Choose to “Bloom” in Bloomington

As I sit here reflecting on my final semester of graduate school, I am thinking about how the physical space has made me feel while pursuing my doctoral degree. Although I am not from the Midwest, and find it hard to cope with the very cold winters here, I can appreciate that Bloomington, Indiana has its own seasons that come and go quickly. You see, we don’t tend to think of our lives as students in seasons, especially when we are knee-deep in the trenches of our studies. In light of all of this, what has helped me to personally push through as a doctoral student and resident of the Bloomington, Indiana and Hoosier community has been my intention to grow or “bloom” into the best version of myself no matter the obstacles that I’ve faced each semester.

Each day, week, and semester I made a conscious choice to work through obstacles and seek redeeming opportunities to validate my presence in the space. Sometimes, the opportunities that I needed came directly to me because I placed myself in the right places and the right times, which is a blessing. I realized during my first very cold fall semester in 2015 that Bloomington, Indiana was a place where I needed to find moments to enjoy as I sat in class or walked through campus going to academic events. I learned to appreciate spaces like the Neal Marshall Black Cultural Center, the workout facilities, IU Auditorium, and my department home in Memorial Hall before we transitioned to Ballantine not too long ago. These spaces were more than just a plethara of academic rooms, offices, and elevators to me. These spaces contained communities of people and events that I assumed solidarity with, and also presented peers and students that I could learn from through interpersonal communication and fellowship.

What has made Bloomington a great place to grow for me has been both the unfrequented and comfortable spaces which I’ve occupied in my time here. Some of the unfrequented spaces where I did not journey through everyday, but were welcoming to all students was the Tudor Room, Alumni Hall, rooms reserved for GU2IU prospective students, the bookstore, and other spaces reserved within the union where we attended departmental events. I was also happy to spend 8 weeks in the newly renovated Global and International Studies building while I was completing my foreign language requirement for my doctoral degree during a summer here in Bloomington. In general, my reflections about living in Bloomington as a space have certainly been intentionally curated.

Choosing to “bloom” in Bloomington was something that I was determined to do, no matter how tough the seasons or tides got during my doctoral studies here. To close, I’d like to encourage all current and prospective graduate students to set a personal intention to receive tough lessons and seasons as investments of wisdom. Just changing our perspectives, or the way that we see things can catapult us into unforeseen, and limitless heights beyond the degrees that we earn.

 

 

Dissertation Grind

For this post, I am sharing my experience about the dissertation grind! I officially started my dissertation in December 2018, and have submitted one chapter so far. What has become evident for me is how different it feels to be in this particular phase of my academic journey. While I have been a doctoral student for four years now, it really all leads up to this point. It feels great to have advanced to this part of my journey as it signals that the finish line is getting a little bit closer, but it also means that there is so much more work to be done by me and me alone. While you are taking classes there is a certain sense of community because you are reading and discussing the same readings and topics with others. However, when working on your dissertation, it is mainly you (and your advisor every couple of weeks). As such, you have to re-learn how to navigate your space.

The dissertation journey is very different from other academic experiences. While taking courses, you often complete readings and then write a final paper in which you receive a grade a few weeks later. When working on your dissertation, your submission is never complete on the first submission and you have to work your way through the revision process. Simply put, dissertation writing is completely different than coursework writing. For this reason, it helps to connect with others going through the same process. This semester I joined a dissertation writing group which provides a time and space for me to work and also connect with others who are in a similar place. Whether you join a formal group that meets weekly as I did, or create your own writing group with friends, I definitely find this to be a beneficial tool that is allowing me to make progress through the dissertation grind.

No Day But Today

Tonight, RENT is playing at the Indiana University Auditorium. I have a ticket but decided not to go because I value my health…you see, it rained this evening and temperatures have dropped  below freezing such that walking anywhere means walking on ice. It’s dangerous and taxing to walk outside. However, I’m not letting that stop me from seeing RENT. I’ve rented the DVD from one of the local libraries and I’m watching from home so that I still get the intended message from the musical that “there’s no day but today.” I don’t have tomorrow to relive the opportunities I have today, nor can I be concerned with missed opportunities of yesterday. Therefore, I’m going to make the most of my current situation.

