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The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Scholars Program

Cristal Reyna, PhD
WSU McNair Alumna

As a PhD student at the University of Notre Dame and as a post-doctoral fellow at Boston University, I have had the opportunity to meet the rock stars of my field, engage with students from all disciplines, contribute to the academic community by sharing my research, and continue to pursue higher learning. McNair helped me achieve confidence in myself and reach out for opportunities that allowed me to pave my own road to success. As the first person in my family to attend and graduate from a four-year university and continue on to graduate school, I understand that I am creating a legacy for my family to follow. The McNair program helped prepare me for applying to graduate school by providing opportunities to be more competitive as an applicant through financial support for conferences, undergraduate research, and graduate school applications. Although all PhD programs, including STEM programs, are difficult, we bring an element of character as first-generation college students that cannot be understated. Through hard work, dedication, persistence, and mentorship, success is attainable. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and push you to be your best. I can tell you with certainty that I would not be where I am if I had not participated in McNair. The McNair family has provided support and guidance and even across the country, I still feel that support. I always had the drive to succeed, but McNair helped me to realize my goals, plan towards them, and achieve them. I encourage students who are interested in graduate school to take a calculated leap of faith and push yourself past even your own expectations.

Tips and pointers:

  1. Think about the things that are important to you: family, financial stability, freedom to study what you want, making a tangible impact, etc. Make these a priority and then determine how the goals you have set before you meet these values. Make sure that your decisions align with what really makes you happy and adjust as necessary.
  2. Use your strengths! Many people do not possess the same strengths you do and your background is a strength. Use your strengths to make yourself stand out in everything you do.
  3. Do not be afraid to ask any question that comes to mind. It’s better to ask now than to be expected to know later and not know. You’d be amazed at how much trouble this can save you.
  4. Reach out to professors who do research you are interested in. Don’t be afraid to send “cold” emails. Most professors are happy to spend a half hour of their day speaking to young students and talking to them about their experiences and research. Surround yourself with people who care about you and your future.
  5. Use your time efficiently. As a graduate student, you are expected to take classes, conduct research, and teach during your first two years. Setting good habits will benefit you in the long run.
  6. Take your time when learning new techniques and protocols. Invest in your own education.