Marvette's Story

Becoming Doctor: How My Four-Year-Old Self Prepared Me For My PhD

Becoming Doctor: How My Four-Year-Old Self Prepared Me For My PhD

When they announce, “Congratulations, Doctor!” You will feel weird on the inside. Your mind will take a few moments (maybe a few days) to register that it’s over. You did it. You defended your dissertation. You won’t instantly feel over the moon. You will feel the same way you did the day before. You will be a little confused. You’ve been waiting for your whole doctoral journey for this moment. You’ve dreamt about this moment.

Finding A Dissertation Topic

Attention Black women.

I said, attention all Black women!

We are entering a state of emergency!

It’s not just that you take what we create.

It’s that it always gets lost in translation.

Crystal Valentine & Aaliyah Jihad - "Hide Your Shea Butter" (CUPSI 2016)

I haven’t written much about my actual dissertation on my blog.

I want to change that.

Today, I will tell you the long version of how I came to my topic.

I will describe the context in which I came to my topic.

I would like to note that research topics can come from many places and points of inspiration.

Finding a topic is a messy process.

Qualitative research is a messy process.

This is my story.

A year ago, I just finished transcribing my first sista circle for my dissertation.

I knew that this was more than another research project.

Magic was happening, a spirit of connectedness that was screaming for recognition.

My dissertation was an experience, not just another item on my to-do list.

Wasn’t about a credential.

I was after something much bigger.

Here is the overview of my study that I gave during my first circle: 

*I use actual excerpts from my data (and real life). Names are pseudonyms to protect participants' identities

Marvette: I'm gonna give a brief overview. So my mind works...I’m a big picture thinker. And so because we're in student affairs and we're always talking about what’s the future... umm for me, I don't think as a field, we're not paying enough attention to where our students’ attention actually is going towards. Umm we're still using old theories and old understanding of how (laughter) to come to like how we think of ourselves.

Sasha Fierce: Cause I've been studying.

Marvette: I don't see myself reflected in the academy or college. I don't have anywhere to go to talk about being a Black woman from Chicago that comes from a working-class background. Umm I’ll go to YouTube and find someone who’s in college who looks like me who comes from a similar neighborhood and see how they’re doing it and that’s how I get my understanding one of me and how to navigate through college and so I was wondering...

How can we take what’s already happening and bring it back to the brick and mortar university and build those communities?

But first I really wanted to Black women...

Sasha Fierce: So your research is mainly focused on the representation of Black women.

Marvette: So how do you make meaning of those and then what does that do for your identity?

I used Sista Circle Methodology.

Meaning, I was a participant in my study.

This also means that I included my own words in my transcripts and in my write-up.

You will find excerpts like the one above throughout my findings section.

However, that is a blog post for another day.

We viewed Beyonce’s “Formation” and Crystal Valentine & Aaliyah Jihad’s  “Hide Your Shea Butter” before engaging discussion.

The next three weeks were full of love, revelations, tears, fears, and laughs.

Everything just clicked.

Searching For A Topic

Let’s rewind back about two and a half years (Fall 2015).

I could not figure out a topic. Too many options.

I knew I wanted to do something with Black women, identity development, and Beyonce.

Lemonade was not yet released.

My committee just gave me the collective side-eye about the Beyonce part. 

My advisor mentioned maybe I could do an updated version of Dr. Rachelle Winkle-Wagner’s  The Unchosen Me work.

We were floating around the idea of hosting a 10-week workshop for Black undergraduate women where we would discuss pop culture and identity development.

10 weeks though?!

I was trying to vibe with it though.

Working on pulling it together. Meeting with key gatekeepers to help me with the project. Drafting plans.

Just couldn’t quite get into it.

50th Anniversaries, Black Berets, and Surprise Performances

Fast-forward to February 7th, 2016 during a relatively boring halftime performance (#SorryNotSorry)

Beyonce’ appears with a new single, a tribe of Black women, and a message for the world.

February 8, 2016, I went to my counseling appointment with a nice, white lady.

Nice, white lady: How was your weekend?

Marvette: It was okay. Didn’t do too much. Enjoyed some much needed alone time.

Nice, white lady: Oh, I thought you would’ve mentioned Beyonce’ at the Superbowl.

Marvette: Oh yeah, that was a cool surprise.

Nice, white lady: Why would she do that?

Marvette: *confused look*

Nice, white lady: Why would she support that terrorist organization? The Black Panthers! I was just meeting with a client whose father (that was a cop) was killed by the Black Panthers.

Collective sigh.

That ended in an hour-long session about the Black Panthers, Black Lives Matter vs. All Live Matter, and other fooleries.

