First Generation PhDs in the Academy

deadline for submissions: 
March 16, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
MLA 2021 Special Session
contact email: 

"While there is a growing and prominent literature on the experiences of first-generation undergraduate students, there is a lack of research on the experiences of first-generation graduate students. People tend to assume that if someone makes it through the bachelor’s degree, they enter graduate school on a level playing field." - Bailey Smolarek, Inside Higher Ed

This proposed roundtable session for MLA 2021 seeks to explore the challenges and experiences faced by first-generation PhDs, both as graduate students and in their post-graduate careers. Some possible topics for exploration include:

  • Acute imposter syndrome
  • Differences in experiences and access at the intersections of race and gender
  • Barriers to the mentor/mentee relationship
  • Explaining research to one's community
  • Anxiety about class mobility
  • Being a nontraditional student as more common for first-generation PhDs (i.e. working other jobs, having a family, commuting, etc.)
  • Patterns of academic identity that preclude first-generation students from establishing a unique identity
  • Access to information - "insider" knowledge in academia
  • Lack of research preparation - knowledge of the culture around research

We are also interested in proposals that combine or go beyond any of the possible topics listed above. Please submit a 300 word abstract with experiences and topics for exploration and a CV to Laura Thorp ( and Kaelie Giffel ( by Monday, March 16, 2020. Please email with any questions.