Role Call: Real Women in Academia

women in academia

Bernadette is a Research Associate at the University of Southern Maine.

Role Call is a Petal + Sass blog section featuring interviews with professional young women occupying diverse careers- and their advice to teens.

Name: Bernadette Doykos

Age: 32.99 (might be 33 by the time this posts, who knows)

College & Major: Wesleyan University (CT), Sociology

Graduate School & Concentration: Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ed.M. in Risk & Prevention (now Prevention Science and Practice because no one understood what that meant and it was hard to get jobz)

Vanderbilt University, working on that PhD in Community Research and Action (working hard to only secure degrees with meaningless titles to anyone outside of our immediate field. CRUSHING IT)

Past Jobs: Ladies’ boutique clerk; hostess at a breakfast café; nanny; surf camp instructor; deli sandwich slinger; educational researcher; running store employee; house sitter; yoga janitor; lacrosse coach; college instructor; camp counselor; data consultant.*

*Please note, I will do basically anything within the law to make a dollar.

Current Job: Research Associate, Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation at the University of Southern Maine

How did you get involved in this line of work? Great question. When I was in college, I was convinced I was going to be a teacher. I come from a long, long line of teachers and I love kids, so it seemed like a perfect job. Instead of going abroad, I did the ‘Urban Education Semester’ and student-taught in a first grade classroom at a charter school in Jackson Heights, Queens. I realized quickly I was not a great teacher. This was the dawn of the extreme standards-based testing era; you try wrangling six and seven year olds to fill out bubble tests while dodge balls constantly hit off the classroom windows, which were located right by the indoor playground. So I went back to Wesleyan and realized that I was still super interested in education, but had a feeling that there would be a rise in programs available to students outside of the traditional school hours, from sports to tutoring and college prep programs. I have sort of followed this line ever since, whether it be working directly with them or working on the research and evaluation side.

How did your college major influence your career field? Before going to Wesleyan, I had no real sense of inequality in American society. I mean, I got it in this really abstract way, but I was so so sheltered. My sociology class during my first semester gave me a little bit of perspective about how my life to date enabled a whole bunch of privilege and how there were systems and structures that maintained inequality – education being one of those. I proceeded to then take every course about “everything I was not,” as my dad noted my junior year, and it just continued my interest in education as an institution that served some people really well, and others really poorly. And, well, here I am 15 years later still grappling with those questions.

What do you love most about being a research associate? I am a liberal arts kid, through and through. That is to say I have a hard time focusing on one topic at a time. I also see connections across a bunch of different subjects. My position allows me to explore a lot of those questions simultaneously, while also working on a couple of different projects at a time. For example, one day I may be up on the border of Canada speaking with teachers about how educational technology impacts their instruction and the next day I may be working on a proposal, trying to secure funding to do a project on how to use online “experts” in college  help students from traditionally underrepresented college-going populations apply to and enroll in schools that match their interests and needs at higher rates.

What obstacles do you feel girls face in education today? Well, I think that being smart continues to have a bit of a stigma. At this point, we all want to be these renegade innovators who bypass traditional institutions on the way to making our first million. I think sometimes it’s hard to see the long-term payoffs of doing well in school and connecting with various opportunities.

What advice would you give to girls considering a PhD? Don’t do it.

Jussssst kidding. But be 100% sure that you want to dedicate yourself to what you’re intending to study. Find someone you think will be a good mentor for you in your research. Then find another person who can talk you through the moments of struggle. Neither of those people should tell you how great you are; that doesn’t do anyone any favors and often covers up the areas that are essential for you to improve. Ideally, they will both be someone who has become a badass in their own right, and can help you develop as a scholar and give you opportunities to learn. Academia is a weird blend of essential collaboration and essential independence, and finding the line between the two can be tough. For example, I love working with other people on projects, but sometimes that comes at the cost of my own work, and then I get into an anxiety spiral. Oh, actually that is another thing: Stress and anxiety are a part of the game, and everyone is faking it if they are making it look easy. Talk to people about it. Be open when you’re struggling. Otherwise you will find yourself waking up at 4 am each morning in a panic for the check boxes you’ve failed to meet. Finally, read On Writing by Steven King and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. They’ll help to normalize the debilitating writing process.

Any favorite websites particular to your field? I am a news junky, and I count that as an important part of doing the work I do. I get the morning news roundup from The New York Times and Quartz. I also tend to hit Jezebel (for the combination of news and pop culture). I follow a bunch of feeds on Facebook, including Everyday Feminism, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Michelle Alexander, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Southern Poverty Law Center, etc that I use to cull news sources. I also get Brian Pickings Weekly, which is a really great round up for aspiring creative types.

What advice would I give to my former high school self? Chill out. I went to a super high stress high school, where I often joke everyone had to be the “Best ____” and that blank could be filled a million ways, English student, squash player, troublemaker, whatever (I was none of those). I think the times that I have struggled in my life are when some things were going awry, but I didn’t want anyone to know, so I refused to reach out for help. I’m still not great at that, and I think learning how to ask for help is a behavior/habit that we should develop earlier in our lives. Asking for help doesn’t mean that you are weak or dumb or less than, it just means you are strong and you want to improve.

Any other relevant info or words of wisdom? People take themselves really seriously. That’s boring. Have fun and don’t be afraid to be a goof or “weird” or “different” when doing so. You’ll attract other weirdos, and you’ll all have a great time together.

Also, if you want something (a job, a raise, etc. etc.), don’t be afraid to ask for it. Worst case is, people say no. That’s ok, just move on, but rarely will people just give you stuff.

You can read more musings from Bernadette on her blog, Bernadette was also recently featured on for her piece, A Single Girl’s Guide to Surviving Wedding Season in 9 Easy Steps.

View more ‘Role Call’ interviews here.

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