Some Tips for Applying to PhD Programs: Pt. 1

Some people have asked me for advice in applying to a PhD program..
Here is my suggestion for beginning the process

Start a spreadsheet!

School Name


Degree Program

Their Philosophy/ Pedagogy

Application Requirements (reqs, essays, GRE, CV)

Professors of interest


  1. Are there any professors or schools frequently mentioned in your reading/research for papers? Are they accepting students/ are they affiliated with the Masters program?
  2. I then looked at US News and World Report under the specific discipline I wanted to apply to. I went down the list and looked at those I found intriguing. I then looked at program reqs (lots of statistics or more practice based?)
  3. It is MANDATORY to look at the specific professors and what they are doing. My wonderful friend Jasmine helped me draft an email of interest that I sent to each of the professors. I am including her advice here:

“I think the primary purpose of this email is to ask whether or not they are accepting students for the upcoming year, to express interest in their field of research, and to demonstrate that you have a good idea for where you want to take your own research. So all you really need are 3-4 sentences. The majority of professors did respond to my emails, which was surprising to me, and I think a large part of that is because I kept it short and to the point. Once you’ve established that initial contact, you can ask more questions and it becomes more of a conversation.

Hello Dr. ___________,I’m interested in applying to SCHOOL graduate program in CONCENTRATION, specifically working with you on projects involving QUICK SUMMARY. First, are you accepting graduate students for 201[ ]? I’ve looked through your website and would love to get involved with your research. If you are accepting students, what direction do you plan on taking it (future research projects/ideas) and where would new graduate students fit in? What also drew me to the program is ________________________. Do graduate students focus on work under one faculty adviser, or do faculty members within each area or even across areas “share” graduate students?I really appreciate you taking the time to respond. I understand you must be very busy, so I tried to keep my questions short and at a minimum to determine if I would be a good fit for the program and vice versa. Thanks again, and I hope to hear from you soon. It is also important to look at the classes being offered – do you see a schedule you would like? Do they have a concentration of interest (for a Masters)?

4. Where are their alumni? Will the degree lead to a certification? How does that align with what you want to do?

5. For grad school, ESPECIALLY for the PhD, there is not a traditional “reach” school. You will be picked based on fit so the school #1 school could accept you but the #10 could reject you. This is why your statement of purpose is so important. Grad school is kinda like, look for a school/professor with compatibility and that compatibility will truly dictate your experience.

6. But it is also important to look at the school as a whole!

7. How much does the program cost? Are students allowed to work to supplement their income? Are there NSF grantees?If the PhD program is paid for (highly recommended but understandably not always possible), is teaching required? All of this should be on the website, but something to also ask students at an open house night.

8. Finally, ask those who are writing your recs for schools or program recommendations.If you are asking for recs, ASK NOW if you have not already. A 6 week courtesy is ideal. Those are some good places to start. Please let me know if you have any more specific questions ❤

Some Tips for Applying to PhD Programs: Pt. 1

On writing: Breakthroughs

I feel like the breakthrough always comes when I loose the shackles of perfectionism and give myself the permission to fail.

We’ll never get it until we fail a couple hundred times. Our body needs to learn its way around failure.

“This paper needs to be more tightly organized” is not a glaring comment on the papers failure, but a gentle critique allowing for the opportunity to dig deeper and unearth those gems.

In ice skating I spent more time on the cold hard ice than I did in the sky each time I learned a new jump.

Each time, my instructor would yell out what I did wrong. My eyes would burn from the tears, but I kept jumping and falling.

I would go home soaked and sad.

Then that breakthrough would come.

My speed would be right.
My feet would be in the right positions.
I would lean at just the right angle.
I would jump at the right time.

And I would land the axel or salchow.

And then…
She would clap once and say again!

And I would jump correctly in my sparkly leotard, soaking wet from falling more times than I had ever wanted to.

Failure hurts.
Failure is uncomforable.
Failure makes you want to stay on the ground.

If we don’t fall…
If my instructor didn’t tell me all I did wrong…

I wouldn’t know where I needed to improve in order to land the jump.

So, as much as it hurts, ya gotta allow yourself to fall.

