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.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Year End Gratitude and Goal Setting for 2014!

Celebrating 2013 and looking forward to 2014!
The end of the year seems to be a perfect time to reflect on accomplishments of the past and set goals for the future. It is also a great time for expressing gratitude to people in our lives who serve as reminders of how connected we all really are. Interestingly, social media played a big part of feeling more human connection despite critics who believe otherwise.  One great example of this was a recent visit to the home of Doctora Nelly Cardinale, who is currently featured in our Galeria de Doctoras Latinas and shared her dissertation defense story (click here to read Nelly's post).  She is someone I met on Facebook who has been so encouraging to me.  It was surreal to have connected online for many months and then finally have the opportunity for our families to meet in person.
The Cardinale Family hosts the Pertuz Family December 2013
I am grateful for being open to trying new things and allowing the unexpected to happen in support of my goals. I have been trying to finish my dissertation to earn my doctorate for quite some time, and I almost gave up. I was surprised at my own negative thoughts – so unlike me.  I consider myself a problem solver, not a quitter. I would recognize a problem and take actions toward a solution, even if that means reaching out for help. How I reached out for help was unusual for me and what happened next was so much better than I expected. 

I never thought I would become a blogger, but it seemed necessary when in a moment of desperation, trying to find some online support in my dissertation process, I started Googling “Latinas” and “doctorates” and what came up were mostly pornography sites. I was surprised by the idea that the top online associations with the word “Latina” would not yield the scholarly and professional aspects of who we are. That was when I decided to start this blog and share my Latina doctoral journey. I guess I should have been using Google Scholar because there I did later find scholarly articles (very few) about Latina doctoral experiences. Knowing that others were reading it, responding and sending me encouragement was so motivating that I got moving and I am on my way to defending my dissertation proposal soon and will collect data shortly after that.  I can see my doctorate in my near future and I am not giving up.  I am so grateful to my faculty at Seton Hall University for their ongoing support.

I got such positive responses from this blog that it also led me to consider the bigger picture of Latinas Completing Doctoral Degrees.  So I started a Facebook group by suggestion from one of my sister scholars, Sherlene Ayala who is on her own doctoral journey and who shared her own perspective as a guest blogger (click here read Sherlene's blog entry). I also had my beautiful sister Cindy Bautista-Thomas share the beginning of her doctoral journey (click here to read Cindy's blog entry).

I discovered firsthand that there is something really powerful about sharing your struggles and even more powerful when others begin to share similar ones – and together, we begin to form a circle of solidarity and support.

If I learned nothing else this year, the most powerful message I received was that NOTHING IS MORE POWERFUL THAN COMMUNITY and we cannot accomplish great things without a strong network backing us up. 

I thank Doctora Angelica Perez, founder of the Ella Leadership Institute for planting the blogger seed in me by allowing me to share my thoughts on her blog back in September 2012 (click here for article), for agreeing to serve on my dissertation committee and for reminding Latinas to Think Big!

In my blogging journey I also found the Latina Researchers Network founded by Doctora Silvia Mazzula and I am happy to say that I will be joining them in their efforts to encourage Latinas and other underrepresented scholars to thrive by mentoring each other and inspiring a new generation of scholars.

Finally, I am always grateful for my family who unconditionally offer me their unwavering love and support in all that I do. Not for one second do I take this for granted.  I am here because of them and for them always.  I thank my husband, artist Antonio Pertuz and my children Ariana and Joaquin for being so patient with their Mami while she fulfills her goals.  What they don’t realize now is how much better their lives will be once I’m finally PhinisheD (#seewhatIdidthere). 

Gracias to all of the amazing people in my life who inspire me and support me – too many to name, but they know who they are.  Please continue to join me on what has now become a movement on Facebook at  and to increase Latina doctoral recipients and scholarship.

So excited for what 2014 will bring!  Happy New Year!!!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Dissertation Roadblock: Getting Stuck on the Information Superhighway

Found this great infographic by Anna Vital on
I feel like the past few weeks I have been in hibernation mode and I know it's been a while since I have posted a new blog entry. I think people underestimate the rigor of thought. I can see why so many academics have a hard time explaining and justifying what they do. After reading study upon study and journal article upon journal article for my dissertation literature review, I found that it takes time to stop, think about and consider what each author was trying to convey. Then making the connection to my topic becomes the real challenge.  Even when I do make the connection, I start to write and when I read it back, I get intimidated by my own writing. The imposter syndrome creeps in - is this really me or am I somehow conjuring up some other intellectual I might have read before?  I think this is one of the roadblocks for Latinas completing their dissertations and why the lit review becomes so difficult for many of us. It is time consuming and can be the loneliest part of all. You're needing to read, at some point stop the reading and get your thoughts down on paper.

I refuse to see this phase as being stuck. This is the thinking that makes us stop and GIVE UP. A member of the Latinas Completing Doctoral Degrees Facebook group posted a note that really struck a chord with me at the exact same moment I was thinking the same thing. She was seeking advice about what is the best way to put in order all of the articles she was reading for her dissertation. I could completely relate because that is exactly what I was going through - trying to figure out how to best organize and make sense of all the information while remaining focused on the main ideas. 

Some time ago, I came up with a solution for organizing my articles by creating a summary sheet to analyze each article separately in order to consider each one carefully.  I also came up with themes where I found common threads and created a category sheet where I could group things together.  Finally, I created an online form in Google drive so that I can enter references from anywhere and from any mobile device.  As time consuming as this was, I found it much easier to streamline the process and make it manageable. As it turns out, organizing articles is easy.  The difficult part is not letting the rigor and time that it takes to discourage you from continuing.  This is why, according to NSF Latinas earned only 2.3% of the doctorates granted in the United States in 2012.  We know how to work hard, but we start doubting our own abilities when we get overwhelmed. 

