Getting excited?

It’s the season for acceptance letters! Are you coming to IU in the fall? If so, congratulations! The next few months are going to be exciting and hopefully not overwhelming. Don’t worry – you have time to prepare for what’s ahead, and we have some resources to help you.

Ahmed and Kuang have provided some great tips on finding housing (scroll down to check them out). If you’re still looking for options and you’re interested in communal living, you might want to consider Bloomington Cooperative Living.

The Coop has several houses – the largest is home to 14 people and the smallest is home to 5. Meals and chores are shared, and it can be a great way to save money and instantly become part of a community in Bloomington. They also sublet rooms for the summer, which might be a great option if you want to arrive in Bloomington early and get to know the town and people.

That brings me to my next point. When should you schedule your arrival? In my experience, most leases in Bloomington start between early and mid August. Many students, however, are looking to sublet their rooms for the summer, and you can rent a room for a an extra month or two if you want to arrive earlier. It’s always nice to have some time to settle in. If you sublet for the summer, you could also use that time to search for a permanent housing arrangement for the school year. Being able to check out your options in person definitely has its benefits.

To help you in your housing search, here’s another neat resource: myBloomington. This tool lets you type in a Bloomington address and gives you information on resources in the area such as parks and neighborhood associations. I just discovered my neighborhood association has a blog!

Still have questions? IU’s Graduate and Professional Student Organization (GPSO) has a checklist for new students with lots of great information. And as always, you can send us an email anytime with questions about IU or Bloomington. Just click on the link in the sidebar at the left.

Getting around town

Hi readers! Since spring has sprung (for the moment at least) I’ve been riding my bike pretty frequently, which makes me think we should talk about transportation in Bloomington. When you’re applying to graduate school, it’s important to think about the logistics of getting here and there. Will you need a car? What’s the parking situation? How’s the public transportation, and is it a viable way to get to and from campus?

One thing that I love about Bloomington is that there are a variety of options for getting around town. First, it’s a very bike friendly town.

bike lane up Lincoln St.

There are several designated bike routes throughout town as well as bike lanes, and the city is very conscientious about bikers in general. Last summer the B-line trail was completed – a paved trail for cyclists, walkers, and joggers that runs north-south through town.

the B-line bridge over Third Street

Our city has a whole webpage devoted to biking about town where you can find info about bike routes and bike safety initiatives.

If you’d rather ride, Bloomington also has a very good bus system. When considering different housing options, I’ve always stuck to places in close proximity to bus routes because I share a vehicle with my husband. It’s really nice being able to count on the bus – almost all the routes run right by campus, and the bus station is located only a few blocks from the Sample Gates.

Bloomington bus routes - see here for full system map:

A lot of routes run several times an hour during the busiest times of day, and you can check here for schedules and route maps. Did I mention IUB students ride free? All you have to do is show your student ID. So convenient!

If you prefer to drive yourself, that’s an option too. Bloomington has a fair amount of parking, but you will need a parking pass to use the lots on campus. There are a variety of permit types, and some have better parking options than others. For example, “A” permits are reserved for faculty and staff. Associate Instructors (IU’s name for TAs), Graduate Assistants, and a few others can obtain “C” permits which are also pretty good. It’s important to check out your options ahead of time because the less desirable permits might mean a longer walk to and from your vehicle – which may not be worth your time or money. More details can be found at IUB’s Parking Operations website here.

Is street parking an option? Sure, but only for the short term. Street parking near campus usually has time limits (2 hour max) or is restricted to those with residential permits.

Whew, that’s a lot of information to digest! Don’t worry – you can always bookmark it for later when you’re doing your own housing search or debating about bringing your vehicle or bike.


Spring Break in BLOOMington

Spring break is drawing to a close here in Bloomington. Yesterday a friend at work asked me, “If you could go on vacation anywhere right now, where would you go?” My automatic response was “Here!” Okay, and maybe Greece. But in all honesty, I’ve been enjoying the awesome weather we’re having here in Bloomington. Everything is blooming, and there’s really no reason to complain about staying put for spring break when your surroundings are this lovely.

