Reflections on my 2nd year as a PhD student

Selfie with Research Poster (9 May 2018)
Image Description: A brown-skinned (Black) woman stands smiling in front of her research poster, which features maps of the US states and the city of Chicago.

As of today, I am officially done with the 2017-18 academic year. I’ve submitted my last term paper ever, and all that’s left is… the sheer enormity of my prelims (dissertation proposal defense), chapter manuscripts, and other research projects.

For now, however, I’d like to reflect on this past year. Yes, it was my second year as a PhD student, but it was effectively my 4th year as a graduate student, between my MA program, and the clinical audiology (Au.D) program I was in before I transferred to the Geography PhD program. By the time I finish, I’ll have 6 years as a graduate student under my belt.

Time seems to flow a little differently in grad school versus working in the private sector. For example, the turnover for projects is much faster in the private sector, whereas academics’ projects can spend months in limbo as funding applications or manuscripts remain “under review.” As a PhD student, there’s also the “let down” feeling that follows major milestones, such as passing my qualifying exams, presenting my dissertation chapter at a national conference, or submitting my first manuscript for publication. There’s always more work to do, and I have to be intrinsically driven and minimally distracted to get it done.

This past semester felt “clumpy” temporally. It literally started with me getting off of a plane and heading to my Spatial Epidemiology class, and lurched toward the American Association of Geographers (AAG)’s April meeting in New Orleans. After that, the semester moved at breakneck speed toward a somewhat anticlimactic resolution (clicking “submit” on Compass/Blackboard.)

In the longer term, this academic year was a profoundly productive one. I worked with my chronically ill/pained body to find a groove that worked between my PhD coursework, manuscript revisions, fellowship coursework, and lab research projects. In that time, I presented chapter 1 of my dissertation to a room full of health and medical geographers (some of whom I cited!) and began a fellowship.

I’m proud of myself. It’s been nearly a decade since I finished my BA at U.C. Berkeley with the goal of going to law school (I changed my mind once I looked at the employment data for law school grads in 2009). Since then, my goals have been malleable, but always toward the end of completing a terminal degree that affords me more and better-paying opportunities. I’ve never lost sight of the reality that a Black disabled woman faces disadvantages in the labor market on the basis of her race, disability status, and gender. That, and I actually enjoy research and writing.

So cheers to another year! I’ll post more updates about my summer soon.


All the best,



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