Civic Engagement; Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

This last weekend I had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. With the Civic Leaders Licing Learning Community. Student living in the Civic Leaders community are often members of the School of Public and Envrionmental Affairs (SPEA) and are interested in civic leadership, government, public service, and working with non-profits. This trip was planned in order to connect students to the federal government, as well as to give them an opportunity to meet with alumni living in the DC area what hey could discuss their current positions and opportunities to work in and around the federal government.

On the first day of the trip we traveled as a group to the Executive Building where we received a brief tour and then met with the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs and several other members of their staff to discuss issues related to Black Lives Matters, the US prison system, the Its On Us Campaing, and college affordability. After visiting the the Executive Building, we traveled as a group to the Russel Senate building where students met with alumni of SPEA at an engagement. At the end of the evening, students were given free time to explore DC on their own.

The second day we woke early to travel to the Supremem Court, where we took a tour of the building and then had the opportunity to sit in the courtroom of the Supreme Court and to learn about the history of the judicial branch. From there we crossed the street to the Capitol building, and met with an economist, an editor from the Atlantic, and an Indiana senator to discuss the current election and hot topics related to college students in the United States. Free time followed these great discussions, and then was finished with a dinner at The Monocole near Capitol Hill, where students were introduced to current participants in the Washington Leadership Program.

On our final day in DC, we began with a visit to the Newseum where students were able to visit the exhibits, and followed by free time until we returned to the busses in order to return to Bloomington.

Throughout this trip, I was able to hear students say “this is exactly what I want to do after school,” or, “I cant believe that this is something I could do through SPEA.” These comments are what truly mattered about this trip. Students were able to see what they could accomplish with their dedication to academics and collegiate success. And to see the looks on their faces as they were introduced to these new avenues for their future was truly inspiring. It is rare that you are able to see students go through experiences such as this, and even rarer to be able to support those students in a way that could push them to achieving their dreams. I am excited, and ever so fortunate, to be able to work with these students for the rest of the year.

“Grad school may make you feel stupid”

“Grad school is suppose to make you feel stupid”, I  heard someone say before starting my own grad school journey. Wow -”Stupid”–Really? How am I supposed to respond to that, I thought? Was that a prediction that would become true for me?. All of these questions ran through my head before starting grad school in the fall of 2014.

The later realized that the person who probably said the above statement was making an observation rather than a prediction. I realized through my experience that graduate school is suppose to be training ground for both education and professional development. Thus, I would agree grad school has made me feel “stupid” not because of the difficulty but rather because of the vast amount of opportunities to expand my knowledge. Also, due to the nature of the grad school I have been able to expand my network of expertise by connecting with those in other disciplines. This means that while you can feel inadequate the fact that you can learn and be supported by others should bring you up. So while the idea of grad school making you feel stupid might not be appetizing, as a process grad school makes you a better student/scholar in the end.

Best of luck in grad school!

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.

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


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.