For a lot of graduate students, spring break is a time to catch up on work. I’d say that most of us aren’t able to forget our responsibilities and run off to Cancun. But it’s also not all work and no play.  Aside from photographing flowers…

I’ve also been riding my bike, grilling out with friends, eating ice cream at the Chocolate Moose…

(photo from

…and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere that comes to Bloomington when a few thousand of its residents take off on vacation elsewhere.

Hope you had a great spring break, wherever you went!

Get ‘er done

I know we emissaries are supposed to provide helpful advice and info for prospective students, but I can’t help sharing this resource for people who are already on their way through grad school and who have arrived at that last hill to climb – the dissertation. So if you are just applying to grad school, consider this advice for the future. You may want to tuck it away somewhere until the day you will need it.

The resource I’m referring to is PhinisheD – an online forum for graduate students struggling through dissertation writing.

Get it? Ph inishe D? Clever, eh? I just joined up yesterday, and already I can see what a wonderful gift this can be for students who need some encourage, praise, ideas, and general moral support. You have to set up an account to read the boards, but there you can read and contribute to some interesting discussions. For example, right now these threads are at the top of the list:

  • What’s the right way to nag my advisor?
  • IRB approval?
  • Returning to academia
  • Anyone have access to this article?

And yes, someone responded with the needed article almost immediately. How amazing is that!? Perhaps even better than our own fabulous inter-library loan system. I was really happy to discover this site, not only because it’s a great resource, but because it reminded me of something important. No matter how tough grad school may be, we’re all in this together. And what’s more, people finish every day, and it’s only a matter of time before you’re PhinisheD too!

Adding method to the madness

While browsing around the web recently (a form of procrastination I like to call “research”) I  came across an article that mentioned “lack of structure” as one of the main reasons graduate school is difficult. It was only mentioned in passing, but it really struck me. Having recently finished my coursework, I kinda feel like this:

Floating – which can be fun, but not always very productive. It’s not like this observation is anything new. In fact, I stumbled upon it twice more before my procrastination was done that night. But as grad students, what can we do about it? I don’t have the answer, but here’s something small I’ve started doing –

– programmed the coffee pot to start brewing at 7:00 AM. I’m 100% more likely to get out of bed at a decent hour (especially on those days when I don’t necessarily have to be anywhere) if I can smell/hear the coffee brewing. It might seem silly, but here I am writing a blog post at – what? Oh. It’s after 8 already? It looks like I might have to have another cup of structure to get this morning moving along.

Anyone else have some tips or strategies to share?

Funding Blues

Folks, I’ve got the funding blues. There’s nothing that takes the spring out of your step quite like a rejection letter. It’s enough to make even a beautiful spring day like today turn sour. So since we’re talking about funding this month, I thought it was time for some advice on what to do when you get that email:

First things first – give yourself a little time to feel like lousy. It’s not fun getting turned down. It’s especially not fun when you really really wanted it. And it’s even worse when someone else you know succeeded while you did not. So it’s okay to spend a little time wallowing in grief over the lost opportunity and seeking comforting words from people who care about you. But the emphasis here is on a little time. I wouldn’t waste a full day on it, because next up you need to remember these things:

1. This is not a reflection of your self worth, intelligence, ability, or future success and awesome achievement. You are worthy, intelligent, and able. And you will be successful and achieve awesome things.

2. Every grant or other opportunity you apply for is a bit of a crap shoot. Sometimes the wrong person sees it, or maybe your topic isn’t quite timely. Even if your application could use some improvement, very rarely does a rejection letter mean it was terrible.

3. It takes a lot of applications to succeed. Some professors will say you have to apply for seven grants before you receive one. Some say you have to apply for ten. So rather than think of a rejection as a failure, think of yourself as just crossing off one of those necessary bullets that everyone has to bite before they score big.

If you can remember these three things, you’ll spend less time with the funding blues and more time finding new opportunities. So once you’ve shaken off that “rejection letter funk,” go back to your mentor for some more guidance, revisit some of the excellent advice that the other emissaries have provided this month, and attack your next application without fear – because one little letter has no place impeding your journey!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

It’s the holiday that so many love to hate! Here’s some Ph.D. Comics to get you in the mood…




There’s nothing like a little humor to get you through grad school OR the holidays. And in case you don’t have plans for tonight yet, Rachael’s Cafe is having an Anti-Valentine’s Day Celebration this evening from 7-10 pm, along with speed dating!

I  Bloomington!

