Year 3: Lessons from a PhD Candidate

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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.

 

 

 

#BlkGradLife: Lessons from a PhD Student

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Graduation Photo by Vika Photography (Charlotte-based photographer)

For those who are new to my blog, welcome! I began my PhD journey this past September. These past few months have been long, but full of many lessons. This post is five pieces of advice I learned along the way to assist you in your graduate program whether you are working toward you masters or doctorate degree.

1. Stay on top of your reading. Regardless of your discipline, graduate programs are comprise of a great amount of reading. This was no surprise coming from a masters program, but in a PhD program you have to adapt to not only class readings and research reading, but also reading for fields/comps. Currently, I read two books a week for class as well as 2-3 books/articles in preparation for my field. This will double next semester as I begin my major field list and into the fall as I prepare for my two remaining fields. So if I fail to stay on top of my readings, I will fall behind in class, my field, my program, and basically life in general. So how do can you manage this large amount of reading? Speed-read/skim. Which honestly I failed to do in undergrad and my masters program. It takes a few weeks to master the art of speed reading and hopefully these tips will help.


Speed Reading 101 (created with tips from my advisors/PhD students)

  1. Focus heavily on the introduction and the conclusion (also any corresponding footnotes). What is the author’s thesis/main arguments? Research Questions? Historiography of the topic and how his/her book challenging and/or expanding the current historiography? Source material? (Write notes)
  2.  Read the introductory paragraph and concluding paragraph to each chapter. (Write notes)
  3. Choose one chapter to thoroughly read, specifically a chapter of much interest to you.
  4. Skim the remainder of the book paying close attention again to the introductory and concluding paragraph. It also helps when the author provides a conclusion in each chapter. Sometimes, you can “cheat” and read just that. 

I can do this in 3-4 hours depending on the book (some are too good or theoretical to quickly read); however, create your own speed reading process. 


2. Talk to your advisors. Luckily, I have two great advisors who are bad asses in their respective fields. Our communication began soon after I gained acceptance into the program and continued throughout the summer before I arrived to Hopkins. Although they are both relatively new to the department, I feel well equipped to succeed with both of their support and mentoring. And most importantly, they want me to succeed and it is amazing to have professors affirm that you are smart and that you belong at the university, especially when the space is white and male-dominated.

3. Continue to have a social life. I think we fall under this bad misconception where we equate graduate school to a life of exhaustion and seclusion from the outside world. I try my best, although it is inevitable, not to allow my stress or anxiety to build up in addition to my school work. In order to keep stress levels at a minimum, you have to create and STICK to a consistent schedule. My academic day begins early. My daily goal is to be on campus by 8:00am and I typically leave around 4:30pm (depends on my class schedule). If I met all my goals that day, I can relax, watch Greenleaf/Queen Sugar/How to Get Away With Murder, hang out with friends, and sneak a book in before bedtime. I also set a schedule of when to work on research papers, class, and personal research endeavors. Again, adjust this to your schedule and set your own personal daily and weekly goals. With this you can create a free day, a day to relax, read for leisure, and travel the city (or stay in your apartment all day and finally hit up that overflowing laundry basket).

4. Stay in touch with your family. The biggest mistake I made in my masters program was not staying in touch with my family. Now, I have a relatively large family, but it was still no excuse. What changed? My great-grandmother, who I promised to always call, passed away after Thanksgiving. By that time she was already sick and nonverbal. I really took the time to reflect on how much I prioritized my education over my family and realized something had to change. Communication does not always take the form of a phone call, if you live close by plan a surprise visit, write a card, send a text, or a Facebook message. No matter how you communicate, stay in touch.

5. Talk with other students. Make a study buddy, an advice buddy, a lunch buddy, and a venting buddy–in other words make friends. I converse with students within my program who provide tips on speed reading, note taking, forming a field, and navigating around the city. Also the random and much needed check-ins of how you are doing in the program is a great time to sit and say hey I am doing okay or hey I am not doing okay. They either been where you are or going through the journey with you. Smile a little and make friends.

Hope this helps. If you are a graduate student and want to add more advice, please feel free to do so in the comments section. If you are looking at graduate school as an option, feel free to leave questions.

 

Christina

Summer Reading

I moved back home for a few days before my summer travels –civil rights tour, birthday celebration week, and a trip to Harlem. By July, I will settle into my new place in Baltimore (speaking it into existence). A few months ago, I received a Barnes and Noble gift card from a former professor and last week decided to splurge on a few books. Most have been on my radar  for a while, but since I started my thesis I only read books research-related. Now, I will indulge in the following leisure/travel reads.

  1. The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas

Image result for The Hate U GiveThomas’ The Hate U Give is a young-adult novel speaks to racial relations in America. I caught eye of this novel through a review published by The AtlanticAs an activist, I am excited to read Thomas’ work and to pass it on to my little sister as she navigates her own thoughts on police violence and being Black in America.

