Can you believe we’re almost halfway through the year?! 2021 has been FLYING by and somehow it feels like I’ve been simultaneously on the go but also not going anywhere. In the past month, Jonathan and I were able to get a weekend to ourselves and closed on our home in Indiana, right before coming back to Nairobi for the rest of the summer. Someone messaged me on Instagram to inform me that it isn’t summer in Nairobi — which is obvious — but I live & operate not so much on the American seasonal calendar but on the academic calendar, and June-August is always summer break. So here are the questions that came up for the first Q&A of the summer!
Hair, Beauty, & Style
What’s the secret behind your glowing skin?
Minding my business, getting more sleep, taking my daily roundup of vitamins & minerals (I now take a prebiotic + probiotic*, CBD softgel, and women’s multivitamin daily), and a consistent skincare routine!
* save 15% off SEED with the code DRKOLA15.
What do you use for your skin?
Currently, my typical skincare routine consists of Bolden Clarifying Cleanser in the mornings, followed by Paula’s Choice 2% BHA as my exfoliant and either Bolden Brightening Moisturizer or Burt’s Bees Truly Glowing Gel Cream as my moisturizer. In the evenings, I wash again using the same cleanser, and follow up with the Shani Darden Sake Toning Essence, Retinol Reform, and Weightless Moisturizer. If I’m feeling lazy I’ll skip all that and just use Pond’s Rejuveness Advanced Hydrating Night Cream.
What hair products have you been loving lately?
I traveled to the US with the 4C Only Too Easy Collection — I received a PR mailing months ago and hadn’t gotten a chance to try it yet. I liked that everything was in jars rather than bottles (which I feel like ALWAYS spill on flights). And I really liked the 4C Only leave-in and styling cream!
How do you keep your hair from tangling in a fro? Do you braid it every night? It’s gorgeous.
Thank you! A lot to unpack here because you’ve equated tangled hair with a fro and two are not synonymous. In fact I love my hair the best when it is in a fro. Anyways, all I do at night is put on a bonnet, I don’t usually twist it up. If I’ve gone 2 weeks without putting any moisture in my hair (I know, not ideal, but a girl has other things on her mind), I’ll usually do a moisturizing session and braid it up before I sleep, and then go another 2 weeks before wash day.
What color brand do you use on your hair and the color/shade number if possible. Your hair is too beautiful!
Thanks again. I get my hair colored professionally and there is no specific shade or brand I can refer you to.
Any recommendations on hair dye that doesn’t cause breakage?
I’ve dyed my hair A LOT over the past 11 years (check out the first 8 years of that journey here), and the safest hair dye is one that is done by a trained colorist in a hair salon. Although I’ve used box dyes in the past, I can no longer in good faith recommend them. Unless you’re a trained cosmetologist, a box dye will most likely 1. not be applied correctly, which can cause damage 2. not give you the color you’re looking for, leading to over/multiple-processing, which can cause damage. I get that hair color is often pricy at the salon (often 10 or 20x the cost of a box dye), but if you want anything other than a color 1 and still want to have healthy hair months down the road, I suggest you just go to a trained colorist.
Where did you find those fabulous glasses?
From a Black optician, Utenzi Miller! They’re sold out now but she releases new styles every so often. These ones are similar, and much more affordable!
Get more style and beauty content here.
PhD, Work, Productivity, & Finances
How did you get paid partnerships especially at the start of your influencer career?
The start of my influencer career was 10 years ago, which was right around the same time that the influencer marketing industry emerged, so things were much different back then. In the early days I would email brands asking for free hair products to review on my YouTube channel, or I would buy products myself and tag them on Instagram. Free/organic posting eventually led brands to reach out to me for paid partnerships, and then after a few years of doing a few paid partnerships here and there, I became serious — leveled up my photography and storytelling and started positioning myself as someone who could help brands bring their campaigns to millennial women of color.
Now even though social media has changed a lot and many of the strategies that worked for people who have been in the industry for a long time no longer work for newcomers, some of those strategies still hold today. But if you want to get paid partnerships today, you have to be able to demonstrate that you are already having a conversation with your audience about the products that you use and buy yourself. You can’t post a song lyric once a year on your birthday and then expect a brand to pay you to advertise their new sneakers. You essentially have to do organic, unpaid sponsorships before you can do paid sponsorships.
I would love to start a blog that would eventually make me money. Any tips?
Starting a blog with the express purpose of making money probably won’t make you money. Because the money won’t come for some time, but you have to be committed enough to continue pushing through before the money comes. So my advice would be either to find a more motivating reason to start a blog, and just start, or find another way to earn additional income that leverages your skills and interests. Blogging is not the only potential side hustle.
