“What’s your research agenda?” A question I often dreaded being asked when I began my doctoral journey. I entered my program in 2018 knowing that I did not want to pursue the faculty route, so an answer to that question is not one I had thought about. Nor did having a “research agenda” was something I thought of as young professional pursing Student Affairs and practitioner roles. As I matriculated through my program, this question was one that I began to answer more easily, and by the end, realized that I had an answer all along.
I often tell people that my childhood consisted of three Bs, books, Blockbuster, and Barbie. So, it was almost inevitable, that I would grow a passion for storytelling. And as I got older and started to think about a career, I knew that I wanted to tell stories about marginalized people and communities, with the hopes that by doing so, I could aid in changing their circumstances. So, I pursued a career in journalism and while working as a news producer in Chicago, I would quickly realize I was not living out what I believed was my purpose in life. I pivoted and pursued a career in higher education.
Since neither of my degrees were in education or a “related field,” I had not been trained in educational research and the term “gaps in literature” was foreign to me. The gaps I quickly realized existed within higher education scholarship, were the same stories journalism allowed me to tell. The ones of marginalized people, with implications that could result in changing conditions. I did not feel pressured to, nor was I intentionally trying to find an answer to, “What’s your research agenda?” but the answer became evident.
If I think about my childhood, I don’t remember ever wanting to be anything other than a journalist, to work in television. I wanted to be a journalist because I believed my passion and purpose was storytelling, to share the stories of marginalized people and communities. And I thought journalism was the context I was supposed to do that. My passion is still storytelling and I still believe it is a part of my purpose. However, engaging in research that centers Black womxn in higher education and writing my dissertation, created space for me to discover the answer to the research agenda question. It helped me realize that journalism, was not that avenue I was supposed to do that work in. That all along it was supposed to be education.
If the unintentional journey to finding a research agenda taught me anything, it’s that staying true to your authentic self always leads you down the path you’re supposed to follow. Taking this path led me on a journey of releasing a level of guilt that I didn’t even realize I was holding on to. For years, I questioned if I made the right decision leaving journalism or asking myself if I gave up too soon on childhood Josclynn's dream. But after rediscovering my voice and reconnecting with my passion of storytelling, my research agenda found me. And it was receiving the WISA Research and Scholarship Award, which validated that rediscovery and connection.
It’s sometimes easy for graduate students and new professionals to experience Imposter Syndrome or feel they must fall in line with the status quos of the field. I had always refused both notions. I’m not encouraging professionals to go out and seek a research agenda, as I still believe it’s okay to not have one. I’m sharing my journey as reminder, that as long as you stay true to your authentic self, are willing to pivot from time to time, and are open to rediscovery, that you’ll find the answers to unexpected questions all while still fulfilling your life’s purpose.
Josclynn Brandon, Ed.D (she/her) currently serves as the Director of Equity Projects for Student-Ready Strategies (SRS). She holds a B.A. in Broadcast News from Western Kentucky University, a M.A. in Journalism from DePaul University, and received her Ed.D. from Indiana University. Prior to joining the SRS team, she worked in student life; and has experience in career services and residence life.