Monday, August 11, 2014

Guest Blogger: Marie Nubia Feliciano at the First International Latina/o Studies Conference

Guest Blogger: Marie Nubia Feliciano
This week’s special guest blogger Marie Nubia Feliciano shares her story about her recent trip to Chicago to attend the first International Latina/o Studies Conference.  Marie also shares a little about her balancing act of being a doctoral student, partner, mom and employee.  I send this amazing woman positive energy, strength and the courage to persevere and use all support systems available for her to achieve her goals, including completing her doctorate and advancing in her career. Marie, we are all behind you and can’t wait to add you to the Galeria de Doctoras Latinas as the future Doctora Feliciano.  Pa’lante hermana!


Marie Nubia Feliciano shares her affirming experience at the International Latina/o Studies Conference.  Please read on:
Marie Nubia Feliciano and Dra. Ylce Irizarry
This July, I attended the first International Latina/o Studies Conference with the theme “Imagining the Past, Present and Future."  The conference ran from July 17 to the 19 and was held in Chicago’s Palmer House Hotel. It was the first time I presented on my dissertation topic, the college going experiences of Afro-Borinqueñas both stateside and in Puerto Rico. The experience was very good. I received good feedback on the presentation and was able to hand out my recruitment flyer to those who attended the presentation. I also ran into a fellow Facebook friend from the Latinas Completing Doctoral Degrees Facebook group, Doctora Ylce Irizarry. 

During my time there, I was also able to connect with some fabulous women from the National Conference of PuertoRican Women (NACOPRW) in Chicago. I was first treated to a brunch at Nellie’s, a Puerto Rican restaurant. In the afternoon, I got a tour of Paseo Boricua, the cultural hub of the Puerto Rican community in Chicago. 

The hospitality was overwhelming…I hope to be in the position to pay it forward someday soon.

My journey to where I am today has been full of challenges. With two children, a partner, two cats, and a house to attend to, I am well entrenched in my private self. That often leaves little room or time for the development of my public self. As Michel Martin wrote in the recent National Journal (, I am part of the “transitional generation,” the one who is benefiting from the work of previous generations of women and men who struggled to get the doors of academia open just enough for us to squeeze through. They are now holding the doors open with their sheer will and grit. They hope that enough of us get through so that they can let go and the door will stay open. I am part of that transitional generation who is now charged with doing the work of keeping the door open.

However, being part of that transitional generation also means that I have to deal with 21st century realities of job insecurity, daycare expenses, and student loans. It means dealing with the microaggressions that have the potential of shortening my life expectancy. It means still having to work twice as hard to be considered half as qualified as a white faculty or graduate student. The struggle continues and I am hopeful. I am hopeful because I am intentional in my engagements with others. 

I recently reached out to a faculty person at CSU Pomona to see if we can work together on a project. He said yes and  that this could be a mutually beneficial relationship. I stopped him and said that I am not in the business of trading favors...I'm not big on transactional relationships. I will help him just because I like what he does and want to support a fellow colleague of color advance in the academy. I like to start from an authentic place as often as possible. I put that sense of authenticity out to the world in the hope that it will be returned to me. That is what I lay my hope in. That is what I hope will contribute to the changes that need to happen in academia. I see this as my contribution to keeping the door open for others to follow.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

It Takes a Village: Why Asking for Help is Essential to the Dissertation Process

The 700th person just joined my Facebook group: Latinas Completing Doctoral Degrees, and I am both amazed and humbled at the same time.  Almost a year ago I started blogging about my dissertation journey in hopes that I would find support for my extrinsically motivated self.  The Facebook group then seemed like another way to find additional help and maybe even comfort from a community that I could trust.  Like many other doctoral students, there are myriad feelings that come up for me when I realize that I can’t complete the dissertation on my own.  And when I do admit that I need help, I am careful about to whom I reach out.  This got me thinking: what holds us back from asking for help?

After completing the coursework and comprehensive exams in our doctoral programs, we are told that we should now be prepared to complete a dissertation.  But I don’t think I was unique when I got that terrifying feeling that the task that I was about to embark on was going to be daunting, to say the least.  Luckily, there are now numerous books available (see reference links below) that try to simplify the dissertation process by providing tips, tricks and insight into what goes on in the mind of a dissertating student.  This is one kind of help that works if you are a person that is self-motivated and can follow structured directions like a robot.  However, I am one of those “people persons” with a need for human interaction and ongoing feedback and I already admitted that I am also an extrinsically motivated person.