What are some tips of becoming a better writer?
With most things, writing gets easier and better the more you do it. Develop a daily writing practice — whether that means writing in a journal on your own, writing short-form captions on Instagram, writing on an anonymous Medium page. Just continue to write, and read other people’s writing to see what you think works and doesn’t work. And if you’re doing anything other than conversational, informal writing, then get Grammarly.
How do you plan out your days, weeks, year? Do you have a planner? A vision board?
I use a combination of the Notes app, Asana, and a planner to plan out my days & weeks and keep track of my to-dos. I made a vision board for the first time this year but actually forgot about it, so thanks for the reminder! Every month or two, or whenever I’m overwhelmed, I make a massive list of everything I have to do, from my personal life to business to research. Then I just work through that list based on what is time sensitive/most important. I’ve also started to work within a time-blocked calendar, meaning that I set aside specific days and times for certain tasks (like checking emails), and restrict those activities to their designated times.
Which photo editor app do you use for your photos and do you pay for it?
I edit my photos in Lightroom CC on my computer and phone and have an Adobe Creative Cloud plan. Whenever I work with a photographer they also edit photos on their own, and I usually just post them without further edits.
What can you advise someone who is unhappy about her current work place in terms of salary?
Your question cut off unfortunately but if you like your job but don’t like your salary then you can advocate for why you deserve a raise. There’s a method/strategy to this so I suggest you read up on it before waltzing into your bosses’ office. If you don’t like your job but you like your role, then it’s a matter of finding a new job and then making sure they’re paying you what you’re worth. If you don’t like either your job nor your role and need additional income then I’d suggest finding a flexible part-time job to supplement your income while taking the next 3-6 months to intentionally plan your next steps.
How do you do taxes, especially for online/digital income?
I have a registered company where I receive all my digital income and then I pay myself a salary from my company earnings. I file my taxes annually and use Quickbooks to keep track of my revenue & expenses to make tax-time easier.
Tips on how to juggle all the balls of life: work, family, school, social life. More so time management.
Time block your calendar, let other people do work that you don’t HAVE to do (aka delegate, outsource menial tasks, and make your family step up with childcare), and accept the fact that you won’t always be good at everything at the same time. Have grace with yourself!
What was your inspiration behind pursuing your PhD besides everyone (family, friends) asking you to, if they did?
No one, literally NO ONE asked me to get a PhD. It wasn’t even on anyone’s radar in my family. I’m the first to get a PhD in my family, and was the first to major in a humanities field. I applied to PhD programs to continue my senior thesis research and because I didn’t know what else to after college. I was good at school so figured I would just stay in school.
Did you publish any research during your PhD? Did you feel pressure to?
I didn’t publish during my PhD, and while I did feel pressured to do so, I was more focused with just finishing. By my fourth year, I knew my ability to finish was precarious already, so I focused exclusively on my dissertation (and building a financial safety net/backup career option by blogging), and didn’t do much additional scholarly work like publishing or service.
Long-term, do you see yourself being a tenure-track professor?
I don’t know anymore. The Nikole Hannah-Jones drama has resurfaced an existential crisis I had during the 2nd year of grad school where I felt that if seasoned scholars couldn’t get tenure, then I never would. I don’t know if I want to play the game required to get tenure. I’m not yet sure that it’s worth it. I’m hoping that the postdoc brings some much-needed clarity on that front.
How do you reconcile meeting your financial goals and spending on yourself?
I spend on myself once I’ve met my financial goals. But I also leave room within my goals to spend on myself. That sounds circuitous, but for example, if my annual savings goal is $10,000, I’m comfortable saying ok instead I’ll save $9,000 and buy myself a $1,000 bag. I fully believe in enjoying your hard-earned money in the present while also saving for the future. But I also won’t buy the bag until I’ve hit my savings goal, so rewarding myself is part of the prize for meeting my financial goals.
Find more posts on work, productivity, and finances here.
Home, Moving, and Marriage
Now that you are going back to study what will happen to your place in Kenya?
First off, I’m not going back to study. A postdoc is not more education. It’s more like a residency for medical doctors — they’re already MDs, but are getting additional training so they can be even better at their job. So my postdoc is additional training and time to publish my work, before potentially become a faculty member.
And we’re keeping a place in Kenya, so will have residences in both Nairobi and South Bend.
Why are you keeping the Nairobi apartment?