Grad School – The Great Balancing Act

I hope you’ll all excuse a little silly home photography. I thought it would illustrate a point I have to make.

If there’s one thing I wish I understood better when I was starting grad school, it’s that grad school is a great balancing act. Of course everyone knows that it’s tough to divide their time between family, friends, careers, education, hobbies, relaxation and all other kinds of pursuits. Graduate school has definitely solidified this lesson for me. But more specifically (and here’s that insider tip for soon-to-be-grad-students) I’ve learned that balancing long-term goals with short term goals is one of the most important – and difficult! – parts of grad school. As a graduate student, it’s really easy to stay focused on the day-to-day and week-to-week goals, like getting your lesson plans together for that class you teach or finishing your class readings on time. The immediacy of those goals makes them loom huge in front of you. Meanwhile long term goals, like submitting an article for publication or putting together a panel for a conference, tend to fade into the background.

So what to do? If I could go back, I would set myself one or two long term goals each semester. Then, instead of letting them occupy one lonely space at the back of my calendar/planner, I would dedicate one weekend each month to putting in some quality time on those goals. My husband has a new motto: “Well begun is half done.” Even dedicating a little time to those goals can make a big difference down the line and prevent you from having to play catch up. In the end, a good balancing act might mean you’re more competitive for a job or that you aren’t on a frantic search for funding – and in considering that, it might not be so bad if your desk stays a little messy or that knitting project takes a little longer.

And now the gag reel…

Happy juggling!

Virtual Visits! – If you can’t go in person…

Under ideal circumstances, everyone would be able to visit all the graduate schools they are applying for and spend several days getting to know the school, the people, and the town. But if you can’t go, don’t despair! Here are a few ideas for getting to know the school better from afar.

  • Ask professors if they might be willing to schedule a Skype call. Skype may not be as ideal as meeting in person, but it’s still more personal than an email. It will allow you a chance to size up potential advisors (and vice versa). Of course, you should probably spend some time preparing for your virtual call, the same as you would for an in-person interview.
  • Ask for contact info for graduate students who might be willing to chat online or on the phone. The IU emissaries this year are using Adobe chat sessions to get in touch with prospective students and answer questions in an informal setting. Stay tuned!
  • Like Kuang suggested, spend some time browsing the school’s webpage, the town’s webpage, or the local newspaper online to get a feel for the campus and the surroundings. Check out events calendars (like this one)  to see what kind of activities are going on.
  • Check out virtual/video visits. IU Bloomington has some here.
  • Tune in to local radio. A lot of radio stations have webpages where you can listen live. Our school’s station, WIUX, is one way to get an impression of IU’s personality.

The more sources you go to, the better understanding you’ll have of your potential academic home-to-be!

Should I stay or should I go?

This month we’ll be talking about visiting grad schools – either before or after you apply – and I have a little story to share. Yes, it’s one of those “When I was your age” stories, but bear with me.

When I was applying to grad schools in 2007-2008, I only had three on my list. That’s a small list, but it ended up being sufficient. I was able to plan a single trip that would allow me to visit all three – via three flights and a few hours on a train. Two days before my trip, I was doing lunges in the gym (did this story take a weird turn?) and I dislocated my knee. My kneecap popped off to one side, and a piece of bone chipped off. I went to the hospital, and eventually they put it back in its proper place and told me I should have surgery and cancel my trip.

Seeing the Baltimore Museum of Art... in a wheel chair!

But I didn’t cancel the trip, and I am very glad I made that choice. Visiting schools gives you a perspective that you won’t be able to get via their websites or email. I discovered which departments had a sense of community and which ones had commuting students who spent much less time together. I found out which professors were best aligned with my interests and had compatible personalities. And I found out (and please excuse my personal bias) that a small town in the middle of Indiana was actually a beautiful, dynamic, welcoming place. I might not have given it a chance if I had never visited in person.

So is it important to visit the grad schools on your list? YES! It’s very important. If you’re applying to a PhD program, you might spend the next five to TEN years of your life there, so you better make sure you like it. Should you put your health or safety at risk to make it happen? That’s not the message I want to send. Do what you can, and if circumstances or finances prevent you, put that much more effort into getting to know the school and the people you might be working with.

In closing, I’d like to say: practice good lunge form, and always get a second medical opinion!