For the past 20 years working in higher education, my interest has always been in addressing issues of diversity. My career goals are 1) to create an inclusive and supportive community that is enhanced by and appreciative of intercultural differences, not only for underrepresented minorities (URMs) but for all marginalized individuals (e.g., women in science, LGBTQ students, student veterans); 2) increase the number of URMs ready to take on leadership roles at all levels of postsecondary education; 3) broaden the network of people working towards a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture in higher education. My experiences as an underrepresented student have affected the type of professional work I chose to engage in as a practitioner and is helping to provide context for the type of research and engagement with students that I do.
For most of my professional career, I have led programs targeted at recruiting, retaining, and supporting URMs in higher education. Prior to returning to school to pursue my doctorate, I worked for the University of Michigan (UM). I was the campus Program Manager and the alliance grant-coordinator for Michigan Alliance for Graduate Education & the Professoriate (AGEP), helping to put on AGEP programs, workshops, and conferences, and coordinating our state-level partners’ efforts in reporting results and findings to NSF. I was also the program manager for a similar NIH funded grant called Bridges to the Doctorate (Bridges) whose aim was helping to prepare more women and URMs to make the transition from master’s degree programs to Ph.D. programs. The purpose of the Bridges Program was to increase the pool of master’s degree students who go on to research careers in the biomedical sciences and participate in NIH funded research. Both of these programs helped me realize getting students into and through graduate school was not enough; it is also important to help graduate students figure out what happens after the Ph.D. and the importance of their personal and professional contributions to higher education and society.
URM graduate students frequently ask me if pursuing a tenure-track faculty position is a good idea. To be honest, before coming back to school, I was not always sure what to say. Many URM students and postdocs are capable of being very successful in faculty positions, yet research shows that URM faculty (and graduate students) are not treated equitably on the path to tenure. Many URM faculty are asked to do more than their white-male counterparts, especially when it comes to recruiting and mentoring students and sitting on committees. Therefore, I wanted to come back to school to not only work on my doctorate but also try to understand the pathway to the professoriate. One way I have been able to do this is through my dissertation.
As a researcher, I am interested in researching the psychosocial factors related to career readiness of URMs in science – what Max Weber termed “science as a vocation” and is a result of my interest and passion in helping to diversify the “academy”. As a career consultant at Michigan State University’s PhD Career Services, I spent the past almost 4 years working directly with postdocs and doctoral students, providing workshops and one-on-one career advice and coaching. Many of these postdocs and doctoral students reported significant declines in both their current job satisfaction and job prospects, regardless of their discipline and social identity. They described themselves as being marginalized, being paid low living wages, lacking suitable insurance and supplemental benefits, and overall feeling a lack of recognition for their contributions to their lab and the work they do for their principal investigator (PI). Individuals from all social and ethnic backgrounds reported significant declines in interest in faculty careers and increased interest in non-research careers, though the difference in magnitude and period of training during which these changes occurred differed across gender, race, and ethnicity. These findings intrigue me, and I decided to focus my research specifically on trying to understand psychosocial barriers and support mechanisms, including the role of advisors and mentors, in supporting mentees in their career development.
Advocating and supporting students, in general, is not something I do just “as a job,” it is something I do in my personal time. In my “off-time” I am proud to say that I was one of the staff members who helped convince the UM Board of Regents to offer in-state tuition to undocumented students in 2012; more recently, as a graduate student at MSU, I was part of a group that convinced Provost Youatt to do the same. I do this “volunteer work” because I believe higher education is a public good and that it can be a key pathway for social mobility for other marginalized groups, like undocumented students, in the U.S.
During the past five decades, the U.S. has seen dramatic changes in racial, ethnic, and social-economic disparities in higher education enrollment and attainment. According to a 2015 report by Excelencia in Education, just 5% of doctoral degree earners in 2011-12 were Latinx. Yet, while the number of Latinx with a doctorate grew 67% from 2002-2013, less than 1% of Latino adults had earned the advanced degrees, compared to 4% of Asians, 2% of white, and 1% of African-American adults. The same report showed that of the 4% of faculty in higher education were Latino, yet the majority were not full-time. As a practitioner and scholar, I am committed to being a part of the movement helping to bring change to higher education by providing opportunities for individuals like me, to pursue doctoral degrees.