Noted to self that was my last session as I went home to get ready for the day.

A few hours later, I rolled into a school function that I showed up to only so I wouldn't be fined.

During a break, another “nice, white lady” started a conversation about Beyonce’. This time it was about the Formation video.

I hadn’t seen it yet.

Nice, white lady 2: Marvette, what did you think about the Formation video?

Marvette: I haven’t seen it.

Nice, white lady 2: I’m all for art and expression but why does she have to be crass, so vulgar? I believe you can get your message across without having to do all of that. The middle fingers, the police car underwater….

Y’all, it was only the afternoon.

Beyonce’ could have sent out an email to the Black woman collective to provide a warning or something.

We could have been prepared or at least made the decision to not leave the house for a couple of days.

Get In Formation

Formation was just the prelude or the positionality to Beyonce’s dissertation, Lemonade.

Lemonade dropped and the Ashiest of the Ashy also came to join in the conversation with the nice, White ladies.

I couldn’t believe all of these discussions on Twitter.

It was as if Black women were in a different world than everyone else. Here are all of these beautiful images of Black women in the center of a discussion around empowerment, healing and self-definition and the Ashies on Twitter (and the Ivory Tower) could only feel threatened.

It made me wonder: how can I be a part of capturing this affirming moment for Black women?

Think piece upon think piece detailed Black women’s responses to Lemonade. What it meant for them. How it helped them to reconcile their past with their present. How Lemonade reflected what their bodies already knew.

Lemonade was about more than a cheating spouse and father.

Lemonade and Formation was a call for Black women everywhere.

I took that call in the form of my dissertation work.

Black women in the Ivory Tower have been slaying for years, without recognition or support.

Our bodies hold the magic, the sacrifices, and the trauma of the past and present. As slaves, we were used to breed more property while matching the men in skill and productivity. Today, we are still expected to do the same. Except we are not harvesting cotton, we are now harvesting degrees. We are the silent ones behind the scenes. We are the ones on committees, running research projects, teaching courses, volunteering our time and emotion to our communities while still completing our class assignments and own research projects. We do so without praise or mention from the Ivory Tower. Oh yes, the academics celebrate our numbers, but it is hidden behind convoluted rhetoric that erases our efforts.

Ivory Tower, you give the gifts of trauma and pain, instead of support and assistance. And we keep rising; we keep spreading our magic. You tell us that we are not good enough; that our acceptance into your program was some sort of anomaly. As a result, we have to work harder, be the butt of your oppressive jokes and remarks. I acknowledge that this is not about one particular group of individuals. It is about the institution of higher education. This shit was not built for Black women. We are not asking for handouts and or special attention because we have been doing great without it. That excellence comes with its price though. And we continue to bear that price alone. We ask that you acknowledge us and that you hear us. We are asking to stop being lost in translation. 

I was working to provide a space for Black women to reconcile their personal development with their academic development.

No longer having to sacrifice the personal for the academic. I wanted a place of healing. Provide Black women a place to make their own decision about who they are in a holistic way.

That their experiences in their program along with childhood, sexuality, and spiritual experiences were all interconnected.

I did just that.

And became Dr. Lacy in the process.

Naomie: So umm that's one thing that I think of the importance of having other Black women around you for multiple reasons to serve as a support umm bounce ideas off of each other whatever but it’s just having that network of other Black women umm I think that’s important.

Audre: the older I've gotten the more I've been around more Black women from different areas, different places different spaces seeing it doesn't have to be this or this and that has been a strange, a challenge and just figuring out where I fit into all of that or creating my own space for all of that but it's also a very freeing and so its an onward process but just getting out of that this or this just has been just liberating

(Collective hmmm)

4 Unexpected Things I Learned From Writing My Dissertation

Originally Published on SisterPhd The first 5 months of 2017 are kinda a blur to me.

I started data collection on January 3rd, 2017 and successfully defended my dissertation on April 11th, 2017. I don’t suggest this timeline to anyone.

I sometimes have difficulty believing that I am Dr. Lacy.  I get questions all the time about the process.

Do I have any advice to give?

What did I wish I knew before starting the process?

The dissertation process is a very individualized process. This is a cliche response and a very true response. However, there are some things I’ve learned from this experience that I believe can help others.

Here are the 4 unexpected things I learned from writing my dissertation:


Make the decision to complete your dissertation.

Your dissertation is not happening to you. No one can make you complete it. The proposal is just the beginning. Getting to the dissertation defense is the part where it is all on you. The dissertation is the ultimate test in how bad you want to be #PhinisheD. You have to make the commitment EVERYDAY that this is what you want. It will be lonely. It will make you question if you really NEED this degree. Life will continue to happen. There will be celebrations, heartache, and everything happening in between that will make you question this process. You may have to miss some things, people, or events. How bad do you want it? It also doesn’t have to be all about sacrifice. It could also be the most enjoyable experience in your life. However, it is up to you make those decisions.