Unfortunately, the usual dissertation committee setup does not always provide that constant support.  I do feel fortunate that I have an amazingly supportive dissertation mentor and a wonderfully reassuring committee, but they all have many other responsibilities and it is not appropriate for me to expect constant check-ins and reminders.

There are many other instances in our lives that we don’t think twice about asking for help.  For example, I had a recent knee injury that needed a team of people to come together to help me get back to “normal.”  My primary care physician, surgeon, physical therapist, co-workers and most importantly, my family formed the dream team to get me back on my feet literally and figuratively. Everyone did their part to assist me when I needed it and even when I refused to admit I needed it.  There is nothing more humbling than hobbling around on crutches and becoming so much more conscious of the privilege that I have as an able-bodied person (but that’s a blog post for another day). I learned to ask for help and not feel guilty or undeserving of it.  That was more challenging for me than I thought.

So back to the question about what holds us back from asking for help in the dissertation process.  These are some thoughts I came up with:

External Issues: Our intuition tells us that we will be judged and those stereotypes about who does and does not belong in academia begin to show up in the ways that we are or are not actively supported.  The problem is that when we ask for help we are doing a few things:

  • admitting we can’t do it alone
  • making ourselves vulnerable
  • relying on others who may or may not actually be able to help

Internal Issues: Our feelings of inadequacy might creep up and we begin to believe that if we are asking for help we:

  • are not capable of doing it ourselves
  • don’t know what we're doing
  • should have known better than to think we could dare to aspire to accomplish such a significant achievement

I think on both sides of these equations there are some truths, but the bottom line is that NO ONE has ever done anything significant ALONE. Every great invention or accomplishment starts with an idea, but the final version of any great thing came to be because of a team of people who believed in the idea and then used their variety of talents to make it happen. 

This summer I decided to post a question in the Facebook group about creating summer writing accountability groups and I honestly thought that maybe 5 or 6 others might reply with interest.  We now have almost 60 Latina doctoral students from all over the United States, organized in 10 groups.  These writing groups are designed to support each other and provide a variety of online (and some in-person) check-in mechanisms to ensure a productive summer.  I am one of those people who is already benefiting from this initiative. My group has motivated me to spend time in the library and keep going at night when I thought I was too tired to code and write. (Thank you Darleny, Shirley and Daphnie!)

By reaching out for help and seeing my dissertation as a collaborative process I opened up a world of support, hope and love (yes love) that I could never have imagined.  I am grateful and look forward to celebrating more milestones with my newly found support group, um, I mean, summer writing accountability group. ;)

As referenced above, here are some useful dissertation writing resource links:

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

One Major Key to Success for Doctoral Students: Building a Supportive Network

I am excited to share that I recently finished collecting data for my dissertation and the finish line is now in sight. I must say I owe it to my amazing committee, my understanding family, my helpful colleagues and a very supportive online network. About a year ago, I was still in the dissertation proposal stage feeling very isolated and alone in the process. As I described in my first blog entry, I was searching for a way to connect with others having similar struggles and could not find it.  My frustration prompted me to start blogging: The Doctoralatina blog then lead to the creation of the Facebook group Latinas Completing Doctoral Degrees and I am proud to say that it has grown to over 600 members. I am humbled by the idea that new members are joining every day looking for what I couldn't find last year - a support network that understands the unique challenges of Latina doctoral students. With so much interest growing daily, could it be possible that a major factor to doctoral degree completion is forming a strong support network?  I say yes - absolutely!

The beauty of my doctoral program is that it was perfect for someone who needed the flexibility of completing a degree while holding a full time job. The downside was not having a set cohort to bond with, commiserate with and motivate each other to a common goal: completing the doctoral degree. What this means is that it then becomes essential to build your own supportive network.The tricky part is that the people in this network need to understand your unique circumstances. I would venture to say they also need to be one with whom you can be vulnerable and ask questions without the fear of being perceived as incompetent. 