Book description: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

2. Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson

I know it may be shocking, but no I have not read this book. I was first introduced to Stevenson’s work through Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday where he basically laid out the foundation of his entire book. His story and his mission moved me enough to consider law school until I settled on history. Still, I will continue to protest and speak against the criminal justice system in the United States. Just not yet as a lawyer.

 

3. Go Tell It On The Mountain, James Baldwin

I started this book I believe in the eighth grade and I was not at the age to fully comprehend the greatness of Baldwin. I believe I was in that phase where I thought I was smart enough to read through the top 100 literature books (maybe one of those 100 books to read before you die)…I soon moved to Oprah’s Book Club List.

4. Playing in Darkness: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, Toni Morrison

Navigating my way through all of Morrison’s fiction/non-fiction works.

The Nobel Prize-winning author now gives us a learned, stylish, and immensely persuasive work of literary criticism that promises to change the way we read American literature even as it opens a new chapter in the American dialogue on race.

Toni Morrison’s brilliant discussions of the “Africanist” presence in the fiction of Poe, Melville, Cather, and Hemingway leads to a dramatic reappraisal of the essential characteristics of our literary tradition. She shows how much the themes of freedom and individualism, manhood and innocence, depended on the existence of a black population that was manifestly unfree–and that came to serve white authors as embodiments of their own fears and desires.

Written with the artistic vision that has earned Toni Morrison a pre-eminent place in modern letters, Playing in the Dark will be avidly read by Morrison admirers as well as by students, critics, and scholars of American literature.

5. A Beautiful Struggle, Ta-Nehisi Coates

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I found this book on the shelf beside his most famous work, Between the World and Me, published nearly eight years before. I was familiar with Coates prior to the publication of his most famous book; however, I failed to realize he wrote a previous non-fiction book.

Excited to read this piece!

An exceptional father-son story from the National Book Award–winning author of Between the World and Me about the reality that tests us, the myths that sustain us, and the love that saves us.

Paul Coates was an enigmatic god to his sons: a Vietnam vet who rolled with the Black Panthers, an old-school disciplinarian and new-age believer in free love, an autodidact who launched a publishing company in his basement dedicated to telling the true history of African civilization. Most of all, he was a wily tactician whose mission was to carry his sons across the shoals of inner-city adolescence—and through the collapsing civilization of Baltimore in the Age of Crack—and into the safe arms of Howard University, where he worked so his children could attend for free.

Among his brood of seven, his main challenges were Ta-Nehisi, spacey and sensitive and almost comically miscalibrated for his environment, and Big Bill, charismatic and all-too-ready for the challenges of the streets. The Beautiful Struggle follows their divergent paths through this turbulent period, and their father’s steadfast efforts—assisted by mothers, teachers, and a body of myths, histories, and rituals conjured from the past to meet the needs of a troubled present—to keep them whole in a world that seemed bent on their destruction.

With a remarkable ability to reimagine both the lost world of his father’s generation and the terrors and wonders of his own youth, Coates offers readers a small and beautiful epic about boys trying to become men in black America and beyond.

So I am currently reading Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward, which is an emotional read, but a must read. I just finished last week Ayana Mathis’ The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, which was a good read although I skipped around a few chapters. I was joking with someone that everything I read, watch, or write has to deal with race and so perhaps in the fall I will branch out of my comfort zone, but for now:)

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Until the next post,

Christina

Thesis Woes

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(A rare glimpse of me on the blog)

As I entered my (second) first semester of graduate school, my goal was to meet with my adviser as soon as possible. I firmly believe that we are an academic “match made in heaven”. We discussed my background, interests, and most importantly my thesis. Since my senior year (undergraduate), it was my goal to finish the Flowers history as my masters thesis and to move forward in a Ph.D. program with a new thesis (which I already have #nerd). With her approval and support, she told me the words I wanted to hear, “You can do this.”I expressed some hesitation in the logistics behind this thesis; however, she assured me that this could if I framed it in the correct format.

I agree, but how?

For over two years, I have been blogging about this family’s history and this has been no easy task. This family touches on a multitude of history-military, education, sports, the rise of the middle class, migration, opera, fashion, religion, etc.. To compile their history in three chapters, each of 25-30 pages, is a daunting task. Whose story do I leave out/whose story do I include? What if it is not good? How would I feel if someone wrote this about my family? This brings me to the bigger question at hand-how do I arrange this thesis?

I am working with the following breakdown:

I. Title Page
II. Genealogical Chart
III. Abstract
III. Intro: Meeting the Flowers
IV. Chapter I
V. Chapter II
VI. Chapter III
VII. Conclusion
VIII. Appendix

Current Possible Themes:

(TOPICALLY) Family history by location—(1) Florida (2) Pennsylvania (3) Mississippi.

(CHRONOLOGICALLY) To be an American, the fight to be an American through education, fighting in war, religion, class, etc.

