5 tips for Black women in graduate schoolPersonal Development

Often I am the only Black woman in my classes or at various meetings on campus. Only a small percentage of Arizona State University graduate students are Black (485, 3.5%) and out of that percentage, 282 are Black women (as of Fall 2012). I am assuming these demographics are the same for the 2013-2014 school year, because since 2002 the percentage of Black women on campus has ranged from 2.9 to 4.3. These numbers are not something I think of on a daily basis, but there are a few moments it crosses my mind or it is noticeable.

After reading Alexandra Moffett-Bateau’s recent blog post in which she provides 5 tips for Black women who are in graduate school, I started to reflect on my graduate school experience. Alexandra’s five tips are informative and helpful even if you are not a Black woman:

  • Treat graduate school like a 9-5 job
  • Have interests, hobbies and friends outside of your graduate life
  • Don’t take criticism personally
  • Be as methodologically diverse as possible
  • Follow your heart  

Treat graduate school like a 9-5 job

Treating my schooling like a job has taken some effort, but I have set aside time slots in my calendar to keep me on track. Majority of the time I dress business casual, but during the winter months, I wore a lot of jeans, which made me realize I need to go shopping for winter business casual clothing. 

Have interests, hobbies and friends outside of your graduate life

Having fun outside of school is a priority. Last semester, I was more focused on schoolwork and didn’t go out too much. This semester, I have played intramural basketball, joined some groups outside of school, and made sure I have kept in touch with my friends from home.

Don’t take criticism personally

This is tough for me. Even though I know people have the right intentions, I can be a little sensitive and this is something I need to improve. 

Be as methodologically diverse as possible

I’ve started narrowing down my dissertation topic and research questions and I can’t help, but wonder if I am falling into what Robert Peters’ calls “academic ghettoization,” In Peters’ graduate school guide, he cautions minority and women graduate students from researching issues on gender and race, as well as doing more qualitative and descriptive work. I want to do my research on disaster vulnerability and resilience in Haiti and I have to be mindful of which direction I take my research, so I do not fall into the trap of doing a soft topic. 

Follow your heart

I am following my heart by moving forward on doing research in Haiti, though I do not think I will look at gender as a focal point. 

Your tips?

As I continue my studies, I am sure I will have things to add to this list. Are you a woman in graduate school? Do you have any tips to add to Alexandra’s list?



An urban planning PhD student finding peace in creating a balance between the mind, body, soul, & environment.

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  1. Thank you for the comment Lauren. I have had the experience of going to a predominantly white elementary and high school to Spelman college, a HBCU, to University of Miami, a predominantly white institution and finally ASU. I understand where you are coming from and had some similar experiences when I transitioned from Spelman to UM; the culture of education and professionalism was a huge difference. But I encourage you to use this graduate school experience to learn how to interact with all races and use it as a networking opportunity. Many of your classmates will be working in the planning field and who knows might hire you one day or you might hire them; it pays to have a relationship. Also, when you do enter the workplace it would be to your advantage if you are personable and able to interact with all types of personalities, cultures, and races.

    The Baltimore thing, I think may be more of a conversation starter. Maybe don’t look into it that much. When I first met you, the first thing I thought to talk about was HBCUs and Baltimore because my brother went to Morgan and I went to Spelman. For me talking about the state of Baltimore was a conversation starter because I didn’t know you. Maybe those people are also trying to do the same thing. Perhaps educate them about Baltimore, tell them something new, so they don’t repeat the same thing to other Baltimorians (is that a word?).

    Anyway. We can talk more about this next time I see you. Thank you again for commenting!

    • byLauren
    • onMarch 3, 2014

    I like this post. Unlike you, I think about the numers on a daily basis since its literally right in front of my face everyday. Coming from a small HBCU to a predominantly white large institution is a huge culture shock for me and I have been very boxed in because of it-and thats my fault. So it is definetly a great tip to have hobbies and partake in school activites not just the “black” ones. Since I came from an HBCU, Morgan State (Go Bears), it is hard for me to interact and relate with other races and thats something I need to work on. Its really annoying when I do socialize with people at ASU and I am from Maryland obtaining a planning degree I get asked most: “xyz…something about the show the wire” or “xyz…about Baltimore being the next Detroit” so I just go to class and leave lol.

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