Making Graduate School Your Home

During my time at graduate school, one of my favorite things has been making Bloomington, IN my home. I love my family very much, and when I visit them, I feel as though I am at home, but it is only in my one-bedroom apartment, that I know I am home. I live alone, and I love living alone, but it is not just because I am an introvert, which I am—even though no one believes me—it is because I feel most like myself when I’m in Bloomington.

I have fostered habits, which have cultivated into a lifestyle, which I tend to lose when I leave Bloomington. This is my own vice, but I like who I have become in graduate school. I have met great friends, I have become a member of loving fellowships, and I have worked with intriguing professionals. When I walk into a coffee shop, the people know who I am; they even notice when I get a haircut. The long and short of it is, people care.

I’ve never felt so at home with myself anywhere else. It’s not because Bloomington is a great campus (which it is) or even that the people are inherently friendly (which they are), it’s that graduate school taught me to be okay with myself. I learned to like myself, and that has made all of the difference.

When I leave, I will have to bring the qualities I care about with me, but one thing is for sure, I will always have a special place for Indiana University in my heart. I will miss the friends I have made, but I will take them with me wherever I go, and I will never lose touch with them or myself. Graduate school has made me the man I am today, and while home is where the heart is, I have learned to carry that heart a little better.

Coffee: The Great Equalizer

If you don’t drink coffee, turn back. If you don’t like coffee, learn to like it. If you truly hate coffee, drink tea. Coffee will be your best friend in graduate school. It’s there in the darkest of nights and in the greyest of mornings, and soon the Folgers theme song will coddle in you with its loving embrace. You will go to co-ops, coffee shops, and local artisans to find the best and most premium roasts because coffee will become your mistress, and she is cruel, demanding perfection.

Exaggeration much? Yes, but coffee has become my friend. I thought it was a cliché to go to a Starbucks and write, but the more I did it, the more I realized that I was damn productive in a coffee shop. Sitting around other people rather than moping in the dungeon of my home, became the highlight of my days, and I would get excited over my morning cup. It just felt right.

If you are reading this and thinking, what does this have to do with graduate school, it really is just trying to say that you need to get out of the house. Having a study friend at a coffee shop can make all the difference.

You save each other from embarrassing brain farts. Times when you believe “lended” is a word and curse spellcheck for telling you otherwise. Times when you can’t remember any conjunctions for an e-mail correctly, have trouble remembering the date, or start laughing at the sky because it’s there. Exaggerations? No, not really.

Graduate school has a way of making your brain numb, but there is a solution: coffee and friendship. Oh, I guess you should exercise too or take vitamins, but coffee does it faster. In the words of two of my favorite memes: “Let’s get some coffee so we can be hyper-aware of how little we’re going to get done today,” and “Drink coffee: do stupid things faster with more energy.”

I may have given up alcohol during my time at graduate school, but I gave into coffee, and I am definitely addicted to that dark roast brew.

iGraduate School 2.0: There and Back Again

Graduate school is what you make of it. There has never been a truer statement. I know the statement sounds like it was generated by a poorly paid life coach, but there isn’t much more to say.

Looking back on my first post “iGraduate School” I was more optimistic and excited than I have ever been. I was in a new place with new friends and new experiences, but after the warm glow of elation faded, I was left with the bitter reality that graduate school is work. Slowly, I became disenchanted with academia and found myself doing less and less work. Graduate school was just more school, and as such, I stopped reading and only did what I had to do to get by. I don’t recommend this.

Graduate school is a time for personal growth and development, and even if you don’t care for what you are studying or even find your department lacking, you can still use this time to discover yourself. Remember that every failure is a secret success.

During my time at graduate school, I found independence, faith, friendship, and guidance. I stopped drinking, I stopped partying, and I stopped feeling lost. While some of my classes were a joke, I started to realize that I no longer had to be a cog in the academic machine. I have ideas, passions, and beliefs, and just because some people don’t agree with them, does not mean that I don’t have a right to express them.

I loved my time at graduate school, even during the worst and most painful moments. I learned how to deal with those trials and tribulations; certainly, I am stronger for the experiences. I am not an academic anymore. Graduate school taught me that. I realized that in academia I was learning about what others went out and did… but I wasn’t doing anything. Some people can turn this ideology on its head, doing in graduate school rather than just studying, but my perspective has become solidified that academia is no longer for me. I am okay with that. I would still recommend graduate school to anyone who asked, and I wish you the best of luck on your journey. Just remember two things: enter as many open doors as you can, but never be afraid to exit that door it what’s inside isn’t for you.

