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Latrice Sales @LatriceSales
Physical Education Teacher Education Ph.D. Student at The University of Texas at Austin
What inspired you to attend grad school?
I was inspired to go back to grad school because I wanted to be a better educator. I had been working in athletics and youth sport administration for almost ten years and I kind of felt like we were making stuff up. Part of my role was to take the latest research, make practical recommendations and educate our constituents. In a fast-paced business, we don’t always have the luxury of patience and time to figure things out completely, so I came back to grad school to learn how to be better educator (in non-traditional settings) and help shorten the gap between research and practice.
Tell me about your proudest grad school moment. Why was it special for you?
My proudest moments are when I receive papers back from professors recommending that I have them published. A lot of times I turn these papers in thinking they are utter trash, yet I somehow receive these glowing comments. This has happened three times and I am in awe every time. Because of this, I am taking a directed research class this spring to learn about the publishing process and start publishing my work.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten while in grad school?
I’ve received great advice from two different people recently. The first came from a research consultant I met through my job. I have a variety of research interests in sports, nutrition, physical activity, physical education, etc. However, in grad school, we are constantly asked to narrow our research focus and use class assignments towards that focus. But with so many interests that only converge at a high level, I feel like I’m missing out or not making the best use of my time and work. Her advice to me was to try to ignore this pressure to narrow my research focus and use this class time/assignments to do and write about the things you like. Write about and research the things that interest you. Then, at some point, take a look at the things that you have written and see where they overlap. That’s my niche, where the things I love overlap. If they somehow do not overlap, she then suggested that I pick the thing that interests me most. This advice is amazing because it has relieved a lot of pressure to have a specific research question. I came back to grad school to be a better educator. I didn’t have a research question in mind so this advice has been the most useful in my year and a half of graduate school. It will shape how I proceed with the remaining 3 semesters of coursework and selecting my dissertation topic.
The other piece of advice was given to me just last week from a Black female professor I met at a leadership conference. Meeting her was a Godsend. Her advice to me was: keep going, keep going, keep going. It only works when you repeat it.
If you had to describe your Black grad experience with one song, which one would it be, and why?
This is sooooo hard to choose because I love music so much, but I’ll narrow it down to three songs:
1. "The Fire" by The Roots
There’s something in your heart and it’s in your eyes, it’s the fire
Let it burn
You don’t say good luck, you say don’t give up
It’s the fire
Let it burn
2. "Sky’s the Limit" by The Notorious B.I.G.
Sky is the limit and you know that you keep on
Just keep on pressin' on
Sky is the limit and you know that you can have what you want,
be what you want
3. "Forever" by Drake ft. Kanye West, Lil Wayne & Eminem
It may not mean nothing to y'all, but understand nothing was done for me
So I don't plan on stopping at all
I want this shit forever man
What has been your biggest obstacle in grad school? What strategies have you used to try to overcome it?
Not having someone to talk to about what I’m going through and not really having much guidance from the school. Someone who understands. I had that in a person I was seeing first semester, but since that ended I don’t have that anymore. I miss that most of all. Being able to talk to someone who has their PhD and can really help me talk through it.
Also, it’s been challenging trying to figure out how I’m going to pay for it. My advisor was not at all aware of the difference in pay from my first-year fellowship and the teaching assistantship job he could offer me the second year. The TA position he was holding for me pays 47% less than the fellowship I have now. What’s frustrating is that he has been at this school for over a decade and had no idea how huge the difference was. Like, how has no one ever told you this?! Do you not read offer letters? How can he be so clueless? That really angered me. He really put me in an awful position. The TA stipend doesn’t fully cover the rent so I’m going to have to find another job just so I can live and eat, and have Wi-Fi, and electricity, and a cell phone and everything else normal people have become accustomed to relying on. In July, I found a full-time job working at a non-profit to help cover tuition and live. I decided to get a student loan to cover this year and work towards paying for classes myself next year. After working full time for a year, I can qualify for in-state tuition which will cut the cost in half. I’ll then be able to pay for tuition out of pocket instead of getting another loan. Working full time and going to school has been extremely tough, but it’s the only way for me to make it.
What has this experience (pursuing a graduate degree) taught you about yourself?
It has reaffirmed a few things I already knew and didn’t quite believe, such as I really can do anything I want. If I put my mind on it and my grind on it (S/O to Migos), I can accomplish anything. Given that, the biggest thing I’ve learned through this process is that I need to dream bigger and plan accordingly.
If you could go back to the first day of grad school, what advice would you give to yourself? Why?
No one knows what they’re doing, not even the professor. Relax, you’ll be fine.
How do you think your identities have informed your graduate experience?
I am the first Black woman to be admitted into my program. My identity as a Black woman informs everything. I am also a first-generation PhD student so it’s tough to talk to my family about the struggles and celebrations because they don’t understand. I feel that my first-generation status has affected me a lot because I don’t have anyone to turn to that understands what I’m going through. Friends and family try as they might to be helpful and encouraging, but they are just as clueless as I am about how this all works. And their encouragement often turns into “don’t worry about it” and “it’ll be alright” type responses that are not at all helpful. I am a very pragmatic person so general advice and encouragement are not helpful to me. It’s very annoying, actually. They mean well, but they are ill-equipped.
How do you intend to use your degree in the future?
I’m not exactly sure, but I am leaning towards consulting and helping organizations meet their needs through research-based recommendations. I love interacting with students so my ideal situation would be to consult on my own and teach maybe a class or two per year as adjunct faculty.
What’s something that you would tell someone who is interested in pursuing a similar path?
I feel like everyone should have three people in their lives: Someone who is where you want to go (or has been there), someone who is where you are, and someone who wants to be where you are. This is especially helpful for pursuing PhD. Surround yourself with people who can give you a variety of advice from different perspectives. The person who has been where you want to go will help you persevere and provide specific advice. The person who is where you are will help commiserate with you and apply advice to your current environment/situation. The person who wants to be where you are will challenge you to be fair and not misrepresent the highs and lows. These people will keep you honest, but most importantly, they will keep you going.
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