Maria Vazquez on seeing the big picture and grad school life lessons

by Ana Romero, Diversity & Outreach Peer
Wednesday, February 22, 2017 4:27 PM

Meet Maria D. Vazquez, a Graduate Scholar and second-year Ph.D. student in the Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology program who received her B.A. in Psychology and Sociology from Boston College. Read on to learn more about her upbringing, her research, and some words of wisdom on how she is surviving graduate school.


I was born in Miami and moved to Boston when I was eleven years old. ​Both my parents are Cuban, so living in Miami was like a whole different world. I didn’t learn how to speak English until I was halfway through kindergarten. Spanglish was a way of life, and I never thought I spoke differently until I moved to Boston and everybody was always like, “Why do you have an accent?”


In college, I learned about systemic barriers and the reasons why it is so hard to get out of poverty. That’s when I started getting interested in access to education, especially among Latino populations. When I came to UCSB, I went to a Student of Color Conference at UC Berkeley and I saw a talk on the “prison-to-school pipeline.” Now my research is looking at the experiences of formally incarcerated Latino men that are going to a 4-year university in the context of resilience and thriving.


The more that I learn about things, the more I think to myself, “This is why you need to be here because nobody else is going to bring that particular experience and perspective that you are bringing." Even though it’s really hard to feel like you’re always "that person," and to feel like very few people can connect with your particular experience, you need to use that as the very motivation to actually stick it through and change things. When my siblings tell me that I am a great role model, it makes me feel like everything I have gone through is worth it.



I had unrealistic expectations about what grad school was going to be because nobody in my family had graduated from high school, let alone gone to graduate school. There is a saying in Spanish that goes, no te ahoges en un vaso de agua (don’t drown yourself in a cup of water). I feel that grad school is el vaso (the cup) and you can drown yourself in it without seeing the big picture. The best advice I can think of and that I am constantly telling myself is that this is temporary and it’s really just a small piece of your life. As long as you think it’s worth it for what you want to do and for you to feel fulfilled, then go through it. If you don’t, then get out. Life is too short.



I want to feel like the work that I am doing is making real, impactful, and positive change in people’s lives, and I’m not just collecting a check and telling myself that it is to make myself feel better. One of my goals and a personal sign that I have made it is when I can buy my parents a house. When I can tell them that they will never have to worry about paying rent or getting evicted is when I’ll feel like I’ve actually accomplished what I set out to do.