Have Faith in Yourself and Trust the Process

Interviewer: Mary Dinh

Interviewee: Kewsi Burgess

I met with Kewsi Burgess in the afternoon, where I usually found him writing as a habit he has created for himself and intentionally putting it on his daily schedule – the Business Building. He was originally from a country in South America and came to the United States in 2001 when he was ten years old. He struggled to “assimilate in a new culture” like any bilingual kid, such as temporarily giving up his reading habit to look cool in the eyes of his peers. Even so, with his stronger literacy background shown in the assessment, Kewsi finally managed to move forward instead of being retained. His siblings, however, were retained despite being in the same group as Kewsi at the beginning when they moved to the USA. It was until he was in college that Kewsi recognized the importance of having an even stronger foundation of literacy skills such as reading and (academic) writing. He was motivated (and encouraged by those he admired) to come back to school to discover the phenomenon of Black students’ reading in depth and its essence for their intellectual and personal development. He said he was lucky to be guided by his supervisor, who is interested in the same research topic but focuses on adult learners. He is more interested in the experiences of K-12 students, especially middle-school ones. As a teacher of English Language Arts (ELA) & Literacy himself, Kewsi conceives his research topic as a two-way conversation between his anecdotes and interpretations and what has been put forward by scholars. With practical experience, he starts to develop a voice in writing, while at the same time, he thinks more critically and “scientifically” along the way when he takes methodology courses. For example, he emphasizes the benefits of having tangible theoretical frameworks as directions to observe and analyze the investigated phenomenon, which helps him organize his data and has a better structure when creating a codebook.

Some tips Kewsi gives for navigating through the first year of PhD journey are:

  • Have an honest communication with your adviser about your academic concerns (i.e., your strengths and weaknesses in writing) and invest time on cultivating a meaningful relationship
  • Cultivate a supportive network of mentors and colleagues around you who can lend a helping hand when you have questions about academic and social matters
  • Be patient with yourself and your progress but do stay consistent with your writing (i.e., saving a specific amount of time every day to sit at the desk to write or do something related to your thesis)
  • “Stay grounded!”- think about the reason why you started at the first place and trust the process even though you did not see the expected results right away – it takes time, investment and commitment before you achieve your goals.
  • Stay connected with your loved ones (i.e., friends, family, spouse) and your hobby (i.e.: doing exercise)

A full episode of our interview – “Navigating First Years of PhD” can be found at:

Written by Mary Dinh (mdinh@albany.edu)

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