By Emily Boykin, Doctoral Candidate in Public Administration at Florida State University

As a newfound Ph.D. candidate and first-time instructor of record this past semester for an undergraduate course, I’ve reflected quite a bit on my educational progression and informed pedagogy. With my blogging powers, I felt it pertinent to subject MPSA readers to this inner dialogue and potentially strong exclamation here when I say: if not for the conferences I attended as an undergraduate student (MPSA included), I likely would not be in this career and life phase I find myself today.

My first experience attending MPSA was in 2019, when I was in my final year as an undergraduate Political Science student at the University of Florida studying election sciences. Despite the excellent mentorship, I would soon reject my comforts in elections in favor of my interests in public management and policy to pursue a Ph.D. in Public Administration a few hours up the road at Florida State.

I’ve attended MPSA twice more since 2019, in-person this past conference and the year before that virtually. Each experience taught me more than the last as indicative of the chapter of my educational program at the time. I ironically spent far more time preparing my nerves and paper presentation in 2019, bopping around interesting panels to hear as many papers as possible in 2022, and exploring Chicago in-between catching up with fellow doctoral students and professors from other institutions in 2023. Yet, my first MPSA experience is something I continually recall if not for the sole reason of introducing me to the world of academia—and the importance these experiences, and the preparation it required, to my entering it.

On top of prior dreams of academic belongings, I had the luck and privilege of diverse mentors throughout my undergraduate training that not only inspired me to pursue greater post-graduate educational attainment, but (the point here) also gave me the means in which I could successfully do so. I engaged in undergraduate research whenever possible, both in and outside of my department, from the encouragement of my professors. I had a team who showed me the ropes of academic writing and research, who first told me about this galaxy of conference-going where said research was presented, discussed, and eventually— hopefully —published. I had educators who put in time and energy into my submitting of proposals, essentially holding my hand as they explained proper decorum of preparing papers for discussants and networking. Importantly, I had teachers who invested the funds necessary for me to attend conferences.

While it may take a single person or a random instant to inspire a young woman to pursue academia, it is my experience that shows it takes a team, multiple educators, and a plethora of teachers to move dreams into realities. At the end of my undergraduate career when I was inquiring about next steps, I had enough experiences and preliminary research under my belt, a competitive CV to boot, that allowed me to leap rather than walk. I jumped into my Ph.D. program prepared, excited, and ready.

This past MPSA, I was a discussant for the undergraduate poster sessions and had the most wonderful time talking to up-and-coming minds in the field. I was impressed with the research being presented, marveled at the time their own mentors put in to get them there, and nostalgic at the opportunities the students were grasping. Above all, it reminded me of my own experiences and set forth an agenda in my teaching style, the mark I hope to make in academia outside of research: the prioritization of the undergraduate experience.

As I continue attending MPSA and beyond, I look forward to engaging with more undergraduates through discussant roles, dropping into first-time attendee meetings and finding the undergraduate table, or one day having the means to fund my own students along. Perhaps my thoughts are of no surprise to the seasoned academic but maybe fellow graduate students can relate; it hit home while in Chicago that undergraduate students are the next graduate students who are the next junior colleagues and collaborators of the department. Furnishing expectations, setting them up for success, and investing time and funding in their careers bolsters the experiences of all.

About the Author

Emily Boykin is a doctoral candidate in Public Administration at Florida State University. Her research interests are in public management and public budgeting and finance. Outside of writing, you can find her teaching Pilates and cuddling her dog, Dutch. Emily is on twitter at @EmilyBoykinPA.