The Millennial PhD Interview Series is one of my favorite types of content to create. I love meeting millennial academics and learning about their grad school experience! Every interview I do is unique and provides an interesting perspective on grad school and academia AND is always valuable!
This week, I’m sharing an interview with Dr. P from Professor In Pumps and I highly recommend following her on Instagram @professorinpumps!
We will start with a brief bio: job title, where you went to grad school
Hello all, I am Dr. P! I am currently the clinical counseling director and a psychotherapist for a non-profit agency where I provide treatment to individuals with emotional, physical and sexual abuse. I am also the founder of Professor in Pumps an academic fashion and lifestyle blog. This year I graduated with my Ph.D. from the University of the Cumberlands in leadership with an emphasis on counselor education and supervision. Before that, I attended Winthrop University for my Masters in Counseling and Development and my B.A. in Psychology came from St. Bonaventure University.
Then a little history: where are you from? When did you decide to go to grad school? Did you start grad school knowing you wanted exactly what you wanted to do?
I am originally from upstate New York but currently live in the Carolinas. I am right on the border between North and South Carolina so it feels like I live in both states. My whole life I knew I was going to be a "doctor" but I never really knew what type I would become. After struggling greatly in my undergraduate program I realized that chemistry and medicine was not my calling. Psychology was very interesting and helped me get my foot in the door of my master's program. I had a very difficult time in college managing my freedom and trying to stay on top of my grades so I did not do well academically. There were a lot of hard life lessons that I needed to learn before I was ready to step out into the real world.
What was your first semester of grad school like?
When I think back on my first semester of grad school (masters) I had no idea what I was getting into but I knew that I had to prove to myself that I could do it. I moved 775 miles away from my family and had to support myself in a new city without knowing a single person. I was also dating someone that I was head over heels for that had deployed to Iraq around the same time as my start date. My first semester was scary and sad but exciting rolled into one. I remember, I actually decided to skip one of my classes because I flew out to Texas (which did end up counting against me on my attendance) because I was saying goodbye to my boyfriend of the time as he was about to deploy. That first semester was not something I look back on fondly because it was painful but out of that I started to grow personally and academically.
When did you finally feel like you got the hang of grad school?
I realized that I was getting the hang of grad school when I found routines. The structure of my day helped me keep myself focused on school. As a shy person, I was slow at making friends and a lot the time I felt pretty lonely so I really threw myself into school. Every night I was doing homework, reading and working on papers which led to good grades and quick mastery of the material. After realizing that this routine was helping me learn (something I missed the point of in undergrad) I started to become more confident in myself and that led me to branch out. I started to take on more responsibilities working as an assistant for the program director and helping coordinate the community clinic. My master's program was where I really thrived very quickly after a difficult undergrad.
My doc program was a different story. I applied for doc programs while I was in my last semester of my masters and was repeatedly shot down by schools because I was "too young" and "did not have enough experience." This made me really mad and lit a fire under me to get into a program. I was fortunate enough that I did get accepted into an online Ph.D. program that specialized in counselor education with a focus on trauma. Unfortunately, the asynchronous rigors of this program hit me hard and I ultimately ended up burning out. After recovering from my burnout, I transferred to another online school that provided a synchronous classroom and this was when again I started to thrive. One takeaway I will say is that if you know what type of learning style you thrive in making sure you seek that out when looking at grad schools or considering transferring to different programs. I am definitely the type of person who needs face-to-face contact with a strict schedule for studying. I wish I had learned that in my undergrad instead of two years into my Ph.D. but that is just life!
What was your workload like when you were taking classes (coursework)?
The workload in my master's program was very focused on face-to-face clinical skills where the Ph.D. program focused mostly on writing and fine-tuning the academic side of my education.
How did you manage your time? (Readings, papers, presentations, lab work) Example of a daily/weekly schedule.
