While conducting interviews for a phenomenological study on the experiences of Black male doctoral students it became apparent that most of the study’s participants sought to understand the workings of race within their degree field. This research brief explores how Black male doctoral students (nine were interviewed in this study) made sense of their decisions to research race in their degree fields and whether there are forces at play that compel them to do so. Selecting a dissertation topic is a major concern for most doctoral students. The dissertation is an original, substantial, and independent academic project. It presents the student with the opportunity to find a narrowly focused niche within the academic field on which they will become an expert. For many, this is the first major independent academic project.
Very little is known about the impact of academic socialization on Black doctoral students (Felder, Stevenson, & Gasman, 2014). Despite the fact that research on race in doctoral education has explored many aspects of the doctoral experience, ranging from socialization to parental educational background (Felder, Stevenson, & Gasman, 2014), no known study focuses on race and its impact on the research and dissertation topics of doctoral students of color. The socialization experiences of Black male doctoral students have not been adequately studied and documented in the literature (Ingram, 2007; Platt, 2015). In addition to the creation of new knowledge, this research has practical application for both higher education and the nation at large as it seeks to illuminate manners in which development of a diverse leadership class may be fostered through the recruitment and retention of Black male doctoral students. Failure to include Black males in doctoral programs places the continuation of the Black male professoriate in peril (Ingram, 2007), as doctoral programs may be considered the anticipatory stage of the professoriate (Weidman, Twale, & Stein, 2001; Gardner, 2007, 2008). Students of color at the undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral levels would likely be negatively affected by the absence or continued reduction in Black male faculty, as they often serve as mentors and role models to students of color.
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