Growing up undocumented, I had few options in terms of what my future could be.  Going to college was a dream that so few people like me had the opportunity to do, and the main goal I had in mind was to get my degree, get out, and get a job — to keep myself afloat, and stay out of trouble.  However, I was fortunate enough to meet a mentor that took me under her wing, and instilled in me the belief in research and the scientific method.  For years, I had watched her take the numbers and words on a computer screen, and use it to great effect to inform policy and create programs and services that made a huge difference in the lives of countless others.  To me, she was changing the world.  I wanted to do that too.

As I progressed through my college career, I became increasingly aware that I was going into places (both literally and metaphorically) that people like me don’t normally go.  A place of privilege, a place of prestige.  I knew that I had a responsibility to others like me, who couldn’t go where I was going, who didn’t have the same opportunities I had.  When I made the decision to go to graduate school, I understood that I owed all my successes to the people who forged the way before me, and that I had to pay it back by making the road easier for those who followed after.

But, as it is always the case, life is not so simple.  While I’ve found a new home in the Sociology Department, a new awareness came along: the idea that we do what we do for the sake of the pursuit of knowledge.  But this pursuit seemed to run contrary to what brought me to my program; what was the point of all of this if there was no utility in the research I wanted to do?

I have to say that this week’s readings are helping me reconcile my insecurities.  More than ever, I am convinced in the capacity of research to engender change in the world, and that working towards a Ph.D. can very much fall in-line with my goals.  Like Hale says in the piece we read this week, activism can be a valid source of theoretical discovery.  It can be rigorous, because we have no option but to be rigorous in our work.  Not everyone will agree with this position (as we clearly saw in the Okazawa-Rey & Sudbury 2015 piece), but I think that rather than be discouraged, it becomes incumbent upon me to make sure that I strike the right balance in the work that I do.  Research can be a powerful tool, but it needs direction.  Service can reach greater heights if based on empirical, theoretically-grounded research.  “Public” and “scholarship” do not need to be separate concepts linked together by an individual.  As a Mellon Public Scholar, this is my charge.