From the Catwalk to the Commencement Stage with Dr. Felicia Clark

Dr. Felicia Clark graduated from Pepperdine University. She took graduate school courses at night while working in a full-time demanding management position during the day. She was able to keep up with her studies until a death in the family made it impossible for her to focus on her studies. Dr. Clark sought the support she needed to complete her dissertation and graduate.
Since graduation, Dr. Clark has presented her work at national conferences. She has developed curricula for mathematics, including text books and tests for teachers. Dr. Clark also led a team of math coaches who produced the highest growth in the nation’s largest math reform initiative in the United States.
While in grad school, Dr. Clark also was a plus size cover model under contract with the top modeling agency in the United States. Dr. Clark now combines her two passions,  mathematics curriculum development and modeling to help women break up with body shame and express the Goddess within. She hosts a pageant like no other kind and is a frequent media guest on topics related to body shame.
Dr. Clark speaks to college students, women’s groups, and counseling organizations to show data on how extreme beauty standards control a woman’s sexual energy while consuming wealth, health and time. Check out her TEDx talk “The BS in Beauty Standards.”



Available_Black copy
Available_Black copy

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • To become a doctor, persist
  • Life doesn’t stop for anybody, not even for doctoral students
  • The Dissertation Coin Flip
  • Being comfortable with knowing you can get there
  • It’s okay to need help
  • Getting support to get through your PhD program
  • Choosing a committee that understands your goal

In this episode…

Life doesn’t hit the brakes because something happens to you. It keeps coming at you, from all directions, and the only way to survive and thrive is to be like a shark and keep moving!

In this episode of An Unconventional Life, Dr. Felicia Clark speaks with Dr. Russell Strickland about life’s ups and downs and how she braved through her PhD journey despite a significant loss. She credits having a hand to hold and a shoulder to lean on as critical to getting her dissertation done. She also talks about her passion for mathematics, her modeling career, and her upcoming book on debunking women’s beauty standards, Beauty and the Beastly Standards.

Dr. Clark refused to let life’s challenges prevent her from finishing her PhD. For persistent folks, Like Dr. Clark, life has a strange way of working things out eventually. Be inspired to finish what you started by this moving story of adversity and reward.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done, America’s #1 authority in dissertation completion for working professionals.

Founded by Dr. Russell Strickland, Dissertation Done serves people in two ways:

  1. If you’re struggling with your dissertation, getting ready to start your dissertation, or just plain wanting to get your dissertation done as soon as possible, go to and Let’s Get Your Dissertation Done
  2. If you’re busy living your Unconventional Life and have a message that you want to share, maybe you should join our Expand Your Authority Program to become a published author. Go to and let me know that you’d like to talk about Expanding Your Authority.

Visit to learn more about our other services and leave a message or call them at 888-80-DR-NOW (888-803-7669) to schedule your free 30 to 45-minute phone consultation.

Episode Transcript

Disclaimer: This transcript is here for your reading convenience. It was created by machines and may (a-hem) contain some errors. If you email us about these errors, the machines will undoubtedly find out. I hope they won’t get angry.


Intro  [00:03]

Welcome to An Unconventional Life, a podcast where we share stories about the crazy one percent out there, who earned their doctoral degrees, and then went on to use them in crazy, cool, unique and unconventional ways. Here’s your host astrophysicist turned teacher, author, dissertation coach, and more. Dr. Russell Strickland.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [00:28]

Hello, and welcome. This is Dr. Russell Strickland, your host for An Unconventional Life podcast. I’m here today with Dr. Felicia Clark, a graduate of Pepperdine University. She’s one of our unconventional students who took her graduate courses at night while working full time in a demanding management position during the day. And she was able to keep up with her studies just time until a death in her family, made it very difficult for her to continue to focus. We’re going to talk about what happened then. But of course, we call her Dr. Clark, we know it worked out well in the end. During graduate school, she mentioned that she was a plus-size cover model with contracts with top modeling agency in the US. And now she combines her two passions of mathematics curriculum development, and modeling to help women break up with body shame. And I think that’s just fascinating. So we’re going to get all into that. She has currently teaches it speaks to college students and other women’s groups, counseling organizations, showing them to show data on the extreme beauty standards that control women’s sexual energy while consuming wealth, health and time. She has a TED talk called the BS in Beauty Standards. She’s a bestselling author, I mentioned before that she’s modeled for various places like just my size, Macy’s, Jones, New York, several magazines and designer and she’s so excited right now she mentioned it to me a couple of times before went on the air, her new book, Beauty and the Beastly Standards is going to be releasing later this year. So we got a lot to talk about. Thank you, Dr. Clark, for joining us here today.


