How To Communicate in Grad School?

How to Communicate in Grad School?

            “Do you understand the words, that are coming out of my mouth?” is quote by Chris Tuckers’ character from the classic buddy cop movie “Rush Hour.” One of the obstacles that Tucker and his co-star, Jackie Chan, had to overcome was being able to communicate with one another. Communication is a very important factor in graduate school, as you have to be able to articulate to other people how you are doing on your academic journey or what you need. This comes down to be able to communicate with professors, classmates and your friends with how you’re feeling in your academic career.

Now that you are in graduate schools it’s important to let your advisors or professors know if ever feel you’re struggling in courses sooner rather than later. You don’t want to wait till after midterms to tell the professor that you’ve been struggling with the material, as had you said something sooner may have affected the difference between passing and failing your exam. Communicating with your professors begins in the classmate. A common practice for students is when it comes to note taking is to pretend you understand what was written on the board, when in reality you don’t. In moments like that it’s important to be honest and let them know if there is any part of the material you don’t understand. If the confusion about the material continues, that’s when it is important to see the professor during office hours. Speaking from experience, I’m currently taking intro to statistics, and I usually see the professor in that course at least once a week in order to gain a better understanding of the course material. So it’s important to communicate with your professors on how you’re doing in your graduate level courses. But the other part of communicate is that with your classmates (colleagues).

Properly communicating with your colleagues, be they in your cohort or organization, is another important of grad school life. This can be applied to not only how to study for classes in your department, but also to be able to coordinate meetings or activities. One way this applies is if you’re apart of a student organization and get emails about coordinating a meeting with other members and need to respond on the location and time. The worst kind of response is no response as that can make it harder to plan a meeting if only a few people respond to the email. So even if the response is not immediate, it’s still better to respond sooner rather than later. This can be applied to studying with a group of your classmates as to not only where to study, but also what to study in terms of course material. Being able to communicate properly with your colleagues helps show your reliability in planning events or meetings, but also shows your understanding the responsibility that comes with it.

Overall knowing how to communicate to other people in graduate school is something you learn over time. There will be times that they’ll come to you, but it’s important to know when to be direct and go to them when you have concerns or planning something. Understanding this will help make your academic career all the more successful.

Springing into Action for the Summer

After Spring break, most students regardless of classification are looking to prepare themselves to end the semester strong. The important thing to consider after spring break in particular, however, is how you will continue your matriculation progress through the summer. While most students may choose to focus on day of, or week of assignments, graduate students should be planning ahead with research and writing plans during and post-semester. I’ve come to realize that pacing yourself as a graduate student with rotating weekly obligations is a near superpower, once you get the hang of it.

Research and writing planning during the late spring can certainly provide a boost for graduate students to apply for grants, conferences, and other fellowship opportunities in the future. As you consider what “springing into action” means for you specifically, I would propose the following questions to determine which action should be taken to ensure optimal success for you as a prospective or current graduate student:

  • What stage are you in currently in pursuit of your graduate degree? (classification, program requirements, research interests)
  • Where are your research archives? (databases, libraries, locations outside of the university)
  • Is there a conference, fellowship, grant, that you need to write for? (deadlines, recommendations, format)
  • How can you get ahead with writing for the next term over the summer? (May/June/July)


Finding Inspiration

While we all come to graduate school “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed”,it can be easy to get overwhelmed. We get caught up in our work and may even lose sight of the the reason we decided to pursue a graduate degree. It is very important to find ways to feed your passion outside of school. For me, this includes volunteering and creative writing. While neither of these are directly related to my coursework, they feed my passions and bring me back to reality. Other grounding activities i’ve indulged in include include recording gratitude and making what I call “passion goals”. Some of my passion goals are to read 4 books this year (not for class) and to do at least one craft every month. There are plenty of self-care activities out there that can support your passions (or even help you discover more!) 


Stay Positive!


5 Ways to enjoy the (campus) Staycation


Who isn’t excited to have a little time off? But often as graduate students we don’t have the option to bail on teaching and graduate responsibilities during breaks. Whether it’s because traveling is too expensive or have an approaching deadline for a project you will, on occasion, find yourself in town during a school break. Staying in town when the majority of the student body vacates can seem disheartening, but have no fear, here are five hidden ways to enjoy your campus staycation.

1) First, appreciate the silence. Ok maybe not complete silence, but the bustle of cars, buses and people everywhere tends to settle down during long breaks.

