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.



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.

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.

End of the Semester Reflections

Do you ever take the time to pause from all of the “hustle and bustle” of graduate school to reflect on how far you’ve come? Reflecting can seem like a daunting task for some, because there are checklists that we can carry around in our heads regarding where we should be in terms of meeting our personal goals and aspirations. Nonetheless, reflecting can be used as a decompressing exercise that results in gratitude, if we choose to practice it regularly. When we are able to see how far we’ve come, we’re often grateful for where we’ve arrived to in the present.

I encourage graduate students and others in general to reflect often. Think about the conversations that you are having with people on a regular basis. What kinds of words and comments are you internalizing? Also, what kind of words and energy are your projecting onto other colleagues regarding your own self-concept and research? Words and thoughts are powerful. Grad students should develop the habit of reflecting in order to detox some of the self-doubt and external critiques of their work that come with being a professional student. Practicing reflection looks different for everyone. Some might like to journal their thoughts. Some might want to talk it out with a close friend or mentor. Some might reflect through creative expression and physical activity.

The point is, by the end of a 16 week semester, everyone needs to take a moment to reflect. Do it your own way, as it long as you prioritize it, and look for the light at the end of the tunnel.

Springing into Action for the Summer

After Spring break, most students regardless of classification are looking to prepare themselves to end the semester strong. The important thing to consider after spring break in particular, however, is how you will continue your matriculation progress through the summer. While most students may choose to focus on day of, or week of assignments, graduate students should be planning ahead with research and writing plans during and post-semester. I’ve come to realize that pacing yourself as a graduate student with rotating weekly obligations is a near superpower, once you get the hang of it.

Research and writing planning during the late spring can certainly provide a boost for graduate students to apply for grants, conferences, and other fellowship opportunities in the future. As you consider what “springing into action” means for you specifically, I would propose the following questions to determine which action should be taken to ensure optimal success for you as a prospective or current graduate student:

  • What stage are you in currently in pursuit of your graduate degree? (classification, program requirements, research interests)
  • Where are your research archives? (databases, libraries, locations outside of the university)
  • Is there a conference, fellowship, grant, that you need to write for? (deadlines, recommendations, format)
  • How can you get ahead with writing for the next term over the summer? (May/June/July)


Imposter Syndrome: Balancing Personal versus Academic Identity

I’ve heard the term “Imposter Syndrome” since the first semester that I arrived on IUB’s campus as a Ph.D. student. Essentially, “imposter syndrome” references the tendency that most faculty and students develop to perform their knowledge and proficiency in subjects of interest. It seems that “imposter syndrome” can even be performed involuntarily, with some prospective and new graduate students adopting this persistent intellectual performance in order to validate their presence in their respective programs to their faculty and peers.

My personal identity is not one that is rooted in ego, or the necessity to always be right. However, when I first began my graduate experience as a Ph.D. student, I felt the need to come up with something “smart” to say in my core classes with peers in order to please the professor, and to also prove that I had earned the right to be amongst the best and the brightest minds that surrounded me everyday. It was taxing and exhausting to say the least after the first year of doing it, and I realized that I needed to work on blending my personal identity with my academic identity more thereafter.

The truth is, many prospective and new graduate students are tempted to “prove” themselves and perform their intellect as soon as they arrive in their departments. But, what if each of us, the best and bright minds who earned acceptance into our programs, decided to celebrate the transitional moments and learning curves that come with beginning a graduate program? What if we dared to answer, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I’ll look into it,” instead of “Well, if you consider…or insert author once said”? Don’t get me wrong, I strongly encourage everyone who knows a little bit about something or everything to share their knowledge, so we all can become better informed from it. As a tidbit though, as I’ve learned, you don’t have to start off as the “know-it-all” scholar in your programs, because most people have the same questions as you do, or at minimum hold similar anxieties about starting something new with new people.

I firmly believe that we become better learners when we decide that a good source for knowledge is important, even if that source is not us. Remaining teachable and authentic as a person will take you far beyond your graduate degree. And sometimes wisdom and temperament are more important to demonstrate on a regular basis than knowledge.

