Back in summer of 2011, I remember attending my first-year orientation of my undergraduate journey at the University of Arizona. I specifically remember the session where I had the chance to declare a major before building my schedule for the fall semester. For some inexplicable reason, I was really drawn to the family studies and human development major but ended up declaring a major in nutrition. I made this decision because at the time I was convinced that I was going to become a pediatrician and needed a major that would put me on the track to be prepared for medical school.
Flash forward to the end of my first semester of college, and I realized that the nutrition major was not going to be for me. Just in that semester, I had taken two science labs and lectures, which were challenging. Looking through the course plan for the next three years, I saw that the science courses only continued to stack up! I stopped myself for moment and made an appointment with the academic adviser for family studies and human development major. I met with her and decided that this major fit my interests better.
While I enjoyed the classes in my new major, I now had to rethink my long-term plan given that my interests and long-term plans did not align. I debated the route I would take after college. I contemplated various graduate school plans such as working towards a master’s in social work, a law degree, or a master’s in marriage and family therapy. All I was sure of was that I wanted to give back to the Hispanic community and work with families.
My junior year rolled around and a random e-mail popped into my inbox about a paid summer experience. I applied to the program not knowing how much it would change my life and lead me right to where I needed to be. The program I had applied for was the McNair Scholars Program, which supports underrepresented students in the pursuit of a Ph.D.
Before the program, I didn’t know what a Ph.D. was or that I could make a career out of research. Through this program, I learned about conducting research, but most importantly, I learned how I could support the Hispanic community through research endeavors. The program supported me through the doctoral program application process and helped me build my confidence in my future! I applied to 10 doctoral programs, from which I was accepted to seven. I am thankful to the amazing McNair Scholars director who helped me through the complicated decision process for choosing a doctoral program. I choose to pursue my Ph.D. in human development and family studies at the Pennsylvania State University.
I always knew which area of research I wanted to pursue. Now, I am less than one year away from completing my Ph.D. in human development and family studies and now I’m looking to pursue a career in policy and research. My advice to those who may be just starting their higher education journey is to always trust yourself in your decisions because only you know yourself best. Also, it’s okay to not have your full plan figured out right away. At the same time, make sure you use the resources (professors, advisers, programs, friends, community center, etc.) around you to help you through the process. Sometimes, it is the experiences and times of confusion that lead us straight to the career we have always envisioned. Even as doctoral student, I changed my career plans. The world is full of opportunities, go get them, be proactive and trust yourself!
Lorena Aceves is a doctoral student at the Pennsylvania State University and a summer 2019 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.