Office Hours: Danelle Rolle-McFarland


Danelle Rolle-McFarland

Occupational and Environmental Health Ph.D. Student at Purdue University


What inspired you to attend grad school?

I’ve always been a problem solver. Since I was a young girl, I wanted to be able to solve the health problems of the world’s forgotten (ie. Vulnerable populations, minority groups, etc). I decided to go to grad school to learn the research skills that would allow me to do just that.


Tell me about your proudest grad school moment. Why was it special for you?

My proudest moment was probably when I won 1st place in the student poster session at the 2016 Indiana Public Health Association’s Public Health Week Conference. I already felt so blessed just to be there talking about the work I was doing and having people genuinely interested in it. Then to find out they thought my presentation was the best, in a room of such brilliant work, was amazing. I’ve won a few more awards since then but you never forget your first.


What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten while in grad school?

One of my best friends reminded me once when it all became too much that “You know why you’re here. Whenever this gets too much remember that.” As overwhelming as the entire process has been I never forgot that.


If you had to describe your Black grad experience with one song, which one would it be, and why?

I would say “Never Would Have Made It” by Marvin Sapp. Through this entire time, God has never left my side. Whether it was a word from Him or Him working through my family and friends, I was supported the entire time.


What has been your biggest obstacle in grad school? What strategies have you used to try to overcome it?

I’d say dealing with imposter syndrome was the worst part. There were many times when I questioned if I belonged. Diving deeper into my work helped. Focusing on what I was doing allowed me to realize that no one knew the work like I did.


What has this experience (pursuing a graduate degree) taught you about yourself?

I am way more resilient than I thought. I always thought of myself as a strong, black woman but it definitely took a different kind of strength to get through my PhD.


If you could go back to the first day of grad school, what advice would you give to yourself?

I’d tell myself to enjoy the journey a bit more. I’m very end-driven so I can become very focused on just achieving my goals. If I could go back I’d relax more and not work myself up into the frenzies that I have during grad school.


How do you think your identities have informed your graduate experience?

I think being a Black, Caribbean woman in a white male dominated field made me realize that I’d have to tailor my experience to my needs and not conform to the space around me.


How do you intend to use your degree in the future?

I plan to research the environmental risk factors that affect the health of vulnerable populations and minority groups.


What’s something that you would tell someone who is interested in pursuing a similar path?

Make sure this is what you want. Research your end career. Is a graduate degree necessary? If so, would a Masters suffice or would you have to get a PhD? Don’t go through the process if it isn’t necessary.

Feel free to reach out to Danelle: