Tim Herd, PhD student and Wasserman Fellow in the Higher Education & Organizational Change (HEOC) Program at UCLA

Tim Herd is currently a third-year PhD student and Wasserman Fellow in the Higher Education & Organizational Change (HEOC) program at UCLA. Outside of his studies, Tim also serves in the capacity of a creative consultant that partners with non-profits and other organizations around the areas of governance, culture, and student success. As the founder of two organizations, Rising Black Men and the Grosse Pointe Black Alumni Association, Tim is passionate about improving community through mentorship and support, which he supplements through his involvement in media.


Colleges and universities have developed a reputation of being known as organizations that cultivate the curious mind, enlighten those seeking knowledge, and prepare those within the next generation that will make an impact on greater society. Economically, students that attend college have also been shown to earn higher earnings and higher quality jobs in comparison to those that may only have a high school diploma. In fact, a recent study by Forbes concluded that a bachelor’s degree is worth $2.8 million on average in comparison to someone with only a diploma. While the economic factors may be noticeable, some students choose to extend their time in college by pursuing an advanced degree. Some of these factors could include, but are not limited to, increased economic mobility or content expertise over a specific subject matter. Similar to an undergraduate education, there are also unwritten rules that I have learned throughout my time in graduate school, especially within my doctoral studies. These unwritten rules and mantras have been valuable in maximizing my time within my doctoral studies.

The list shared below are some of the key pieces of unwritten rules that I have found, and which have allowed me to navigate my Ph.D. program in a way that I have found valuable.

Finding Your Fit

When you are applying to graduate programs, it is important to find a location that you can see yourself living and thriving in. This is especially important when it comes to a Ph.D. program, as you might be living in this area for at least the next four years, so you want to make sure that you are comfortable in the space. Additionally, it is important to know your working style so that you can be aware of the type of advisor that you would want to have within your program. When you are talking to potential advisors, it may also be helpful to connect with their current students/advisees if they have any to get another perspective. While many graduate programs offer funding, you should also have discussions with your potential advisor about the package, and if it is finding your own funding, contingent on being a teaching assistant (TA), or if it is fully funded. These questions are important because the structure of your funding package can have a significant impact on the autonomy that you may have within your program These unwritten rules will be valuable for you as it can help decrease some of the potential surprises that may arise upon entering a program.

Getting Involved in Student Organizations

As a graduate student, there are still opportunities to join different organizations that you may find of interest, whether it be the Graduate Student Association or affinity groups. These organizations can be valuable in allowing you to better connect and understand the landscape of your respective institution. This will be valuable in allowing you to further understand the culture and connect with other like-minded individuals and communities that can also share resources with you. This will be helpful for you as you continue to reflect on the ways in which you want to make an impact both in your respective organization and also within your own research.

Building Your Community

Any PhD program can be an isolating experience, especially after you finish coursework as you are now working on your dissertation. This is where your community becomes even more important, as it is good to have support from people that know what you are going through. Additionally, it is important because there will be times when you do not want to discuss your dissertation or your studies, so having people in your corner in which you can talk about other topics can also be refreshing. It is also valuable to build community both inside the academy and outside the academy, as there may be insights that you may receive from one group that you do not receive from the other group.

Engaging in Unique Opportunities

The PhD program is such a valuable opportunity where you have time to read and write more than any other time potentially. This can lead to creative ideas that may arise, such as using your research to support you in traveling to another country to present at a conference. It can also provide opportunities for you to share your insights on panels and other community events, where people are beginning to observe you as a burgeoning expert on a specific subject matter.

You Deserve to be Here

While the Ph.D. program is important, know that your inherent value is not tied to the Ph.D. There are times when imposter syndrome can potentially arise, leading you to question your belonging and the value that you bring to a program. It is important to remind yourself during these times that you do belong, and it is equally important to have systems of support that sustain you, whether it be through physical exercise such as dancing or journaling, or playing a card game.

Reflecting On Your Why

There have been times throughout the years when I have had to take moments to deeply reflect about my reasoning for pursuing this Ph.D. For me, I know that this PhD is a tool that I want to use to empower my community and also advocate for folks that do not currently have access to these spaces. It is always important to reflect on your intentions, as there will be inevitably challenging times that test you and the work that. My intention to pursue a PhD was a very service-oriented decision, and knowing that I am doing week directly connected to my community and the people that I advocate for is truly important. Continually reflecting on your intentions of pursuing an advanced degree can be valuable as it allows you to refine Additionally, for me I just think of my ancestors and my family members that sacrificed so much for me to even occupy the spaces that I currently hold. I am here because of them, I am fully in appreciation to them, I am forever indebted to them, and the best way I know how to navigate this Ph.D. program is to persist and pay it forward.

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