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First-Generation Insights: A Candid Conversation with Dr. Farmer-Kaiser

Jennifer Ercoli... -- 11/07/2023

First-generation students are not only celebrated but also part of the very fabric of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. In a week-long event, spanning from November 6 to November 10, the University joins in the nationwide recognition of National First-Generation College Day on November 8.

Dr. Mary Farmer-Kaiser, the Dean of the Graduate School, who is herself a first-generation undergraduate and graduate student, shared her own experiences during a special Lunch & Learn event. This candid discussion, hosted by the Office of Campus Diversity and the Graduate School, brought first-generation graduate students together to explore the unique challenges they face.

Dr. Farmer-Kaiser recounted her own personal journey--from a transformative conversation with a professor who introduced the idea of grad school to challenges explaining grad school to her family to the evolution of societal attitudes towards graduate education over the decades. She highlighted the hidden curriculum that first-gen grad students face as well as the struggles to master the intricacies of graduate education without prior family experience. Her story underscores the importance of recognizing that not all students enter graduate school with the same level of knowledge or support.

The conversation prompted by Dr. Farmer-Kaiser's experiences led to valuable insights shared by first-generation graduate students. They reflected on what they wish they had known when they started grad school, covering topics such as mentorships, grad assistantships and navigating the financial costs beyond tuition, time management, imposter syndrome, and the joy they've discovered along the way.

While the event delved into the personal experiences of first-generation graduate students, it also presented some compelling statistics from recent research conducted by the Council of Graduate Schools:

  • About one-third of doctoral students are first-generation, but only about three percent of first-generation undergraduates pursue doctoral studies.
  • Students of color are more likely to be first-generation, with varying percentages based on ethnicity and field of study.
  • First-generation doctoral students have unique career aspirations, prioritizing job security, salary, and benefits more significantly than their continuing-generation peers.
  • Finances are a significant concern for first-generation graduate students, with higher levels of undergraduate student loans and worries about financial security.
  • First-generation students are more attracted to positions outside the research university, including master's/regional universities, community colleges, and government roles.
  • First-generation doctoral students perceive lower program support for their desired post-graduation careers, potentially due to their diverse career aspirations.

In summary, being a first-generation graduate student comes with its own set of challenges, but it also brings unique strengths and develops resilience. Although perceptions and ideals have evolved over time, there is still work to be done as a society to support our students effectively. Direct conversations with professors and mentors play a crucial role in bridging the gap and facilitating a smoother transition to graduate studies. Communication is key to ensuring that all grad students, regardless of their background, have the opportunity to succeed. We’ve compiled additional quick tips for success from the Lunch & Learn below.

  • Seek out many mentors
  • Connect with peer support
  • Build time management skills
  • Communicate with professors
  • Challenge imposter syndrome by focusing on your accomplishments and seeking support
  • Network and build relationships
  • Use your unique perspective
  • Seek academic assistance
  • Celebrate achievements
  • Stay informed
  • Plan for the future

Being a first-generation graduate student presents unique difficulties, but remember the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Graduate School is here for you on the journey!

Phone: 337-482-6965