It gives me great comfort to know that I am not alone in this process. I have this blog and the Facebook group not only for support, but to help hold me accountable.  It’s been wonderful meeting other Latinas working on their doctorates and even the ones who have finished have been generous with their words of sabiduria (wisdom).  Without this network of support it would have been so easy to just walk away and get on with my life.  What I did not realize is that THIS IS MY LIFE. So I decided to write down what I believe are my current challenges and how I plan to overcome them:

1. Fear of my own writing ability AKA, the imposter syndrome. Solution: I remind myself that I have already written thousands of pages between papers for college and grad school, reports at work and of course tons of well crafted emails.

2. My proposal draft is never good enough to send to my faculty chair and dissertation committee AKA perfectionism.  Solution: From this point on, I commit to sending a weekly update with an explanation of what I did for the week. This will keep me on track and accountable since I rely heavily on external motivation. See previous blog entry:

3. Feeling overwhelmed. Solution: I created an organization system and I try to stick to it.

4. Feeling isolated from the institution. Solution: Keep in touch with my faculty and remember that they are there to help me.  They want me to finish too.  They have told me that several times!

5. Overall anxiety. Solution: I remember that it is important to take care of myself and I find ways to relax.  Most importantly,I seek out a support system. 

Thank you to the members of the LatinasCompleting Doctoral Degrees Facebook group and to the Latina Researchers Network, with whom I have also recently connected who help to keep me focused and motivated to finish. We can all do this!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Guest Blogger Sherlene Ayala: Angry Latina with a Balancing Act and an Added Dose of Microaggressions

This week’s special guest blogger has a story to tell about her balancing act of being a full time employee, doctoral student and family member.  This struggle would seem pretty typical for any person trying to achieve many goals, but what makes this story different, are the day to day microaggressions that Sherlene Ayala has to endure as a Latina on a journey to do great things.  As someone trying to do the same thing with the balancing act, and enduring many of the same microaggressions, I literally feel her pain.  I send this extraordinary young woman positive energy, strength and the courage to persevere and use all support systems available for her to achieve her goals, complete her doctorate and advance in her career. Sherlene, we are all rooting for you and can’t wait to add you to the Galeria de Doctoras Latinas as the future Dr. Ayala.  Pa’lante hermana! 

Sherlene Ayala: Doctoral Student and Emerging Scholar

Sherlene Ayala shares:
Angry Latina with a Balancing Act and an Added Dose of Microaggressions

As I enter my fifth semester as a doctoral student, I still struggle with making this work for me. There are times when I feel like I am losing my mind. I didn't get the memo on how to make this enormous responsibility fit in with the rest of my life. I can barely get myself looking decent these days; the thought of hanging out with friends seems like a daunting task, and when my partner reminds me that I am always studying, I feel like I've failed at the concept of multitasking. I'm a Latina, shouldn't I be able to "handle" my own and not let others see me sweat?

Outside of my role of a doctoral student, I work at a university in the northeast and my responsibility includes diversity programming and training. I struggle with making this exhausting role appear simple. I'm expected to manage my emotions, not take anything personal and ensure that I make others comfortable while I broach the topic of diversity. How can I do this when most of my time spent is reading and writing about institutional racism? How can I disconnect myself from a literature that speaks strongly to my experiences and names my day to day struggle? Why should I soften the topic of privilege and institutional racism? When I do such things, it’s at my own expense!

One day, a sorority sister posted on Facebook, "I’m fighting microaggressions one day at a time" and it reminded me about my conversation with a White student, who holds a significant leadership role on campus. He told me very bluntly that our school should only hire "American speaking faculty." I can’t blame him for thinking this way when a colleague a few weeks earlier told me a Senior Student Affairs Officer of Color was hired not because she was qualified with a doctoral degree, but because of affirmative action requirements.  These racist and negative messages are pervasive.

If leaving a seemingly “color-blind work environment” wasn't enough, I then have to spend my evenings sitting in a classroom with majority White peers who want to ignore the concept of racism, yet preach that they “get it.” I smirk in amusement as they talk about the “softer” topics such as gender issues, disability and Hurricane Sandy - the storm that destroyed their vacation home on the Jersey Shore. These are our future leaders of America who will sit in positions of leadership and go unquestioned because of their privileged identities.

Being a Latina who is passionate about social justice is a very difficult experience for which I was unprepared to tackle. In my years of education, not once have I been taught how to take care of myself in this process. My experiences of always having to "be on" and face the insults by students, colleagues and classmates is wearing me down. Navigating this difficult terrain is lonely, and at times the consequences of tokenism, racism, and stigmatization are psychologically and emotionally damaging. I sometimes wish I could turn off and tune everyone out, but it’s that moment when I have a student in my office telling me about the “N-Word” that was written on a classroom chair that gives me the fuel to keep fighting through.

I realize that I am earning those 3 special letters after my name so that one day I can be in a position of power to ensure that I am bringing these issues to the table. It is important to name the experiences of marginalized groups and push society to address inequalities. And while I may not have the answer to making this doctoral experience less stressful, and while I may never change someone’s mind about racism, I do know that with the doctoral degree I can inspire more People of Color to follow. I can be the one in the front of the classroom bringing real issues to the table.

So if this means I don’t get around to ironing my blouse for work, or that I forget to get my partner an anniversary gift, or my birthday consists of sitting in my office with sweat pants, a sloppy bun and my 3rd cup of coffee, I will do what it takes to get through this degree. I have to remind myself that there are many people standing behind me pushing me in this process, and that despite the challenges that are put in my way, I chose the road less traveled and it WILL make all the difference!