Write every day.

No doubt you’ve probably heard this often since beginning the doctoral process. It is especially true for the dissertation process. Writing every day is not only about sharpening your writing skills. Writing every day doesn’t mean just academic writing. Write whatever comes to mind. Writing can be therapeutic, reflective. Writing can capture your thoughts about what is happening with data collection, data analysis, your position on what is happening, and your life. You will not be able to hold all these thoughts in your head and accurately recall them later when you need them. Writing everyday will also develop your discipline in being able to sit and write for long periods of time, which you definitely need to do during this process.

Reading is also a part of writing. Reading will improve your writing. It is especially helpful to read as many dissertations as you can, particularly paying special attention to chapter 3 and 5. These are the chapters that are difficult for most. Chapter 3 is about outlining your plan and needs a level of detail that beginner researchers are not used to providing. Chapter 5 is explaining what should be done with this data. The “what now”. Chapter 5 is also the end of a tiring process. Your brain is done and over it. Strengthening these chapters requires reading other examples and giving yourself time to work through it.


Your advisor is on this journey with you; it’s not just about you and your timeline.

I have the BEST ADVISOR in the world and I dare you to challenge me on this. #FightMe

Seriously, I couldn’t have asked for a better advisor. In November 2016, after I defended my prospectus, she informed me that I would be graduating in May 2017 instead of August 2017 like I planned. She then proceeded to send out a direct and clear email to all of her advisees outlining that she will not be putting up with any foolishness and that there are some strict deadlines to be met.

“I think you’re planning to graduate in May, so I wanted to review these deadlines with you and give you something to work toward from my end.  As you all know, I strive to be direct, clear, and good with boundaries and not make our emergencies other people’s (e.g., your committee!) emergencies.  I don’t want to sound like a jerk, yet I also don’t want there to be surprises later, so I want to say up front that for me, there is no compromising on the two weeks time required for your committee to review the dissertation and then if you have edits to make (and you will – everyone does!), you need time to make those.  In some cases, committees will want to see your edits before submitting them to the graduate school, which will mean you need even more time.  I have been on too many committees where students have expected me to drop everything and review their dissertations as soon as I get them and I don’t want to put other people in that position, so we won’t be doing that!  Give yourself (and the people supporting you) plenty of time!” Dr. Chris Linder

This means that a completed draft of my dissertation had to be completed by March 6, 2017. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I didn’t. I made it. The truth is I forgot that advisors are also being evaluated on their advisees. This year, my advisor would hood her first Ph.D. students and she waited (over) 4 years to do so

Redefine your personal understanding of productivity.

It took 3 hours to write chapter 3, 1 day to write chapter 1, and three months to write chapter 2. I started my proposal June 2016 and had a completed draft in September. I completed data collection February 6th, 2017. Chapter 4 was due two weeks after. Chapter 5 due on March 6th, 2017. If you’re following along with the math then you know there is a lot of time in between. Writing is a process (see point 2). The pressure was on! Plenty of days where I felt in the groove. Other days I cried, laughed, or just couldn’t even look at my laptop. And all of that had to be okay. There was no other choice. I just told myself to keep moving forward. I didn’t beat myself up about “wasting time”. I had no time to think about if it was perfect and I honestly believe my dissertation is better for it. Because the beauty is in the editing process. First drafts are meant to be shitty. No (successful) writer exists in isolation.

Completing a dissertation is more of a mental exercise than it is about actually writing 200 pages (arbitrary number). Some days the writing will just flow. Other days you will spend five hours staring at your screen. Both are productive. Have kind and realistic expectations of yourself. There is no “should” “supposed to be” or “right way” to this process. Already there is enough pressure and expectation built in this process, try not to put extra on yourself. Cry if you need to, have that shot of Crown, spend hours on Facebook, re-watch all 13 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. It’s all a part of the process. You will need breaks. Just don’t stay there too long.

There is so much more I could say about lessons learned. These four lessons had the most impact. My dissertation allowed me to connect more with beautiful souls who graciously shared their time and their stories with me and each other. The beginning of the year was more of a spiritual journey where I learned about who I am as a writer, a researcher, a person and who I want to be in the future.

Dr. Marvette Lacy currently resides in Milwaukee, WI where she is the Women’s Resource Center Director at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She also works with graduate students to better understand qualitative research. Need help with your dissertation or research assignment? Sign up here for a free 30-minute consultation.