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.

 

 

Purpose in the Journey

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Reflecting back to my high school days is bittersweet sometimes. I remember how awkward I was as teen with the usual insecurities about body image, and desiring to stand-out on my own merit. These cherished, yet bittersweet memories I hold of my adolescence are some of the key incidences that affirmed the purpose in my journey. I was curious in high school. I tried different things like writing poetry, reading philosophy, and trying out for the track team. These experiences were fun, as a matter of fact, they were telling in regards to foreshadowing the journey that I embarked, which would bring me to IU as a Ph.D. student in African American and African Diaspora Studies.

Hindsight is an interesting metacognitive reality for many of us when it appears, because we typically are caught off guard by it, which is the best thing for us in the long run in my opinion. We are enlightened by our previous experiences to reflect on the possibility of some pre-destined journey that we are paving with our personal testimonies and goals. This moment of hindsight reflection is never-ending. What becomes our journey is the compilation of experiences leading us to identify our purpose. It was the lessons learned, hardships, and triumphs of my unintended high school experiences that shaped me to be able to attend IU years later, when I really think about it.

In truth, writing poetry as a teen was something that helped me express myself. It wasn’t that I could not talk. I actually think I talk too much sometimes. Self-admittedly, I could be a better listener. Nonetheless, I realized when I would write poetry as a teen in high school, I became more of an empathetic person. Through deliberating my own internal workings, and allowing myself to feel, I became more confident conversing with people in different settings. Whether I meet someone at an academic networking event, or hold my own class discussions as an Associate Instructor in my Ph.D. program, I was channeling that teenage girl that just wanted to connect with people on a human level. I wanted to relate to people through their good and bad experiences, through their vulnerabilities expressed in writing and discussion.

Reading philosophy was interesting too, because I had a psychology/history teacher in high school who embodied “philosopher” just by the way he said hello to us. He may be too shy for me to share his name on this post, but I will just say that his hello’s were kind of like, “You have something on your mind, I can tell before you said hello, and that is okay. We all have something on our minds subconsciously that is looking for acknowledgement, a welcoming, to be invited to our conscious reality.” The point of sharing this meaningful, awkward, yet humorous dialogue is that it made me interested in “digging deeper.” It made me want to search into my soul for something bigger than my physical shell. Shortly after this spiritual awakening, I bought a philosophy book filled with Western classical intellectual thinkers such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, etc.

I understood very little in the book at first, but I just kept rereading it on my own. I didn’t tell anyone I was reading it, and it was not assigned for school. I read it until I could find the meaning that most related to me, and my understanding of the world around me. It opened me up to the possibility of differences in approach, and most importantly, the art of constructing arguments. This came in handy years later when I began my core readings and coursework in my major field of study. There will be tons of reading and new information you will encounter at an Research 1 institution. Academic reading is no easy skill to master, but my strategy is that I try to find the relativity and application still as I graze the lines of my books with my electrical pencil, making those marginal notes that carry my conscious and subconscious inquiries.

When I tried out for the track team, I was really just trying to prove that I was more than just beauty and brains. I wanted to be an exceptional athlete too. This didn’t quite workout as I had intended because I quit tryouts within two weeks of this goal, but the memory of it is something that I promised I would not forget. I quit because I was loosing weight too fast, and I thought that I would lose more than I was gaining in trying to prove to myself in something that I was not passionate about at all. I did not really want to run for fun or competitively, so what was the point in trying out? I needed a better reason than “just because.” I realized the day that I quit in my reflection that I was trying to fit-in based on a fixed idea that I had to be good at everything, or else I was not good at all. I realize now that I can be comfortable with a passion for helping people, and educating them on the humanity of African-descendants in relationship to their own. I do not have a status-driven job with lots of lucrative benefits. Although working benefits are always welcomed with me.

I am happy that I chose Indiana University, Bloomington as a place to be cultivated and rigorously prepared based on its available resources and standard of excellence. More than anything else, I realize that life is a marathon. This journey towards my purpose is an on-going pursuit that began the moment I dared to pay attention to what I had been attempting all along in high school. I just wanted to write my own story. I wanted to tell it from the depths of who I am, and lastly have the effort I put into it reflected in what I apply in my work. I am still a work in progress, and I love it. I am on my way.

 

 

Planning with Flexibility: Some tips for Grads at all levels

The fall 2016 semester is now in full swing, and aside from trying to get back into “the groove” of college working after a busy summer, continuing to plan with flexibility is something that I’ve decided to be more intentional about as a second-year Ph.D. student. There are a few specific academic, professional, and wellness practices that I try to maintain throughout the semester to remain accountable for my goals and matriculation progress:

  • Maintain a physical academic planner.

Although this may seem a bit “old school,” I still find any kind of personal planner to be important for life success. Usually, academic planners are used to maintain important assignment deadlines, campus events, and my daily check-list of things to complete by the end of the day, which typically ends somewhere around 9pm during the week. I also pencil in any meetings that I need to attend, their locations, and times as well. My planners are the 8 x 10 size that I usually buy from Target, but a free one, or smaller version can be just as good to maintain a routine and schedule.

  • Go to see some of your current and past professors/instructors during their office hours.

As a professional level graduate student, it is important that I maintain positive and productive relationships with faculty members at IU. I consider going to visit a professor during their office hours as a way to continue intellectual conversations about topics discussed in class, and also as a way to establish a working relationship for potential academic research opportunities. You could connect with a professor on a pre-dissertation proposal topic to get into an area-specific conference, or even Continue reading