247: Advocating for Clear Structure and Communication in a PhD Program

247: Advocating for Clear Structure and Communication in a PhD Program


In this episode I share insights on advocating for clear structure and communication in a PhD program, offering three key pieces of actionable advice for navigating challenges and ensuring effective communication with advisors and committee members.

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247: Advocating for Clear Structure and Communication in a PhD Program


Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: [00:00:00] Welcome to the top rated and award nominated Grad School Femtoring Podcast, the place for first gen BIPOCs to learn about all things grad school, personal development, and sustainable productivity. This is Doctora Yvette Martinez Vu, and I will be serving as your Femtor, providing you with tips and tricks and everything else you need to know to successfully navigate grad school and beyond.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: For over 13 years, I've been empowering first gen students of color along their academic and professional journeys, and I'm really excited to support you too.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Doctora Yvette here. Before starting today's episode, I want to announce that my co authored book, Is Grad School for Me? Demystifying the Application Process for First Gen BIPOC Students, is available for pre order. [00:01:00] It officially comes out on April 16th, and between now and the rest of the year, my co author and I are available to speak at your next event.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: We are excited because this is the first book that provides first generation, low income, and non traditional students of color with insider knowledge on how to consider and navigate grad school. It's the book that we both wish we had when we were undertaking our own grad admissions process at UCLA many years ago.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: The book is both a corrective and a calling card to the lack of clear guidance for historically excluded students navigating the onerous and often overwhelming process of applying to grad school. We walk you through the process from first asking yourself whether grad school is even the right next step for you, to then providing you with step by step instructions on how to maneuver every aspect of the grad admissions process, including providing you with sample essays, [00:02:00] templates, and relatable scenarios.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: If you're interested, we encourage you to pre order your copy today or have your local library order a copy. You can also reach out to us for bulk order discount codes. Lastly, we are available for book talks, workshops, keynotes, panels, and even book club visitations. Go to www. gradschoolfemtoring. com slash book to learn more.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Welcome back everyone to another episode of the Grad School Femtoring Podcast. This is your host, Dr. Yvette. Today's episode is on how to advocate for clear structure and communication in your graduate program. This is something that came up recently in a meeting that I had with a graduate student who is a first year in a PhD program and found that she entered into a program with very little structure, with very [00:03:00] unclear forms of communication and wondering how to best navigate the situation.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Of course, I offered some guidance and I thought to myself, You know what? Some of the things that I shared could be useful to my audience as well. So before I talk about the two pieces of insights, advice, whatever you want to call it, things that you could consider doing for yourself in your program, I just want to clarify that it is completely.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Not normal, but it's, it's common to at some point in your graduate program, especially in a PhD program, to find yourself feeling lost, to find yourself feeling like you're in the deep end and you're not really sure, sure which way to go. Sometimes this happens at the end of your coursework. So the first couple of years you might be in classes, you have that built in structure from your classes, and [00:04:00] then when classes end and all of a sudden you're on your own, it feels like, wait, what am I supposed to do with my time?

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So it can come up then. Sometimes. You might have the support of your cohort. You might all be studying for exams at the same time. You might even get to successfully go through the milestone of advancing to candidacy. And then you get lost when you are writing your dissertation. You're like, okay, now I'm on my own.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: What do I do? This, this is especially true for folks in the humanities and social sciences where you're writing a dissertation completely by yourself. You're not in a collaborative space. Um, you're not in a lab, et cetera. Of course, there are exceptions. Some folks are working more collaboratively, but even then, the writing process is often a very solitary process and isolating for some of us.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So at multiple stages, there are opportunities where you might feel like you're getting lost or even left behind. But what [00:05:00] happens when You notice this happening right away at the beginning, at the beginning of your program where you're hearing mixed messages Where the things that you're hearing from one person another person don't align where what's written on the website Doesn't make sense when there might be a handbook.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: There might not be a handbook. The handbook might be outdated or Just things are not adding up. What do you do? This is where I would say you need to You need to do three things The first thing is, I was going to say two, but then I realized, wait, there's a first step that has to happen before you can even do the other two things.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: The first thing that has to happen is you have to make sure you have people who have your back. And especially you have to make sure that you have a supportive advisor. If you don't have a supportive advisor, it's going to be a lot harder to get what you need and to get the support that you need. I'm not saying it's impossible.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: It's just going to be a lot harder. because your advisor can make or break your time in graduate school. They are the [00:06:00] ultimate gatekeeper. Um, at the end of the day, you know, If you don't have their support, if they don't sign off on your dissertation, you are not going to get your PhD. So it's important to have a very supportive advisor, someone who has your back, and someone who's going to also advocate on your behalf.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So that's number one. If you don't have a supportive advisor and there's no way for you to switch advisors, you are going to need to get creative about finding someone who can advocate on your behalf. That's number two. not your advisor. This might be a committee member. This might be a mentor in another department.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: You name it. You can find other people who can fill that gap, uh, in some way, shape, or form. It's not going to be the same. It, you know, might not fill the full gap, but it's something. You need support. You need community. That's the first thing. Okay. The second thing is we're talking about structure and communication.[00:07:00]

