*This blog is the Part 2 of a blog which was posted on our website in March 2018. You can Find Part 1 HERE. 

The Pursuit of a PhD: Here’s My Story

Deciding to get a Doctoral Degree:

After completing my master’s I decided to pursue a PhD. Most doctoral programs in education assist students to develop their leadership skills and managerial knowledge in order to function in higher-education institutions and resource agencies. And considering how I managed my business and volunteer work, I surmised that I had the skill and drive to succeed as a doctoral student and in a professional career that involves inspiring, motivating and teaching others.

Additionally, my Master’s degree had helped hone my research skills and forge professional relationships. So, I knew that a PhD would further enhance my personal and professional development.

 My Dissertation Chair: Sending Chilling Waves into My Spin;

It is generally assumed that foreign graduate students have difficulties adapting to social and academic situations within the university. However, although I was foreign, I was not a typical graduate student.

At the time, I already had a Master’s degree from the same university, and I was familiar with some of the professors, except for a few new faculty members, one of which happened to be my dissertation chair. In other words, I felt prepared and adapted to the university environment. However, this sense of comfort would soon disappear after my first encounter with the dissertation chair sent chilling waves into my spine.

To begin, it is well known that students and faculty may also have implicit biases and prejudices that affect their experiences and expectations.

For instance, I experienced subtle rejection and marginalization from my chair from the onset of my program. For example, one day when I drove up in my car, which she perceived to be “fancy”, she asked me if I were sure it would be of value to continue in the doctoral program.  Even though I made ample efforts to ignore her micro-aggressions and tried to develop a positive relationship with her, she remained insensitive to our cultural differences and constantly judged me based on her cultural norms, behaviors, and expectations. Her indirect xenophobia was as damaging as overtly hostile behavior.

Most graduate students anticipate that mentors and peers will help teach them how to write journal articles and present papers at conferences. They’re also supposed to assist students by introducing, nominating, and recommending graduate students to employers. They can also provide other advantages such as offering journal reviews, coauthoring publications, and writing letters of reference.

Unfortunately, I did not experience any of these benefits. Through our interactions and conversations, it was clear that my dissertation chair was biased against me and some other minority students but tended to favor other white female students. As a result, this led to a lack of trust and non-existence collaborative relationship between my dissertation chair and I as she seemed to lack a personal and institutional commitment to promote cultural understanding.

The implications of having unsupportive dissertation chair are:

  • As with a minority, a woman and a foreigner, gender and race can influence one’s experiences in school or workplace.
  • A person’s relationships with the supervisors and advisers in their department can have a significant impact on their satisfaction with the department and can affect their emotional and physical health.
  • Having an unsupportive supervisor can be emotionally taxing and can reduce your self-esteem and self-worth.
  • Experiencing these negative feelings can be discouraging.

How I overcame my challenges:

  • Resilience: Although I received inadequate socialization into academic life, I did not give up. Resilience is an effective coping strategy to deal with extreme demands of workplace and gives one an adaptive capacity to deal with stressful, conflict situations and uncertain conditions and environments.
  • Positivity: Helped to overcome my challenges.
  • Optimism and Hope: Having the drive and hope to succeed and never quit helped me complete my doctoral degree.
  • Spirituality: With a heart filled with faith and the mentality of a survivor helped me cope with the ordeal.

Thoughts:

  • Misunderstandings that foreign graduate students have with faculty members arise not because of language issues but because of both parties’ lack of cultural competence. Each have different assumptions about the others academic, social, and cultural backgrounds and may also have implicit biases and prejudices that affect their experiences and expectations.
  • Graduate student’s relationship with professors and peers can have a significant impact on their satisfaction with the department and the program. Positive classroom experiences with peers in my case with (Dr. Tanisca Anthony Halley) also helped enhance my understanding of U.S. culture and level of comprehension.
  • In an environment where there are very few minority faculty members to mentor foreign, minority and women graduate students, I must thank my boss and faculty mentors Dr. Janice Thomas and Dr. Barbara Johnson who showed us the rope for the short time they were there.

**Special Note**: My colleagues and I have a book coming out called: ‘Women in Education: Sustaining Passion and Purpose Despite Politics’. My chapter is titled: ‘Weathering the Storm in U.S. Higher Education’.

Be on the look the lookout for our book release, it will be a great read!

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GET TO KNOW FLORENCE:

First and Last Name: Florence N. Chigbu

Hometown: Nkwerre, Imo State, Nigeria

Current Job/Occupation: Executive Vice President & Author

What’s the best advice you ever received as a student or young professional?

That I must make sure I had full family support if not it will not work. That was so true, without my family supports and encouragements I would not have completed the program.

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