Pursuing the ‘Dream’ in Bloomington

When I made the decision to visit Bloomington during the fall of 2014, it was a cold and rainy day. I was nervous because the “look” of a place can really impact how one perceives its value. I tried not to judge right away, and so I went about my next two and half days meeting my future department faculty, staff, and students with a smile on my face. I knew I was pursuing a dream when I came to IUB. This was a reoccurring dream that I had as an adolescent. I wanted to earn my Ph.D. in African American and African Diaspora studies to teach the world the magnificence of the Black diaspora, especially to the members of this often oppressed and marginalized community of people.
In the end, I decided to attend IUB, and am approaching the end of my third year now as a Ph.D. candidate. I couldn’t be more excited to write my dissertation proposal and my dissertation project, and feel like I’ve grown so much over the past couple of years. The weather or seasons that most non-native Hoosiers experience while attending IUB can take a while to get adjusted to. I am originally from Miami, FL, so we pretty much had one season year-round. In leaving my home city when I was 17 years old to pursue other educational and professional opportunities, I realize how metaphoric the weather in Bloomington is to life in general and my growth as a person.
During the winter months (late Nov.-mid March) it takes a lot more dedication to maintain energy, self-care practices, and motivation. It snows sporadically, and can be harshly cold on some days. On those kinds of days, I give myself lots of extra time to get my day started and completed. I also find that investing in some winter coats is helpful during your first fall semester in Bloomington, before the cold really starts to impact your commute to campus. I watch the weather daily to schedule meetings with advisors, professors, and students on “good days” versus harshly cold days where the snow may not have melted yet.
The late spring and summer months are really pleasant in terms of weather. Although new graduate students may visit the university too distracted to notice the weather, it is an important indicator of productivity and preparedness while living in Bloomington. The metaphors in Bloomington’s seasonal weather can be applied to the graduate experience as encouragement to stay the course and excel. When it is cold, and you want to just stay in bed, think about what being perpetually dormant can do to your future goals and health. Its important to stay mentally and physically active during the winter, so that you don’t end up feeling guilty when its time to shed those layers or turn in those final projects.
During the summer and early fall, the weather is beautiful. Don’t distract yourself on purpose to get off course. Rewarding yourself for the previous semester’s accomplishments need to happen as soon as the successful semester is over. Then on to the next. As the seasons change, so must we, and hopefully that is always for the better as we pursue our academic dreams.

Life in Bloomington: Spring Semester-Winter Edition

January officially marks the second winter season and month that I have endured living in Bloomington, Indiana as a graduate student. As a native from Miami, Florida, this seasonal change, at times, makes it difficult for me to get out bed as early as I would like to some mornings to complete some much needed work. Despite the fact that the seasons come and go in Bloomington, one thing that I try to do to manage my physical and mental response to the “cold” is plan ahead.

For me, planning ahead during the winter months usually involves checking the weather app on my IPhone well in advance to accommodate my wardrobe and transportation for school commutes to teach or attend classes. Planning for the “cold” also means spending a little extra time meal prepping and getting those extra “fifteen” minutes of sleep in that become much needed to be able to get through the day without the luxury of more than one coffee break.

Although intentional planning is vital to ensuring great performance as an undergraduate or graduate student at IU, it can be tough to achieve or maintain if you allow the season to get the best of you. Sure, we all get sick, and even have our unproductive days. But, one thing is for certain, students of any classification should not check-out of their responsibilities just because the weather makes them “feel like” doing so. At times, the hardest thing to do is wake up about an hour and a half before class to prepare breakfast, get dressed, check some emails, and then scrape snow off of your car while letting it warm up for fifteen minutes.

You may even consider, in freezing rain and snow warning instances, waking up and getting your car warmed up first, or checking the bus schedule to make sure there are no unexpected delays when its time for you to leave your home. Ultimately, the early winter months in Bloomington can be brutal, especially if you are not used to preparing for the weather the same way you would kind of  prepare for class. As the “cold” wind blows, incoming and current Bloomington students know that it is better to be overdressed with layers and gloves, and up earlier to get ready, as opposed to under the weather and academically “snowed-in.”

I’m glad to say that I’ve adjusted to the seasons with some help from some native Midwesterners, and I keep my spirits high by maintaining a proactive lifestyle and warm personality.