This reminds me of a recent impromptu dinner gathering that happened when I attended a national student affairs conference.  A group of us who did not really know each other before decided to go to dinner together.  It was a very comfortable conversation. We shared work and life challenges and gave each other advice.  It was like we were old friends and could share our stories without fear of being judged. What did we all have in common? We were all Latinas with a shared understanding of the unique issues that we all face in higher education.

I feel the Facebook group has taken a life of its own and has become a place where Latina scholars ask questions, celebrate milestones and share challenges in a supportive and affirming environment. There is something special about having a space to share these experiences, hopefully minimizing the feelings of isolation and the lonely writing process. You can't find this kind of network everywhere and if you don't find what you seek - create it!

So my advice to new (or not so new) doctoral students is to get to know their fellow students and build a social support network as early as possible. Find people with whom you have things in common. For example, if you are a parent, find other parents; if you are juggling classes while working full time, find others doing the same. There are so many commonalities that can connect people enough to form that supportive self-created cohort that can lead to successful completion of the doctoral degree. 

I wish I had found this network earlier in my doctoral program, but no need to lament at this point.  I have not only created the network I needed, but have fully thrived through it and have finished collecting data and am on my way to writing my final dissertation chapters.  I have my faculty, supportive family, helpful colleagues and the amazing online network, Latinas Completing Doctoral Degrees to thank.  Finally, the most important group to thank are the amazing Latinas who agreed to be interviewed for my dissertation study. I can’t wait to tell their stories, so on to coding and analyzing! (More about that in my next blog post - stay tuned.)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Celebrating Milestones and Handling Setbacks

Top - Dissertation Proposal Defense,  Bottom Left - Ready for a great ski day with the family,  Bottom Right - Waiting for rescue after knee injury

I recently had to put some things in perspective and I thank God for moments of clarity to help me take a moment to celebrate milestones and handle setbacks. The dissertation process is something like this.  

I celebrated 2 milestones in my doctoral journey. I successfully defended my dissertation proposal and submitted the IRB application.  I am happy to report that I received a letter from the IRB and with some minor edits, I am confident that I will get the green light to conduct the interviews for my study in the timeline I planned so that I can then go on to the next milestone – collecting data!

I also experienced a major setback. I thought I would be celebrating another major milestone in my physical fitness life, but it looks like plans will need to be changed. On the day before I was supposed to take the test for my Red/Black belt in Tae Kwon Do, a major step before the Black Belt, I suffered a ski injury.  I tore the ACL in my right knee (the one I need to drive!) and now I will require surgery with a long recovery.  I envisioned that this year I was going to celebrate two major accomplishments - completing my doctoral degree and achieving Black Belt status in Tae Kwon Do.  I now have to modify that plan both mentally and physically. 

I was lucky to get some perspective the day of my injury. As I was feeling sorry for myself at the bottom of the ski mountain, I looked up and saw an 80 plus year old man coming down the slope with just one leg and when I looked closer at his jacket, it turns out he is one of the ski instructors! This was truly a spiritual and inspirational moment that I feel blessed to have experienced.  I took this vision as a sign from God that each of us has to carry on no matter what obstacles might seem insurmountable.  My knee can and will heal and I can choose to stay positive and move forward.

Interestingly, since this injury happened, I have had many people share stories with me about similar ones they’ve had.  I guess my crutches and knee brace make my injury visible to all and people can’t help but to ask me what happened and the exchange begins. Now I'm learning so much about my friends and colleagues - things I never knew about their struggles because they are no longer visible.  The part of these stories that I enjoy hearing most is about their healing process and how much better they feel now.  It makes me wonder what other invisible struggles people are suffering through that I never get to hear about, but would help me get a better understanding of the source of each person’s resilience and strength.

I feel like this is exactly what happened when I started blogging about my dissertation process and sharing in the Latinas Completing Doctoral Degrees Facebook group.  There is something special about people being willing to tell others about their struggles that creates a shared solidarity that helps them realize they are not alone and that there is hope for overcoming setbacks, big and small.

Although I have had to modify my expectations with the milestones I expected for this year, I am still very happy with my dissertation progress and look forward to my physical healing process. My new favorite word stated often by my excellent dissertation mentor as I have been moving through the process is: Onward!  Yes. Yes indeed.