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Undergrad Experience Informed My PhD

Originally posted on PhD Balance social media platforms on 03/20/2020.

My PhD experience has been shaped and informed by my undergraduate experience in ways that I haven’t fully appreciated until recently.

Picture of Chris Leatherwood sitting with his face turned away from the camera.

For me, undergrad was both a cultural and academic shock. I went to a high-school that was 99 % Black and didn’t provide AP or IB courses whatsoever so in my first week of undergrad I had no idea what most of my classmates were talking about when discussing their 5’s and transfer credits.

Also, coming from a low-income area I found myself as a double minority in which most of the people who looked like me did not come from the same financial situation as I did. I was fortunate to have my undergrad paid for through an excellent scholarship program and had met faculty in the first-generation college student office that I maintain relationships with to this day, however in the moment I felt very isolated.

During my third year in school, I became severely depressed and stopped attending classes for a multitude of reasons and was asked to leave the university. I had taken this to mean that I wasn’t meant to be there.

Worse, I misunderstood my depression and directed all this self-doubt and loathing onto myself. If it wasn’t for the support of faculty who recognized my depression symptoms and my friends who refused to allow me to give up on myself, I wouldn’t have been able to receive the help I needed, re-enroll to the university, and ultimately finish my degree.

Looking back on it now I understand the need to be attentive to mental health but even more than that: be willing to be counted as someone who has dealt with it in the past to remove the stigma and taboo associated with it.

Now you might be wondering how does all that inform my current academic journey and the short of it is: I have learned that no matter where I am or what context I find myself in if I stay true to who I am I will find (and I have found) people who will believe in me, support me, correct me, challenge me, and guide me even when all my faults are laid bare ~ Chris Leatherwood


We thank Chris for sharing his story!

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