This post is part of a series where Rutgers grant and/or fellowship winners are invited to share their thoughts and experiences with the process of applying for funding in graduate school.
By Laurent Reyes
Hi! I am Laurent. I am enrolled in the Rutgers School of Social Work Ph.D. Program and Dr. Emily Greenfield is my advisor. I recently wrote an Op-ed with Dr. Greenfield and Dr. Adrian Gale, where we call attention to the need to recognize and support the work that Black organizers are doing during this time and the need to critically examine how we discuss and support civic involvement. This work ties in with my dissertation, which studies how Latinx and Black older adults participate civically beyond formal volunteering and voting.
While our country likes to highlight and encourage its citizens’ civic involvement, it rarely has acknowledged how civic participation also exists within structures of inequality that favor one type of participation over another, and one groups’ voice over others. This inequality in civic life is increasingly important to recognize, as we reflect on our historical systems of oppression, dig further into the origins of policing, white supremacy, and the anti-blackness culture that began with colonization and slavery. Also, there’s a need to recognize black leaders and communities throughout history that have resisted these oppressive systems and have helped to move the United States forward. My dissertation aims to make visible the civic activities that have been going unrecognized for generations and provide a new conceptualization of civic participation that considers experiences beyond formal volunteering and voting.
When researchers study communities of color, the approach is often to look for what is missing, what they need, what the problems are, and how they can be helped. While it is essential to examine the opportunities for improvement, it is equally necessary to study the community’s strengths and assets. It often happens that those experiencing the problems have also thought about the solutions.
While I acknowledge that access to voting and formal volunteering should be corrected to include, to a greater extent, the participation of Blacks and Latinx, I decided to focus on the contributions they have made to society in the context of these limitations. These insights would allow research, policy, and programs to understand civic participation from a broader perspective that considers diverse experiences of civic involvement. Ideally, this would allow a more inclusive framework of civic participation to emerge, as well as funding and support for the work that many communities have been doing to spur the development and growth of our country.
Which fellowships and grants have you received as a graduate student?
Rutgers School of Graduate Studies Dean’s Fellowship. Selected for this program to recruit talented students from diverse backgrounds to Rutgers.
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Research Scholar (HPRS). This is a national leadership program that invests in scholars from populations traditionally underrepresented in graduate programs whose research, connections, and leadership will inform and influence policy toward a Culture of Health.
SGS University and Louis Bevier Dissertation Completion Fellowship. This is a Rutgers University award “designed to provide support during a doctoral candidate’s final year of dissertation work. The award is intended to support completion and recognize excellence.”
How has this funding helped you to succeed in your research?
The funding I have received as a graduate student has allowed me to focus on my studies and research. Specifically, the HPRS fellowship and the SGS Completion Fellowship have and will continue to allow me to take the time needed to develop and implement a dissertation study that I am passionate about and committed to. In addition, HPRS funding has made my participation at various conferences possible, which has expanded my professional network and mentorship.
Beyond financial support, the ongoing peer support I have received through HPRS has been essential in helping me navigate the doctoral program. This community has provided a rich source of ideas and perspectives, which challenged and expanded my knowledge and research approach. The coach that I was paired with as part of HPRS, Dr. Rocio Calvo, has motivated me to continue pursuing my research interests. With her help, I finished and submitted a study that I began in the 1st year of the Ph.D. to the Journal of Cross-cultural Gerontology, titled
“Strategies used by older Latino immigrants to navigate community-based services”
which is currently under review. That study has informed the topic and direction of my dissertation. This partnership has evolved beyond HPRS, as she now forms part of my dissertation committee. In addition, the training, classes, and workshops that HPRS provided continue to expand my understanding of how research can influence policy, programs, and communities.
What advice would you like to share with students who may be applying for fellowships and grants?
My advice to students applying for fellowships and grants is to first consider and reflect on how your work is proposing a new perspective. Our country finds itself in a pivotal moment, where many of us are examining existing structures and finding that they no longer serve us or are utterly ineffective. As we transition during this time, it is the visionary work of scholars, policymakers, and artists that will help us to cross this bridge and re-imagine our society. So, do not be afraid to think big and think differently, and more importantly, think critically. Question what you have been taught, what has been traditionally accepted and encouraged, and examine how your work challenges your field and our country to do the same.
Second, be critical of your own work and reflect on where it fits and what it means in today’s context. When it comes time to discuss your implications, be transparent and honest about your plan(s), aspirations, and how they may reflect on the organization/foundation offering the grant. It is important to be able to connect your work and passion to the grantees’ work and mission in a manner that pushes the funder’s vision further. Finally, remember that our work as researchers does not exist in a vacuum. We have a duty not just to create knowledge but also to help our communities and country continue evolving towards a more just society. Research should always consider the larger narrative and the possibilities to create real change in people’s lives.