Developing Your “Through Line” En Route to the Finish Line

By: Annie Wofford, University of California, Los Angeles

Over the past decade, an increasing number of articles have discussed how research relates to “me-search” and have worked to emphasize how the author’s voice and stories are critical to advancing scholarship and multiple narratives. But, what about beyond your scholarship? How are you serving your passions in a way that also informs your contributions?

As a graduate student, I am always trying to find experiences that fill my personal cup and my professional toolbox. Yet, sometimes it seems like I am competing between my academic and non-academic self. I’ve made it a priority to engage in experiences that serve both of my worlds and help develop a “through line” between my personal and professional life. In recognizing how my “through line” developed, I want to provide three recommendations for helping graduate students strategically shape and balance opportunities. Your “through line” is a thematic journey increasingly necessary to integrate into academia, but also one that can help identify personally rewarding forms of service. Keeping this in mind helps me say “yes” to things that fall in line and consider saying “no” to those that don’t.

1. Assess components of prior service-related and research experiences

Connect the dots! Here, I made a Venn diagram example to show you how I think about personal values, professional/scholarly interests, and where they meet in the middle.

venn diagram

This step of assessing the commonalities of your interests may seem trivial, but I find it so helpful to document everything going on in my brain and make meaning of what otherwise may seem disjointed.

2. Draft a diversity statement

A second exercise that has really helped me think about how my personal and professional experiences were aligning was to develop a diversity statement. Luckily, I had the opportunity to do this for a class (and it will consequently be very helpful on the job market), but I would highly encourage anyone to try drafting one–even if you aren’t looking for a job anytime soon. Here is a useful link in how to approach a diversity statement.

3. Involve yourself in campus- or community-oriented group(s) that fit themes

In my Venn diagram, I filled the middle section with service. I have always been a service-oriented individual, but when time is limited, you have to decide what fits and what has to go. In my example, I noted that relationships are really important to me in terms of personal value. Also, one of my research interests is looking at how mentoring shapes students’ paths to and through graduate programs. Taking these two aspects together, I saw how an opportunity to be a part of the Graduate-Undergraduate Mentorship program would both fill my personal cup and contribute to how I approach my research. Experiences may not always overlap this nicely, but the important thing is to be mindful. Allow your “through line” to take shape, take care of yourself as a person and a scholar, and you’ll be at the finish line before you realize.

Annie Wofford is a second year Ph.D. student in Higher Education and Organizational Change at the University of California, Los Angeles and works with Dr. Linda Sax. She also serves as a Research Analyst for UCLA BRAID Research, studying the representation of women and Students of Color in computing. Previously, Annie has worked professionally in graduate medical admissions and has been highly involved in health education and student affairs organizations. Cumulatively, these experiences have greatly influenced her research interests in the pipeline to and through graduate school in STEM and equity in STEM, at large.

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