So you’ve decided to apply to Grad School…

First, congratulations! You’ve decided to apply to a gradaute program. You have decided to take the first step in an incredible journey. But, as many folks discover, this process is not as clear as one would expect. Rankings, areas of study, thesis or no-thesis, professors, interviews. Where do you even being?

Do the Research

Selecting programs to apply to is important for several reasons: 1) Its where you’ll be spending a significant amount of your time and energy and going to the right program is crucial, and 2) applying to schools, and interviewing when necessary, is EXPENSIVE. To avoid attending an institution that you may not connect with or may not have the opportunities you were looking for, and to save on the various fees that come with graduate applications, do the research. Find out what the school is known for and how they do it: what are their strengths, what are their weaknesses, how do they teach it to you, etc. Look into what the instructors do in their work: what research do they complete, how many of them complete research, what are their focus areas. And finally, talk to current students! This one may seem like the most obvious, but it is crucial for your own preparedness. Sending emails, going to campuses if they are close by, discuss the student experience with a current student is one of the most important factors in helping you decide on a program.

Get Started Early

This is a two step process: find out what is needed to apply to the program, and keep yourself organized and on track to apply. While many programs may have similar requirements for application, they are not always exactly the same. Thus, it is important that you look into the requirements of each program early. Starting early means that you can revise essays, can contact references well in advance of deadlines, and cut the “pressure stress” that comes with looming deadlines. But, in order to get started early and stay organized throughout the process, make a checklist! Whether you do this as a word document, or in an excel sheet, or in a notebook, writing down what you need to do is important. Not only does this show you what you’ve done and what you haven’t done, it keeps you on task as well: over the weeks it can take to complete the applications you have it can be easy to forget what you need to do, and to be lax on deadlines. But, having a list can help motivate you to continue on even when it may seem tough.

Talk to Someone

Applications are tough. And there will be moments where you doubt yourself. Where you doubt what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. And while you might think that you can do it on your own, having someone there for you can make all the difference. Whether that is a significant other, your friends, parents, siblings, whomever that may be, establish that relationship and share with them your experience!

While these are just several simple steps, they can be quite helpful when it comes right down to it! In sum, good luck to you on the beginning of this grand journey! There is a phrase in Higher Ed that we often use during interviews: Trust the Process. It will all work out for you, and it will all be ok, and you will make it through.

Spring is here…go outside

IMG_4050April is by far the busiest month of the semester this year because it is the last at IUB. In lieu of the long hours inside the library or at a desk, get outside. Bring your work, your lunch, your study snack, your coffee, and your laptop outside.

Bloomington has plenty of wonderful park, trails, coffee shops with outdoor seating (my favorite, Hopscotch on the B-Line). Regardless of where you are, take the time to enjoy the outdoors.

A couple other things to do in Bloomington this month: Take in the sights, sounds, smells, and treats the Farmers Market has to offer. The Market reopens the first Saturday in April.

Climb the Hickory Ridge Lookout Tower

I’ve found myself stuck inside lately but when I get moving, it helps me process my thoughts so I keep a small notebook in my pocket. This may not be as effective as sitting at a desk with a laptop but it is a healthier choice and YOU come first.

Making Connections

One of the best things I have done since beginning graduate school at IU is joining a student organization. In my case, I joined the Latino Graduate Student Organization (LGSA). Being a member of LGSA has helped me both academically and socially by making connections with students and faculty.

As graduate students, we tend to stick within our department. Through LGSA I have met students and faculty from various departments such as History and Anthropology and the School of Education. Speaking with people from different disciplines has helped me learn how to frame my research in a way that others can understand it and find it relevant. In addition, it has exposed me to the different types of research being done at IU.

Perhaps the best part about joining a student organization is the supportive community it has to offer. Through LGSA I have formed strong friendships with other grad students. It is great to have people who you can talk to about the challenges and successes you experience in grad school, and life in general.

At IU there are numerous organizations that graduate students can join. I’m sure you can find one that fits what you are looking for!


