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Becoming Enriched, Accomplished Women in Academia

At the BYU 2022 English Symposium, a panel of women involved in the English Department advised students about pursuing higher education and believing in themselves.

Professor writing in book

“I think education will benefit you no matter where you are,” said internship coordinator and English Symposium panelist Trina Harding (English Department Internship Coordinator). During the Women in Academia panel at the symposium, students and faculty from the English Department gathered to hear and ask advice from four successful and accomplished women teaching and working in the program. The panel included Harding and three BYU professors, Drs. Jamie Horrocks, Debbie Dean, and Meredith Reed.

One big question students asked was whether they should wait to get a Ph.D. or start a family—it’s a difficult decision for many women who feel torn between their academic ambitions, societal expectations, and personal goals. As an answer to that, Dr. Horrocks says, “You can do multiple things in your life. If you choose to start a family young, that doesn’t mean it closes every option for the rest of your life.” Dr. Horrocks encouraged students to find what works best for them, but she assured them that “You can be a mother and find time to do academic work if you want to.”

When asked what students can do to succeed, Dr. Horrocks advised students to get involved in their studies and “do stuff,” like join clubs, do a study abroad, or try an internship. Involved students “who do stuff accomplish stuff; the students who don’t tend to get stuck after graduation, or even look at graduation and get terrified because they don’t have a plan.”

Dr. Reed echoed the sentiment, and advised having an open mind about the future. She shared that her life plan changed when she graduated with her degree and had not yet married or started a family, but keeping an open mind allowed her to get to where she is today. “Openness is how you are led to the opportunities that you hadn’t expected,” she says.

Finally, the panelists discussed self-doubt and dealing with societally imposed expectations on women in academia. When asked how to cope with self-doubt, Harding explained that she still struggles with it: “I think it’s a lifelong journey. You’re not always going to be 100% sure that ‘this is the thing. This is what I’m supposed to do.’ But you have to take those steps forward to see your next step.” She advised students to embrace ambiguity and keep doing what they think is best for themselves, regardless of society’s opinions or their own doubts. Dr. Reed agreed, saying, “There are people who are going to judge your decisions, but find people who are going to support what you feel is right for you and what God’s telling you to do.”

The BYU 2022 English Symposium Women in Academia panel was held on February 25.