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Even if you are in a graduate program where there are very clear milestones of what you need to do each year, we are not all the same. So you might notice some people advance the candidacy, they pass their qualifying exams earlier than others, some people take longer. So that makes it so that even though there is an expectation for when you're expected to do things, when you're expected to quote unquote graduate on time, Your situation is very unique and different to you.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So what you can do is you can sit down with your advisor and have a conversation around what does my timeline look like? You could even have a meeting with them where you're sitting down and working on a timeline. And in that timeline, you would be scoping out what you're doing each semester at the very least.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Each quarter, each term, what's expected of you. And if at any point in that timeline, there's something there that doesn't quite align with your [00:08:00] timeline or with your needs. Maybe you need extra time for exams. Maybe you might, you know, in advance, you're going to need extra time for field work, extra time for your dissertation.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: These are things that you're going to need to advocate for. And that's why it's helpful to have an idea of where you're going. So you're not just, you know, Always getting inundated with things, especially requirements from your program that seem like they come out of nowhere, but in actuality to everybody else around you, they have this idea of what you're expected to do each term and they just haven't communicated it with you.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: A lot of times professors are doing this all the time with so many students that they don't even realize that they haven't communicated with you what their expectations are. And so it's up to you to let them know what you do and don't know. And even if they say, why do you need to create a timeline?

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: You already know what you're supposed to do each year. It's written on the website or it's on the handbook. You can say, [00:09:00] okay, great. I would still like to see how we can update it to suit my needs. And I would still like to just make sure we have a conversation about it to clarify expectations. So that's the first thing.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Make sure you have your own timeline for what's expected of you from now. until you graduate. The second thing, um, so first make sure you have a good advisor. The second thing is make sure you create a timeline and have your advisor help you with forming a timeline. The third thing is, so I was going to say the second thing, but yeah, the third piece of advice, insight, suggestion of something that you can do is make sure that you have a meeting with your advisor.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: and your committee members or anybody that you're working with to clarify expectations in terms of how to communicate best with them. You can do this at any point. It doesn't have to happen right away in your first year. It can happen second, third, fourth, it doesn't matter. There's never a [00:10:00] bad time to have a meeting around clarifying expectations, especially when it comes to communicating.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Some people prefer to communicate less. Some people prefer to communicate more. Some people prefer email. Some people prefer text. Some people prefer in person meetings. Some people prefer Zoom. And so you have to figure out what are the different preferences among you and your advisor. Where can you compromise?

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Same thing with you and your committee members. How often do you need to communicate with them so that they know that you exist and that you're still meeting milestones and that they're still on your dissertation committee? And similarly, find out how often do you want to meet with your advisor? a dissertation advisor so that way you make the progress that you want to make.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Is this a weekly meeting? Is this a meeting every other week? Is this a meeting at least once a month? Is this, you know, figure that out like [00:11:00] what pacing feels good for you right now? And there might be times that you change that pace or the frequency. Maybe there might be times things are hectic and you need more meetings to keep you accountable.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: There might be times that you're kind of on a roll and you might be good with. You and your advisor get to decide this. You need to clarify expectations around how you're going to communicate with each other. That's the piece of advice that I wanted to offer for this week. Please, please, please, I don't, I don't think people do this enough of creating their own timeline.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I don't Everybody necessarily is told to have this meeting about clarifying expectations and about communicating your needs. How do you best like to communicate? This is also an accessibility issue. Some of us like to communicate, um, you know, in, in certain ways. Some of us need very clear instructions and some of [00:12:00] us need a bigger heads up than others.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Some folks can work last minute. Other folks need to know. with time in advance before they can make decisions before they can, uh, complete projects. And so this is all an exercise in self advocacy because everything that you're doing now to advocate for yourself and your graduate program, believe it or not, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you're going to need to keep doing this kind of advocacy work beyond graduate school.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Whether you stay in academia or you pursue a career outside of higher ed, you're We are going to need to keep continuing to advocate for ourselves and for our needs. So make sure that you work on setting yourself up with the structure, the accountability, and the communication you need so that you can successfully finish your grad program.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: All right, y'all, that's it for this week. I'll talk to you all next time.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Thanks so much [00:13:00] for joining me in the Grad School Femtoring Podcast. If you like what you heard, here are four ways you can support the show. The first is to make sure you're subscribed and leave a review on Apple Podcasts. The second way is to get your copy of my free Grad School Femtoring Resource Kit, which includes essential information to prepare for and navigate grad school.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: You can access it at the link in today's show notes. The third way to support my show is to follow me on social media. You can find me on Instagram with the handle at gradschoolfemtoring and on LinkedIn by searching my name. The last way to show your love is to sign up to work with me via my Grad School Femtoring Academy, my group coaching program for first gen BIPOCs seeking to work on their personal growth and gain sustainable productivity skills.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: You can learn more at gradschoolfemtoring. com slash academy. Thanks again for listening and until next [00:14:00] time.

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