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Curating the Self and Embracing the Community (Asset, Not Deficit: The Growth Mindset of a First-Generation Doctoral Candidate)

Melinda Harrison / Brill / Sep 21, 2023


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Discussions of first-generation students (FGSs) in academic spaces can easily fall into talks of deficits. Indeed, FGSs may lack the benefit of a parent or guardian who can act as a knowledgeable guide to and through post-secondary contexts. However, FGSs may also draw upon unique personal assets and characteristics to succeed academically. One crucial element for success that I have identified in my own first-generation academic journey is the importance of a growth mindset amidst a lack of capital (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977), namely, the (academic) cultural knowledge possessed by continuing-generation students. In this autoethnography, I chronologically explore my post-secondary journey as a first-generation doctoral student, identifying points in time in which I lacked capital but employed the asset of a growth mindset to fill in the gap. The data reveal how a growth mindset developed during the undergraduate and early-graduate years due to my first-generation status, and how this new outlook resulted in a meandering yet fulfilling doctoral journey.

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