated in a less expensive city, offers a baseline stipend of $34,000 for P.h.D. students. Given the gravity of this situation, Cydnee implores: “Here is my advice for somebody going through the PhD application process: look at what the university offers as far as scholarships. Look for programs that offer financial assistance to alleviate the burden of student loans as well as research, fellowships, and things of that nature. Consider a program beyond your first choice if it offers better funding. If you can get your degree debt free, then you’ve won.”
If a PhD is calling your name, don’t be afraid to answer. The road may not be the easiest, but there is much to learn and room to grow along the way.