Since I have survived the first semester of my PhD program and first month of my second semester, I have decided to reflect on my new journey. Reflecting on my educational and career journey, I can’t help, but hum the Drake song “Started from the bottom.”

If you remember my story, I struggled and worked hard to go from a 2.8 gpa to 3.0 to 3.6 to 2 years unemployed to 2 years employed to finally being accepted into a PhD program. It was not easy. There were many tears,  feelings of frustration and hopelessness, but I am a persistent and determined person and I worked hard to move from the bottom to the top. Well, I’m almost at the top.

I have several more years before I complete my PhD degree, but I am determined to make it. However, with that determination there has been doubts.. Second month into the program, I wanted to quit. When I entered the program, I was quite confident in my skills, but it almost seemed at every turn people felt the need to remind me that I did not have an urban planning background. I still have people mentioning that I don’t have a background and how tough it will be to go through the program, some wonder how I got into the program. I even had one person gently say, “Maybe, you were accepted because you are a Black woman.”

Of course the clear cut thing would be to brush off the discussions of my academic or ethnic background. I don’t think people were trying to be malicious, but it was repeated enough, and I  started to  believe I didn’t really belong in the program. I am typically very confident in my skills, but like I’ve mentioned before I am extremely critical of myself, so I push myself too hard, which sometimes works and sometimes backfires.

It’s always great to have positive friends, my friends pushed me and told me my feelings were normal and that I am perfect for the program and a whole bunch of nice things. That encouragement pushed me to continue with finishing out the semester and hopefully the program.

What is interesting about having doubts, people don’t really seem to want to lend a sympathetic ear. Even though I have friends to turn to for a friendly listening ear, I now hesitate to mention any negative feelings. I know some of my friends don’t get what I am doing back in school or if they do, they feel like I am in a once in a lifetime opportunity, a stepping stone, so they don’t understand why I would want to quit or feel nervous.

When I was going through my latest worrying spell, my boyfriend told me “Lisa, you’re in. It’s like being drafted. Just play ball and try to be the MVP. Even if you don’t like the team you’re on, you’re still a professional.” A simple analogy, but it really was true. I am in. I am the only person this year to be accepted in the program. I have received high marks in my classes and great support for pursuing my dissertation topic. So, I just need to forge ahead and continue being the professional that I am.

My goal has always been to complete the program within four years, conduct research on Haiti, publish papers, and find employment at a university or a research institute. As long as I keep my eye on the prize, I won’t let anything deter me.

So, that was last semester. This semester I’m working on narrowing down my dissertation topic and reading the literature. I’ve decided to focusing on resiliency and disaster recovery in Haiti. It is interesting to read the background literature, but a little time consuming to look up relevant articles to read. But, time hasn’t been an issue as of yet because I made a schedule that I strictly follow.

One new thing that I added this semester that I think has been helpful, is exercise and a bit of socializing. Last semester, I was so focused on getting good grades, that I didn’t go out much or really exercise. This semester, I put together an intramural basketball team with some classmates and I’ve been going to zumba, step, and hip-hop classes. I’ve also been walking to the park and public library to read or do my work outside. The fresh air and exercise really has improved my mood and of course I’m loving to see the results on the scale.

So there you have it. A reflection of my first semester.  It was mostly all good, I like my classmates, professors, and the program, but there were moments that put a damper on my mood. Overall, I look forward to continuing  and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.


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

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Photo Credit: Jon Jordan 


2 thoughts on “Reflection: My first semester in a PhD program

  1. Great post. I have to say though that I am really disappointed with the people who said stuff to you about your qualifications for the Ph.D. program. Did they take the time to look at your background and see that you have been involved with a research institute for 2 years? That you have published academic writing? That you are a very thoughtful and talented person? I doubt it. They saw you through their own web of self doubt. Never ever loose confidence in yourself. You are one of the best. Your boyfriend is right on the money with his comments to you. Also, know that the admissions committee also saw what we all see in you. Talent.

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