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Kismine

Graduating undergrad taking a break from history...how to stay sharp?

4 posts in this topic

Hi y'all, been lurking for a while and finally made an account of my own to ask a question!

Anyways, I'm an undergrad history major graduating this week (and I'm first gen, so double woo!), and staying at my current institution for an unrelated master's (ESL education, accelerated). I'll be working full-time teaching ESL and social studies while I finish my MAT, and I plan on working for a few years to pay off my reasonable undergrad debt.

I want to go back for graduate school in history - but I'm not financially, mentally, or emotionally ready for a PhD yet (if ever, but I have time to decide). I have a lot of thinking to do on it, especially on a potential concentration - I ended up finishing my BA with concentrations in modern East Asia and modern Europe, and my second language is Spanish. Most of my research/interest in undergrad focused on 19th and 20th century ballet (also a dance minor), which puts me in a weird scholarly spot between history, dance, and anthropology. Basically, I need to both broaden and narrow my research views, but I also want to explore since my undergrad department was quite small. 

I should also mention that part of the reason why I want to take time off is because while I'm not a "wundergrad," I am definitely used to being successful and getting a lot of attention from faculty. I'm graduating with a 3.9 (3.95 history GPA, departmental honors and top student) in the top 5% of my class from a women's LAC with a thesis-length project and other independent research (paid summer research! and an authorship credit on an archival biography project! maybe a publishable seminar paper!) under my belt. I know that every other applicant to top programs has a profile similar to mine, but I'm a serious. self-motivated student and I know that I can be a successful doctoral student. I worked in my major's department for nearly all of undergrad and the entire department has more or less adopted me as their child. (Though they've never sheltered me and they've made sure to warn me plenty about academia politics and the reality of being a historian in the 21st century by letting me experience it firsthand.)  I'm ambitious but I'm coming from a college background where people don't generally react well to that (outside of my department), and the weird paradox of that is a university culture that seems to encourage mental breakdowns every time something doesn't go your way. (I don't think that's particularly healthy, because failure is good once in a while!) I know that grad school will not be the low-key sorority sleepover of undergrad, so I need some time out in "the real world" to deal with failures without relying as much on my professors/mentors to reassure me.

(And if this post doesn't make it clear, I'm a huge extrovert and it seems like history attracts introverts. I get lonely in the archives sometimes, so I need more practice in dealing with that!)

Anyways, I've talked to my professors at length about wanting to stay sharp despite the hectic few years ahead of me, and one of my advisors suggested making a regular goal of reading scholarly articles in fields that interest me (which I plan to do). I also thought about joining the AHA because, for some reason, I never got a student membership (they have a good deal for K-12 teachers, though). Short of that, I'm not really sure what else I can do. I loved the graduate seminar that I took for the second half of my senior capstone (end result: seminar paper), and as a teacher I'll need to earn professional development credits so I am interested in taking graduate-level coursework in history. I'm from and live in Boston so fortunately, I have options. I know MA coursework is not financially or logically feasible, but if my current employment situation holds I may have multiple opportunities to take courses at Harvard Extension for free/half-tuition.

Hopefully I've given a quick but accurate picture of myself in the brief space allotted (and considering the weirdness of anonymous forums). Thank you in advance for your advice!

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1 hour ago, Kismine said:

I should also mention that part of the reason why I want to take time off is because while I'm not a "wundergrad," I am definitely used to being successful and getting a lot of attention from faculty. I'm graduating with a 3.9 (3.95 history GPA, departmental honors and top student) in the top 5% of my class from a women's LAC with a thesis-length project and other independent research (paid summer research! and an authorship credit on an archival biography project! maybe a publishable seminar paper!) under my belt. I know that every other applicant to top programs has a profile similar to mine, but I'm a serious. self-motivated student and I know that I can be a successful doctoral student.

No, they don't. Your post is surprisingly modest and humble, almost as if you don't recognize your own accomplishments. Many, if not most, applicants do NOT have a 3.9 GPA. Most people, especially in the humanities, haven't done paid summer research and done a thesis. 

1 hour ago, Kismine said:

I'm ambitious but I'm coming from a college background where people don't generally react well to that (outside of my department), and the weird paradox of that is a university culture that seems to encourage mental breakdowns every time something doesn't go your way. (I don't think that's particularly healthy, because failure is good once in a while!) 

Ummm... I don't know of any graduate program where people who are ambitious would be poorly received. People are looking for ambition. And, no quality program is trying to encourage people to have mental breakdowns for any reason, and especially not just because one thing doesn't go their way.

I just wanted to respond to a few of the things in your post. As for staying sharp with history, continue reading historiographies and monographs that come out. Doing so will help you narrow down your interests, as well as keeping you current on the field. If your interests bridge to anthropology, start reading ethnographies in general and related to your interest (e.g., dance). But, also, remember that you're pursuing a MA in TESOL and that should be your academic priority, not reading for a history degree that you're not enrolled in.

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Congrats on graduating! Double woo! to the first gen, and to your other academic accomplishments. 

I have done my share of ESL and Social Sciences teaching during/after college. I think you could take advantage of this because part of the PhD is developing teaching skills. Other grad school skills that you can cultivate while teaching are time-management for reading, synthesizing ideas for non-specialist, and using materials (teaching materials or historical sources) in creative ways. 

Now, how to stay sharp? I don't think any of us is 'sharp' but I kind of get what you mean ;) I'm on several listservs from the US and from the countries I focus on in order to keep up with what's going on. I may not participate in the conference that they send, but if you see there are three local conferences on women and labor, you pick up that there is a common question circulating among scholars. I also follow people on Twitter and read some blogs regularly. Finally, I set up a Google Scholar alert for key words that interest me. Joining the AHA is a good idea if you are going to use its benefits. When I worked as a teacher outside of the US, I preferred being a member of the British counterpart, the Historical Association. It was more oriented to teaching, and I developed great materials with their publications. A subscription to the Chronicle of Higher Ed could also do the trick.

Since you are still dubious about your field -which is great- start big and general. Read/keep up with larger issues, don't worry about geography. For example, if you are interested in women and labor, focus on that without trying to pinpoint the theme to a map. That will come along. 

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On 2017-05-19 at 6:50 AM, AP said:

I'm on several listservs from the US and from the countries I focus on in order to keep up with what's going on. I may not participate in the conference that they send, but if you see there are three local conferences on women and labor, you pick up that there is a common question circulating among scholars. I also follow people on Twitter and read some blogs regularly. Finally, I set up a Google Scholar alert for key words that interest me. Joining the AHA is a good idea if you are going to use its benefits. When I worked as a teacher outside of the US, I preferred being a member of the British counterpart, the Historical Association. It was more oriented to teaching, and I developed great materials with their publications. A subscription to the Chronicle of Higher Ed could also do the trick.

I will add h-net to this to create the perfect combo of self-updating info-feeds. Even a quick glance while on the train, in line at the bank, etc, can spark a future interest or opportunity! Good post @AP

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