Year 3: Lessons from a PhD Candidate


Me, 2020

I decided to take a hiatus from the blog during my second year of the PhD program. The summer before, I experienced loss after loss in my family and fell behind in school. Grief is difficult to work through. Some days you feel okay, some days not okay, but I wanted to continue with my blog. I missed y’all and thank you for the warm welcome back. 


I am officially a PhD Candidate. Last May, I passed my comprehensive exams, both oral and written. Now I am focusing on my dissertation project on Geraldine Louise Wilson and a few digital projects. During my first year as a graduate student, I wrote a blog post entitled—#BlkGradLife: Lessons From a PhD Student, Now, two years later, I provide further insight into life as a PhD Candidate.

Initially, I gave five pieces of advice—(1) Stay on top of your reading, (2) Talk to your advisors, (3) Continue to have a social life, (4) Stay in touch with your family, and (5) Talk with other students. Would I still stick to this advice now, yes, but with a few more additions.

Create a work schedule. At the moment I am juggling digital projects, writing a journal article, dissertation prospectus, and fellowship applications, and classes. Outside of school, I am pursuing other community projects. What am I saying—I have a lot on my plate. In order to balance everything, I had to create a work schedule and a writing schedule to stay on task. Ideally, I want to work/write for at least four hours a day. I do not find an 8-hour work day productive. At the moment, I work on research and outside writing items from Mondays to Wednesday. I spend Thursdays and Fridays simply writing. As for the weekends and evenings. . .well that goes into the next piece of advice.

Take the weekends off (if you can)/and weekday evenings. When I go home, I cannot do work. It comes to the point where it is quite impossible for me to complete work at home. My house is my space, my sanctuary, the place where I can lounge, not a place where I want to be stressed out doing work. It creates a nice balance and a time to turn off from school. My writing goal—a chapter per semester (summer included).

Check-In with your Advisor. Let your advisor know what is going on this semester. What are your goals? Writing schedule? What are you applying to? Also I had to replace an advisor, which was difficult to do…I also still have to have that conversation.

Do community work. Do more work, I know right? But being at a large research institution that has abused the poor and Brown/Black members of its community, I cannot simply attend and not care about the community I’ve now lived in for three years. So yes volunteer with a non-profit (that does good work), invest in the youth, support local activists, and support local organizations.

Find your crew! When I came into graduate school, I was the only woman and non-white person in my cohort. They were cool people, but not my people. So I begin to build my community outside of my cohort, program, and university. Folks who could encourage me, laugh with me, and just keep me motivated throughout the program. This year, I definitely have a strong crew of Black women who make the program 10x greater. We root for one another and push for one another. It is truly a beautiful thing.




I Got Ya!: Last Minute Grad School Application Tips


Last December, I remember scrambling around to read those final books class, write those last papers, work those last few weeks, and finish those last minute applications to doctorate programs. You are in that place of trying to finish one dream while working to start another and it is stressful. This is a late post, but I wanted to share some tips for people who are applying to graduate school in the next few weeks.

Graduate school application requirements:

  • Application form.
  • Application fee.
  • Statement of Purpose
  • Resume/CV
  • 3 Letters of Recommendation
  • Transcripts
  • GRE Scores
  1. Application Form-Take the time to review every line on your application form. Did you write the correct e-mail? Did you select the correct program? Phone number? Name?! If you are applying to dual programs, make sure you follow the directions provided by each program. Resist the urge to skip through the last review pages before pressing submit.
  2. Application fee-My first act as future president is to waive application fees. We are students and let’s be honest some of us can neither afford nor ask our folks for $85-$100 to pay for an application fee. Plan ahead and save ahead (if you can). Ask the program if they can waive the fee if you are in a dire financial situation. Some schools said no and I was unable to apply, but I made the effort to ease the cost of applying to graduate school. I decided to keep my list short, 3 schools, but then fear sunk in and I added two additional universities. If I could start this process over, I would have kept it at three. Three should be your magic number, but if you have the $$$$/fee waiver you can do whatever you like.
  3. Statement of Purpose-This two page, double-spaced paper is the hardest piece of writing. Write, proofread, ask a friend to review it, and then a professor. Repeat the process until you feel comfortable attaching this paper to a $75+ application. Although you can write a generic statement of purpose (swapping out school names/professors you hope to work with) make sure you read the fine print of what each program is looking for. You always have that one school who wants to be different.For the most part, each school asked:
    -your purpose/objective in pursuing a graduate degree in ___________
    -your interests in ____________
    -research projects in the field
    -why __________ college/university
    -who would you like to work with

    For tips on writing this paper, follow these directions given by writer/poet/superwoman Eve Ewing.  Her directions helped me get into graduate school.

  4. Resume/CV-My rule of thumb if are applying from a master’s program to a doctorate program is to use a CV. If you are applying from a bachelor’s program to master’s or doctorate, use a resume. Have the chair of your department, professor, or the career center glance this over before submitting. They are available these last few days of the semester.
  5. Three Letters of Recommendation-If you did not ask for a recommendation in at least a month’s advance, I do not know what to say. Ask nicely? Beg? That is all you can do. If you are pressed, ask a professor who truly loves you and has previously written a recommendation for you to another graduate program. Also note, LOR have to be submitted by the due date as well unless otherwise noted.
  6.  Transcripts-Most universities allow applicants to upload an unofficial transcript and will request an official one if you are accepted. So there is no need to rush unless they requested an official one. Most colleges/universities have an option for rushed transcript orders.
  7. GRE scores-Make sure you send them to as many schools as possible when you take the test. If not, you are looking at $27 per school. Most schools will ask you to manually input your GRE scores, but will need official test scores from ETS at some point.

For those who have later application dates-I can provide greater details on how I applied to graduate school if needed. Something I cannot stress enough is a spreadsheet with the following columns: the school’s location, application cost, deadline, faculty members you want to work with, financial aid package (if PhD go to a program that is fully funded for at least five years), number of LOR, GRE score requirements (I only applied to schools that held no GRE score minimum), details concerning statement of purpose, and rank the school from 1 to the number of programs you are applying to. This will help you stay organized and you can mark them off/highlight them as you complete each application. Create folders for each program on your desktop under the umbrella folder, ‘PhD programs’.

Hope this helps and if you need someone to read over a statement of purpose. Let me know, I got ya!