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I collaborated with Brittany Washington on a recently published white paper on contingent faculty, “Hidden Assets: Still Underserved & Underpaid.” Brittany is a Ph.D. student in the University of Oklahoma’s department of educational leadership and policy studies. In working with Brittany, I’ve been impressed with her research and writing skills, as well as her knowledge of the higher education ecosystem. I asked Brittany if she’d be willing to share some thoughts about her research and future career path.

Q: Tell us about your dissertation research. What are you working on and where are you in the process?

Brittany Washington, a woman with light brown skin and curly dark hair, wearing a blue blazer over a white button-down shirt.

A: My dissertation focuses on addressing the notable underrepresentation of racially minoritized individuals in leadership roles within Division I college athletics. Specifically, my research investigates the challenges faced by Black individuals aspiring to leadership positions, with a key emphasis on examining the early career experiences of Black graduate assistants in Power 5 athletic departments. Acknowledging the pivotal role of early-career opportunities, particularly graduate assistantships, in professional advancement, my study aims to shed light on the impact of these formative experiences on subsequent career trajectories. Notably, there is currently a gap in the literature concerning the experiences of Black Power 5 graduate assistants, and my goal is to pioneer a study that delves into their unique experiences within intercollegiate athletics administration.

In November, I successfully defended my dissertation topic, and I am scheduled to defend my prospectus in the upcoming spring semester. Concurrently, I am actively working on developing a pilot study, which will serve as a preliminary exploration for my broader dissertation research. The objective is to present the initial findings at a sports research conference in the spring. Toward the end of the upcoming spring semester, I plan to submit for research clearance from my university and begin data collection and analysis. I aim to defend my dissertation in the spring of 2025.

Q: In addition to being a full-time Ph.D. student, you have been working as a researcher with Chegg’s Center for Digital Learning. How did you get involved with the center, and what research projects have you been involved in?

A: After starting my doctoral studies, I prioritized gaining practical research experience. I secured a rewarding research fellowship with Chegg, working with the Center for Digital Learning. After two years of being a fellow, I transitioned into a part-time role that allows me to continue in my Ph.D. program.

My involvement in research with the Center for Digital Learning has provided me with a comprehensive exploration of various topics within higher education, with a primary focus on the experiences of both faculty and students. In this role, I collaborated with our research partners to create survey instruments, providing valuable insight into the development of large-scale quantitative surveys, including our 15-country Global Student Survey. Additionally, I conducted data analysis and drafted some of the reports published on our Center for Digital Learning site. Additionally, I contributed to two student behavior research projects, revealing the multifaceted challenges college students face. The findings underscored the importance of a holistic approach to address diverse student needs.

My work on contingent faculty, particularly two research projects in Canada and the United States, had a profound impact on me. Before delving into this research, my understanding of their difficulties was limited. However, a pivotal moment in my academic journey shed light on the intricate nature of their experiences. As an undergraduate student, I was surprised to discover that a professor, whom I had always associated solely with teaching, also served as a member of the janitorial staff at our student union. This moment has always stuck with me and came full circle when I started researching the challenges faced by contingent and non-tenure-track faculty.

It became evident that many of these dedicated educators, like the professor who was also a school custodian, have to juggle multiple roles to make ends meet, significantly impacting their time, resources and overall well-being. In our study, we found that over a third (34 percent) of contingent faculty earn less than $25,000 per year. We also found that less than half receive remote/online teaching support (47 percent) and physical resources (49 percent), while even fewer receive necessary teaching (40 percent).

Reflecting on these findings, I wondered if earlier awareness would have made me more understanding when my professor was occasionally late to class, momentarily disengaged or offered limited office hours. Exploring the challenges of contingent faculty provided me with deeper insights and a heightened sense of empathy. This experience has strengthened my commitment to advocate for improved conditions and support systems for those working in higher education.

Working with the Center for Digital Learning has provided me with invaluable experience in creating survey instruments, conducting data analysis and writing research reports, all of which have significantly complemented my academic research pursuits. While the contexts of these research settings may differ, they share a common thread—my unwavering commitment to using research as a powerful vehicle for advancing equity and access. I view research as a unique opportunity to meticulously document unfolding narratives, leaving an indelible mark on history.

Q: What are your thoughts about your career path post–grad school? What sort of opportunities do you think you will want to pursue?

A: As a part-time research analyst at Chegg, I find this role naturally aligning with my desired career path post–grad school. As a Ph.D. candidate, I consider myself fortunate to work in a position where I see a future once I graduate. This role at Chegg has become a pivotal stepping-stone, offering me a valuable opportunity to engage in meaningful research in the education sector. With each project, I gain insights that directly contribute to my long-term goals. My current position serves as a launchpad for my desired career path.

In the long term, I envision a career trajectory that continues to align with my overarching goal of leveraging research to address societal needs and foster positive change. My current role at Chegg has been instrumental in shaping this vision, providing me with valuable insights and skills in the education industry. As I accumulate more hands-on experience and progress in my career, my aspirations extend to leading a research department or team in an industry sector. Additionally, I plan to build on my dissertation research by conducting further studies and collaborating with my peers to continue making an impact in the field of college athletics.

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