The Waiting Game After Submitting Applications…

Now is the time of year that you have either submitted all of your graduate school applications or about to finish submitting…what now?

The waiting is rough so I’d like to share with you some advice I got when I was in your shoes.

Go watch a movie! Go enjoy your last semester of either undergrad or your MA program! Seriously go enjoy it!

I had a hard time following this advice because you just want to know if you got into the program of your choice. You want to know what “the rest of your life will look like!” You want to know NOW! Well, you don’t have to know now, and you won’t know for a few weeks or even a few months. So take some time to enjoy where you are now because once you get accepted into your PhD program you will have to start worrying about moving. Worry about that later. Worry about waiting will change nothing. You’ve done your best and now it’s up to them. Besides they won’t even be looking at applications until the New Year around the start of the Spring semester (at least that’s the typical departmental timeline) so don’t worry about it.

Yes, I know it’s easier said then done, but my mentor’s goal with me was: “if I tell you enough times to just worry about time with your friends and the program you are in now maybe you’ll listen to me.” SO my goal with you is to help you stop worrying.

Let me say it again…

Go watch a movie! Go enjoy your last semester of either undergrad or your MA program! Seriously go enjoy it!

Grad school is what you do not who you are…

Here you go folks: here is by far the HARDEST lesson to learn and remember as a graduate student: “Life keeps on going while you’re in grad school, don’t let it pass you by!” All of my mentors have said this to me at one time or another and I’ve heard it but I don’t always remember it or understand it.

Developing your academic identity is important and essential to your success as a graduate student but nurturing your own personality and identity is just as important. We can’t be successful as grad students if we burn out and hate what we do. So we must find a balance.

Two things a couple of my friends and I think are essentials to grad life:

1) Food: Personally, I love to cook and try new recipes. If I’m home sick, I prep some of my mom’s favorites; if I feel like procrastinating and trying something new, I look up a recipe online and make it. You can’t go wrong. 

2) Pets: Today is the one month anniversary of when I adopted this guy. Yes, just a month. But in this month, this guy has made life so much more fun. He gets me outdoors. He has eliminated my Netflix time. He reminds me that treats and play-time are a must everyday.

He’s a major responsibility (financial and otherwise) and I thought long and hard about it. I kept telling myself it was a bad idea to adopt a dog because I just wouldn’t have enough time for him. I wouldn’t be able to afford him. What would I do when I had to travel. I should wait until after grad school, I told myself. But one of my friends put it best…”it’s our life and we have to live it.”

Grad school is my career and my job. It’s not a 9-5. But I do get to decide to take some time of my day to myself. I struggle with this everyday. I feel guilty about not getting “enough” work done. But academia will always be that demanding, don’t let it dictate your life. IMG_3877IMG_3887


He didn’t take too well to Ernie Pyle…

Wait, I can’t miss Christmas!!


I swear some people must think I’m the Grinch! But, I really love Christmas, I do.

I’ve had my boyfriend ask me multiple times: when are we decorating for Christmas? Well, it’s halfway through the month and I still haven’t gotten back to it. I don’t have time. I designated the weekend after Thanksgiving to do it but it didn’t get finished and now it’s still not finished. I wanted it done then because December is hectic in graduate school. Sure, it’s the end of the semester so it will get better but before I can call it a day I have to finish writing a syllabus, a historiography paper, another book review, administer a final, and grade ALL of them. I’ve had something to do EVERY single day, I’ve stop taking my usual weekend breaks because my projects just won’t allow it. But the hardest part is not getting all this done; the hardest part is knowing I don’t have time to do all the fun stuff that comes with Christmas.

So what’s my point? As grad students we just need to learn to accept it’s going to be rough during the holidays. You might be away from family, you might be traveling, you might not. Whatever the case may be build in some time, even short bursts of time, to have a fun time and just feel like you’re not missing out.

