This will be a random post, because I need a bit of a mental break. Currently, I am scoring folks who are applying to the post-bac program that I direct. In an earlier post (***), I mentioned how tough it is going to be narrowing down the 90+ applications for ~15 interview slots, then for ~6-7 spots in the program.
However, I’m taking a different path for this post. Long story short, I have had it pretty easy in “achieving” my educational and professional goals.
Diversity and access to higher education are common themes that are associated STEM fields (and obviously in other fields/industries). As a minority who has earned his doctorate, we think that we have broken though all of the barriers to acquire this high terminal degree, once we have “made it”. Maybe that is my ego talking. Often times we think, if I can do it then anyone can. Or, administrators think if this underprivileged minority can do it then anyone from that racial/ethnic background can do the same. After reading these applications, I have been thinking to myself – Holy sh*t, I have had an easy life. To qualify my statement, I have not had to endure half as much sh*t in my life that many of my applicants have had to. Although I did not grow up in the lap of luxury, I never had to worry about when or where my next meal was going to come from. I never had to drop out of school to work in order to support my family. Nor, did I have to juggle 1-2 jobs while maintaining a full load of college courses. I mean, I worked during college, but it was more of a choice. Meaning, if I wanted anything outside of my scholarships or financial aid, I would have to provide it for myself. That said, even if I came across some trouble (or needed some extra financial assistance), I knew that I always could call home for some help (although I was extremely embarrassed to do so). Although there was some physical violence from the hands of my father, my mother and I did not have to bolt in the middle of night to a foreign country not knowing the language or where we were going to sleep.
Reading through the struggles that many of my applicants had to endure, I do not know if I would have had to strength or fortitude to complete an arduous journey of obtaining a Ph.D (or even a bachelor’s degree). However, it is hard to say this, because you never know how you will handle life until you are faced with a particular situation.
In the beginning of graduate school, I kind of felt cheated in a way. Here, I am coming into a graduate program from a small Historically Black College/University (HBCU) to a place where many of my classmates had extensive educational and research pedigrees. I felt that I still had to work twice as hard to get the same level of respect or acknowledgment as some of my White and Asian classmates – a common theme associated with “the impostor syndrome.” This was nothing, compared to the amount of hurdles that many of my applicants had to complete.
When we hear about issues surrounding diversity in STEM as well as in other fields, opponents typically will say that the applicants are not fully prepared to pursue degrees in higher education. And to some extent, they are correct. However, it is not an issue of intellect that is holding them back . . . its the issue of opportunity. Although I came from a strictly middle class background, there were a few chances where my life could have taken a hard left.
Luckily for me, I had a strong family system that supported in most of my random endeavors. For example, my mom valued the importance of education, so every summer (for as long as I could remember) she made me do some sort of summer enrichment. There was no sitting around during summer break, eating chips, and hanging out on the streets. Actually, I was not a hang out on the streets kind of guy during middle and high school. I probably would have been watching TV and playing video games. I was very lucky to have been born into a situation where had the opportunity to participate in enrichment programs; rather than having to get a minimum wage job to help out with my family resources.
Although I have had it easy . . . relative to many of my applicants, I always have involved myself in community outreach for greater access to education inside and outside of STEM. During my tenure as an undergraduate student, a graduate student, and a postdoctoral fellow, I made it a point to participate in volunteer activities that would serve underrepresented populations. Well . . . underrepresentative populations at the high school and collegiate level, I’m not a big fan of the little kiddies 😉 In these experiences, I would see myself as a role model for children and young adults who look like me. But many times, I would see myself as a bit of a hypocrite. I’m trying to promote the need to stay in school, take on extracurricular activities, yadda yadda yadda; meanwhile, I did not have do deal with half of the things that these young adults deal with on a daily basis.
Although we used five different matrices to score the applicants for my program, I am so glad that we do not based our interview invites solely on grade and previous research experiences (although they are important). I happy that we are cognizant of the promise or potential that an applicant may have. Random, it is interesting how we as professionals are beginning to lose the art of writing cover letters. I believe some doctoral programs rank their applicants on their potential, but I know that it is not a major factor. At least in my and other postbac programs, using an applicant’s promise or potentials is a great way for them to get his/her foot in a door to be granted much needed opportunities. A door that may otherwise be inaccessible, shut, or locked when applying to a doctoral program directly from an undergraduate program.