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Finding Myself "Again" after Earning a Ph.D.



It has been 2 years, 9 months, and 30 days since I defended my dissertation, and I am just starting to feel whole again. According to the US Census Bureau, only 1.2% of the US population has a Ph.D. When you look at the statistics for an African American woman under 40 with four kids from Detroit, I am sure the average is even lower. In fact, I have not come across anyone in my field with my specific "qualities".

(Side Note: According to data reports published by the National Science Foundation between 2002 - 2017 an average of 50,000 people graduated yearly with a Ph.D. of which approximately 5% being identified as African American. The report further discusses many sub-fields in math and science that do not include a single African American person with a doctoral degree.)

As mentioned in my previous blog (Dr. Mom: 5 Quick Steps to start your Ph.D. Journey while Still Maintaining "Super Mom" Status) I started my Ph.D. journey in the Fall of 2013. I was seven months pregnant with my fourth child. However, what I did not mention was that applying to grad school can be a somewhat long process and it was even longer for me because I was a mother of three (at the time) and a full-time middle school special education teacher. Crazy, right! When I applied to grad school, I did not know that I was pregnant. I found I was pregnant a week after I was accepted. When the Fall semester of 2013 came around, I had a choice, and I chose to start grad school with a big belly (I am only 4'11" so just imagine). The looks I received from faculty and classmates were humiliating. The comments I received were even worse. I could not fit into the desk, so I managed to find chairs and use an extra desk as a table. At one point I was advised to take the semester off because I "looked" exhausted. I am sure people meant well but as a pregnant woman with raging hormones, it felt and sounded offensive at that time.

I delivered my youngest son on November 5th (just after midterms and just before finals). I can remember being in horrible pain and still managing to work on final papers and exams. I can also remember my husband and I running back and forth to the hospital because my son was born with severe jaundice. Nevertheless, we made it and now he is seven years old and doing great. I often joke with my youngest son about being a natural-born genius because of all the courses, books, articles, and colloquiums I read/attended while carrying and nursing him.


After I delivered my son and started my second semester, I begin to get into a routine but even with a routine, I was battling one hurdle after the next. Between balancing motherhood, my marriage, teaching, and school I was always feeling stress and overwhelmed. I did not take any vacations because I did not have the time or extra funds. Although my husband is amazing, I still felt a sense of mom guilt, teacher guilt, or some other guilt due to my lack of ability to manage it all. That lack of ability also caused additional issues such as over-eating and lack of self-care.


It was not until I decided to cut back on expenses, quit teaching full-time (which was a suggestion recommended by my husband), live a healthier lifestyle, and focus on school that I was able to pull myself together and become a productive grad student. Please keep in mind that I was able to make this decision because of researching, applying, and finally receiving funding for grad school. During my 3rd year, I received a fellowship, a private scholarship, and a graduate research assistantship (I plan to write a detailed blog on funding grad school in the near future). It was like the "heaven-gates" of academia opened for me. I just could not believe it!


The following two years fell right into place and although I still faced many barriers (dissertation committee challenges - I plan to write a detailed blog on the dissertation process and tips on selecting a solid committee in a future blog), I was able to manage. The reason why I was able to manage was that I begin to treat the process like a full-time job, I found mentors, and change my mindset from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. I defended on March 5th, 2018, and have not looked back since.









That was a long intro, but I felt the need to give some background so you can understand why I had to "find myself again" and why it took almost three years to do so.


Immediately after defending my dissertation, I begin to interview for positions (I started applying a year early - I will talk about this process in detail in a future blog). I already knew that I was going to have to relocate. My faculty advisor shared this with me very early on. After several phone and online interviews and even more rejection letters I finally received three campus visit invites. Campus visits sound like a pleasant "thing" but it can be a grueling process in academia if you do not prepare properly (I will share some tips on this process in a future blog). Two months after graduating I landed on the amazing opportunity and I currently teach and conduct research full-time at the post-secondary level.




So how has this mother of four worked to get her groove back? Well prior to the COVID-19 pandemic I begin to travel again. I have traveled (without my kids - aka bae-cation) to the Bahamas and Jamaica. I also danced in the streets of New Orleans on a girl's getaway trip. I took a couple of family trips to Orlando (both times I also presented my research at a conference). Most of all, I focused more on living in the moment and embracing my new life as Dr. Tina O'Neal. Just recently I decided to rediscover my old hobbies of writing for pleasure (hence the blog), practicing my trumpet - I played in high school, and ballroom dancing.









What is interesting about all of this is, looking back, I cannot imagine managing my current life so well if I did not go through my trials and tribulations that were mentioned above. Although I have come so far, I still have a long way to go. There are so many things I want to do and share as it relates to parenting, my area of research (special education), and navigating grad school.

I started this blog as an outlet for mothers that are traveling on a similar journey. A journey of trying to pursue personal and professional goals and still maintain "super mom" status. But more importantly, I started this blog to continue my journey of "finding myself again" and documenting it along the way.




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