Dr. Williams on SisterMentors:
When I heard the word “congratulations” come out of my advisor’s mouth after my dissertation defense, I paused in disbelief. I actually asked him if he was joking. I could not believe that this journey was almost over. I had successfully defended my dissertation and would, after a few revisions, be able to file it and walk away as a newly minted Ph.D. On July 26, 2008, I filed my dissertation. I left the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus with a small pink piece of paper stamped, ‘PAID’. It has become one of the most important mementos of this experience.
In the acknowledgements of my dissertation I thank Dr. Shireen Lewis for founding SisterMentors. I also thank the men and women who make the organization possible and the women with whom I have worked over the past few years.
When I joined SisterMentors I had already waited for almost a year to gain access to a school to conduct my dissertation research. I was discouraged and demoralized. I wanted to quit. At the same time, I knew that neither my family back in Memphis nor my partner would let me walk away without fighting. Discovering SisterMentors through a former participant, completely changed my course. Even after a month or more in the group, I was not certain of how I would finish, but I began to believe again that I could and would finish.
I have determined that I cannot place a value on the gifts of SisterMentors. Just knowing that I can pick up the phone and call women who absolutely understand my situation and are willing to listen and advise is sometimes enough. I may not always make the call, but I gain strength from knowing the network is there. And on the occasions when I do call, I get exactly what I need. I have attended some of the best institutions money can buy in this country, but the without the benefits of this groupâ€”provided to me for zero dollarsâ€”I might well have stopped short of my most important accomplishment to date.
The dissertation writing process is horribly isolating. I have no research to back me up here, but I firmly believe that it is the isolation more than any other challenge that slows momentum and leads some of us to fail. I have been fortunate because I had an incredibly supportive advisor and a group of women to sit with on a monthly basis and hold my feet to the fire. I had a supportive partner who made sure I had a place to live with food to eat and a group of women to cry with when the stress of it allâ€”even the stress of life itselfâ€”became too much. And I had a family of cheerleaders who, with no knowledge at all of this process or its toll, believed in me and a group of women who, with complete knowledge of this process and its toll, believed in me as well.
As I move on to the next phase of my life, I take this experience with me. I have even adopted some of the basic principles of goal setting and monitoring in a supportive environment to mentor friends and colleagues through this process. I had one such young sister at my home for a week the summer after I finished. It was very rewarding to see the sense of hope and accomplishment in her eyes at the end of one single week of work. And I will continue to mentor others in this way in an attempt to pay it
forwardâ€”to make sure that the spirit of SisterMentors travels far beyond its home in Washington, D.C.