Revisiting the Alma Matter

Recently, I had the opportunity of heading back to the ole alma mater. I had expectations of being welcomed back with opened arms and warm smiles, but I was slightly disappointed. While I was sorely missed by friends and dear faculty, the general feeling I received was one of ambivalence. I was no longer a paying customer, and as such, for them, I had moved on. While some faculty were interested in my accomplishments, most did not want me to discuss them with their classes or recruit for my graduate school.

I knew that education was a business, but this felt more like a Rockefeller oil yard or a Carnegie steel mill, it was strict and confining. I write this post, not to dismay any reader or to advocate separation from one’s alma mater, but rather to illustrate that sometimes expectations of a warm homecoming can be misplaced.

Do not expect your alma mater to go out of its way for you. They have given you your education and piece of paper (diploma), and they do not owe you anything else. While this may sound rather blunt, the underlining principle is more important: people are people. Stay in touch with faculty you care about. These are the people that will go out of their way for you. Do not look at your alma mater as an institution; instead, look at it as a dorm housing your friends, colleagues, and favorite teachers. Return with happiness in your heart, and connect with those that really matter

I for one, when I returned, discovered some of the people for whom I cared about did not share the same feelings toward me. But, even as several teachers shunned me, many others brought me back into the folds with good conversations and caring advice. In fact, a department I once though disliked me, in fact, had nothing but respect for my ideas. I am very thankful for the trip, and I hope to stay in touch with teachers I no longer simply look up to, but instead, look at as friends.

Thy Thesis Come

So, you’ve have made it into graduate school and you’ve finished your course work, but there is still one more thing to do. Daunting, at the edge of your periphery, your thesis has been looming for the last two to three years, and now it is time to complete it. At this juncture, you have one of two options. One, you take every bit of knowledge you have been learning during your time in graduate school and start from scratch. You’ve earned your knowledge, and now you get to implement it. Or two, and this set-up is a slight misnomer, you have already been working on your thesis for the past two to three years.

Personally, I recommend option two. Use your classes, your course work, and  your assignments as templates for your thesis. Gear all of your work and your endeavors toward that final goal. This is NOT double dipping, it is working smarter, not harder. Some committee/departments will not allow you to do this, as they want your thesis to be entirely original, but for the most part, you will not find any roadblocks. This method saves you times, and in graduate school, time is everything.

Whatever option you choose, find your own way to tackle this process to make it easier.  Do not be lackadaisical in this endeavor, whatever your department says, remember, your thesis is a big ordeal.

In addition, discover your department’s guidelines before your final semester. Sometimes (cough, usually) your first draft of your thesis does not mean it is you final draft, regardless of whether your department likes it or not. You may also still have to take exams and have an oral defense over what you’ve written. In the end–and I’m saying again for emphasis–make sure you have time. Time is your biggest threat. I for one, only took thesis during my last semester of graduate school, and it still took me the entire 15 weeks to complete the process. Good luck and God speed!

Your Best Friend: Funding!

Funding is something very special. It is that thing you never think you’re going to get, and even when you do get it, you don’t believe it’s true. I just want to debunk the myths of the notorious “full-ride.” Funding is real, and it is important.

The most helpful advice I ever received when I decided to go to graduate school was about how I should look at graduate school. I was told that when people ask me why I’m continuing your education instead of getting a job, I should look them dead in the face and tell them, “Graduate school is my job.” Continue reading

Attend Events!

This post goes out to every undergraduate who has walked by a sign that says “interested in graduate school, stop in” and passed right by.Networking is everything. Well, not everything, but it will definitely give you a definitive edge.

Advice

Meet people, talk to students, and ask professors for help. Never shy away from an open door.

This is a simple concept to hear but a hard one to follow. The concept also gets a bit metaphorical. Just remember to always talk to new people. You are never sure who you are going to meet or how they are going to affect your life.

One of my favorite professors once said, “you should learn something new everyday, but you don’t know who or what it will come from.” Just being present is half the battle.

