Grades and Grad School Applications

As an emissary for IU, I’ve had the chance to talk to a lot of students who are going through the application process for graduate school. One question which almost always comes up is, “How much do grades and GRE scores matter?” This can be a tricky question – it often depends on the individual student and the program they are applying to. I’ll share my perspective, but if you are worried about your numbers you should also talk to people at the institutions you are applying to.

If you don’t have high test scores, don’t despair. Grad school applications aren’t just about GREs and GPAs.

Graduate programs care about grades and test scores, but they also care about recruiting students who are dedicated, determined, and who have well-defined research interests. In my opinion, not many programs will take on a student who doesn’t know what they want to do in grad school, no matter how good that person’s grades are. On the other hand, they might be willing to take on a student whose grades and test scores are somewhat low, provided that they have the personal drive and direction that are needed to get through grad school.

A friend of mine was accepted to IU (with funding) in spite of her low GPA, because she was able to prove her worth in other ways. After completing her undergraduate degree, she strengthened her resume through work and research experience. She didn’t apply to graduate school right away, but she used her time wisely. Eventually, she developed a rapport with professors within the department she would later apply to. When she did apply, she had contacts within the university to vouch for her, as well as important experiences which made her application strong.

Gaining research experience is an excellent way to strengthen your application and show you are dedicated to furthering your education.

While some departments might prove stubborn about their minimum test score and GPA numbers, I think you will find that many departments are flexible, especially if your application shows your ability in other ways. So if your scores are not quite what you wish they were, don’t lose hope! You may have to work a little harder to prove yourself, but it certainly can be done.

United State Particle Accelerator School

For the past four years, I’ve had a unique and worthwhile opportunity attending and helping the United States Particle Accelerator School (USPAS) which provides graduate-level educational programs in the physics of particle beams and relevant accelerator technologies. The goal is to provide training for future scientist, researchers, and engineers by current leaders and prominent researchers in the field.

USPAS is governed and funded by an 11-member consortium comprised of seven national laboratories of the Office of Science of the Department of Energy, two national laboratories of the National Nuclear Security Agency of DOE, and two National Science Foundation university laboratories. The member institutions are as follows:

  • Argonne National Laboratory
  • Brookhaven National Laboratory
  • Cornell’s Laboratory for Nuclear Studies
  • Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
  • Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
  • Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • Michigan State University
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  • SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
  • Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility

The two-week USPAS is held twice a year at a different host institution each time. I have personally attended USPAS hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Old Dominion University, University of Texas at Austin, and Michigan State University. The experiences I’ve gained at the accelerator school I have applied directly to my research and the support network that I’ve establish there I will carry with me the rest of my career. For those of you who are interested in particle accelerators, beam physics, and accelerator technology should visit the USPAS website for more information. They also provide scholarships for those who demonstrate merit and exceptional progress in the field.

For those of you who are not in the field of accelerator and beam physics, do keep an eye out for similar workshops and courses offered in your field as they will be invaluable in your growth as an aspiring scholar. I’ll keep you all updated with photos on the next USPAS that I will be attending at Duke University. Have a wonderful Christmas!

 

A Physicists Perspective: School Rankings

There are just a dizzying collective of listings ranking colleges and universities nationwide: the U.S. News and World Reports, the Princeton Review, and the Huffington Post just to name a few. And when confronted as a prospective graduate student preparing to apply to these colleges and universities, which one of these, sometimes wildly varying, catalogs of rankings should be deemed valid in determining the course of one’s future. Now I cannot speak with any authority on how these ranking systems affect the determination of prospective graduate programs in other fields, especially in the social sciences and humanities, but I can only give you an honest critique from the point-of-view of an aspiring physicist.

Yay, college! Photo by U.S. News and World Reports.

I would like to just get this immediately out on the table and out of my system. It is in my most honest and humble opinion that every one these ranking systems harbor, to varying degrees, a sense of elitism and educational exclusivity that hardly congruent with the goals of promoting the betterment of society through the education of its citizens. Year after year only the most exclusive private institutions, whose population and alumnus comprise of a very narrow segment of our country’s socioeconomic makeup, are allowed to grace the top ten positions on their list. Aside from that one year where they ranked U. C. Berkeley 2nd after Harvard. That sure pissed off a lot of people. Opps, never again. Perhaps they are on to something though, maybe only selected few of the wealthiest and politically elite are bestowed from on high the ability to contribute to the vast pond that is human knowledge. Or perhaps hot smoke is being directed to orifices unknown, but I digress.

As a young scientist in the final year of my graduate studies looking back, I see the ranking systems as a humorous and utter waste of time for someone who is looking to pursue an advance degree in physics. Each ranking system impose their own arbitrary metrics to formulate a sequence of school they deem worthy of holding a position on their prestigious list. Some even include scientific funding information and academic productivity measured by scholarly articles published into their metric. Interesting as they are, they still fall short of a reliable source of academic guidance for the future. Here are a few points and recommendation I would like to share from my experiences as a researcher in the physical sciences:

– In the current stages of your graduate school application process you should have at least three individuals who are familiar with your intended field of study. Be it a mentor, a laboratory principle investigator, or the people who are writing your letter of recommendations. Take them out for coffee and tap into their pool of knowledge. They know A LOT!

