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Things I Learned During the Application Process

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I have been invited by the research fellowship program I completed last year to speak to current students. They are all from groups underrepresented in academia and planning for a PhD and/or career in academia.

The topic is "Paving Scholastic Excellence".

As my expertise right now is limited to just applying and getting accepting I'm focusing on that. I have had all kinds of thoughts over the past couple weeks as I try to decide what I'm qualified to say. The information isn't exactly a narrative so I decided to do some bullet points as a hand-out. The talk will elaborate, of course, but I thought that when controlled for audience the stuff I learned as written here might be useful. Or, not. Your call.

Five or Six Things I Like To Think I Learned at Awesome Program (AP):

1. You are worthy.

a. No matter how senior or acclaimed the scholar, always remember that you bring something valuable to the table. What’s a sensei with no pupil?

2. Contextualize all advice.

a. One of the most popular and well-reviewed books on graduate school is “Getting What You Came For” by Robert Peters. First published in 1997 it features many gems … and then there are passages like this:

“The standby method of backup [for your computer files] is to copy your data onto floppy disks as soon as you finish using your word processor or other application. (363)”

Floppy disks? That advice is only 13 years old. Many professors were last in graduate school 20, 30, 40+ years ago.

Many will offer you a lot of well-meaning advice. Learn to filter that by considering the source (ever sat on an adcomm? are in your discipline? Teaching college vs. research university?).

Contextualize all advice as much as possible…including mine.

3. Trust Yourself

a. You are the authority on you.

4. Invest in yourself…starting now.

a. Consider how you spend your summer stipend

b. Plan ahead for any financial aid refunds and/or anticipated earnings the summer BEFORE your first semester of senior year:

i. School visits and interviews

ii. Association dues

iii. Technology

5. Realize the cultural divide in which you now reside

a. Few of the people you love will understand what you are doing, and you’ll love very few of the people who do. Piece together the ultimate mentor – the cheerleader, pragmatist, the expert, the walking resource, etc. – from various people in your life. One person cannot be everything you need.

6. A special cultural note on contextualizing advice, information, sources, gossip, etc.

a. “poor”, “hard”, “tough” are all relative terms. (As in the market for PhDs is so "hard" and the job is so "hard" and you'll always be "poor" -- all relative. When you hear these things ask or determine what the speaker/writer means by the words -- do they mean "poor" to be $65k a year? -- and decide for yourself if it means the same thing to you.)

b. Having no expectation of what I deserve or any assumptions about what academic life should be is, what I consider, the great benefit of being a “minority” in the academia. For example, I'm not nearly as upset as some by the idea of the decline of "jobs for life" -- or coveted tenure track positions -- as I never entertained the idea of such a thing. Where I come from -- and where many of you are from -- the idea of a guaranteed job is totally foreign. Losing something you never expected to have? Not such a big deal.*

Websites I found useful (keeping in mind numbers 2-6):

• www.h-net.org – an online database of listservs by discipline and/or research interest

• www.orgtheory.wordpress.com – most posts are for organizational theory folks but they have a group of posts called “Grad Skool Rulz” that are universal. A post specifically for grad students of color is particularly enlightening

• GRAPES is hosted by UCLA. It is a searchable database of funding opportunities similar to the one you’ll have access this summer but it doesn’t expire once the program is over. (http://www.gdnet.ucla.edu/grpinst.htm)

• www.academic360.com – A list of academic-related websites

• www.academia.edu – Facebook for academics (also helps to “clean up” your online presence by becoming the primary hits when your name is googled.)

• www.thegradcafe.com – a moderated but democratic discussion board for grad applicants, students and recent grads. It’s not for everyone. If you like commiserating and swapping info though it’s a great online community.

Habits I developed by trial and error:

• Apparently I’m a study-in-the-library person and not a study-on-the-couch person. Who knew? I should have. You should, too.

• I filter all the emails from academic listservs and organizations (using gmail: settings --> filters -->skip the inbox-->apply the label). I set aside time to scan that folder semi-regularly, respond, etc.

• I set up “google alerts” for people and schools I want to keep up-to-date on. It emails me when Dr. Superstar at My Dream Program is mentioned on the web. I can then send a note of congratulations on a new book or sound knowledgeable next time we talk. Or, at the very least I’ll know more about what I’m getting into!

• Link to my academia.edu page and digital CV (set up using free google sites tool) in my email signature.

• When I meet people I try to add their info to my address book as soon as I’m next at the computer.

When you have money you almost never have free time and when you have plenty of free time you almost never have money. At AP you’ll have both.

Spend both well, don’t waste too much time sleeping, and enjoy it!

ETA: *it was brought to my attention that this is unclear or, rather, it does not accurately communicate my meaning. In the interest of internet fairness I won't edit the original but let me clarify.

I don't mean not to have expectations of treatment or your career trajectory. I mean having no rigid guidelines about what a career in academia should look like makes one more flexible and open to what a career in academia may be becoming or will one day be. No preconceived notions is a good thing in a time of such massive transformation and change -- less angst, more aware of opportunity, more willing to take risks and less disappointment and bitterness.

Edited by coyabean
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Wow, what a great post. Great list of resources, insights and advise. I think your presentation will be awesome!! Thanks for sharing this with us.

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Wow, what a great post. Great list of resources, insights and advise. I think your presentation will be awesome!! Thanks for sharing this with us.

^… Ditto this! I just checked out all those websites. Wish I had them before! :) Thanks for sharing.

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