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.

 

 

 

I Got Ya!: Last Minute Grad School Application Tips

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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!

#Blkgradlife

Christina

#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

Change.

 

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I successfully defended my thesis and graduated. I am excited about this next chapter in my life and a bit nervous (a good nervous). For those who do not follow me on social media, I will share my PhD reveal photo shoot. So where I am going, take a look and see.  First, I graduated from Messiah in 2014, then UNCC in 2017, and next…

Click for more photos

I will continue to study history and will definitely be working with the Baltimore community. Baltimore activists are doing incredible things and I hope to volunteer with local non-profit organizations. These two years went by very fast and I definitely learned a lot about myself. First and foremost, I learned to prepare for change.  I fell behind in my second semester due to unforeseen circumstances. I still submitted my work in on time; however, I felt the rush toward the end. I spoke at too many conferences and events, I fell sick, and I took on a full-time job to save money. I had to re-manage my time with no extra time! Because of this, I took a break from blogging as I had no time to do so.

With my Masters behind me, I will shift the focus of my blog just a tad bit. I will continue to post about my research; however, with this being a “diary of a historian”, I want to encompass this theme much more. Therefore, I hope to provide more thoughts and insight on this PhD journey and also tools on applying and navigating your way through graduate school. There were several things I wished I known before applying and I hope these posts will assist potential graduate students, particularly students of color, in their application process. With that, I will post about 1-2 times per week and will update you all about my thesis and research since January.

Blog goals: 

  • Limit my post to 300-500 words
  • Blog once/twice a week
  • Re-vamp the Flowers Family History
  • Gain more followers and interact with other blogs more

Stay tune,

Christina