So we can fly 🙂
Even if only for a second


On writing: Breakthroughs

how i’ve changed in recent years by Donna-Marie Riley

I am less concerned with other people’s thoughts, preconceptions, and assumptions about me. I wash my hands more. I try to substitute chocolate for fruit and yoghurts. I do not believe grades are an accurate measure of my intelligence. I do not believe the number of people attracted to me is a measure of my worth. I speak out more often against judgements I do not agree with. My voice shakes less. I use my legs as my primary means of transport. I am kinder to children. I am kinder to myself. I do crosswords and play word games to keep my brain active, but moreso because they’re fun. I let go of people when they want to leave. I no longer compete with other women. Though I am still often envious of those who are smarter, prettier, brighter, better at socialising, I do not resent them for it. I applaud them. When debating an issue, I try to say what I believe calmly and firmly, without getting overly aggressive or defensive. I still go outside when it rains. I spend less time doing my hair. I wear what I want to even when others tell me they do not like it. I make a conscious effort to recycle more. I cut out the people in my life that make me feel anxious, uncomfortable, or negative about myself. I am no longer afraid to sleep in the dark, with the exception of nights I watch horror movies when I am alone in a big house. I wash my hair less, shave my legs less, try to smile more. I call my parents. I am patient with my siblings. I choose my words with great consideration. I accept that I am not responsible for other people’s happiness, nor is anyone else responsible for mine. When it rains, I still go outside. I start conversations with strangers. I tell women in changing rooms that whatever they’re trying on looks fantastic on them. But only if it really does. I’m not here to sabotage anyone. I take more photographs of myself and am less ashamed when I do. They are a project in liking myself. And they help. And they hurt no one. And I do not have to explain this. I try to take my own advice. I try to take others’ when I think it will benefit me. I laugh loudly. I sing badly. I love gently. I write honestly. I believe strongly. I live hopefully. I live hopefully. I live hopefully.
how i’ve changed in recent years by Donna-Marie Riley

A War on Children: The Consequences of Poverty on Child Development

Psychology Benefits Society

Young biracial girl staring into camera

This post continues our new blog series on poverty. As our nation reflects on its progress in fighting poverty over the last 50 years, this blog series will highlight how psychology can contribute further to this discussion.

By Roseanne L. Flores, PhD – (Member, APA Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education)

In 2012, over 16 million children – 22% of all children – lived in families with incomes that fall below the federal poverty level. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty and the Children’s Defense Fund, Black, Hispanic, and American Indian children comprise the majority of children who are poor. Additionally, children of immigrant parents are at risk for being poor.

Poor children are at greater risk for physical and mental health problems than their wealthier peers, and growing up in poverty is associated with poor educational outcomes. So one might ask “if being raised in…

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A War on Children: The Consequences of Poverty on Child Development

Doc McStuffins Isn’t Enough


docmcstuffinsDoc McStuffins, Disney’s black doctor character, is a “crossover hit.” Sales of Doc McStuffins character products are evenly distributed by race and even gender, prompting a popular refrain about the virtues of colorblindness, as reported by the New York Times:

“‘The kids who are of color see her as an African-American girl, and that’s really big for them,’ said Chris Nee, the creator of Doc McStuffins. ‘And I think a lot of other kids don’t see her color, and that’s wonderful as well.'”

If only that were true.

People want to believe that young children do not see color. It seemingly provides us with the opportunity to intervene on young minds before racial stereotypes take hold. If young children do not see color, then we can provide multi-cultural materials to promote diversity, even when our personal lives — where we live, the conversationsin which weparticipate, with…

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Doc McStuffins Isn’t Enough

On being a black grad student.

A friend brought up the connection of higher education and elitism last night.

She reminded me not to be blind to discrimination operating where I am, specifically in the use of grandiose academic language (such as the prison industrial complex). That these terms cloak racism and muddle the issues, as well as make higher education an elitist institution where certain people can participate and how, in that way, we can all be carriers of white supremacy and elitism.

Her words weren’t new, but they caught me off guard last night.

And I would like to leave my thoughts here as I process.

They’re scattered and in some places undeveloped. Bear with me 🙂

Truly my race is not anything I let anyone forget, though they may want to.

I have been privy to conversations about black youth that made me go home and sob, wondering if I would every truly fit into this world of higher education.

Wondering how they saw me behind my back.

Each time, I would speak up and call a student out on her use of the word monster when describing a fourteen-year-old gang member or when someone else said that previous delinquents shouldn’t attend a mainstream school and that school in a juvenile detention center for these student would be safer….

All the while hearing their use of they and them.

Sitting down in the back thinking we and us.

And so that brings me back to the discussion we had: how can I be a carrier of white supremacy and elitism as a black woman in higher education?

