Pursuing a Doctorate Degree: How my Journey Began


The number of doctorate degrees that are awarded to women has been rapidly rising in the past few years.  Women earned over 20% of all doctorates that were awarded in 1975.  In the same way, over 35% of the doctorate degrees awarded in 1990, and almost 45% of the doctorates awarded in 2000 were conferred to women (Hoffer et al., 2001).  For example, in the field of education alone, women earned almost 65% of the doctorate degrees awarded in 2000, which represented the largest number of female doctoral recipients within any of the fields of study (Maher, Ford & Thompson, 2004).

In contrast, studies have shown that in the early 1990’s, minority women averted pursuing a doctorate degree.  Turner and Thompson (1993) reported that even with all of the benefits that a doctorate degree provide such as employment in faculty position at major research universities, few minority men and even fewer women completed a doctorate degree.  Some of the reasons that were cited for this disparity included (a) crumbling inner city school, (b) a lack of role models, and (c) a growing number of financially rewarding alternative such as law, medicine, and business degrees (Turner & Thompson, 1993).

As for me, when it comes to the subject of attaining a quality higher education in the United States, I’ve always harbored a feeling of being at a disadvantage.  My family migrated to the US in the mid 80’s when I was in my pre-teen years.  Language barrier, difficulties with cultural assimilation, and personal values/beliefs often served as hurdles that produced utter disbelief for achieving schooling here, beyond secondary education.

In spite of the doubts and prior uncertainties, in 2005, I earned a Bachelors of Public Administration degree, as well as a Master of Public Health degree, in 2011, from Florida International University (FIU).  A passion for education and teaching was developed in the process of watching my female instructors; especially those with my similar ethnic background.  I would watch them deliver their class materials so passionately and become very inspired by their motivation.  Some of my professors even took it upon themselves to take me under their wings and mentor me; their influence was a great confidence booster.

As I have shared before, after completing the Master of Public Health, an opportunity was presented to me to oversee the Special Olympics Healthy Community program in South Florida. Three years later, the program has had tremendous success, forging many professional networks with universities, health care agencies, and serving the unmet health needs of thousands of individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD).  Within the hallways of the Healthy Community, I got the opportunity to work with many doctors/faculty members who serve as volunteer clinical directors for Special Olympics Healthy Community.  These doctors are from various universities, such as FIU, NSU, Chamberlain College of Nursing, UM etc.

Traditionally, whenever I would mention to anyone about my desire to pursue a doctorate degree; they would dissuade me.  Even those who already hold a PhD of their own.   I would hear negative feedback about the length of time, cost, the insurmountable workload, and so forth.  However, when I started to share my desire to my new found colleagues and some of my past mentors; they would encourage me and make the whole thing seem attainable.

Some researchers assert that race and gender are interlocking sources of marginalization in higher education. There seems to be a subtle, but critical source of marginalization in professional social environments that fails to support or encourage women to pursue a doctorate degree (Turner & Thompson, 1993).

Although, I feel that I would go after a terminal degree regardless of other people’s opinion, I’m still very thankful that these individuals took it upon themselves to encourage me instead of downgrading my decision, like so many others before them have done.

Dr Karlyn Emile

With all of that said, I want encourage all young men and women who are dreaming about getting a doctorate degree—I say go for it—you can certainly do it!  I also want to say a great big thank you to my colleagues and professors who inspired me.  I will list their names in later posts.  Stay tuned!


Hoffer, T. B., Dugoni, B. L., Sanderson, A. R., Sederstrom, S., Ghadialy, R., & Rocque, P. (2001). Doctorate recipients from United States universities: Summary report 2000. Survey of earned doctorates.  Retrieved from http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/doctorates/pdf/sed2000.pdf

Maher, M. A., Ford, M. E., & Thompson, C. M. (2004). Degree progress of women doctoral students: Factors that constrain, facilitate, and differentiate. The Review of Higher Education27(3), 385-408.

Turner, C. S. V., & Thompson, J. R. (1993). Socializing women doctoral students: Minority and majority experiences. The Review of Higher Education16(3), 355-356.





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