2) Remember that you’ll have a more flexible schedule. The demands of seminars, attending meetings and/or teaching courses are reduced (if not eliminated) thus allowing you to be more flexible with your days. Perhaps you can take the opportunity to sleep in or leave campus early.

3) Get out and explore the town! Our schedules are always jam packed, so we rarely have free time to explore. Go ahead and try a new restaurant. The wait times are usually non-existent during long breaks, so treat yourself to that new place you’ve been wanting to try. This is also a great time to catch a movie, go to the gym, library or other campus hotspots that can feel overpopulated during regular semester hours can be easier to manage during the breaks.

*FYI* Check operating hours as businesses may adjust times or close for repairs due to fewer patrons.

4) Resources are abundant, whether trying to use the campus printing, valuable office space, or the machines that always seem to be taken. It is highly unlikely you are the only one around, but there are far fewer people everywhere making it easier to access shared equipment.

5) Lastly, you are not alone. There are tons of other grad students in the same boat. Plan to meet up with people you don’t get to see regularly because of your busy schedules. So use the time to reconnect with old buddies or if you’re new to campus, use it as an opportunity to make new friends.

Black Panther: A Source of Joy and Resilience


Image result for black panther gif

Black Panther is a must see, but I’m sure you’ve heard this already from various media platforms. Black Panther is a source of inspiration and motivation to students and staff in the academy. It is an affirmation to so many Black communities within the diaspora that you are enough. Sometimes the academy can lead us to believe that there one way to discuss Black life. Black Panther has showed us the critical and necessary conversations we can have regarding the Black community through art, specifically film. The actors and screenwriters of Black Panther are creative scholars and you too can use creativity to build a bridge between theory and practice. Lastly allow Black Panther to serve as a source of joy for you to continue to push through. This film will go down in history and should serve as an honorable moment as a member of the African diaspora.

Graduate School Success: The Importance of Balance

Incoming students often ask me what advice I have for them to be successful in graduate school. One of the most things I tell them is that they need to achieve balance in their schedules. Balance ensures that you are able to get your academic work done but also have adequate and regular time for aspects outside of school that you find meaningful. This is important because otherwise, you will burn out and/or be ill equipt to deal with the many stressors of graduate school. Below I outline 3 tips to help you achieve balance while in graduate school.

1) Make a list of your Values. Having a list of your values will help you determine what you find most important in your life. From here, you can number your values in order of most to least important and then make goals for all of these different aspects.

2) Have Hobbies. Having hobbies is a way for you to spend time doing something outside of academics that brings you joy and allows you to take a break while simultaneously doing something productive and meaningful. Hobbies don’t have to take a lot of time/efforts and can literally be anything you enjoy doing. Some examples include photography, writing, art, exercise, reading, volunteering, cooking, etc.

3) Make a Schedule. Once you’ve determined your values, goals, and hobbies, you can allocate how much time you want to spend on different activities weekly towards each of these. Including these aspects in addition to academics will help ensure that you’re working towards holistic growth throughout your graduate program.

Treat Yourself!

For this post, I would like to highlight two of my favorite eateries in Bloomington. Why? Because sometimes you just need to escape and indulge!

Baked has the best cookies! The business just moved to a new location, losing some of the character of the previous building, but gaining a lot more space. Baked works because it does not try to specialize in everything; just cookies. First, you choose your cookie dough, then your mix-in ingredients, and finally your topping or icing. After almost two years of experimenting, I created the perfect mix for myself: sugar cookie dough, m&ms, chocolate chips, cheesecake bites and pretzels mixed in, and cream cheese frosting. It may sound super sweet, but the pretzel adds a nice contrast. Baked is the perfect place to escape from papers, projects and work. It has a great atmosphere for catching up with friends and being entertained by all of the writings on the chalkboard walls.

Cookies from Baked! Photo by Garrett C.

The Tudor Room
The Tudor Room, located inside of the IMU, is the best all-you-can-eat buffet in Bloomington–on Sundays anyway. Priced at nearly $20 per person, a student ID gets you in for about $14 and it is worth every penny. Staples for the Sunday brunch usually include: made-to-order omelets, french toast, bacon, sausage, prime rib, chicken, fish, fruits, vegetables, soups, and amazing desserts! Something inside me always perks up when friends say they have never been because it is a must while in Bloomington and it gives me the opportunity to take them there. In addition to the food, the room itself is reminiscent of a dining hall from Hogwarts for all the Harry Potter fans out there. The room is grand, elegant, and a nice escape from everything on your to-do list.
It may seem small, but you must take the time to treat yourself because you deserve it!