“Just Keep Swimming, Just Keep Swimming”-Dory

There are many things that we can learn from our childhood and adolescent experiences. As we get older, we often discover that our propensity towards wanting to be “right,” and doing the “right” things is not as important as actually committing to something where we choose to apply ourselves with the fullest extent of our efforts for a desired outcome. How are we to learn if we do not take calculated risks? How are we to discover what life has to offer if we do not explore our wildest imaginations, and “just keep swimming” even if we occasionally fail at achieving a goal?

Dory is one of my favorite cartoon characters from the Disney Pixar children’s film Finding Nemo because of her repetitive affirmation to self to, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming” despite her struggle with short-term memory loss. No matter what happens in the film, Dory continues to swim in order to support Nemo’s dad’s quest to find his lost son, and also helps in her personal journey of finding her parents whom she lost as a child in the sequel Finding Dory. Although I watched these two children’s films as a young adult in my 20’s, I refuse to be shy about the reiterated lessons that they have taught me that are resonate from my own childhood, which have shaped me as a person, college student, and future University professor today.

As a person, I’ve learned that you cannot let any one thing get you down for too long, or at all for that matter. You have to be intentional about finding ways to cope and manage life as it comes at you, and need to be deliberate about living in the now. I’ve also learned to be flexible with myself whenever I set academic or personal goals. There are certain instances when my research needs to be flexible due to demands of its audience, whether it be for a conference or fellowship opportunity. I’ve often revisited saved digital assignments, and printed articles from past courses to trace the topics of what might become a publication or abstract in the making. Furthermore, it is important to learn that you are allowed to change your mind about things, which is a notion that I’ll explore with some personal and colorful commentary in my next post.

Ultimately, the journey towards graduate school follows the trajectory of your own life circumstances, preparation, and goal-setting. If you want to achieve something bad enough, you will make the decision to pursue it, and then invest yourself in thriving in it until your tasks are complete. Someone once told me, “graduate school is a marathon, and not necessarily a race.” I agree with my good friend who empathized this point with me in a moment where I was venting about being overwhelmed with deadlines and demands in my Ph.D. coursework, but then I also thought about Dory. A little voice popped in head just as my friend finished delivering his comforting statement, and it was cheering, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”


Prelimenary Grad Application Prep

So, you are thinking about applying to grad school, and you have identified a couple of universities where you want to submit applications. Great. Applaud yourself in having completed the first step to pursue your dream career and field of study.There are a couple of personal check-list items that you should consider getting answers to prior to submitting your application, which include inquiries about funding, relevant faculty research areas, and the prospective employment opportunities available during enrollment and post-graduation. With all these personal check-list items considered and well-researched, here are some other important questions to ask yourself in preparing your respective grad school applications:

  • Have you contacted the department/program where you want to apply?

Most students will send shortened, generic emails inquiring about their programs of interest. This does not necessarily help them to appear unique or different than other prospective applicants. Consider arranging a call with the graduate faculty administration, and professors with related research areas to make an lasting impression before your application materials are submitted. While most applicants will stop at an email, you will be ahead of the game with a personal touch.

  • Did you identify the deadline for each application you intend on submitting?

This is important. Many times, prospective graduate students want to apply several applications at once, which could make composing, paying, and requesting supplementary documents challenging. Remember, grad school application deadlines vary by department. When you are conducting research on your prospective department pages, identify the administrative staff and graduate faculty that will be handling your paperwork, and confirm the deadline with them via email. It helps to know whether an early application would make you a stronger candidate for admission based on your preparedness, and a little extra time for them to review your credentials.

  • Have you considered how you will pay for the application fees and transcripts?

Most prospective graduate students are so eager to apply to grad school that they do not seek out the most cost efficient options for submitting their applications. Do some research. Many programs will waive application fees for competitive or early applicants. Also, consider saving money during your senior year of undergrad to budget for potential transcript and application expenses.

Moral of the story:

Graduate school applications require lots of research and personal preparation. Do yourself a favor and be sure to start this process early, financially accountable, and confident that your application will not just be another one in the batch. Being honest with yourself, and knowing what is required to get where you want to go is essentially how you will reach that personal and academic destination.