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Note to Self

Advice to graduate students from beyond the Ph.D.

November 16, 2017

Regina Sierra Carter received her Ph.D. in Educational Policy Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She currently works as a Teaching and Learning Librarian at the University of Virginia.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Dear Pre-Doc Me,

Are you afraid? Don’t be.

As I write this, I realize you may be having a panic attack. Go get a brown paper bag and simply breathe. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Repeat this sequence until you calm down. I need you to relax so that you can comprehend and receive what I am about to say.

I know you agreed to give up six plus years of your life for minimum pay, maximum stress, and willingly moved to the Midwest where you know no one. Yet all is well. You know as well as I why you are here. You are here to finish the great work that began in you.

Being 1.5 years removed from my doc program has given me some perspective. I would like to share three insights with you, particularly if you are at a place in your life where you are willing and receptive to my message. Here it goes…

Speak the truth in love.” Graduate school is chock-full of people with inflated egos (or those scrambling to assemble some semblance of one). Always speak the truth in love. People will listen. The moment you started speaking truth fearlessly was the very moment you came alive. Remember when you told your advisor that you loved storytelling and wanted to take more library science classes? You agonized over that moment for far too long. You thought he would get angry or think you were crazy for pursuing a second master’s degree. He did not bat an eye. He said do what’s best for you. You were amazed. That’s what happens when you tell people what you need instead of hiding behind the lies of what you think they want to hear. Keep telling people what you need, they are not mind readers. They cannot help you until you help yourself. Keep speaking the “truth in love”. People will listen and thank you for it.

Take responsible risks while you are a student. After all, you are still learning. Once you exit student mode, folks become a lot less forgiving and wonder why you have not yet figured it out. Taking responsible risks may seem oxymoronic on its face yet it is not. Since you are a researcher-scholar, you have the ability to analyze situations and take calculated risks. That said, I know you are risk-averse. This is completely understandable. You grew up in a home where your mom had to make $50 stretch to buy two weeks’ worth of groceries for a family of four. You often stood in line at the supermarket after the cashier had rung up all the items in your mother’s cart only to hear your mom tell the cashier to put this back. And that too, simply because your family could not afford it. Your grandmother often sewed your clothing to cut down on costs. As a defense mechanism, you came to expect less when sometimes you really wanted more.

You no longer need to expect less in any area of your life. You are a daughter of the one and only God. You were blessed at birth. Your name literally means Queen. Start acting like one, because this is who you are. Earlier, I encouraged you to speak the truth in love. Tell people what you need and when you need it. No explanation is necessary unless you want to provide one. I urge you to stop living in fear about what could go wrong in the future. Change your inner narrative and thought processes so that you vocally proclaim what will go right because you have faith and believe. Girl, I am talking to a Fulbrighter, a Harvard graduate, a first-generation college graduate, and a soon-to-be-Ph.D. from the rural South. Nothing is impossible.

Know your worth. You are not a lowly graduate student. You earned your place at the table so enjoy the food and fellowship. You cannot begin to comprehend how gifted, gorgeous, generous, and grand you really are. I wish you had learned this lesson sooner. Yet I think you are slowly beginning to realize it. You do not have to put up with nonsense. You are a wise, educated woman. From this moment on, enter every space as though you belong there because you do. If people are uncomfortable with your presence or the knowledge that you drop, it is their problem and not yours. Know your worth and display it. People will notice.

I realize you are probably stressed out about your classes, worried about whether or not you have enough funds to make ends meet, and if you will even finish your doctoral program.  

You will.

It may not seem like it today, but I promise everything will be okay.

This too shall pass,

Dr. Regina Sierra Carter


What wisdom would you share with your younger self? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

[Image by Flickr user Dane Vandeputte and used under the Creative Commons license.]

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