– Whether one is a theorist or experimentalist, physics is still a research focused discipline and should be what you look for in a graduate institution. A simple internet search will enlighten you on the current research happening at the institution and whether or not it interest you. Unsure of your interest? Talk to the professors and researchers at your undergraduate institution. You’ll be surprised by how willing they are to share their experiences with you.

– The number of facility in the department exploring similar questions gives you a sense of the institution’s specialty. Make sure this is congruent with your own goals as these will be the people you’ll work with in the future. The larger the group, the more selective you can be on who you work with.

– Some schools have dedicated research facilities. For example, Indiana University has the Center for Exploration of Energy and Matter (formerly the IUCF) which is home to scientists working in the fields of nuclear physics, material sciences, physical chemistry, accelerator physics, and neutrino physics. These facility provide a vast amount of resources and support for young researchers. It is one of the key reasons why I came to Indiana University.

An aerial photo, circa 1980s, of the Indiana University Center for Exploration of Energy and Matter (IU CEEM) and formerly known as the Indiana University Cyclotron Facility (IUCF). Photo by IUCF Staff.

The front desk upon entering ISAT Hall. Photo by Maggie Ochoada.

– Lastly, look for big projects that are going on at the institution as well funded project are the best place for a graduate student to get hands-on experience working in the field. For example, Indiana University has a joint project with the Crane Navel Surface Warfare Center called ALPHA which is a low energy electron storage ring used in radiation effects testing. I came to Indiana knowing that this specific project will offer me great opportunities to learn and grow.

The ALPHA 50 MeV Electron Storage Ring at IU CEEM. Image by Jak Doskow.

Before I depart, I would like to share with you an inscription that is on the main auditorium walls of my alma mater, “Education is learning to use the tools which the human race has found indispensable.” May we go forth to learn and grow so that one day we may humbly contribute to the betterment of our communities, societies, and beyond.

 

Wish I had known….

At the beginning of my PhD, up until not too long ago, I struggled a little bit with what I used to call “failure”. This wasn’t “failure” like “I’m not doing my work and i’m going to quit my PhD failure”, but “failure” of the kind where you work really really hard to get a specific result, or to answer a specific question, and things don’t turn out the way you think they might. This used really bring me down, and I used to think “what am I doing wrong…”

But recently, I had a realization. This thing that I was calling “failure” is actually, plain and simple, THE “research process”. Of course every question we try to answer is not going to be answered on the first try. Otherwise, we would have all gone home a long time ago. This was especially highlighted recently, when I was at a talk and the researcher was discussing this great result that had produced several publication, and they remarked “It took us 2 years to figure out how to set this study up for it to work”. In other words, it took them a lot of “failures” in order to get to their success.

So, when you’re feeling down because that great idea you had isn’t working, or you’ve run too many studies to count, but yet you have no “good” results, it’s OK! Keep your head down and keep working away. The worst that can happen is that this idea is really a failure, but now you’re a little smarter, and you can move on to work on a new idea based on this little “failure”.

Reflection.

I recently attended a McNair conference and I was impressed with how much work the McNair Scholars put into their research endeavors. As I spent time sitting in on presentations and reviewing poster sessions, also encouraging students to consider Indiana University for graduate studies, I immediately thought to myself that these students in attendance are the future of academia. When considering the present state of affairs in relation to retention and recruitment of underrepresented student populations, both undergraduate and graduate, as well as faculty of color in higher education, programs particularly such as McMair play a significant role in diversifying the academy. The early access to career and professional development was clearly evident in the quality of work presented by students.

 

 

 

Wrapping up

Things are getting pretty busy these days. I am attending the American Educational Research Association (AERA) convention in New Orleans this weekend with one of my faculty members. We are presenting two sessions. The first paper examines how students of color perceive diversity at a predominantly White institution and the other explores how students create and maintain interpersonal relationships in college. These projects coincide with my research interests which examines student development in higher education. After I get back from the AERA conference, I plan to wrap up some projects at my assistantship, grade final papers, and work on final papers. Although these next few weeks are busy, I will find time to enjoy the weather. Bloomington is a nice place to visit in the spring and summer and I look forward to enjoying the city more once things slow down over the next few weeks.

Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention Conference – Indiana University Bloomington – April 7-8, 2011

I just wanted to share with you an abstract for an upcoming conference here at Indiana University Bloomington – Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention Conference. I will be presenting on Sexual Health and Risk Behaviors. Please refer to the link bellow to find more information about the conference and workshops:

http://www.indiana.edu/~aids/

Martinez,O, Dodge,B, Kelle, G, Schnarrs, PW, Reece, M, JD (2011). Sexual and HIV/STI Risk Behaviors of Bisexual Latino Men in the Midwestern United States. Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention Conference, HIV/STD Prevention in Rural Communities: Sharing Successful Strategies VII, Bloomington, IN.

