Updated: Nov 6, 2019
By Dr. Sheila Yarbrough
I cannot count the times I was asked why I was working on another degree. Concerned family asked was the working on a doctorate my way of avoiding life. Friends wondered if I wanted to stay in school and avoid growing up or to avoid real work. My favorite comment from a former coworker was that I should consider working on a Mrs. instead of a PhD.
My reasons were simple. I liked learning and the opportunity to learn more was available. I do not think my reasons for pursuing a doctorate were particularly deep. Upon reflection, I do believe that my decision was, to a great deal, an act of privilege. Privilege, because as a woman of color, I was taking advantage of the freedom to indulge in learning; an experience that relatively few have had. An option, that just a century before was almost nonexistent for women and for people of African descent. I accepted the opportunity and reveled in my student status understanding that the chance would most likely never come my way again. Yet, there are moments when our choices feel like sweet mistakes that make us second guess ourselves. This dissonance can cause stress for us and disrupt our relationships with others.
Moreover, it can become easy for those of us who spend most of our time working or studying in higher education to forget that most of the world functions just fine without multiple degrees. We can try to bridge the gap by sharing our experiences. For those of us who are lucky our tales earn understanding, encouragement, and support. In other cases, while we try to explain the tribulations of absentee chairs and difficult committees; our family members and neighbors shake their heads and go about their lives. Our time spent bearing the burden of loans, the fear of the IRB, credits earned vs. credits attempted, and final defenses can be debilitating to us; yet appear as a disregard for the truly significant aspects of life to others. Our arguments can fall on deaf ears and our trials garner no sympathy.
Although the path we have taken seems to be so much fluff to some, an excuse for not dealing with the real world; we must find others who know the pitfalls and the rewards that we face. As we fight to balance our roles as mother, student, employee, entrepreneur, caregiver, partner, daughter, aunt, human being; we must find or make safe spaces to connect with like-minded souls who uplift us and who we in turn uplift. We can take a bit of that creative energy and use it to continue to support the adults and children who mean the world to us even if they do not understand our journey.
Sheila Yarbrough, PhD is a senior-level education administrator with 20+ years of experience in teaching, student affairs, business and leadership training. She is successful in fostering student academic success across disciplines by delivering quality classroom and online instruction through creative student engagement. Dr. Yarbrough is a transformational leader with experience managing a diverse and multicultural workforce and providing faculty development. With her excellent interpersonal skills, she has a proven history of cultivating and maintaining collaborative teams and partnerships with college administrators, staff, faculty and key stakeholders. Dr. Yarbrough is recognized by students as passionate and personable and creating an engaging learning environment.