From the Projects to the PhD

Dr. Yates shares his tips on getting PhinisheD/FinishEdD.

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Power to the People!
In 1968, John Carlos & Tommie Smith raised their black-gloved fists at the Olympics in Mexico City, creating one of the most powerful political statements ever witnessed on a world stage. 50 years later I had the opportunity to sit with Dr. LaToro Yates a distinguished scholar who replicated the salute moments after he PhinisheD/FinishEdD and his image is one of the most powerful doctoral images I have ever seen. He shares tips for future doctors and the idea behind the image.

Yes, thanks for having me.

I currently serve as the Executive Director for Enrollment Management at the City University of New York- York College. My previous roles include serving as the Chief Enrollment Management Officer at 4-year private and public institutions and as a Multicultural recruiter and Director of Admissions at an Independent Day School. My research explores urban high school students’ perceptions of the cultural and structural factors that may influence their post-secondary educational aspirations and career plans.

I earned my doctorate from Seton Hall University in December 2013.

Yes. At the age of 17, the seed was planted for me to become Dr. Yates. I was a senior in high school sitting in the auditorium during the exit day practice for the next day’s graduation ceremony. Dr. Perry stepped up to the microphone and did a microphone check. I was struck by the attention he commanded every time he spoke. Dr. Perry garnered a level of respect I’d never seen a Black man receive and it intrigued me. I extrapolated from his presence that he was viewed by so many people as important and associated the importance he garnered with being called Doctor. I didn’t have a clue about how to proceed in reaching the goal, but in June of 1989, I made the promise to myself to become Dr. Yates.

Tough question. There were a myriad of challenges and obstacles I faced during my doctoral journey. I think the sacrifice of time, energy, attention needed and given to my wife stand out as the hardest challenges to navigate. Although Stephanie and I sat down and discussed the overall time commitment to complete the program beforehand, neither of us had any idea of the mental, physical, spiritual, and psychological drain this journey would cause on the both of us. She was staunchly supportive of me starting and completing the program, but at critical points of it, she had no way to help me navigate through the “pain points.” She signed up for me to become Dr. Yates, but at times just wanted me to be PhinsheD. When I successfully defended my Ph.D. on 12/ 12/2013, the accomplishment was as much hers as it was mine.

Sure. My doctoral photo is an expression of my love for Black people, Black power, and the struggle. The iconic photo of John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Olympics was the inspiration for the photo. Their message to Black folks was this: although they had reached the pinnacle of success in track and field, the conditions in Black communities across the country were still in disarray. I wanted to convey the same message to family members, friends, mentees, etc. in Jersey City and Black folks in every urban community across the country. Although I’ve made it to the pinnacle of Higher Education, the conditions in Black communities across the country were/are still in disarray.
The photo means…. If I can reach this academic milestone…our Black youth can reach it…. check that… THEY HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO REACH IT!

1. Expand your worldview. The goal of entering a doctoral program should be a fundamental change to how you view the world and your place in it. If you are in this program just to receive the letters (Ph.D., Ed.D., J.D., M.D., etc.), then this process is a waste of time, energy, and a lot of money. A doctoral program will force you to explore a topic to the edge of knowledge– once you reach that place; you are a scholar and have expanded your worldview. You will see the world differently than the masses see it and you must do something magnanimous with this new training and way of viewing life.
2. Believe in yourself no matter what. There are times when you lose confidence in your ability to succeed in completing the program. You must believe in yourself and trust your instincts. Learn how to write– answering the question “SO WHAT?” Doctoral programs are meant to be a marathon not and a sprint. Faculty members want to see rigor in your effort, preparation and a willingness to do whatever it takes to complete the program. If a Faculty member wants you to move from an area of interest, be able to articulate why YOU ARE RIGHT to stay focused in a given space. It will not be an easy task, but believe in your instincts and argue within reason to continue on a given path.
3. Your timetable is the one that matters. It took me six years to complete a Ph.D. in Higher Educational Leadership, Management, and Policy. I’ve mentored multiple people who have completed the same program in 4-years. BUT. After a successful defense, we are all called DOCTOR. Timetables can be your worst enemy if your timetable isn’t flexible. Put the work into your program and fight through the end. Life gets in the way (i.e., marriage, children, careers, desire for free time, etc.) so be prepared to feel lost at times, frustrated at times, and ready to quit. It meant everything in the world for me to finish. You have to be willing to grind over/through everything to finish. You will feel lost in the wilderness, but fight through to the end.
4. Writing groups and mentors. I recommend finding people (family, friends, co-workers, etc.) who are willing to serve as your editor– in conjunction with your Chair and committee. I had a group of 3-4 people who would edit the same document but with an assigned task (grammar, theoretical framework, format, and APA). I would then go through the edits and save them into one file. I created a Dropbox account to save everything. Make sure to use writing resources such as Grammarly to remove baseline grammatical errors in your work. Faculty and your editors have busy lives just like you, and your goal is to make the process to help you as simple as possible.
5. Choose wisely. The most important person during the doctoral process– once you finish the COMPS, is your Chair. But. CHOOSE WISELY. The choice can either make your writing process seamless or add years to it. Your Dissertation Advisor nor a professor you may have helped complete a research project does not have to be your Chair. They will not take it personally if you select someone else. Also. Make sure your Chair has interest in your research proposal and has the expertise or a willingness to work within the research methodology you’ve chosen for the study. Simply put, if you are doing a Qualitative study do not select a faculty member who has a Quantitative background. Faculty members will be reluctant to work outside of their expertise, nor should you want them to. It is a partnership.

Remember, once you reach the writing phase of a doctoral program. Your Chair and committee are your colleagues who are there to help you finish the program. Not your professor. You will finish, take the process one word at a time.


La Toro Yates, Ph.D.

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