Introduction: Existing research on bisexuality among Latino men has focused almost exclusively on HIV risk. Little recent information is available on the sexual health needs of Latino bisexual men, particularly outside urban areas on the East and West coasts of the United States. The Midwestern U.S. has a high number of recent Latino migrants, but little information is available regarding the wide range of sexual behaviors, including risky and protective, that Latino bisexual men in this region engage in.

Methods: Qualitative in-depth interviews were conducted and participants were also given the option to collect specimens for STI screening. The measures used to assess the sexual behaviors and factors sexual experiences with both male and female partners were taken from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB). The data analyzed in this paper are restricted to the 25 men who identified as Latino.

Results: Participants reported engaging in a wide range of behaviors, both in terms of lifetime and recent sexual experiences. The most commonly reported sexual behaviors were masturbation, vaginal intercourse, and receiving oral sex. The majority of the men were insertive partners during anal sex with men with fewer reporting being the receptive partner. More participants reported alcohol use during their most recent sexual activity with a male partner, compared to alcohol use with their most recent female partner. Some participants reported not using condoms in their last sexual encounter with both male and female partners. All of the participants in the study participated in the optional self-administered diagnostics for STI.

Discussion: The study provides rich insights into the individual and socio-cultural factors, as well as the sexual and risk-related decision-making processes, of bisexual Latino men that could be used for sexual health promotion efforts. Future efforts may consider a community-based approach as it was successfully implemented in this study.

Spring Break: Conference and Relaxation

Similar to Tomika, I attended the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators conference in Philadelphia during Spring Break. As a member of the preconference committee, I was responsible for selecting programs for this portion of the convention. I attended a session by Dr. Frank Harris and Dr. Shaun Harper examining issues facing college men. This session coincided with one of my research areas which examine the social construction of masculinity and male identity development. A few days later, I presented a session with colleagues from Bowling Green State University, University of Michigan, University of Georgia examining the experiences of Black doctoral students at predominantly White institutions. Approximately 80 people attended the session. At the conclusion of the conference, I spent a few days in New Jersey and New York before heading back to Indiana.

Life is history

For someone who wants to study ancient Greece, there are two academic options: ancient history or Classics. By training, I am both a Classicist and an ancient historian, with degrees from both departments, but there IS a distinction, and today I was reminded by my students why it matters to me.

I am currently a doctoral student in ancient history, and so my primary teaching appointment is in the Department of History, where I am serving this semester as a TA for a large survey course in ancient Greek history. Today’s class discussion was about the ancient Greek historian Thucydides, who wrote a contemporary history of the great war that took place in the 5th century BC between Athens and Sparta, and it resulted in undergraduates speaking intelligently about such topics as the Cold War, Iran, the legality of American foreign policy, the ongoing revolution in Egypt, and the modern debate over the death penalty. They observed with a casual easiness that the democratic Athenians chose to support an oligarchic government, a form of rule they did not endorse, in the Greek island state of Lesbos, because that government was friendly to their own Athenian empire. And they noted that when a subsequent democratic revolution in Lesbos altered the status quo and turned the Athenians against the oligarchs, their former allies, that this resembled the United States’ strained relationships with Saddam Hussein and Hosni Mubarak.

Understanding history is about making connections, and these are just the sorts of connections I want to see them contemplating. History is relevant. Everything has a context and a set of influencing factors. Human behavior has not altered as much as each new generation wants to believe. Our students are learning to think critically about the past and to use their knowledge of the present to understand it, and it is our ultimate goal as historians to help them eventually use their knowledge of the past to understand the present and to think critically about the world around them today.

I am passionate about the Classical tradition and its preservation, and I value and appreciate the work that Classics professors and TAs do in teaching students Greek and Latin language, literature, art history and civilization, but today, I am reminded that the remnants of the past do not exist simply to be pondered for their own sake. Today, I am an ancient historian.

I Just Realized I am a Doctoral Student

I just realized I am a doctoral student. Although this may sound crazy, it is a new concept to me. My entire life has been preparation for me to be successful in academia and now I am in the in final stretch to accomplishing my dream of being Dr. Tomika. It no longer is scary to me, it just seems exciting, challenging, overwhelming, and other adjectives I can’t think of right now. This ephiphany all started when I began to clean out my Outlook IU email. As I started to delete the thousands of emails I thought I would be unable to live without during my master’s program, I found an email that sparked a research idea. I set up a meeting with a faculty member who I had a class with a few semesters ago and ran the idea by him. He liked it and challenged me to develop the idea even more and to consider a future publication. As a doctoral student, I have the ability to reach out for support and receive it. That is just the kind of university that IU is. It encourages and produces exceptional and groundbreaking scholarship and research in every field. The challenge will be to carve out time in my already crazy, slightly overwhelming schedule to develop this idea more. Yet, I am so excited about the opportunity to potentially generate research related to something that I am very passionate about.