Time to read some more books.

Until the next post,

Christina

In Other News

Life update:

Applied to my first Ph.D. program and did not get in. I was upset for about 0.34 seconds, but got over it. In all honesty, I knew after I paid that damn application fee that I was not going to get in. Eh, it happens. I did; however, receive admissions into another M.A. program in history. I will go if the funding is right, but if not I will spend a year doing an internship program or find a job in my field of research before applying to Ph.D. programs again. This time with the assistance of a Harvard professor who helped me become an expert in the art of selling of thyself. She encouraged me to pursue only Ph.D. programs because of funding, which unfortunately I did not have time to do last semester. She also said to think of your application as more than just a statement of purpose, it is more of a why should an institution invest a quarter of a million dollars into you. I also pinned down a topic wit her help because at first it was too narrow than too broad. I greatly appreciate her taking the time to meet with me and investing in  a young scholar.

In other news, I cut off half of my hair. Literally sat on the floor and started clipping away. Damaged ends from those tiny knots. Regretted it the next day…then again it is just hair and it is suppose to grow back. At least that is what I heard. I also took on another job and will probably take on another one. I figure I balanced four jobs while being a full time student, but in all seriousness, Boston is expensive. Save, pay bills, buy food, and repeat. Unsure of why I looked forward to adulthood as a kid. Other than that, I work, watch Empire and the Voice, do research, read, draw, journal, and sleep. Oh, and attend African American history lecture, which is always enlightening.

I’m over winter. I’m over this city and its inhabitants and ready for the warmth of the sun.

Until the next post,

Christina ❤

The Woes of A Senior History Major

Woe noun \’wō\—used to express grief, regret, or distress.

I am now entering into the end of my third week of my senior year. It hit me over the summer that this is the year I must figure out what I am doing after I graduate.

What are your plans after graduation?

I now regret asking that same question to all of my friends when they were seniors. I have many ideas, but no exact answer. I mean I could do an internship, travel the world…be broke and travel the world, work as a teacher, be hired as a researcher, be a fashion designer, do a talk show, live with my momma, have my mom kick me out the house, or go to graduate school. Graduate school is the best fit, but in the midst of this busy semester I have time for nothing else but class.

I am taking six classes this semester ranging from the trial of Joan of Arc to Intro to Art. Five of the classes are in history and my mind is spinning. History. History. History. History. History. Art. History. History. History. History. History. Art. On top of that I have this leadership role in SGA which is an amazing opportunity and also an amazing time consuming role. I am tired…I am beyond tired I am exhausted. It is not impossible; however, it is going to be extremely difficult to try to balance these classes, research, leadership position, and attempt to apply for graduate school. I just hope as I apply to these schools and prepare for the GRE that all these efforts pay off at the end. Honestly, I will not be able to deal with rejection from colleges. You put all your time, MONEY not only application fees, but all the funds you put into getting an undergraduate degree, and emotion to invest in a future that may crash if a school says no. It is the reality, yet I want to have my way…yup I said it. Who doesn’t want to study at an Ivy League or other prestigious universities. I want a future as a historical researcher, but why does it has to be based on whether or not I obtain a master’s degree or even a PhD.

Don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware that I can be a researcher with a bachelor’s degree, yet it is much harder to acquire and retain a job with that qualification alone. I enjoy researching. I enjoy black history. I enjoy genealogy. I am always doing research. I LOVE doing research. I can read for days, I can research for weeks, and never become bored with it. At the end of the day, this is what I want. This project alone has led to various research opportunities including presentations, archival research, digital history, and this blog.

Speaking of my research, I am still figuring out how to go about this final project. I have the research. It is just trying to figure out how this digital project will look. My vision is a introduction video and a website. It will be a flash video giving a brief overview of the family addressing their history—accomplishments, struggles, and stories. Then after the video you enter this website that presents a family tree. This tree will include all the members of the family. When you click on an individual’s name, you are given a biography and information on whatever history pertains to that person. Does that make sense? Perhaps I can say it better. Say for instance you click on the name of Harry Florence Flowers. You are given a biography and more information regarding the 21st United States Colored Infantry, slavery in Florida, daily life in Florida in the early 1900s, and the Great Migration. Other topics I am exploring that pertain to blacks in history include:

  • Sports (Golf and Archery)
  • Black Middle Class
  • Social Clubs
  • Opera
  • Sororities
  • SNCC, including grassroots organizations
  • Life in Philadelphia
  • WWI, WWII, National Guard
  • Religion (Catholicism, AME Zion, Episcopalian, Lutheran)
  • HBCU
  • History of my college

There are others, I just need to finalize the list.

Other than that I am breathing, healthy, and surrounded by friends who tell me to go to sleep and cook meals for me when I am too busy. Thank you God for them.

This will be my life and all I have to say is woe to being a senior history major.

Until the next post.

Christina