A man climbing the tassel of a graduation cap

Going to Graduate School With Sickle Cell

August 2020, I moved to Houston, Texas to begin my tenure as a graduate student at the University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work.

Going to graduate school

I am in the Master of Social Work/Ph.D. program, a product of preparation that I received as an undergraduate student. I was named a Ronald E. McNair Scholar in undergrad, a program that prepares undergraduate students to apply to and graduate from Ph.D. programs. In July 2021, I wrapped up the Master of Social Work (MSW) portion of my dual degree. In August 2021, I began the Ph.D. portion.

Addressing people's reactions

Many people find it fascinating that I live with a chronic illness pursuing a PhD, and I often understand why. Most times, these spaces were not meant for people who suffer from chronic diseases.

I understand those reactions; I can hardly believe that I am in this space, which I thought was never attainable for someone like me.

Overcoming the challenges

Living with a chronic genetic blood disorder such as sickle cell disease (SCD), you’re constantly told, whether consciously or subconsciously, that all your life will amount up to is debilitating pain, isolation, and forfeiture of living a life that fulfills your dreams and goals. At an early age, I decided that I would not allow my disease to dictate my life.

Does SCD hinder my progress? Yes. Will I let it deter my perseverance? No!

Motivation and inspiration

I am motivated in my educational endeavors twofold: I like proving people wrong, and I want to be a positive example to my community that they can achieve anything they want to.

It took me 12 years to finish my bachelor’s degree from start to finish. There were years in between where I was sick and couldn’t be a full-time student, but I was determined to go back and finish no matter how long it took. The goal was to get an undergraduate degree. Then I got involved with the McNair Scholars Program, and they changed my trajectory forever.

I was motivated and inspired to go to graduate school. Many ask am I worried that I wouldn’t be able to achieve or finish graduate school due to my illness, and to be honest, I always think in the back of my mind, will SCD unexpectedly show up and knock me off course again? The answer is, I don’t know. I will never know. This disease is unpredictable.

How to be successful and healthy in graduate school

As a graduate student, I am learning that the demands of being a student can add stress to the body that I am not used to. Therefore, I must teach my body how to cope with this new way of living. For those who have SCD and you are contemplating or are currently in graduate school, I encourage you to consult your care team and come up with a plan that works for you and stick to it! Hydrate, sleep, allow time for relaxation, do your work, exercise lightly, socialize, prioritize your health and wellness.

Once you do that, you can be a successful graduate student and accomplish your educational goals.

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