I’d like to encourage you to do the same. Life in Bloomington will throw you curve balls. You won’t expect some of the experiences you’ll have here, both good and bad. However, roll with the punches. Enjoy life and learn from your mistakes. Adjust to the various seasons you’ll experience and go with the flow. People will enter and exit your life. Allow that to happen. It’s for the best. You’ll grow and be stretched in unimaginable ways. Good for you. You’ll be like a tree with vast water source and rich soil: able to grow tall with wide branches and fat leaves to give shade to the saplings growing in the safety of your shadow.

So back to today: LIVE YOUR LIFE!!

A wise person told me that everybody has to die, but, not everyone gets to live.  Live each day like it’s your last. Stop blaming your misfortune on yesterday and LIVE TODAY.

We can’t get back yesterday. All we have is today. Therefore, the following song is dedicated to all of yesterday:

Peace and blessings,

Matt

Recalculating….

When using our GPS systems and taking alternate routes to our destinations, we hear and see “recalculating.” This word does not mean failure or being off course. In my opinion, recalculating means that the course is being tailor-made for you. 🙂

This is what being in a PhD program has felt like for me. There are many paths available for obtaining the degree. However, I’m learning that the most pleasing portion of the journey is having the freedom to enjoy the diversity of the paths.

There are some students who take the standard route to their goals. Then, there are people like me who are totally non-traditional and blazing a new path as the days come. Neither type of student is better than the other. We will all get to our destinations as long as we set our minds on reaching the prize and keep our minds set on that goal.

Therefore, whatever path you decide to take, fellow graduate student, I’d like to encourage you that our journey is a marathon rather than a sprint. Whether your process takes you 1 year or 7 years, enjoy it. Take the time that you need to map out your own tailor-made route to pursuing your passion.

 

Cold Brew

Dear Indiana University Bloomington Students,

I know that when we hear the term “cold brew” we think of coffee that has been made with cold water rather than hot water. Cold brewed coffee is generally considered to be sweeter and less acidic than the hot brewed coffee, which is more balanced in acidity and taste. With this in mind, and for the purpose of this blog, I’d like to ask you to consider yourself coffee. The current snowy weather in Bloomington is your process. You’re being cold brewed. Sit in this moment. Allow yourself to feel the chill of the weather. You’re not frozen like an ice cube; rather, you’ve remained in a chilled liquid state for movement. Don’t stop; keep it moving.

The ‘Marathon” that is Grad School

I’ve never been super athletic, but I’ve always thought it would be cool to train for a 5k marathon. The idea of running a marathon is appealing to me because it tends to show what kind of shape you’re in, and the kind of training that you’ve been implementing regularly. You can’t just wake up and run marathons, unless you just “got it like that,” which most of us don’t. Remaining fit takes work, but running a marathon takes another level of will-power and determination to complete. To run a marathon, your endurance has to be built up, because you’re really racing against yourself as opposed to others.

Grad school is like a marathon. The academic and physical training that you do to prepare for the research and time that it takes to complete matters. There is no competition with others that can compare to the competition that you assume with yourself. Each year of grad school presents an opportunity to get better, work smarter, and expand on a research idea that made the marathon appealing to you in the first place. In the end, as you matriculate and hone in on your craft, the marathon gets easier to run. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing something that you’ve always wanted through to the finish line.

Fall is Here!

As you can see from the photo, fall has arrived in Bloomington, Indiana! The IUB campus truly offers some breathtaking views during this time of the year. In this post, I will highlight where I am academically at this point in the semester–Week 11–so that you can get a sense of the workload that you may experience should you attend IU.

