Deciding on attending graduate school?

If you are a college junior or a senior wondering whether to go to grad school or not, hopefully this might help. However, this is valid more generally. It is imperative for most of you to be under pressure by your peers, family and the whole world itself. People start comparing with friends and other students to see if they can stay ahead in a so called ‘great competition’. ‘They’ say the competition is real. You should be on top of the world. So a natural advice would be to find your ‘passion’ and follow in the footsteps of your successful alumni/role model/idol in that field. It seems like the world expects you to figure it out all by yourself very quickly. That is not how humans and world work. As far as my wisdom goes, every individual is different and everyone has his/her own way of going about things in life. One may like to take more pressure, one might like to live life in a very leisure way. One might like to spend more time away from work.

Did you ever really spend time figuring out who exactly you are in life? Did you ever wonder why identical twins who look exactly same and brought up in exactly same environment grow up to be two very different individuals?

It might sound crazy to you but trust me you will feel a lot better after reading and trying this. I call this the process of ‘self-discovery’ and it is neither easy nor quick. There is nothing called ‘the moment of truth’ or ‘the judgement day’. It will not happen in a day, week, or even in a month. It takes years to figure out who you are. Then the answers to questions such as what do you want in life and how to go about achieving it, will be consequently answered. There are thousands of books, blogs, videos that talk about this process of self-discovery. For example, ‘they’ say that you need to be spiritual, religious or renounce the worldly pleasures to see who you really are. ‘They’ may be right. While I am not judging their ways, I found something really helpful, which might even be a shortcut in this process.

First of all – make up your mind and convince yourself that it is worth spending time to do this. Now, allocate a solid weekend. Go to a place alone where there is no Wi-Fi, people, etc. (you get the idea – A serene place, for example a lake, a beach, or similar). Put your phone in silent mode and start watching the nature for some time so that you should lose track of time. Don’t listen to any music. Pay utmost detail to the environment around you. Watch and listen carefully to each and everything around you. Just be present as much as you can. A thousand things may pass through your mind while doing so, just ignore them and try to focus on the environment. Practice observing the nature for at least half an hour. I know it is very hard to do so. But take a leap of faith! This practice helps you get on top of all the noise in your mind.

Now start thinking about some of the best moments of your life. Start visualizing those memories and focus on moments where you were this mindful while doing something.

Did you ever really extend/polish/overdo any projects related to your major both in and out of academics?

Do you love/enjoy reading more and more about any news, articles, books (both fiction and non-fiction) related to your major?

Were you that mindful while listening to your professors in the class?

Did you ever feel ‘mind-blown’ while listening to a lecture or a talk related to your major?

Did you ever feel the urge to learn more about a specific chapter/lesson/project?

Did you feel the urge to ask more and more questions which appear to be more abstract in nature but about the field in general?

Do you like to discuss about science/your related major more often when you look back at your most recent conversations with people?

If these questions struck a chord with you, then you might want to attend a grad school. Otherwise, you might want to reconsider your options.

The exercise I just talked about gives you a sense of direction and not even close to a decision. To come to a conclusion you need to do a lot of research and talk to a lot of people (I mean really!). I received some of the best advice from my professors and other alums who were pursuing graduate studies.

  • A lake in Bloomington, IN

Monroe Lake in Bloomington, IN

 

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

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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.

A couple of tips when deciding where to apply to graduate school

Now that September is full swing, this year’s application cycle for graduate school is well under way. Around this same time in 2013, my undergraduate research mentor reached out to me to let me know that he was submitting the manuscript from my research (that I did back in 2008) for publication. Before this point, I had been teetering with idea of going to graduate school since I was not climbing the corporate ladder fast enough. However, I did not consider myself a competitive candidate. Once I got his email that said that I would be a co-first author on a publication, I knew that it was now or never.

Before I started applying to graduate schools, I went back to my alma mater (Notre Dame) to meet with my undergraduate research mentor in person to get advice on how to be a competitive applicant for that year’s application cycle. He offered two pieces of advice that I think that all prospective graduate students should follow:

  • make a list of schools to apply to that have AT LEAST three or four research faculty that I would be interested in working for. That way, if I don’t get my first or second choice, I wouldn’t regret my decision for attending a particular school
  • only consider research faculty that have research that you are genuinely interested in and NOT the person’s name/fame

My biggest reasons for choosing IU for graduate school is that I was interested in several of the research faculty at IU and the state of the art mass spectrometry facilities. I originally came into IU as an analytical chemistry major. However, while doing summer research prior to my first year officially beginning in August, I decided that I wanted to go back to organic chemistry. I am incredibly thankful that IU was a place that allowed me to change majors without any hassle. If I had picked a university where I was not interested in multiple research faculty, I do not think the transition would have been as successful.

