To Call Dr. Ladson “Superwoman” is an understatement. Her powerful uplifting story is one of victories, losses and everything in between. She posted a very powerful message in the FB “PhinisheD/FinishEdD” group and I had no choice but to invite her to share intimate details of her journey to the FinishEdD line. Enjoy.
Dr. Ladson can you tell us a little about your background and childhood.
I lived in a working class Black community in Raleigh, NC, but was the only Black student in my gifted classes. Everyday, I felt oppressed, marginalized, and voiceless. I endured daily microaggressions in the classroom and bullied in my neighborhood for “acting white.” I was from New York and was always reminded that I was different. I felt like Ariel in the Little Mermaid when her voice was taken.
Who served as your saving grace?
Ms. Lawson, a counselor at Ligon Middle School, helped me find my voice. I knew I wanted to empower and impact lives in the same manner. However, I want to do it on a global scale.
So take us through your career journey?
In 2008, I was a full time Resident Director at a University with several side hustles: diversity consultant, standup comedy, participant in “Knock Out the Fat with George” (an online reality tv show), adjunct professor — earning thousands with my side hustles! I was accepted to a Clinical Psychology PsyD program in Washington, DC and offered a graduate Resident Director position at an institution one hour away in Virginia. I left EVERYTHING — family, job, side hustles, etc.; to pursue my doctorate.
Everything. I wanted to be a psychologist since the age of seven. The first four months, I was in culture shock moving from Northern New Jersey to a Southern suburb that seemed convinced the Confederacy won the war based upon the Confederate monuments and weekly Civil War enactments. I did not like my job or my doctorate program. I became depressed and could barely get out of bed. In my arrogance, I thought I was immune from mental illness since I was studying it! The following semester I quietly started the EdD Counseling Psychology program, which was a better fit.
You switched programs?
People switch programs ALL the time! ALL accredited doctorate programs are rigorous, whether the institution is nonprofit or for-profit, in-person or distance learning! For those reading this, please do not let anyone make you feel like your degree is inadequate.
How was the transition?
I was dealing with all of this in the midst of the recession. My graduate assistantship was discontinued after one year, so I started working as a part-time independent contractor doing mobile therapy, which barely paid the bills. I gained 60lbs. within one year because I was eating what I could afford, which was processed foods and the fast food dollar menu. The stress and extra weight made me physically ill. The Affordable Care Act did not exist, so my medical bills mounted. I tried to get public assistance.
On my telephone intake interview for public assistance, I cried while answering the eligibility worker’s questions. How did I get here? She was compassionate, but it didn’t change the fact that I was ineligible. I couldn’t find work, not even minimum wage jobs. My computer died and I had to use my FIRST generation smart phone to type PAPERS, then send them to my mother to upload to my online course portal. It was a demoralizing time. No healthcare. Underemployed. OVER-educated. That was my reality. When you are educated, no one asks if you need help because you are not SUPPOSED to need it! The biggest obstacle to finishing my degree was LIFE.
Life? Please elaborate?
Well, if you are not humble, life has a way of humbling you! My life continued to seem to fall apart. I took a position that paid well, but was a living nightmare. In 2011, my relationship ended and I canceled my wedding 1 month before the date.
Wait, you were engaged? What happened after you “dis-engaged?”
Things took a turn. I was hired as a full-time professional faculty and made $12,000 more than the previous position! New city. New job. New friends. New church. I contacted my debtors and paid them off one by one. I was able to pay off all of my medical and revolving debts!
What town were you in? I feel like I’m missing a few steps. What about your doctoral studies?
In September 2012, I started my dissertation and also was informed that I maxed out my loans. Well, like Abraham, God gave me a ram in the bush — several actually! I saved the money for my tuition, but my car stopped working and the repair costs depleted my savings.
The first “ram” heard about my situation and sent me the tuition money — no strings attached. Two years later, I had to take a semester off because I could not afford it and my college offered me a debt forgiveness opportunity which cut the debt in half.
Sometimes your blessing will chase you down! The college kept sending me letters but I thought they were bills so I ignored them. Months later, I finally opened their letters and discovered that it wasn’t a bill, but instead a debt forgiveness offer decreasing my debt to 50%! However, I only had 5 days until the offer expired. I told the collection agent, “By faith, I will have the money by Friday.” Friday, consequently was also my birthday. I didn’t have the money. My credit was shot. A coworker didn’t know the situation, but told me that God said to give me $400.
Wednesday, the collection agent checked in with me and my response was the same, “By faith, I will have it!” It took multiple “rams”, but I got the money! The last $1000 came in 1 HOUR before the deadline. The collection agent praised God with me! Then the college gave me a scholarship toward the next semester’s tuition, which was due the following week! I was also able to get employee tuition assistance for the first time. The third ram came in my final stretch. I received funds to pay for my tuition and research expenses! I saved enough paid vacation time accumulated to take off to conduct research and analysis. I was able to complete my research study and write my last two chapters within three months!
Amazing doc! What degree did you earn?
I graduated with an EdD in Counseling Psychology in October 2015 — seven years and three dissertation chairs after I started this journey. My research was initially focused on race-related stress in African-American and Latino males, but my dissertation chair felt it was an over-studied topic and forced me to change it.
That is very common. How did you respond?
Begrudgingly, I changed my dissertation topic and explored how underrepresented minorities in STEM overcome psychosocial barriers to persist in college. Ironically, after I changed my topic the dissertation chair quit my committee.
Wait, wait, what?
I cannot make this stuff up! My goal was to FINISH! Sometimes that means you will have to compromise with your committee.
At times, I still grapple with if I made the right decision to switch programs, especially due to the hierarchy in my field regarding PhD vs. PsyD vs. EdD.
At the end of the day, I am at peace. I CHOSE peace — of mind and spirit. I did what was best for me at that time. The irony is that I did not NEED a doctorate to practice. My master’s degree was sufficient for licensing as a professional counselor. I pursued the doctorate because it grants me access to a seat at the table where the decisions are being made. I want to influence policies and increase access to higher education and mental healthcare. With my doctorate, I can teach future multi-culturally competent practitioners and educators. I may have lost associations, money, relationships, etc. through this journey, but what I gained was so much more than I could’ve conceived. I learned who I am and WHY I am. That is priceless!
Amazing! Any message for those working to get PhinisheD/FinishEdD?
For the future doctors that read this, know that: You WILL be challenged. You WILL question yourself & ability. You WILL shed blood, sweat, & tears. The process WILL seem endless. Professors WILL bring you to your limits. HOWEVER, when it is all said and done, it is worth it. Til the day you die, you will be Dr._____. NO ONE can take it from you. You WILL INSPIRE OTHERS! You WILL PAY IT FORWARD. Your family, colleagues, clients, students, etc will hold you in high regard. It WILL humble you. I came into my doc program arrogant & came out humble. My fortitude and intelligence were tested. My faith in God was strengthened. I pray all of you will cross the finish line. Remember, “the race is not given to the swift, and neither to the strong, but to He/She that ENDURES to the end!” You. Got. This.
Bio:Yannick “Dr. Ya” Ladson has over 13 years of student affairs and counseling experience. Currently, she is a tenure track faculty counselor at the Community College of Philadelphia and an adjunct psychology professor at La Salle University. Dr. Ladson earned a B.A. in Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University, M.A. in Counseling from Montclair State University, and Ed.D in Counseling Psychology from Argosy University. In her spare time, she performs stand-up comedy. Dr. Ladson’s mission is to make college a reality for those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and eradicate the stigma surrounding mental health in the Black and Latino community.
Originally published at medium.com