I am terrible at reaching out to professors, meeting new people, and getting outside of my comfort zone. I am not a huge advocate of pestering new faculty members, but I do know how important it is to be open to new experiences. If you don’t go outside you will escape the rain, but you will never see the sunshine.

So, the next time a student is coming to your campus to talk about their experience of getting into graduate school, the next time a professor is willing to stay after class to hear about your hopes and dreams, the next time you could go to a conference to hear professionals speak about their work, the next time there is a professional panel, or the next time you have the opportunity to learn something new, take it! Take it, take it, take it!

Grow, learn, and develop into a better person. Life is a journey. It’s not about the destination, it’s about how you got there. Take the road less traveled and be better for it.

Wrap It Up

First off, congratulations! If you are at this step in the application process you are further than most. Many students see how difficult it is to apply to graduate school, and if they were on the cusp, they will shy away from the task. This is not you, so you should feel proud.

Advice

That was the good news, here is the bad. Continue reading

I Recommend You Ask Early

Applications are daunting. They take a long time to complete and right when you’re at the finish line, the giant jigsaw puzzle you have been working on for months will still be missing a crucial piece out of your control: Recommendation Letters.

What Is a Letter?

Recommendation letters are like the icing on a cake for an application, they give insight into who you are from a perspective other than your own. Unfortunately, most letters are generic. Selection committees want to see that they are there, but, much like your test scores, they are only a piece of data for most. Still, they need to be there, and when these letters are sterling, they will help an applicant shine out above the rest.

Advice

My advice when asking for a letter is to ask EARLY! I am talking months early. Continue reading

iGraduate School

The Journey Ends so It May Begin

Do you remember how, throughout your entire education people have always said, “You have to learn this so you’re ready for Middle School. If you don’t understand so and so or you won’t survive in High School. If you can’t read this many pages and write this many words, college isn’t for you.” And every time you made it up one tier up, you were always like, “Man, this isn’t so bad.” Take all those times people were trying to prepare you for something and bring them together. Graduate school is what they were trying to preparing you for. You have finally made it.

This Isn’t so Bad

Okay, hopefully that freaked you out a little bit, but not too much. Graduate school is what you have been preparing for your entire academic life, but you are prepared for it. It’s amazing, preparing all that time has actually made you prepared? How strange.

That’s not to say it won’t be tough. It will be. Graduate school is demanding, but it’s also fun—if you’re here for the right reasons.

Graduate school is not a place to come and hide. It’s not a place to run away from the economy. It is a place to come to truly learn about yourself. If you haven’t ever taken time off, away from school, then it is the time you will become an adult. You are building your career in these walls. You are pursuing something that may encapsulate you for the rest of your life, and you are in one of the best places in the world to do it. High school was not the best years of your life, this might actually be.

The Ritchea Experience

That last comment had a lot of weight to it so maybe I should explain myself. I am a pluralist who believes that vocation, or our calling in life, is the summation of all of our experiences and is the story of our lives rather than the plot (syuzhet over fabula). What I mean when I say that graduate school may be the best years of your life, is that graduate school can help you define your vocation. It can help you down the road that will accumulate into your journey.

I’m currently on my second year, and if I told you everything that I have done in just one year it would come off as bragging so, suffice it to say, I will simple state that I backpacked Europe; something I would have never done without graduate school.

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Now that I’m back, I’m on fire. I feel alive and ambitious. I feel like I could tackle anything that comes. Again, bragging, but I’m trying to get you jazzed. See, graduate school is a fellowship of like-minded people who have put education over money. These are intelligent human beings who are always asking questions, questions that can get frustrating at times, but questions nonetheless.

 

Currently, I am working with a group of twelve graduate students and some forty undergrads on a transmedia, mutli-collaborative, meta-narrative, installation project in the school of Media (Telecommunications for the time being). In this class I am leading discussion groups and writing teams to develop a massive narrative for a at least five other production groups. I’m getting hands on experience, professional know-withal/how-to, and stress—lots and lots of stress. But it’s good stress. I go home feeling refreshed rather than defeated, and I owe it all to graduate school.

The other class I am currently enrolled in is transmedia novels—I’m actually writing a novel for a class. It is insanely difficult but one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.

Graduate school offers you many doors. You can party, you can work, you can play, you can socialize, you can network, and you can learn. The sky truly is the limit. I’m trying to get to space–metaphorically. I hope you will too.