Reaffirming Experiences

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There are days where a graduate program will seem long. With papers to write, articles to read, and the ever looming thesis or job search ahead, it can often feel like your world is a long series of checklists and “ok what’s next.” But, there will also be things that happen throughout your time in the program that will be completely unexpected, wonderful, and remind you of why you’re there.

One such moment happened to me this last week. As a part of the Higher Education and Student Affairs program, masters students are required to have a position on campus working in student affairs to connect and practice those responsible skills learned in class in a professional setting. I have the opportunity to work as a Graduate Supervisor for Residential Programs and Services (RPS). Within this position, I get to work with 20 incredible undergraduate student leaders who serve as Resident Assistants (RAs) within the Residence Hall. One particular RA and I had the opportunity to discuss how they worked with their floor during a difficult situation.

Throughout this last week, many members of the floor community had reported to the RA that they had been woken up at all hours of the morning by their neighbors or other members of the floor being loud. With this happening, it has been difficult for anyone to get a full nights sleep, which has been impacting their ability to attend class, study, and be successful overall in their college experience. In an attempt to discuss this issue with the floor, the RA scheduled a floor meeting early in the morning Continue reading

Summertime for Graduate Students: Should I be Idle?

Summertime can be a variety of things to different people. It can be a time of relaxation, a time to travel, a time to work, or a time to learn. However for graduate students, summer can be a battle of staying productive versus enjoying a mental vacation. Students are forced to ask themselves; do I take the whole summer off? Or do spend the entire season working? While there’s no definitive answer, one thing I learned from my academic advisor while attending Morehouse College, is that a student’s mind should never stay idle. As a result, I believe it’s important for graduate students to find a balance between work and relaxation during the summer, as they do during the school year.

One thing students can do to ensure their summer will be productive is to make of list of goals and work to stick to them to the best of their ability. Their goals could include things such as spending time with loved ones, taking a vacation, studying, or completing work on a research project. After identifying their goals, next, a student should consider applying for a summer job. An effective way to stay productive during the summer is to teach a course within their field of study. Being on campus for a portion of the summer can help a student stay motivated, as well as remain focused on completing his or her own work. Speaking from experience, managing time for both teaching (or working) and studying can be difficult. This past summer session, I taught a math course for several weeks while studying for my own qualifying exams. However, I effectively managed my time by creating a schedule that outlined deadlines to complete my goals on a weekly basis. Sticking to a summer schedule can help students stay organized and achieve their goals if they are committed to putting in the necessary effort.

When the summer begins to come to close and you see new students start arriving on campus for the first time, this is a good moment for reflection. Continue reading

Planning with Flexibility: Some tips for Grads at all levels

The fall 2016 semester is now in full swing, and aside from trying to get back into “the groove” of college working after a busy summer, continuing to plan with flexibility is something that I’ve decided to be more intentional about as a second-year Ph.D. student. There are a few specific academic, professional, and wellness practices that I try to maintain throughout the semester to remain accountable for my goals and matriculation progress:

  • Maintain a physical academic planner.

Although this may seem a bit “old school,” I still find any kind of personal planner to be important for life success. Usually, academic planners are used to maintain important assignment deadlines, campus events, and my daily check-list of things to complete by the end of the day, which typically ends somewhere around 9pm during the week. I also pencil in any meetings that I need to attend, their locations, and times as well. My planners are the 8 x 10 size that I usually buy from Target, but a free one, or smaller version can be just as good to maintain a routine and schedule.

  • Go to see some of your current and past professors/instructors during their office hours.

As a professional level graduate student, it is important that I maintain positive and productive relationships with faculty members at IU. I consider going to visit a professor during their office hours as a way to continue intellectual conversations about topics discussed in class, and also as a way to establish a working relationship for potential academic research opportunities. You could connect with a professor on a pre-dissertation proposal topic to get into an area-specific conference, or even Continue reading

Starting the Second Year

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So you’ve finished your first year of a masters program, spent the summer working in an internship that you loved, and now you’ve returned to your bustling campus for your second year. But, what does that second year have in store? Your first year brought with it changes in your life: new school, new classmates, new town, dietary habits, and even possibly a new partner. But now the second year? Mentors and friends can prepare (if one can be prepared) you for the first year, but hardly anyone talks to you about them second year.

As an aspiring second year masters student, this is where I now sit: Continue reading