Tracy Melvin

"Grad school is not just doing the work, but it's also this other separate journey of understanding, who you are and who you could be and who you want to be." -Tracy Melvin, Doctoral Student, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Tracy Melvin is a doctoral student in MSU’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, studying Fisheries and Wildlife. Tracy is married to a loving and supportive husband. She commutes to campus and considers herself “a little bit older” than other graduate students. Tracy did her undergraduate degrees in aviation flight science, environmental studies, and biology and thought it was bad that she “wandered a little” before realizing what she wanted. When she decided to pursue a Ph.D., it was her now advisor who made all the difference.

Tracy was reaching out to faculty who were working in her desired field, and got a response from a faculty member at MSU. The faculty member indicated that they had room on their team but no funding to support Tracy, essentially saying “I’ll take a chance on you if you take a chance on me.” At the end of their conversation, Tracy truly felt like she had a champion and was excited to begin her doctoral work. That faculty member is now Tracy’s advisor, and someone she describes saying “every time I feel like I’m not doing a good job or I’m not good enough, he’ll always flip it and I feel like that is so unique in an advisor to always be a champion like that. And I think that he knows how to tailor his communication to each of us, to what we need. He’s very special. He’s the most important man in my life, besides my husband and dad.”

Having such a positive relationship and experience with her advisor is one of the things that fuels Tacy’s thoughts about the future. She hopes to someday be a person for someone, like he has been for her, noting that these kinds of relationships are “the heart and soul of Higher Education Institutions, and are so profound but not spoken of often”. Being able to mentor someone in the profession, to help them connect something they love with something in scholarship and raise awareness of opportunities based on her lived experience is something that Tracy looks forward to. “When I think I am able to do that for someone, it makes everything I’ve done here worthwhile.”

For Tracy, graduate school has been a rollercoaster of emotions in which she has constantly been tested- wondering whether or not shes “making a meaningful contribution to science”. From her experience, how you react in graduate school impacts your ethos, or how you feel about life itself. She is growing to understand that she is not the criticisms of her work, but rather, an amalgamation of all the people she has interacted with, plus the core of her being, noting that every past experience, good or bad, has contributed to where she is today. She wouldn’t change that.

Tracy says, “Grad school is not just doing the work, but it's also this other separate thing, this journey of understanding who you are, who you could be, and who you want to be. Most importantly, it gives you the time to realize it’s not about you, but what you can give back to the world around you. So if you have the opportunity to meet a lot of different people, then you can become this magical unicorn at the end… I am doing my own thing and making my own diverse path, and it's that diversity that really makes beautiful things happen- that interdisciplinary diversity. Not just diversity in how we look, but diversity in who we are inside too. And I think that the next evolutionary step and a place of higher learning is to embrace that kind of diversity as well, to really encourage that because that's when new, innovative, amazing things happen in creativity and thought that push the whole world forward.”

Originally written and photographed by Makena Neal, 2019