Dr. Felicia Clark  [02:01]

Thank you, Dr. Strickland for having me. It’s my pleasure. And I love the work you’re doing it really matters is so you feel so alone. When you’re trying to do this in life, and you’re doing it by yourself and other people may feel inconvenienced. So it’s so easy to stop. So thank you for having this support. System in place.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [02:25]

And the problem that we find is that students don’t stop. They just aren’t doing the things they need to be doing to keep going. And then quitting is kind of forced upon them. They just can’t keep going because they haven’t been doing what they need to do. So that’s the thing. It’s very insidious that you don’t make an affirmative action to quit this thing. Usually, you just aren’t doing the things that you need to be doing and have that support and guidance there.


Dr. Felicia Clark  [02:54]

Yeah, you climb out.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [02:56]

So, which is a good segue, I want to tell folks that today’s episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done. That’s my company, we help folks that adult doctoral students through the dissertation process. So when you’re working full time and trying to manage school, it’s a lot. And if you need a little bit of support, guidance, and direction to get through that, reach out to us at And we’ll schedule a conversation, just see if we might be a good fit to work with you. Our Fast Track Your Dissertation Coaching Program helps get students through the dissertation process in about 12 months or less typically. And that saves you years off of what students are typically doing. And if by the way, you’ve maybe graduated already, and you’re moving on and you’re in that expert space as a coach or consultant or speaker, like our guest here today, Dr. Clark, the best way to establish yourself as an expert is not only to have the first name “Doctor,” but also to have literally written the book on your area of expertise. And we can take you from a blank page to a published author, much faster than you would have imagined possible. Check us out at if you’d like to have a conversation about that. Anyway, Dr. Clark again, welcome.


Dr. Felicia Clark  [04:05]

Thank you.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [04:06]

Now, you mentioned that, that you were going through school at Pepperdine while working in a management position during the day. That’s a pretty successful career path already. What made you decide to to go to graduate school to go for a doctoral degree?


Dr. Felicia Clark  [04:27]

So I was in a program called Teach for America out of college. So I was a school teacher. And we work with educational justice as a social justice type of platform at that time I did that organization still there. I just, you know, they’ve only asked you to put in two years I put in 20. So I think I’m good. But I saw things like and no disrespect. I’m gonna the districts that I work in, I thank them for wanting to grow. So what I’m going to say is not a slam on them, they knew they had a problem. And they were trying to fix it. And so I saw an opening. I have a total love for mathematics. I love it, love it, love it. And the person in charge of the first district I worked in, couldn’t even do the math to manage multimillion dollar budgets. Wow. And the reason is, because they have cutbacks, and they just put somebody in charge of math right. Now, so I ended up being in charge of the math league competition, which they told me they didn’t have the money to do and I’m like this, no one’s touched this budget right here. I’ll just use that budget. So I said, okay. They don’t even know they have that budget. So I was able to get the medals, the trophies and pay teachers’ overtime to train the teams beautiful, district-wide project that parents really loved. And then from there, we get very that program


Dr. Russell Strickland  [06:02]

To gain some confidence and to feel comfortable with this very, very important skill. And in this day and age.


Dr. Felicia Clark  [06:10]

Yeah, yeah. So bottom line, I just started doing stuff like that. And I’m like, why wouldn’t be in charge of the math program. I’m doing all this consulting work. So um, long story, I ended up being a consultant for the Department of Education in California. And I had to commute from Los Angeles and Compton unified, which were my areas, I had to fly to Sacramento fly back home. very demanding job, but I loved it. Right. And so I noticed that a man that was in charge of the program had his doctorate, most of the people who publish the books, wrote the test manuals. And at that time, were writing California standards. They had their doctorate. So I had just finished my master’s which Teach for America kind of pushed you and helped you get a master’s if you want it. Um, you know, you had to do it yourself. There’s a lot of support, and a lot of people in your cohort are getting their master’s. So that ran smoothly, kinda, I had a couple glitches, but pretty smoothly. So I’m like, okay, I’ll just get my doctorate. Right. Oh, boy. Good idea at the time.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [07:28]

And the phrase that came to my mind at the time was famous last words, right? Why don’t I just do this? Yeah.


Dr. Felicia Clark  [07:33]

Yeah, why not?


Dr. Russell Strickland  [07:36]

So how did that go?