When Jonathan and I got serious, I envisioned a life where we would be bicontinental, spending some time in North America and some time in Africa, since our families live on both continents. We’re keeping a place in Nairobi so that we always have somewhere to stay when any one of us is in Nairobi. But also because we can afford to.
Highs and lows of living in Kenya?
I think I covered that in this video, but you can also search the Q&A section for living in Kenya and you’ll find I’ve answered this one way or another several times!
What, if anything, are you going to miss about living in Nairobi full-time?
Same answer as above!
What are you using to create your mock-ups for home designs, reno, and DIY projects?
Canva! Once they added in that background remover feature it was game over for me! I just save product images, remove the background, and overlay furniture, rugs, and decor to my liking. Can’t wait to show you all the mockups + how they turned out in real life!
Will you visit Michael Jackson’s home in Indiana?
Probably! Though I’m still conflicted about whether MJ was innocent and whether he should be celebrated. But considering there’s not much to do in Indiana, probably.
Did you and Jonathan do premarital counseling? If yes, how did it help you prepare for marriage?
We did and would highly recommend it! Premarital counseling helped us better understand our own ideas about marriage that were formed from our childhood and perceptions of our parents, our communication and conflict resolution styles, and our expectations for marriage. It was foundational in that it was the first “project” we worked on together outside of wedding planning and it really helped solidify the idea of making decisions and talking through issues as a team, rather than as individuals. Our counseling went through the book Getting Ready for Marriage, which I enjoyed.
On culture and marriage — your biggest adjustments and lessons on raising a multicultured child?
Hmm. I don’t particularly feel like our cultures are very different aside from food and language so I don’t feel a daily tension being in a multicultural marriage (in fact I wouldn’t think to describe us that way) or raising a multicultural child. I think because both Jonathan and I respect and value our individual cultural practices, we encourage the passing on of those traditions to our kid. There’s no fighting about what language he’s going to speak or what food he’s going to eat. The kid had ugali (traditional Kenyan food) with okra soup (traditional Nigerian food) for dinner last night, and spoke Swahili with his nanny and Igbo with his grandparents on the phone. I guess the lesson is to expose kids to everything.
Get more home & family content here.
Advice & Commentary
What’s your take on Africans and those of African heritage going back to traditional spiritual practices?
As Tabitha Brown would say, that’s your business. It doesn’t bother me at all, but doesn’t interest me personally.
What advice would you give to anyone in a long-distance relationship?
I’ve got a whole post full of long-distance dating advice here!
Is there anything you think is important for a young lady to do/achieve before getting married?
I think it’s important to be financially independent before you get married so that you don’t feel like you have to remain in a marriage because you need another person’s income to survive. I also think it’s important to be whole — to have a firm sense of self-worth, self-awareness, and self-love before getting married.
Have you ever experienced a breast lump?
I have not. If you have, please have it looked at by a medical professional!
How do you know what to do with your life (for young girls)?
Girl, idk, I’m still trying to figure out what to do with my life and I’m 30! I don’t believe that you ever 100% figure it out — your life and career are journeys, you just have to take the next small step where the spirit leads you. If you have absolutely no clue, I do think that personality tests help reveal where our strengths lie, which might be helpful in thinking about how you can channel your strengths into your work.
Do you have mentorship outside of Cohort Sistas?
If you mean do I have mentorship for myself, then yes. But if you meant do I offer mentorship outside of Cohort Sistas, then the answer is not right now.
Don’t forget to check out the Q&A archives, which includes tons more advice on a variety of topics.
I love your responses. They are quick and straightforward. I’m just getting around to read them but they are great questions and excellent answers.
I think a lot of people lose interest in the tenure track sometime during their PhD or during their postdoc. I have a science PhD and I think the stress is amplified for us because of the complexity of the work and worrying about funding so that one can eventually get tenure.
The racism in academia is another factor because it contributes to making workplaces toxic to varying degrees. I am a Kenyan and moved to the US for my PhD, and later Europe for a postdoc, so confronting some realities like racism was new to me.
The red flag with the Nikole Jones story is that a prominent donor objected to her getting tenure,(I saw the story on NPR), so much for meritocracy. From an academic standpoint her accomplishments are more than deserving of tenure.
Finally even doing a postdoc is not necessary, I think many people do one because it seems like a natural next step or because they are not sure which other area to go into. Of those I know who had more open minded career advice during their PhDs, few did postdocs. They went into industry or straight into teaching positions. That said I hope you enjoy your postdoc and it brings the clarity you are looking for.
These were some great questions and I love your answers. Thanks for sharing!