Episode #34

From First Woman Pastor to “Impossible” Slave Histories: An Interview with Felicia Thomas

On this interview episode of The Academic Womxn Amplified we are beginning Season 3 of the podcast sharing the life stories of academic womxn to explore how they have created success for themselves on their own terms. Let’s bust the myth of a “traditional” path to academia, one story at a time.


Dr. Felicia Thomas grew up in the 1970’s in Detroit as a talkative, insatiable learner in a close-knit extended family. She moved from the inner city to a small New England town to attend college, and became the first college graduate in her family. She moved on to become an ordained minister and the first woman pastor at the church she led. Through marriage, children, pastoring, travel, moving to new cities, and the death of her father, Dr. Felicia Thomas followed her dream to write on her own circuitous path to become a tenure-track professor at Morgan State University. 


Key points discussed with Dr. Felicia Thomas:

  • Felicia’s backstory, growing up in 1970’s Detroit, becoming first generation college graduate [5:00]
  • College as a means to an end, not as a road to academia [9:00]
  • Taking a low pay job out of college [9:45]
  • Feeling a calling to preach, attending seminary, becoming ordained [10:25]
  • Getting married, having children, and parenting alone while husband traveled [12:00]
  • Feeling like life was sucking her dry [13:15]
  • The urge to write and feeling like it could replace what was being depleted in life [13:40]
  • Some things take longer than planned; completing the artist’s way in 1 yr, rather than 12 weeks [14:20]
  • Coming to the idea of academia in a roundabout way [16:40]
  • Discovering her love for graduate study; reading, writing, immersiveness of campus [19:40]
  • 4-year program with 5-year funding allocation ended up taking 9 years [20:50]
  • Piecing together research in non-traditional ways to fit it around life and family demands [22:00]
  • Struggling to find self-validation and realize that what she had to say matters. [24:00]
  • A PhD advisor who didn’t pour into her; forcing her to find the support she needed [25:40]
  • Finding “sister colleagues”; academic women who supported each other through the challenges of PhD life and beyond [26:00]
  • Burn out by the time she reached dissertation defense [27:20]
  • Dealing with her father’s illness and death during “PhD hell” [29:30]
  • Struggling through moving to a new city [30:45]
  • Trying to find work in a glutted job market [33:30]
  • Beginnings as a substitute for adjunct faculty then online instructor [34:00]
  • Precariousness of position while waiting for decisions on tenure track job [38:00]
  • Getting ready to go up for tenure, publication, and uncertainties caused by Covid-19 [40:00]
  • Embracing the hard and accepting that the ‘traditional’ path was not made for us as women [42:30]


Key Quotes:

  • “Everything in my life was sucking me dry.” -Felicia Thomas
  • “The thing that I felt might sort of replace some of what I was putting out was writing, was more creative pursuits, and I just couldn’t find time to write.” -Felicia Thomas
  • “I just had to find another way” -Felicia Thomas
  • “Be nice to the assistants in the office! They know everything, and they will help you if you are nice to them.” -Felicia Thomas
  • “The path is the path. It is what it is.” -Cathy Mazak
  • “The 20 years would have passed anyway.” -Felicia Thomas
  • “I’ll do what I have to do, PhD or no PhD.” -Felicia Thomas

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