Easy, you may think…


I am black first…and then a student, second.

Someone once said that elitism in the black community is likened to people on a slave ship saying they got better seats.

You’re still on the slave ship.

While I think this quote is a bit over exaggerated (there are certain privileges I am given as a woman with M.A. behind my name), it brings up an important point.

No matter where I am on this higher education journey, I am still black. 

I will still be slammed to the ground by the police like any other racially profiled black person (e.g. ASU professor Dr. Ersula Ore stopped for jaywalking on campus).

While I undoubtedly have been a carrier of white supremacy at points in my life, like a person who cares the sickle cell trait, I think it takes an additional gene.

I have a seat at this table of higher education and I can talk the talk (using big words) and walk the walk (dressing up in the nicest of suits for an interview), but my place always comes with an eject seat just in case I become too loud, angry, or aggressive.

I am always in fear that my grade will be lowered or I will face disciplinary action.

And it’s not all in my head. I got a B on my final because the teacher felt that I did not fully explain race and racism so that everyone completely understood before delving into the program I proposed…that I made too many assumptions of what people knew.

Yet the instructions for the assignment said to assume that a fellow classmate was reading the paper.

It hurt my heart to know that the teacher did not expect people to understand why I was writing my paper and why I developed the program. That while my program was given high marks, my justification for the program was lacking because I did not provide enough background for my classmates.

To be honest, she is probably right.

Black studies are offered as an elective and not a requirement.

Yet, it’s a lived reality for me so I often forget that some people never stop to think about it.

I could never stop, no matter how many letters and positions are behind my name.

And I may have notebooks filled with academic jargon and racist ideologies, but I would like to think that my political presence and academic contributions begin conversations that questioned previously held notions.

That for too long black students have not been in the room during discussions on the wellbeing of our brothers and sisters…

That me as well as other black scholars are bodies of resistance and carriers of change.

That while I write about black child development in the language learned by the oppressors, the way in which I redefine and challenge those same words is a strategy of resistance in that I am redefining and reconfiguring notions of race and gender held for years?

A final example before I go…

I refused to use the term “at risk” or “help” in my thesis.

I believed it ascribed to deficit language and assumed that I had something to give to someone, when they had just as much to give to me.

So every time I wrote about issues faced by black youth, it sounded something like this:

Black children and adolescents in America are situated within a more vulnerable ecological context than their white counterparts due to a persistent gap in wealth (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, 2011), a high poverty rate (American Psychological Association, 2011), disadvantaged access to resources, overrepresentation in the prison system (Alexander, 2013), and a host of other factors that perpetuate structural oppression and serve as barriers to achievement.


I refused to juxtapose at risk and black together as if they were intrinsically tied.

Without explaining the systems in place.


But I still lay up at night, tossing and turning…and evaluating my place in the field of higher education.

How my voice comes across.

Being black and being a student is emotionally depleting.


But I will never leave the table.

On being a black grad student.

Depression in the Black Community Pt 1.

“Fix your face!”

“Don’t let him get to you.”

“Girl, pleaseeeee.”

“Are you done being sad now?”

are said more often than:

“Don’t worry about the mascara, beautiful. Let those feelings in. Let’s work through them, together.

“He was important to you and he hurt you, I am so sorry. What you feel is valid and important.”

“Girl, pleaseeeee come over here so I can give you a big hug and let your shoulder rest on mine”

“There is no time limit on healing. You do not have to feel like you are taking too long to heal.”

“Want to walk to the counseling center together? Maybe we could schedule a session at the same time because I could always use a listening ear”


If you struggling right now, please know that it does not make you weak or pathetic. Read that again. Please.

No life is without struggle.

And some struggles affect us so deeply that we feel as if we can no longer function.

And that struggle doesn’t have to be about anything.

Often, it can just be a feeling. 

A feeling of sadness that never leaves…

That makes us want to end our time here on Earth, because we feel worthless, a burden, or unimportant. 

I am going to say the following words and I hope you believe it because they come from the deepest parts of my heart.

You are a woman of great worth.

You are not a burden, but a privilege to be around.

You matter.

You are important.

Your presence, in whatever state you’re in (sweatpants, hair tied, tear stained eyes) is enough.

Black women, da mules of the universe, are expected to be so strong that we have pathologized sadness. 

You don’t have to act a certain way when you’re around me.


Love you,


Depression in the Black Community Pt 1.