The year was 2017 and the month was May. I was standing in the middle of the student center at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa when I received those seven cherished words:
Congratulations; your IRB application has been approved.
I was overcome with excitement as I was now officially a doctoral candidate with the green light to conduct my study. And just like that, I was overcome with anxiety because an approved IRB meant recruiting participants for my study. It also meant facing another challenge on this journey to the doctorate. It had just got real and I was unsure how the recruitment process would go. I began to question my skills.
Will successfully recruit participants for my study?
Where do I recruit?
It’s summer, what if no one is interested?
What if it takes weeks, better yet months to recruit?
Will my committee understand?
Will I graduate?
Two weeks after returning to campus, my first set of recruitment posts went live. I was seeking Black women in doctoral programs who were interested in speaking to me about their faculty mentoring experiences. And just like that, no response. It had only been 15 minutes, so it was okay. After three days, I had my first response. For another week and a half, I had silence and I was nervous. I posted. I reached out. I waited. It was everything I was dreading. It wasn’t until I met with my cohort-mate that my recruitment process began to change.
Meeting at our regular time to write and work on our dissertation, I shared my concerns with how the recruitment process was going. My cohort-mate asked me had I reached out to my network of sisters who are with me on this journey toward the doctorate. I responded with a NO and continued with my sob story of how I don’t want to inconvenience anyone with my dilemma and how everyone is busy. She just responded back with, “Then why do have a network if you refuse to tap into it?” Having no counter-response, I returned to my writing. But internally I was reflecting on the question she posed. Quietly I thought, this is my study. I’m responsible for making it happen. If I can’t get past this part, how will I overcome the other stages of the journey? If I reach out, do I look incapable of doing research? And my network, who am I to impose on them? If I tap into my network, is that taking the easy way out? They are doc students too! They are busy trying to make things happen for themselves. They don’t have the time nor should I waste it with my inability to secure participants. I just need to trust the process. But most importantly, why can’t my recruitment plan just work!?!
That evening, however, I reached out to my network of sisters, and within 72 hours, I had an overwhelming number of Black women interested in participating in my study. With a few calls and texts, I went from having one participant to having to turn others away. My mind was blown and my soul was humbled.
The Power of Your Network
If there is any advice that I can dispense to my sisters who are on this doctoral journey it would be, Don’t Be Afraid to Use Your Network!! Some may say that’s a given, but for me, I was genuinely afraid to say, “Hey, I need some help with this,” because I was unsure how I would be received. As we all know, the journey in itself can be very isolating. In not reaching out, I was only making it worse. There is no need to suffer in silence. When I reached out, I received advice and potential recruitment opportunities that I had not considered. My excuse of I don’t want to inconvenience anyone was irrelevant as the only feedback I received was: On it, anything for you, post here, how many you need? I got you. I was so humbled and at that moment, I wondered were there other circumstances/opportunities where I could have been cradled by an unyielding amount of support that I missed out on because I was afraid to reach out. Use your network! It’s not taking the easy way out. When you use your network, you expose yourself to your network’s network. Which only strengthens you and your study. We call it #Blackgirlmagic because it’s powerful. There is power in your sister-circle. There is power in your network. As often as you pour, be willing to let others pour back into you. For when one of us wins, we all win. Plus, participating in a research study is great research karma!
Krystal N. Allen
She, her, hers
Bowling Green State University
** Cover Photo From Ronne B.