Dr. Felicia Clark  [07:38]

Oh, my goodness. Okay, so with our first cohort, which our cohort which had a couple of Teach for America, people in that, that I didn’t know that they were from other core cohorts, but I’m sorry. Um, they, we happen to be in the same class. And so we were called to a meeting. And we were told there were 26 of us at the meeting, and I think 30 people were, you know, matriculating at the same time with us. And 26, were there. And the professor looked around the room and just did like business. And well, only about 10 of you ever graduate. And we were like, why do you say that? You know, I’d appreciate that. And I, you know, I’m thinking I’m graduating now, you’re not talking to me, you know, so everyone was offended, right? We’re good students and you know.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [08:29]

Students, I’ll tell them the numbers, depending on the program, let’s say it’s about a 50/50 shot. I call it the dissertation coin flip. And it’s not like somebody is actually flipping the coin by your back or something. But those are the numbers. That’s what you have to deal with. And I taught students all the time and they’re like, well, not me. I don’t quit, when I when I start something I finish. I’m like, Okay, well, who are those 50% that are not finishing? It’s it’s tough. And everybody says, Well, that’s not me. That’s the other guy. But you got to recognize this is a tough thing. If If everybody feels that is not me, I finished everything I start, you should really take those numbers to heart that it’s it’s a lot tougher than you might have thought.


Dr. Felicia Clark  [08:54]

It might it might not be you. It’s not your intelligence, it’s life happens. You have no idea. I mean, wow. So but I feel like I’m one of the ones I’m gonna finish in ten years.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [09:25]

I believe that has less to do with intelligence than it does with persistence. Yes, you have to be smart. But you really have to be willing to do the work. And to figure out what the work is humble enough to figure out what the work is because in a lot of cases, schools don’t really tell you what they want. Exactly. They just tell you, I don’t want this. I told them that and to get to where you can figure out exactly what they want in graduate. It requires a lot of persistence.


Dr. Felicia Clark  [09:54]

And I think I agree with you, Dr. Strickland, like ultimately you have to do the work. But there’s you have to grow I mean and you have to make hard life choices. Very hard.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [10:08]

A lot of times, yeah.


Dr. Felicia Clark  [10:10]

The first two people from my cohort dropped because their spouse was not supportive and they weren’t having it. And I thought, wow, you know, that’s awful. And then my boyfriend after my second year, because I was kind of blowing through my classes, because I worked in my field. So grad school helped my job, and I got promoted on the job. And then I could do a study on my job that I could do for school. So they worked. They come back and handle really well, Steph, I was working all the time. Um, long story short, won’t bore you with the details. But basically, my boyfriend just got another girlfriend. I was like, oh, okay. Yeah. And he basically told me, I have to drop out, or, we’re over. And I’m like, you kind of moved on already. So why don’t we just be over. And I mean, he didn’t say it in those words. But that basically is what would have had to happen. And I don’t know had he not had another girl who maybe I would have considered dropping out, he was a great guy. And other, you know, that doesn’t make him sound so great. But you know, he was a great guy, and he wanted children at that time, and I didn’t, and he’s basically saying, this woman, I have my child if you want. So that’s pretty much what happened.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [11:24]

And and to be fair, to him, it is a it’s an all consuming thing, I mean, relationships, in a sense, they have to take a little bit of a backseat to doing this, at least they’re on an even footing with this doctoral degree pursuit for a little while. Because this takes so much of your time and energy and, and, and focus. So it’s not that he’s a bad guy that he didn’t want to sit to a piece of paper on the wall. It’s just not that everybody will do that. And, yeah, and that’s one of the things we found with a lot of experience with our own students. And a research project that one of our first students did is that emotional support is one of those things that you need to be able to graduate. And if you don’t have it at home, in particular, it can be very, very tough to get through the program.


Dr. Felicia Clark  [12:16]

There was a Latina woman in our cohort that dropped, in her because we went to school at night, and then you had to have class all day Saturday. And then I don’t remember if we had it back to back Saturdays or Saturday or Sunday, but bottom line, on the weekends, you had to come to school, or you couldn’t finish. And so the lady, brilliant, brilliant lady, she basically said her husband was not gonna let her come on Saturday, and she’ll just take a lower grade. And so she did. But if you get a C in a class, that’s like failing, you got to keep your grades up, because she dropped because of that.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [13:02]

So a lot of tough decisions, life decisions, you have to make along the way. Best if the entire family’s on board, we see that a lot with our with our students who are deciding whether or not to get our help, is that that’s a family decision, as well. So very, very important piece. After the end of that relationship, how did that? How did you deal with that moving on towards graduating? Because that’s that’s a bit of a grieving process there.


