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Demystifying the Ph.D. Process

Demystifying the Ph.D. ProcessJourney to the Ph.D.: How to Navigate the
Process as African Americans
By Dr. Anna L. Green and
Dr. LeKita V. Scott, eds.
Stylus Publishing, October 2003, 240 pp.
$45.00 cloth, ISBN 1-57922-078-9; $18.95
paper, ISBN 1-57922-079-7  As increasing numbers of African Americans enroll in and complete doctoral programs, the need for accurate, real-life information about the graduate school process is essential. In Journey to the Ph.D.: How to Navigate the Process as African Americans, editors Anna L. Green and LeKita V. Scott offer students at every step of the process advice, information and guidance for a successful stint in academia.
Journey is a collection of essays on the doctoral experiences of 24 African American scholars. The narratives include stories from current doctoral students as well as those who have already completed their degree. In general, the authors provide advice and impart personal reflections on the influence of familial, financial, intellectual and emotional factors on their decision to pursue a Ph.D. Each narrator’s experience is vastly different, ranging from those who were first-generation college students to those who descend from an extended lineage of college-educated family members. A range of disciplines is represented; however, there are a number of testimonials from scholars in the field of education (representing over two-thirds of the authors). Despite the array of personal histories, there is a wealth of information on graduate schools for anyone regardless of major discipline, social background or stage in the doctoral process.
To streamline the book, the editors divide the essays into three major sections. The first section, “Entrance into the Academy,” focuses on one’s choice and decision to pursue a doctorate. For those readers interested in exploring graduate school options and the details of the process, there is a chapter describing a step-by-step (or month-by-month) guide to applying to graduate school. This essay offers readers information on topics ranging from finding a program to securing letters of recommendation to dealing with rejection. This chapter also includes an excellent list of Web sites devoted to information about graduate programs, standardized testing requirements and financial aid.
A second chapter recounts the experiences of a Rhodes Scholar, who ultimately obtained his Ph.D. after previously receiving three master’s degrees. In yet another chapter, current doctoral students in education humorously provide a list of must-ask questions for those contemplating a Ph.D. Prospective doctoral students are urged to consider important issues such as the benefits of attending full-time vs. part time, the pressure that prior family commitments can place on a new doctoral student, and whether to relocate to the graduate school of choice.
The second section, “Adapting to the Academy,” includes essays about surviving a Ph.D. program once a student has been admitted and has enrolled. Here, personal accounts bring to light the pervasive issues of racism, sexism and ageism still in existence for many African American students in doctoral programs. One protagonist describes the difficulty in adopting the “private” language of academia, fighting feelings of tokenism and combating suspicion from the Black community outside of the university. These sentiments are echoed in another narrative of a young man’s apprehension at being “the only” in his doctoral cohort (in this case, the only African American male). Another chapter on the importance of reflective practice provides the reader with insight into the benefits of constant and active exploration of one’s role and purpose within the larger community of minority scholars.
“Surviving the Academy,” the third and final section, offers more practical advice from scholars who have already obtained their Ph.D. One theme that is pervasive throughout the entire book, but is particularly emphasized here, is the importance of establishing positive and productive mentoring relationships with program faculty. The authors provide information on how to find a faculty mentor, highlight the need for more attention to the dynamics of the faculty/student advising relationship, and offer an in-depth depiction of a successful mentoring program at a large research university in the South.
The book concludes with a list of practical guidelines from the editors on successfully beginning a career in academia. Specifically, Green and Scott advise readers to frequently network with professionals in their field, maintain a strong teaching and research agenda, and create a thorough academic portfolio complete with a sample of research publications, representative teaching evaluations and letters of recommendation.
Journey is a helpful resource for any African American student seriously considering the pursuit of a Ph.D. or for those currently in the midst of their doctoral program. The book also serves as a valuable asset to current faculty (of all races), as a means for continuing the critical dialogue surrounding the recruitment and retention of African American students in doctoral programs. The essays incorporate a variety of writing styles from informal and conversational to more technical and theoretical. There is also a strong premise throughout many of the compositions of the importance of spirituality as a means for surviving, and thriving, on the road to the Ph.D.
Dr. Anna L. Green is an assistant professor in the School of Business and Industry at Florida A&M University. She is also president of the Sisters of the Academy (SOTA) Institute. Dr. LeKita V. Scott is the Science Academic Coordinator for the Florida-Georgia Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation scholarship program at Florida A&M University.   — Reviewed by Keonya Booker

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