Office Hours: SynClaire Arthur


SynClaire Arthur @synbad_

Community Psychology M.S. Student at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University

B.A. in Psychology, minor in Africology and African American Studies from Temple University


What inspired you to attend grad school?

It was a combination of the desire to remain productive in my field following graduation from undergrad and the understanding that it was unlikely that I’d find an appealing, well paid psych related job with a B.A. A conversation with a former professor of mine helped me to understand what it was I wanted to study in grad school and more importantly why. Once I had that the decision to attend grad school, and immediately as opposed to a year off like I was originally contemplating, was clear.


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

Definitely my last presentation of this past fall semester. I used to dread presentations. But when you’re required to do at least one in every class you learn how to get over it. I was the last presenter of the semester in my Black psychology course so naturally I felt like I had to close things out with a bang. I took time reading the chapter I was going to present on, taking notes of my analysis of it, putting the PowerPoint together and practicing it. The way presentations go for this particular course is that after the presenter is finished the class is able to ask any questions they have about the material, offer critiques and comments, and then finally the professor gives us on-the-spot feedback. During this last part the first thing my professor says to me is “It’s amazing to me that you came to this program with the intention of not pursuing a PhD”.  He went on to express that there are some people who just have a natural command of the podium, myself included, and just said some really affirming words about the presentation material and my delivery of it. It was so special because in that moment I saw that I was capable of doing the work that is academia. A lot of aspects about graduate school were really abstract to me when I first started. It was like I knew I’d probably have to do research, present, talk in class, etc. but I either didn’t want to or thought I’d be terrible at it.  But after that presentation graduate school became tangible. I was like “Wow I’m really here and I’m doing well”.


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

"Moment of Clarity" – Jay Z. The title alone sums up this past first semester of my Black grad experience. I ended the semester feeling so sure of myself. The vision I have for my life is the clearest it’s ever been and I know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I feel like Jay’s taking the time to acknowledge a lot of different aspects of his life in this song. He’s being honest about the way certain things made him feel, calling and pointing out other things, and just letting people know that he’s going to be good. But ultimately he’s thankful for the revelations. That’s a big mood. That’s where I’m at in this grad school thing. I needed this semester to set me up for everything else that’s going to come.


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

Being more community oriented. Since FAMU’s program is African-centered “the collective” and working as a community is really emphasized and suggested. I’ve been in predominately White academic spaces my entire life up until this point. It was a significant change to attend an African-centered program at a HBCU where all my cohort members and program faculty are Black when I spent 16 years in classrooms as one of maybe three Black students taught by White men and women. I had grown accustomed to the individualistic and competitive nature that defined the former spaces. I was used to working on my own and honestly preferred that. As a student in my current program I had a lot of moments where I was experiencing this internal conflict of being the student I’ve always been and living out the African worldview we so heavily discussed in class. My decision to open up to my professor about what I was feeling helped a lot with this conflict. He reminded me that this environment is new for me and he was right. So I’ve just made a promise to myself to continue to be self-aware as I go through grad school but not beat myself up in the process.


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

My identities personalize the work. I pursued psychology, African American studies, and then Black psychology because of my own personal questions. There were things I was trying to piece together about my own life and experiences as a Black person, Black woman and even Black student. But the search for those answers made me realize how my experience as all of these things is related to the experiences of every other person in America who is Black or a woman or a student or all three. Having that realization drives me because as I seek out things for myself I’m also working to understand how what I’m looking for can benefit the larger communities I’m a part of.


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

I feel like I don’t have an answer to this question. Well at least not a specific one. Part of me sees myself going into higher-ed as an undergraduate professor. I would also like to go into private practice as a counseling psychologist. But I wouldn’t mind working in the counseling center of a college/university. I want to write a book. I want to create something specific to Black youth. So I guess in a way that is my answer; I intend to do all of these things. I probably don’t need my degree for some but I’m sure it’ll help in manifesting it.


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

Well I think this really applies to any Black person pursuing advanced degrees but I’d tell them what a professor of mine told my cohort and that is “your degrees are not just for you”. I think everything and everyone in life has a purpose that’s bigger than their personal interests or goals. Some folks might be pursuing Masters degrees and PhDs because they want to be able to make more money or for the prestige. Regardless of that I think it’s also important to consider how those degrees and the opportunities and careers they allow for can be used to serve the Black communities degree holders are a part of. We know the society we live in wasn’t built with us in mind so if we’re not thinking about us, trying to take care of us and making sure we’re good, who will?

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Follow on Twitter: @synbad_