Brief Advice For Current Graduate Students On The Margins

Me - FordShortly after I graduated from Indiana University, earning my PhD in sociology, I felt compelled to scream to every graduate student, “we can do it!”  Or, more specifically for marginalized students, “we can do it without losing our souls!”  But, the structure and culture of academic institutions leaves many scholars on the margins questioning their competence and contribution and/or attempting to reconcile the mainstream values of their discipline with their politics and authenticity.  It is certainly no small task, and likely will be one that last throughout one’s career — but, it can be done.  So, in the spirit of pursuing a PhD, but not at the expense of my well-being, identity, and values, I gave the following advice to current graduate students.

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My advice to those still working through graduate school:

Don’t let these “experts” from privileged backgrounds who define “expertise” and “knowledge” narrowly — in their terms, their view of the world — tell you, or even lead you to believe, that you are not smart enough, not critical enough, not good enough.  They have carved out a small piece of the world and declared that only those who can break into it or “get it” are true intellectuals.  Some of them actively guard those borders to keep the rest of us out. Some of them intentionally use esoteric language and methods to force the rest of us to feel incompetent.  Be mindful of what they’re up to, but trust your own perspective, passion, and voice. Don’t be fooled into thinking there are no alternatives to what is considered “mainstream” or “traditional.” Don’t let them tell you that only quantifiable knowledge can be trusted.  Don’t let them deceive you into thinking objectivity exists, that researchers must be apolitical and disconnected from their work. Don’t hesitate to question why all of the “classics” reflect the scholarship of old/dead white heterosexual middle-class men.  Don’t let them tell you that studying a specific (marginalized) group isn’t important unless it tells us something about the entire (dominant) world.

Trust you. Do you. Be you. Speak for you. Think for you.