Managing my time changed as I grew into a professional. In my master's program, I was going to school full time and working part-time as an assistant and then worked for free as an intern. Everything in my masters was focused on counseling skills but it had a workable flow. In my Ph.D. program, I was working not just one but two counseling jobs, going to school full time and working again as a TA intern for free. This is also when I moved in with the man that I would end up marrying, so the joys of starting a new chapter in a relationship also impacted how I managed my time. The master's program was very intense but it was nothing compared to the Ph.D. I actually kept a journal and wrote down what my schedule was during my worst semester and pulled it out for this interview. It basically had me working from 7am-2pm as a school-based therapist, then a 1hr drive to my teaching assistant internship (no pay), 3pm-5pm was spent in supervision and lesson planning with my TA professor, followed by teaching class from 5-8pm then my TA professor would let me sit in her office while the campus police closed down the school and I would log into my Ph.D. classes from 8-9:30pm with a 30min drive home after. On the days I was not teaching I was working my second job for the non-profit (the one I am now the clinical director) from 3-8pm seeing clients. It was difficult but after that I know I can take on anything that comes my way!
How did you motivate yourself to get your work done?
My motivation to get things done started out of the fact that I was lonely but soon became a way for me to gain confidence in my work as a counselor. The better I did the more motivation I gained to get things done and get them done well. Taking pride in my work helped me get the best out what I was learning.
What about friends? Did you have time to hang with them?
As I mentioned, I did not have friends at first but grew to have some deep and powerful friendships. One of my friends in the master's program introduced me to my fiance and is off pursuing her own Ph.D. right now. Other friends that I gained were not in Ph.D. or masters programs but are loving and caring people who were fine with me sitting on my computer during game nights rather than playing. They understood that even though I was working I wanted to be with them and whatever way I could make that work they understood. I was very blessed to find friends like this!
Where you able to find time for yourself? How often did you have “me time”? Do you have any advice for grad students when it comes to time management, productivity, and “me time” while in grad school?
Rolling these three questions into one long answer!
SELF-CARE! Yes, I could speak on this for days! I recently did a post for @academeology where I described how I overcame that crazy schedule I mentioned above! The number one thing I will recommend is support, support, support!! You can do this alone but you don't have to, find a team that is going to help you and schedule your time off.
One of the things I did not anticipate in working on my dissertation was the level of carpal tunnel that I would develop from typing every day. So, when I was about to enter into my difficult semester with the 14-15 hour days I purchased a massage membership for 12 weeks (just enough to get me through the semester). I knew the chaos was coming so I planned ahead and saved to pay for the entire 12 weeks upfront. This was the hands-down best decision of my life. Not only did the massages help ease my carpal tunnel they forced me to take one hour a week for myself. By using the massages to help ease the pain and tightness from my carpal tunnel, it helped me decrease the "self-care guilt." You know what I mean, that guilty feeling you get when you want to take care of yourself but feel bad that you are not writing.
So I highly recommend that you find something that will work for you like a massage, coffee dates at home with peers, library venting sessions, seeing a therapist (I did this too), or going for a run. Then schedule that time and protect it, let nothing get in the way of you doing what you need during that time.
I can say 4 months after graduating with my Ph.D. and reflecting on my academic career I by no means did it perfectly. Nor did I know what I was doing half the time! I did have some amazing mentors and people that helped guide me and that really made all the difference. My carpal tunnel has also completely disappeared...funny how that works. This little snippet is by no means all the fun chaos that I had over my 10 years in school but hopefully, it is a little insight that will help with the journey that you find yourself on!
My past interviews were in video format and can be found on The Academic Society’s Facebook page. My first interview was with Dr. Brian Foster and he talked about his experience in grad school and how that led him to becoming an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Southern Studies.
During that interview, we talked about:
>>Feeling isolated in your department
>>Being lost your first year
>>The importance of reflection
>>How to schedule your day
>>The "Potluck Principle"
>>How to get through all of your readings
>>How to make time for yourself in grad school
Plus, Brian shared his top 3 tips for success in graduate school.
My second interview was with Dr. Andrea Hadjikyriacou! Andrea received her PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from UCLA. Now she has a Post-doctoral research position at a biotech company. On top of that, Andrea runs a fashion blog to help grad students and other professionals style outfits for conferences, interviews, and work. She also gives great grad school advice! You can find her at PhD Fashionista or www.phdfashionista.com.
In the interview, Andrea gives advice about:
-grad school bullying
-mental health and anxiety
-choosing a career path other than academia