Imposter Syndrome: Balancing Personal versus Academic Identity

I’ve heard the term “Imposter Syndrome” since the first semester that I arrived on IUB’s campus as a Ph.D. student. Essentially, “imposter syndrome” references the tendency that most faculty and students develop to perform their knowledge and proficiency in subjects of interest. It seems that “imposter syndrome” can even be performed involuntarily, with some prospective and new graduate students adopting this persistent intellectual performance in order to validate their presence in their respective programs to their faculty and peers.

My personal identity is not one that is rooted in ego, or the necessity to always be right. However, when I first began my graduate experience as a Ph.D. student, I felt the need to come up with something “smart” to say in my core classes with peers in order to please the professor, and to also prove that I had earned the right to be amongst the best and the brightest minds that surrounded me everyday. It was taxing and exhausting to say the least after the first year of doing it, and I realized that I needed to work on blending my personal identity with my academic identity more thereafter.

The truth is, many prospective and new graduate students are tempted to “prove” themselves and perform their intellect as soon as they arrive in their departments. But, what if each of us, the best and bright minds who earned acceptance into our programs, decided to celebrate the transitional moments and learning curves that come with beginning a graduate program? What if we dared to answer, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I’ll look into it,” instead of “Well, if you consider…or insert author once said”? Don’t get me wrong, I strongly encourage everyone who knows a little bit about something or everything to share their knowledge, so we all can become better informed from it. As a tidbit though, as I’ve learned, you don’t have to start off as the “know-it-all” scholar in your programs, because most people have the same questions as you do, or at minimum hold similar anxieties about starting something new with new people.

I firmly believe that we become better learners when we decide that a good source for knowledge is important, even if that source is not us. Remaining teachable and authentic as a person will take you far beyond your graduate degree. And sometimes wisdom and temperament are more important to demonstrate on a regular basis than knowledge.

Black History Month Gala in Bloomington

Though Bloomington has a relatively small Black community (~4%), Black History Month is packed with celebratory events both on campus and throughout the city.  These events have provided opportunities for me to interact with community members and engage in intergenerational dialogue outside of campus. Wakanda aside, one of my favorite events this month was the  Annual Black History Month Gala. It was my first time Continue reading

Life in Bloomington by Thomas Elton IV

Not being from Bloomington and the state of Indiana in general there were adjustments that I had to get used to while being a graduate student here at IUB. For example, I am from northeast Ohio so my main grocery store went from Giant Eagle to Kroger. The price of a gallon of milk is about a dollar to sixty cents cheaper, and my favorite spring water brand, Deer Park, is not really available by the case here. The spring water brand here is Ice Mountain and it is bottled by the same company but the water comes from different springs based on region.  For this month’s entry, I am going to talk about housing and activities as a graduate student here at IUB.

During my undergraduate career, I stayed in a residence hall all four years. Coming to graduate school, it was time to finally lease my first apartment. I recommend taking a visit to the apartment/ apartment complex that you would like to lease prior to signing. This is what I did to make sure that I wasn’t going to be deceived with what was pictured and described through their website. In fact my first visit to Bloomington wasn’t for to visit the school it was to look at potential apartments. I chose to go with a furnished apartment that, includes appliances, a bed, a washer, dryer, internet, cable, and other amenities. I chose this because my graduate program is only two years, and I knew that it was a good chance that I would be moving from Bloomington after graduation. So in order to have less belongings to move, I went with a furnished apartment. The only thing that I have to pay for outside of my rent is for electricity. When looking at apartments, look at the location. My apartment is approximately a 1.5 miles from the school, but there is a free shuttle service that takes us to the school during the week days downtown so that we may enjoy some of the local establishments that downtown Bloomington has to offer.

In Bloomington, there is a restaurant for everyone. Around once a month, I enjoy one of the local restaurants with other graduate students that I have met during my time here. Some restaurants are local to Bloomington such as The Tap, Opie Taylors, or Mother Bears, Bears Place while others you may or may not have them where you are from such as BJs, or Cheddars. Some establishments have trivia nights, some have karaoke nights while others are just places to enjoy with your new friends that you will make here. Also the IUB theater has free movies for students, some are screened before they are released in theaters everywhere while others, are movies that you may have missed in theaters, but are not yet available to purchase or rent. All you need to attend is a valid student ID and the theater is in the IMU.