I am currently taking three doctoral education courses and the end is in sight for all three. In the past, this has not typically occurred for another week or two, but I am ahead of the game. In my online course, I have already completed my final paper which is not due for another month. I appreciate how, especially in online courses, I can usually tackle end-of-course assignments fairly early. For my in-person courses, I have a final paper that I still need to begin and just a few minor assignments. I am in a great position for the remainder of the semester and will not have to do too much work during Thanksgiving break which is nice! I am also taking advantage of IU’s excellent art scene this semester. This Friday, I am attending the Hansel and Gretel opera. Next weekend, I am attending the Potpourri of the Arts produced by the African American Arts Institute. Overall, this has been a pretty enjoyable and doable fall semester. Enjoy the lighter semesters when they come along because this is not always the case!

 

A new chapter in the Ph.D. process

I’m officially done with coursework for my Ph.D.! It feels so awesome and weird at the same time to no longer sit in classes throughout the day for lectures. If not for the pressure to complete qualifying exams, research, the prospectus, and the dissertation, I’d think I had already finished my Ph.D. If you’ve completed coursework also, you know how I feel right now. If you’re working to complete coursework, hang in there. You don’t have as long as you think before that time arrives. No matter where we are, let’s celebrate the small victories while moving forward to complete what we’ve started. 

Managing Expectations for Productivity During the Term

Most grad students tend to plan well, and also execute their goals in a timely fashion. Every now and then, there is a struggle that we might face in managing our own expectations and productivity. Yes, there are 24 hours in each day, and one can find plenty of things to do if one is willing to commit to them. Nonetheless, I’d like to propose that new and advanced graduate students embark on the introspective journey of managing their own productivity expectations.

One sure way to manage expectations for productivity is to maintain a digital or physical planner to keep track of important meetings and writing/research deadlines. I’ve found that keeping both a digital and physical planner helps me to prioritize interpersonal and writing/research work. Sometimes our calendars and planners can get so full as graduate students that we develop anxieties about just being able to check items off of them. Personal accountability is important. I do not recommend jotting everything done that needs to get done, because then you’ll have a laundry list of things to do that just seem unending. Instead, write down the necessary to-do’s per day or week, and that will make the load feel just a little bit lighter.

Another way to manage expectations for productivity is to talk to post-graduate and advanced graduate students. These students will tell you the absolute truth about being overly ambitious or short-sighted when it comes to conducting research and writing while managing or finishing coursework. Most graduate students believe in their abilities to turn out important writing projects quickly, but also come to realize that the editing process can take much more time than they may have anticipated. Remaining flexible is crucial to managing expectations for productivity. Flexibility helps us to not beat ourselves up when we don’t meet our overachieving goals on a specific day, or ahead of schedule.

Essentially, each term will bring its own workload and adversity. What’s important is that graduate students remain flexible and kind to themselves as they are navigating the productivity cycle. My advice is to do something small towards a big goal everyday, even if its outlining or reading for a writing/research project. Every step that you take during the term counts when you are trying to meet personal and academic goals. Lastly, if your productivity does not make amends for self-care, I would reevaluate it. Everyone needs a break, regardless of their university status or affiliation. Manage and thrive as a graduate student, don’t just survive.

Make Time for Good Habits

Even though this is my 4th year in a doctoral program, I was recently reminded of the importance of self-care. Over the summer, I found myself staying faithful to a good exercise routine and participating in the free cycling course at the SRSC. Once summer came to its inevitable end, my workouts stopped. They did not slow down or gradually decrease, I mean they completely stopped. This was partially due to my schedule and also not wanting to make trips to campus on days that I did not have to be there. However, my main reason for not working out was that I wanted to relax during the little free time I had instead during the first month of the semester. While I possibly saved myself some aches and pains in the moment, I lost all of the benefits that come along with working out regularly. After taking over a month off from the gym, I recently returned and am trying to get into a new rhythm for this semester. Due to scheduling conflicts, I will not be able to have one workout partner this semester, but it looks like I will be able to piece together some sort of routine where I can lift with friends. This extra accountability will hopefully be enough to keep me in the gym now that the semester has settled down. Moral of the story: make time for the gym! Author Michael Altshuler states that, “The bad news is time flies. The good news is that you’re the pilot.”

Photo by Garrett Carter