Don’t wait til you arrive at your destination to commemorate your journey.
My last grade for the Spring 2021 semester was posted last week. As a result, I officially closed the end of my first year of my PhD journey! Don’t ask me about my semester or cumulative GPA, because grades do not matter. No seriously, they don’t. Rather, I’d love for y’all to know that I passed all of my classes and earned 15 total credits towards my coursework.
Throughout the 2020-2021 academic year, I completed the following courses: Professional Seminar, Facilitating Student Learning, Student Governance and Leadership, Qualitative Research, and International Education and Exchange. Each class introduced me to new knowledge, language, and concepts that I will continue to use in both my practice and research. I was most captivated by my International Education and Exchange course because of its multidimensional approach to address higher education internationalization in both domestic and global contexts. Learning more deeply about academic and public diplomacy, study abroad (or is it academic tourism?), and student mobility confirmed my research agenda and inspired me to pursue a Fulbright scholarship during my PhD journey.
I will be a Fulbright Scholar.
I will be a Fulbright Scholar.
I will be a Fulbright Scholar.
Before I started my program, I asked several doctoral students, candidates, and graduates for advice. Surprisingly, every single person said some variation of the following: find community, run your own race, and journal throughout the process. After completing my first year, I can honestly say I took and applied their advice.
Find community. I learned very early that my community throughout this program would extend beyond the physical boundaries of the College Park campus. My cohort is phenomenal, and the faculty are exceptional, but my research interests, professional goals, learning style forced me to cultivate relationships outside of my program and university community.
In September 2020, I started a small group with 6 Black doctoral students from across the country. Though we were all studying different disciplines, we all had one thing in common: we were starting our programs together. Affectionately known as the “Black Doc Family Reunion,” we met once per month to lean on each other, share helpful tips and resources, and to be in genuine community with other Black doctoral students. Future Drs. Karra, Jhala, Harry, Katherine, Ashley, Beth – I am proud of us and cannot wait til celebrate together this summer!
Run your own race. I started this program knowing that I did not want to pursue tenure-track faculty positions after I graduated. After my first academic paper, I confirmed that I never want to write in APA format after completing my dissertation. I chose to pursue a PhD I was ready to harness my education to dismantle unjust systems and discriminatory practices to liberate all student communities. After repeatedly being denied access to research articles because of paid academic journal subscriptions, I knew I wanted my research to be public, practical, and purposeful.
Rather than pursuing journal publications and first-author recognition, I am focused on producing work that is available for practitioners and policymakers to digest and implement in their work. Podcast appearances, op-ed articles, and Twitter discussions are just a few ways I’ve chosen to run my own race and deliver on this promise. I was also invited to serve as a panelist for the 2021 NCAA Inclusion Forum to share how athletic departments can best support international college athletes in U.S. higher education.
And still, I sometimes fall short of recognizing the gifts inside of me destined to change the world. I am grateful to be in community with people like Dr. Lacee’ and Prince who remind me to not only stay in my lane but to also believe in and pursue the impossible.
Journal. I have been journaling since I started my PhD journey and I am SO glad that I did. I chose to video journal and it’s been humbling to go back and watch old videos of me speaking about my research, experience, and feelings at different checkpoints throughout the academic year. Outside of my dissertation, I am most eager to share the compilation of journaling videos throughout my PhD experience after I graduate in a few years.
Community building, running my own race, and journaling throughout the journey is all great advice that I would also give to incoming doctoral students.
But below I have listed 3 (of many) insights I learned about myself throughout the last academic year that I wish someone would have told me before I started.
Check your privilege. It’s not always Black and white.
Race and racism will forever be a topic of conversation in the United States, deservingly so. But whiteness is not only the privilege that stratifies opportunities and access for underrepresented and minoritized communities.
My research agenda centers on the experiences of international college athletes. I initially struggled to acknowledge my agenda because I had to confront the privileges I hold as a U.S. born citizen. Furthermore, I am researching and writing about a student community in which I am an outsider. After reflecting on my identities and relationality, I realized that I am drawn to international college athletes because I want to use my American privilege to create an equal and socially just reality for international college students in the United States. And I will construct this work for and with them.
Brand yourself as a scholar. Believe in yourself and be loud about your scholarship.
Class assignments, work responsibilities, and life circumstances take up a lot of time as a doctoral student. Yet at some point, I will defend my dissertation and become Dr. Timothy F. Bryson. I refuse to wait until my dissertation is published for the outside world to learn what I study, why I study it, and the change I hope to see. Though I will continue to evolve and grow as a scholar throughout the next several years, I am prepared and ready to contribute today. I am choosing to use social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram) to share my scholarship and I will eventually leverage my podcast as well. As an incoming/current doctoral student, I strongly encourage you to identify platforms to share your work and connect with community members who will use your research to inform policy and practice in both their local and global network. S/O to #WritingBlackness for the encouraging start!
For dope examples of scholars who are thriving in this space, see Dr. Michael A. Goodman (Twitter: @mi_good), future Dr. Wayne Black (Twitter: @WayneLBlack1), Dr. Cierra Kaler-Jones (Instagram: @_cierrajade_ and @UnlockYourStory), Dr. Tomika Ferguson (Twitter: @TomiFerg and @BlkWomanAthlete), and Dr. Yannick Kluch (Twitter: @YannickKPhD).
Have Fun! In the words of the greatest artist of all time, “moment I stop having fun with it, I’ll be done with it.”
Fall semester, I was on the grind. Reading, trying to write, and thinking about PhD shit all the damn time. I was burnt out heading into the new calendar year and I made a commitment to myself to learn how to rest and prioritize fun throughout my process.
I will drop out of this program before I lose my mind because my health and well-being is more important than any degree I could ever earn. Since January 2021, I’ve traveled to Nashville, Maine, Disney World, and Puerto Rico – all while working full-time and pursuing my PhD. I share this because my first semester in the program I was moving from a place of fear rather than faith. I was making decisions as if I had something to lose, instead of everything to gain. And after that clock hit 12 to bring us into 2021, I stopped choosing between fun and PhD work and made space so that I could do both. You too can do both – whatever “both” is and looks like for you. 🙂
Pursuing a doctoral degree is a privilege, but it will never be handcuffs to my life, my life decisions, and my life’s purpose. I refuse to let coursework, candidacy, and dissertation writing prevent me from living my life and having fun. Life is too short, my life is good, and I WILL graduate from the PhD in Student Affairs program at the University of Maryland as a whole person. Period.
Full-time employment. Full-time PhD student. Full-time podcast.
God kept me.
Year 1 was fun. Year 2 – It’s personal.
I am on a mission and I will not stop until I get there. I will continue to find community, journal, and run my own race. I will also implement interventions to check my privilege, ensure I’m branding myself as a scholar, and to have fun. But more than anything I will remember who I am, whose I am, and to celebrate along the way.
Encourage somebody to be great today!
Future Dr. TFB