This weekend I had the pleasure of attending Princeton’s Graduate Women of Color Caucus’s conference, The Changing Role and Influence of Women of Color in Society. It was such a great experience. The keynote was by Dr. Ruth Simmons (current President of Brown, former President of Smith (whoot whoot)). She is simply amazing. If you don’t know about Dr. Simmons, you need to ask someone. She is the Michael Jordan of academia.
She was candid. She was funny. She was honest. Dr. Simmons broke down what we need to succeed in higher education, and especially in some of the most prestigious schools in America.
Know your field. Like really know it. Know the markers of your field. Where should you be published? What prizes should you be striving for? What grants should you be receiving?
Mentors. Of course you know you need a mentor, but how do you know if you have a good mentor. Dr. Simmons told us if all your mentor does is tell you how wonderful you are, get a new mentor. You need a mentor to tell you what’s not pretty.
Let them take credit for your work. It’s happened to her many times before, and it’s bound to happen for you. It’s better for us, if you succeed. Who cares if they want to take credit for it.
This is going to require maturity. Unfair things are going to happen to you. Expect that. So now, how are you going to handle it? You cannot throw a fit. You must handle disappoint with grace. When your boss/professor talks crazy to you, take it. Save the tears for your office.
Don’t let others pacify you. Again, like with your mentors, if you are surrounded by people who only tell you how great you are, be aware. Be your own worst critique. Tear your own work about if you have to.
Endure. Be strong. Do not let grad school break you. You will be dealing with all this drama for a good reason – that good MA or PhD.
Be broad. Most of there are studying something related to people of color, and that is great. But we must remember to be broad enough to affect others. This will also make us more marketable when we hit the job market. It’s important to be near the center. Being in the margin is not where you want to be.
Remember how important you are. Yes, you need the school for an education, but they need you too. The better you are, they better they look. Don’t let them treat you like they are doing you a favor and that you don’t belong. Remember your value to their institution and be good to yourself.
It was exactly what I needed to hear and at the exact time when I needed it most. Thank you Dr. Simmons. You are a gem.