Kristina Tirol-Carmody is a second-year Ph.D. student in the KU School of Business at the University of Kansas (KU), studying Organizational Behavior and Human Resources. She attributes her choice of educational path and her career goals to her experience as a KU TRIO McNair Scholar.
As a KU undergraduate double majoring in Supply Chain Management and Spanish, Kristina heard about the KU TRIO McNair Scholars Program from a friend. KU’s McNair Scholar's Program offers a variety of services and resources that assist undergraduate students with preparing for graduate school and completing undergraduate research.
Kristina said the program originally caught her attention because it offered a stipend. At the time, she was working very hard to pay her own way as a first-generation and low-income student, so the financial assistance was attractive. In retrospect, though, Kristina said that what she ultimately received from the program was priceless. “What I actually value the most, looking back now, was being exposed to what grad school really could be and getting so much explicit and tacit knowledge that students like me would never have access to otherwise.”
The support and mentorship that Kristina received through the McNair program were of such high quality, she said, that it did not just help her apply to and initially get accepted into graduate school; rather, it continues to benefit her on a regular basis. “I am often asked by my peers: How do you already know so much about research?”
With research experience under her belt from the McNair Summer Research Internship program, she explained that she was able to hit the ground running in her Ph.D. program without her faculty advisor “having to teach all those basic skills one by one and hold my hand”. Kristina also mentioned that her McNair experience helped inform her choice of a faculty advisor. While other new Ph.D. students spent significant amounts of time bouncing around between potential advisors, she said, she knew exactly what she was looking for in an advisor because she had such good examples from her prior experience.
The lessons that Kristina learned as a McNair Scholar were not simply about the logistics of graduate school and the often-intimidating world of academia. She also learned more about herself and how she could find or perhaps create, a place for herself in that world. “Imposter syndrome is big for all people going into a Ph.D. program but especially for students from backgrounds [like mine]. For so long, I thought I had to imitate what a Ph.D. student should be and try to be somebody else, but [McNair] made me super comfortable that I have the skills and capabilities and that I can be my authentic self in a Ph.D. program.”
Kristina’s reflections suggested that first-gen and low-income students not only can go to graduate school but that they should because their perspectives are unique and valuable. She even chose to pursue a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Human Resources because she realized that there has been little to no research about what happens when students like her graduate and enter the business world. Her findings someday could have real-world applications that benefit future first-gen and low-income students.
Years after earning her bachelor’s degree, the McNair program remains close to Kristina’s heart. “Any time I have exciting news, the list of people to share it with goes: my mom, my very best friends, my husband, and Mulu [Lemma],” shared Kristina. Ms. Lemma is the TRIO McNair Scholars Program Director at KU, or as she is sometimes known, the “program mom,” because of the emotional support she provides to her students. And with support from McNair and its program mom, Kristina is certainly making her own mom proud. “My mom didn’t know that there was such a thing as going beyond an undergraduate degree. She always said her biggest dreams were for me to be a high school valedictorian and graduated summa cum laude from college.” Kristina has already made those dreams come true, so with the help of McNair, she is helping her mother dream up a new one.