Producing Outstanding Scholarship
Dr. Adrienne Carter-Sowell is the Associate Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, with an appointment in the Africana Studies Program at Texas A&M University (TAMU). She holds concurrent faculty affiliations in the research areas of Social & Personality Psychology, Industrial/Organizational Psychology, Clinical Psychology, the Diversity Science Research Cluster, and the Women’s and Gender Studies Program. We interviewed Dr. Carter-Sowell about her interdisciplinary research program, which addresses the costs of being “socially invisible.”
What is the inspiration for your research?
My research interests have always stemmed from a sense of double-consciousness. Before I came to graduate school, I worked a full-time job, and at the same time that I was doing that job, I was more interested in questions that I later found out were areas of psychology. I was a double major (sociology and rhetoric/communications) for my undergraduate degree, and I was interested in going to graduate school but I had very insufficient, biased mentoring. The thought was that, as a first-generation person, I couldn't possibly be what they [graduate school] were looking for. I was dissuaded from pursuing it and so I did not.
I was really grateful that while I was working, someone who I just happened to be partnered with asked me what my long-term goals were. That was the first time anyone who was in a position to do anything other than just be curious about my plan had asked me about my plan. He said, “I could see that you would be a great psychologist.” I thought it was funny because I wanted to be a psychology major as an undergraduate. He explained that he was an evolutionary psychologist and a professor at Purdue University. He told me if I was interested in applying to their graduate program, he would be very happy to write a letter of recommendation. That was the seed that made me think it was possible.
How did you become interested in your area of expertise?
The double-consciousness has always been present in whatever I needed to do. A thread of that has always been a part of my research. My training in psychology in the Psychological Sciences Department didn't include very much culture or any kind of real attention to minority status. Psychology traditional training is very experimental based, and at the time that I was getting my degree, the idea of diversity was not mainstream in any way. I had to pursue my interest outside of the department.
My advisor said, "You can do anything you want as long as you can fund yourself and you can produce something with that time." He tasked me to have something to show for the long-term and career wise. I took a graduate assistantship in the African American Studies program at Purdue University. By the time I graduated with my Ph.D. I had written grants that combined the two parts of my research life. I had this life that was very central to my African American identity and Africana Studies, and I had this traditional mainstream foundational science degree from an advisor who had laid the groundwork for me to work in any psychology department.
When I was hired here in 2010, Texas A&M was going through racial unrest and the Office for Diversity had launched the Diversity Plan. I was recruited because I could contribute to an established department, and meet the needs of what the university was trying to prioritize.
What were the most surprising things you learned from your research?
The one thing that excited me about my research is that it opened my eyes to the idea that when we talk about people of color, we are not sensitive to the fact that that group has different experiences too. Social psychologists talk about the “us” and “them.” Meaning we have our group where we consider those who are our people, that’s “us,” and then anybody not in our group is “them.” So, a lot of times when people talk about people of color, what they are talking about is anybody not White. But when you look and talk to people of color, people of color have very different experiences.
This research has allowed me to see trends a lot earlier in my career than I think I would have otherwise. It takes a long time to build up the resources and connections to do the kind of work that makes a difference. When you have money and support earlier in your career, and you are at a large university that has resources you can access, it generates information sooner.
Do you have any best management practices to help others in writing and research?
I recognize that because I am who I am, and where I am, I don't have the same privilege that a lot of writing advice assumes. Writing advice assumes you have quiet time. Writing advice assumes you are not distracted by other priorities and obligations that are equally important to you and that you cannot fail in completing. You don't have somebody taking care of the other things that are important to you so you can only focus on that one task. For nearly twenty years, if you include my graduate study, people have been giving me advice that I could not implement, and I took that as a personal failing. I thought that I was incapable of understanding what it was they wanted me to do. What I realized is that I was trying to live in a world and perform in a world that wasn’t the world that I actually lived in. When you give me advice, you have to do more than just say, “Go do it.” You don’t know if I can carry out the advice once you walk away. You are assuming I have the same resources as you. I have had many faculty tell me, "I do all of my writing over the summer." My advice to someone who wants to write is to recognize where your barriers are. You can’t fix it if you can’t see it. Until you know what your barriers are, you’re going to continue to try to do things that probably won’t work for you.
Share your experience with the Diversity Matters Seed Grant Program
I was in the ADVANCE program when Dr. Christine Stanley was the Vice President & Associate Provost for Diversity. Through this program, I was made aware of opportunities, and the Diversity Matters Seed Grant program was one of them. The grant gave me an independent line of research that I am now more known for than my initial line of research. My invited talks, how I see myself, where I participate in professional organizations, how people reach out to me in regards to expertise is more closely aligned to the seed grant work. With the support and mentoring of Dr. Jyotsna Vaid, Professor of Psychology and the former Director of Organizational Development, Research, and Equity with the Office for Diversity, I have been awarded two seed grants. The first one is about the building of community and ostracism in the workplace. This first project resulted in a co-authored publication (Carter-Sowell, Vaid, Stanley, Petit, & Battle, 2019). The second grant focuses on the variations of professional invisibility, looking at intersectionality. For example, if I take a tour of all the colleges and departments web pages, whose faces will I see, whose research is being recognized, who’s being honored with awards? Then let’s look at the directory, and see who’s eligible. I feel there are significant trends because the people who are featured don’t represent all who are eligible. This second project resulted in a co-authored submission for a 2021 conference presentation (Robinson, Ganesan, Carter-Sowell, & Miller, 2020). This is the work the seed grant has allowed me to continue. This goes back to the dual-consciousness. Some of my closest relationships have come from the leadership and support staff in the Office for Diversity. I know they will genuinely try to help me, respond, and support me. I am grateful to work with people who share my values.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I am very family oriented and I stay in touch with close friends that I have known since childhood. We love to laugh. We’re sports fans. My husband and I have seen Dave Chapelle, Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Gaffigan, and Chris Rock. We like to watch live sports and see college and professional sport teams play. My sister flew to Texas when the Superbowl was held in Houston. My husband and I also love game shows. While in graduate school, we drove to St. Louis for “Deal or No Deal” open calls. My bucket list is trying to be selected for a game show and an uninterrupted guilt-free nap.
Crystal S. Carter