For example, we did start decorating but didn’t finish. But I’m still glad there are some Christmas decorations at home. Instead of buying things online, I’ve incorporated my Christmas shopping to my errands because I don’t want to miss out on picking out a nice gift. I like wrapping presents so after writing two pages I take a break to wrap a present. I like having hot chocolate instead of coffee this time of year because my mom used to make me hot chocolate when I was a kid so once I day I do that. After finishing my historiography paper I promised myself I would watch one of my favorite Christmas movies before moving on to the next project. I watched Home Alone last night. Why haven’t I had a chance to finish decorating? Because I never built it in to my reward schedule, it was built in to the weekend after Thanksgiving. All that to say, do what works for you but don’t just let the end of the semester get to you. Plan ahead. Take time off in the morning/night. Have some fun. It’s Christmas after all.


I even took time one night to make this guy his own Christmas bow tie!


Decisions, Decisions: Graduate School?…or Nah

This morning at 8am, I joined my U215 students (freshmen Hudson & Holland Scholars) in our discussion section where we engaged in a very robust conversation regarding the “college for all” crusade and the question of whether or not a college education is really the “golden ticket” to success. My students, who are extremely bright and vocal, shared their various opinions, but by the end of the conversation, they all reached the same conclusion: college is definitely worth it.

As a graduate student, there are times when I ask myself, “Is this thing called graduate school really worth my time, effort, sleepless nights, MONEY, and all of the other sacrifices I have given and continue to give for this PhD?” Even though I have these moments that sometimes manifest themselves in the form of griping and complaining, I still manage to draw the same conclusions as my students: It really is worth it!

If you are grappling with the question: “To go or not to go to graduate school?'” because of the major costs involved (in terms of dollars and cents and the intangible things like time), do not let those thoughts deter you from pursuing a graduate degree. Yes, it’s important to count up the cost, but do not get so wrapped up in the costs that you negate the benefits, both tangible and intangible. Be your own cheerleader and encourage yourself as you prepare your application. Speak to mentors, faculty members, others in your field about your decision. Extra affirmation is always a good thing. It’s simple. If you really see yourself conducting research, diving deep into areas of interest and informing the work in that field, go for it!

Scheduling a Committee Meeting  

Students beware, getting faculty together is one of those impossible things that must be done if you want to graduate.

In my department, in order to graduate, I have to have an oral defense with my committee. A committee is made up of at least three professors, usually two who reside within the department, who meet to discuss your work. While this function is in their job description, many faculty look at it as “something extra” they have to do. What this means for a student trying to get them into the same room, is that they are only going to give you their time if it is convenient to them.

Convenient for them does not mean convenient for you. Add this to the fact that you have at least three committee members and you have yourself the kind of fun lamented by graduate students everywhere. This process is jokingly impossible, but it can be done without too much fuss.

The solution: Doodle. Get a doodle to them as quickly as possible and give lots and lots of options/times. If you are lucky, they will find a common time with the first go. If you are unlucky, try, try again. Other methods involve going to faculties’ office hours (if they tell you their office hours) and if that fails, you wait outside their classes (this is a last resort, of course).

I am giving you an example of the worst case scenario, but the big take away is that scheduling faculty meetings is its own assignment. Some will ask you to write your own exam questions, sign their signature, pass your e-mails to someone else, or even bring them an actual calendar. Whatever pitfalls you find yourself in, remember, you are not alone. Many students have had the same challenges you have.

Finally, if all else fails and you have put in as many man-hours as you are willing to give, contact your departmental secretary. They are usually skilled in diplomatically reminding faulty of their duties. Remember, however, this is a passive aggressive strategy and once a bridge is burned you have to rebuild it.

These have been my experiences and they are not shared by everyone, but during my time in academia, I have found diplomacy and bureaucracy to be very good friends. Treat people like people first, but some tact can go a long way.

Getting Your Hands on That “Mean Green”

Money money money money…some people gotta have it, some people really need it. It’s only fitting to begin this post with the lyrics of renowned soul group The O’Jays from their hit song For the Love of Money. These lyrics definitely describe graduate students’ sentiments regarding funding our graduate education. Graduate school is not cheap, and it sure is not free! But don’t be alarmed! What’s the best way to fund your education? SImple. Get someone else to pay for it.

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