Jennifer Gammage and Lindsey Ives, University of New Mexico
This issue of In Progress features an advice column and three scholarly articles that represent a wide range of disciplinary perspectives. From this diverse set of discussions, the common themes of agency and belonging within graduate programs emerge.
In her advice column, Rachel Munger provides a brief history of studies on imposter syndrome, which she defines as “a kind of social anxiety fueled by distorted beliefs about one’s abilities, intelligence, and worth,” and offers advice for graduate students on overcoming imposter syndrome. Munger notes that imposter syndrome is more prevalent among people from marginalized groups including women, people of color, and working class people in high-level positions, but can be found among academics and professionals from all walks of life.
In “‘Just a Graduate Student’: Doctoral Students in Writing Program Administrative Positions,” Jessica Rose Corey and Nicole I. Caswell argue that writing program administrator positions “move us to push the boundaries of authority, mentoring, and learning as they shape our identities as doctoral students in a role of inherently little power, though [we are] seen as powerful.” In this article, the authors discuss their experiences navigating administrative positions that come with a great deal of responsibility and perceived authority, but very little formally recognized institutional authority.
Many of the experiences that Corey and Caswell describe are relevant to all graduate writing program administrators, (WPAs). Some of the experiences they describe, however, are specific to women WPAs, and one such anecdote provides insight into why, as Munger points out, people from non-dominant groups might experience imposter syndrome. Recently, Corey and Caswell explain, a female colleague commented to one of the authors that, “she would continue to do well because she is ‘well-liked—by faculty and students.’” The authors identify this as the type of comment that contributes to imposter syndrome among members of marginalized groups in high-level positions by pointing out that, “this communicates the message that Jessica does well because she is ‘well-liked,’ rather than that she is well-liked because she does well. In this sense, she exists as an ‘Other’ (Leathwood), in terms of her position, but also in traditional notions about gender that some reason must exist for her success other than the fact that she has earned it.”
In “Ethnic Disparities in Master’s Degree Attainment at Texas Public Institutions: A Multiyear Statewide Investigation,” Somer L. Franklin, John R. Slate, and Sheila A. Joyner also investigate the experiences of non-dominant groups in graduate programs through a quantitative study of master’s degrees granted to White, Hispanic, and Black students in the State of Texas from the academic years 2000 through 2011. They situate their results within the theoretical framework of Coleman’s (1988) Social Capital Theory and Bordieu’s (2003) Cultural Reproduction Theory, both of which trace “the cultural heritage of educational accomplishments,” in order to assert that, “the underrepresentation of Black and Hispanic students in master’s degrees within Texas public higher education institutions separates them from the dominant culture. As such, a disadvantageous position exists for these groups.” Franklin, Slate, and Joyner explain that “individuals hold a certain amount of social and cultural capital endowed to them by previous generations,” and that differences in capital can be reproduced by inequalities within educational institutions that serve to transmit cultural biases pertaining to race, class, and gender. Their article is informed by and contributes to efforts in Texas that aim to overturn such disadvantages.
Finally, in “The Changing PhD: How Can Higher Education Institutions Prepare Science PhDs for Alternate Careers?” Lori Carron addresses the question of belonging in graduate programs from a different angle. Given the fact that the number of people graduating with PhDs in the sciences has increased in recent years, while the number of tenure-track academic jobs available to these graduates has decreased, Carron asks, “How are higher education institutions addressing this shift? What programs and support services will help today’s PhD graduates find jobs and be adequately prepared for careers in government and industry?” Carron acknowledges that graduate students in the field are still expected to pursue work in academia, which creates stigma around faculty helping graduate students to prepare for alternate careers. Despite this, she argues that open conversations about careers outside of academia do belong in science graduate programs and would in fact strengthen them. Carron concludes by pointing readers toward programs that prepare science graduate students for careers in the private sector.
Thanks are due to all of the authors, reviewers, publicists, and supporters who made this issue possible. We look forward to your input on our Facebook page and in future submissions.