Dr. Felicia Clark  [13:30]

Yeah. And that wasn’t it though. So um, love math, but the statistics and how you wanted to, or how the education professional wanted them, shared was hard for me, because to me, the numbers are clear, it’s statistically significant. Can’t you read those symbols? In education, they don’t want that. They want you to explain and in words, and so I just struggle with that. So I had a wonderful mentor. I won’t say her name because she’s still struggling in life. And I don’t like to put people in my interviews if they didn’t say I could. My mentor was a brilliant woman is statistics. I love statistics. I ended up getting the second highest grade in our whole department because I had a background in statistics. And then she helped me. She had a horrible car accident where someone died. And she carried that burden like she she just didn’t function. Well. She just felt like I killed someone. I’m a bad person. And just my heart grieved for her because it wasn’t her fault. And of course, even if it was her fault, she didn’t do it on purpose. But it wasn’t even her fault. But she was so stuck there. And I get it. I mean, but oh I’m so sad. Yeah, yeah. And so I lost that support


Dr. Russell Strickland  [14:57]

That we deal with in this process is that you know, life brings all sorts of challenges. And it doesn’t stop when you’re in a doctoral degree program. And so, you know, you might think I’m taking all I can take right now I got these classes, I got this paper, I got to write research I got to do, but life with all of its ups and downs is still still going on at the same time. So very, very difficult to, to lose some of those things that have nothing to do with your study and what you’re trying to accomplish in school, because of, you know, external forces in life. And I believe you said that you you actually had a, a loss in your own family during this time, too. Is that right?


Dr. Felicia Clark  [15:40]

Yeah. So one of the things we all start kind of feeling stressed. So there were five of us that said, we’ll just meet up together and study together. So that was beautiful. And then one of the guys is, unfortunately, he lost the child. So he left and I mean, unbelievable. Another gentleman. He wore the collar, I think he was a priest, but he was from the Middle East. So it could have been in a Muslim mosque. But, um, someone attacked his place of worship and a hate crime. So then he couldn’t finish. Yeah, it was unbelievable, right. And then I still pressed for it, I still finished and I was ready to go into cops. We had Spring Break over Easter. And I’m still hard for me, um, got everything organized. And I got the call my father passed. And it was like, all my thoughts just went out, you know. And, um, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t defend my work. I knew it in my head. I was sharp, you know. And then when you do a practice with someone, I couldn’t even remember my own research, you know. And I just said, I need to go on leave, right. So I did that from work and from school. And then went back to work. And that went well, for me, I had a very, I was the supervisor of, I think, maybe 60 people and they all band together, they were wonderful. They kind of, I’m a very rigid, anal new personality, kind of, we have annual plans that we meet those plans, and we remember one, right. And so I had a great, great team. So they were able to still I am so sorry, I thought I turned out for me. Um, my team was able to follow the plans, I left, it was beautiful. And we were able to still meet marks and still be the number one team even though I took a little bit of leave. So I got a promotion. And all this. Right. And then I got invited to speak at national conferences. I that was my first book project I was invited to do. So all this is happening while I’m on leave from school. So career on fire, um, then we’ll talk a whole lot about that. But I had a wonderful opportunity for my modeling career. Now this whole time, I was modeling, but you get paid to sit out, which I don’t know if a lot of people know that. Um, so I had the same agent is Anna Nicole Smith. And so she just was on fire. And so people would sometimes and not that this ever happened, but sometimes say Oh, she’s a black and then Nicole Smith, because I did like swimsuit, lingerie modeling, people like them. And when I say like, it’s based on your sell through rate. And so as a math person, I could read the data. And I’m like, I’m doing really well. But they just didn’t want that at the time. They didn’t want plus size women to upstage thin women. So I got a promotion where I’m paid more and work less. So I was at the top agency in the country, and worked with big name labels and no small name labels anymore. So that’s what happened.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [19:29]

So I tell students often, or at least ask them, you know, I tell them that listen, 99% of the population doesn’t have a doctoral degree. This is tough. It’s okay. If you decide to walk away. And most of the students by telling them like, oh, no, I’m committed to this. I’m gonna do it. Right. So that’s what I typically hear back from them. But I had that discussion with them in all seriousness that you need to understand that’s an option and it’s not like you’re some big loser if you take that option because it just makes you like 99% of the population. It’s not a problem. Here you are, career’s doing well. Second career’s doing well. The the, you know, issues, you’re having the loss in your family. What made you decide now? I’m going to go back to school, what pulled you back? And what got you back to doing that?

1 2 3 Next

If you need extra support and guidance to make it to graduation, I may be able to help. If you'd like to find out whether you qualify for the support we offer throughout the dissertation process, then...

Let's Talk About Your Dissertation
Dr. Russell W. Strickland

RUSSELL STRICKLAND, Ph.D., has been referred to as a “rocket scientist turned management consultant.” In truth, he applies an eclectic body of work from astronomy and nuclear physics to dynamic inventory management to market research to each of his student engagements.