Playa Hater’s Degree
“Black people get PhDs?” I remember thinking this to myself as the guest speaker was introduced for our National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) chapter meeting. Sure, I was a student at Vanderbilt University and a declared Computer Science major. However, I was shocked. I really had no idea black people got PhDs. I know this sounds crazy. But literally, I had never known or heard of anyone having a PhD in my circles. Most were content to finish a bachelor’s degree, if anything at all.
For me, a PhD had always been a “Playa Hater’s Degree.” This phrase had been made famous from Puff Daddy’s (or whatever his name was at the time) 90s hit “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down.” I remember singing this phrase so hard as I rode around with my older brother.
So, as this young, black, PhD came up to the podium to speak, I was still quite shocked. It was a room of about 20 other black engineering majors and the speaker told us his name, Dr. William Robinson. He told us about his academic journey and about his decision to continue his education until completing his PhD. On top of that, he had become a Computer Engineering Professor at Vanderbilt at such a young age.
Wow. “Dr.” That actually sounded nice. I always wanted to be a doctor. But I faint at the thought of blood. Oops. So that won’t work for me. But what he was describing, I could actually do. It was like a large scale science fair project but without the poster board. I could dig it. He went to undergrad like me, then just continued in school. I liked the idea. Plus, he didn’t seem like a playa hater. He actually seemed to have it together, like others would hate on him ;).
So, right then, in that meeting, my life trajectory changed. I didn’t know if I wanted a PhD. But I knew that it was something black young people could obtain given some hard work. And that realization alone was powerful. As he spoke, I did a quick Google search to actually make sure I knew what PhD meant. “Philosophical Doctorate, Doctor of Philosophy, someone whose knowledge of a subject was at a doctor’s level…basically a beast on a given subject matter (my definition).” I liked the sound of that. I could do that. And so began my journey.
Image: #WOCinTech Chat