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.
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.”
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.
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.
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