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.



What is a PhD? Research?

To understand grad school one should understand the term “Research”. What is your understanding of research? You might be thinking, it means the process of discovering a completely new groundbreaking technology by solving a very hard problem which no one has ever solved before. If so you might be wrong. It actually means the process of exploring the documented knowledge about solving various related and interconnected problems to gain directions/insights of designing a new approach to tackle the problem at hand in a better way leveraging the latest technologies. It includes conducting experiments in multiple settings (with various possible inputs) and sharing of your documented findings/inferences with the world so that we can progress collectively breaking the barriers of ignorance.

This illustration does an excellent job.

Imagine a circle that contains all of human knowledge:

  • By the time you finish elementary school, you know a little:pic2
  • By the time you finish high school, you know a bit more:pic3
  • With a bachelor’s degree, you gain a speciality:pic4
  • A master’s degree deepens that specialty:pic5
  • Reading research papers takes you to the edge of human knowledge:pic6
  • Once you’re at the boundary, you focus:pic7
  • You push at the boundary for a few years:pic8
  • Until one day, the boundary gives way:pic9
  • And, that dent you’ve made is called a Ph.D.:pic10
  • Of course, the world looks different to you now:pic11
  • So, don’t forget the bigger picture:pic12

Keep pushing! All the best!

Source via Quora: Matt Might, a professor in computer science at the University of Utah, created The Illustrated Guide to a Ph.D. to explain what a Ph.D. is to new and aspiring graduate students. Matt has licensed the guide for sharing with special terms under the Creative Commons license.

Grad school is a marathon

Grad school can often feel like a sprint to the finish. However, grad school should be experienced as more like a marathon or triathlon due to the twists and turns that can happen until the coveted graduation day arrives.

First off, as a student you have to balance courses, research, internship experience, etc…while trying to balance a social life. This means that while grad school can be difficult to handle due to having to balance competing things, it is an experience that is spread out over several years in order to be successful. Thus, grad school is more of a marathon than a 100-m dash to the finish line. Also, remember that grad school is not a solo experience where all the runners are running individually, but rather it is an opportunity to connect with your peers, faculty, and administrators in order to be successful.

I hope that throughout your individual graduate school journey you are encouraged by knowing that its is more of a marathon and that you can pace yourself rather than feel rushed in order to finish.

Purpose in the Journey


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.



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!