Office Hours: Christina Thomas
Christina Thomas @cjoyalways
History Ph.D. Student at Johns Hopkins University
What inspired you to attend grad school?
The limitations of my field pursued me to pursue a graduate degree. I majored in history and without a teaching license my options were limited in the field. Initially, I focused on joining the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps; however, my professor and other mentors told me to go for it and so I immediately jumped into a graduate program after receiving my Bachelor’s in History.
Tell me about your proudest grad school moment. Why was it special for you?
It was my second year in graduate school and I was beginning to write my master’s thesis. My biggest weakness was my writing and with a big paper submitted I was awaiting comments. The professor returned the paper and near one paragraph he wrote, “This sentence sent chills down my spine.” I still have that paper. This same professor also encouraged me to pursue a PhD program. He told me it was not a matter of whether I would be accepted, but it was a matter of me receiving full-funding. He spoke it into existence and I realized that I had what it took to continue forward with my degree.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten while in grad school?
Regardless of where other students attended school, how many languages they know, or how vast their vocabulary is, know that you belong there.
If you had to describe your Black grad experience with one song, which one would it be, and why?
If I can take it back to church, “I Won’t Complain”. Black Grad Life ain’t no joke, but this is my purpose and a part of my dream, so no matter how hard it gets, how many books I have to read, or papers that need to be submitted, I will not allow myself to complain. I worked hard to make it into graduate school and will continue to work hard in finishing this degree.
What has been your biggest obstacle in grad school? What strategies have you used to try to overcome it?
Imposter syndrome. I am in a white male dominated field. My cohort is 9 men (3 Israeli students and five white men) and myself. I remind myself constantly that I belong even if I have trouble getting through the workload or need to look up every other word in a book for its definition. Yet, it is a daily struggle and I am still working to shake it off.
How do you think your identities have informed your graduate experience?
As a Black woman in the field of history, I am typically one out of two Black individual and furthermore, Black women, in my program. I have been perceived as angry, rude, unapproachable, and other negative stereotypes. Again, it is a constant struggle, but I am confident in who I am, I love being a Black woman, and I enjoy studying the history of my people. It does bring additional pressure to succeed and to not allow people to see me “slip up”. I make sure I am on time, I make sure I do not fall behind, and I make sure to always read that extra book or article before class. It comes with its pros and cons.
How do you intend to use your degree in the future?
I want to teach, but not in the traditional college environment. My hope is to teach both high school and college students. I want to diversify my field; however, I believe the issue occurs with the lack of Black history being taught in the classroom. If I can show students that history can be fun, interesting, and that men, women, and children who look like us contributed to American and world history, I have accomplished my goal. I want history to empower students and not be a boring elective for them to check off.
What’s something that you would tell someone who is interested in pursuing a similar path?
First, ask yourself who you are doing this for. Second, take a break. As someone who immediately jumped from an undergraduate program to a master’s program to a PhD program, I missed out on much of my early 20s. Remember you do not have to rush anything, take your academic journey at your own pace.
Feel free to reach out to Christina: firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow on social media: @cjoyalways