Sister Act! Siblings Complete Journey to Doctoral Hooding
Sisterhood is a strong bond. For Kent State University alumnae Brittany and Christina Watts, their sisterly love has been the cornerstone of their academic success, leading them to earn their doctoral degrees and graduate together this May.
Brittany Watts earned a Ph.D. in sociology, with concentrations in inequalities, religion and mental health.
Christina Watts earned a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences with a major in cellular and molecular biology.
“In many ways, Kent State chose us,” Christina said. “After finishing my bachelor's, I was put in contact with Dr. Ruth Washington, who was working in the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as well as with the Northern Ohio Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate through the National Science Foundation. As an organization, they provided financial, social and emotional support to a team of students. When I was contacted by Dr. Washington about this position at Kent and the level of support I would receive from the membership, it was an opportunity I could not leave on the table. Shortly after, I began the application process for Kent State and was accepted.”
As her sister toured the school, Brittany was invited to meet with people from the Department of Sociology and Criminology.
“The next thing I knew, I was writing my personal statement in Dr. Washington’s office and we were starting separate doctoral programs in the same College of Arts and Sciences,” Brittany said.
Two weeks later, the sisters moved to Kent to start their doctoral journeys together.
“Surreal is the only way to describe this experience,” Brittany said. “We have been in different states for our higher education years until now. We had to re-learn how to be in one another’s company, learn how to support and love one another in a space that we had only experienced individually until this point. This was both challenging and rewarding. We found ourselves being able to support one another in a unique way that will sustain us beyond our Kent journey.”
Together, the sisters conquered their studies, growing as professionals and individuals, strengthening their relationship.
“The doctoral journey was mentally taxing, to say the least,” Christina said. “While we didn’t see each other most of the day due to our separate programs, responsibilities and locations on opposite ends of the campus, we found ways around it. For example, eating takeout from Kenko and spending long hours in the library was the only way to survive. We knew pretty early on that we had to rely on each other and our small friend group to maintain accountability toward the goals we set for ourselves.”
With their Kent State journeys coming to an end, the sisters reflected upon the great mentorship, knowledge and skills they gained throughout their studies.
“I am confident in my ability to contribute to academia meaningfully,” Brittany said. “Kent provided space for me to enhance my research and writing skills, strengthen my voice and work with diverse groups of people. My advisor, Dr. Kamesha Spates, mentors and supporters enabled me to see the value in my interdisciplinary work, and I feel equipped to seek my passions.”
The two were hooded individually at the Advanced Degree Commencement on Thursday, May 11, but were sitting together during the ceremony.
“We are grateful to be able to sit next to one another on this special day,” Brittany said. “Our journey is unlike many who start graduate programs because we were able to begin this arduous, long and sometimes lonely process with a partner who knew exactly what each other was going through. We started together and successfully defended our dissertations months apart. We are proud of our personal success and most importantly, the sisterhood that carried us through. This will always be a unique, special opportunity and accomplishment in our lives.”
As the sisters move on from Kent State, both have exciting opportunities ahead of them.
Brittany currently works as program director and grant writer at a nonprofit organization and is seeking a research position to use her skill set and experiences in academia.
Christina will be continuing the research she started at Kent State as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington Diabetes Institute.
Top Image Photo Caption:
Sisters Christina (left) and Brittany Watts carried each other through doctoral programs at Kent State University and graduated together.