Kismine

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

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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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Congratulations on graduating! I took a year off before enrolling in a grad program too, and I made sure to keep in touch with my thesis advisor and other key figures at my undergrad institution. My advisor was willing to provide me with a reading list of sorts to cover the big works and trends in my area. He also discussed them with me when I started the reading so I could figure out what I should be looking for. See if some of your professors are willing to do the same.

Also, check out History&Policy, the AHA, and places like the American Antiquarian Society on Twitter. They usually tweet, or retweet cool articles about current scholarship in a bunch of fields. It's an easy way to access diverse scholarship. 

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On 5/17/2017 at 5:31 PM, Kismine said:

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!

One thing to keep in mind, don't forget languages.  With Spanish, you can certainly jump into the Spanish-speaking world from Spain to the Americas and explore Spanish-speaking diaspora in non-Spanish speaking world.  There's a fair amount of interest in transnational history, whether through migration, diasporas, cultural exchanges or international politics so there's an avenue for your Spanish language skills.

Yet, if you're interested areas of history that don't involve Spanish, you may want to consider studying a new language (although you can use Spanish to fulfill the "European language" requirement of most geographical fields)  It does take a lot of self-motivation to do this.

It is true that our discipline tend to draw introverts but there are plenty of extroverts.  They find ways to make their experiences work for them, even when spending long days alone in the archives outside of their home university towns.  They find social activities including local meet-ups to keep their sanity when not in the archives.  Sometimes you can get into daily conversations with the staff if it's a small archive.  I found that it was during the PhD candidacy exams to be the most loneliest (so far) because it's just you and the books and many exam book lists are tailored to the student's interests and particular make-up of the committee.  This will happen in the 3rd year of the PhD program, before dissertation.

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I always hated hearing this sort of thing when I was in college, but it turns out to be true- the great news is that your interests will continue to evolve according to your life circumstances and experiences, and (God willing), life is long enough that you have time to sort it all out. I'm sure your ESL experience will be a rich and informative one, and may steer you in a way that you can't anticipate right now. It may sound trite, but just take it as it comes, enjoy this moment in time, and read widely- it sounds like you have the skills and intrinsic motivation you need to succeed in the endeavors you mentioned.  Being out of school for a couple years will probably give you an excellent sense of where you want to go next in life.

I hope this doesn't come off as an encouragement to "just wait for a sign from the universe!" or anything like that. That's not at all my intention. My goal is rather to say that your interests may very well evolve, and it's ok if that takes a few years- my undergrad was in History with a concentration in early America, because I loved those classes and thought I wanted to be an Americanist. I graduated, intended to spend 1-2 years teaching through an AmeriCorps program, and then head to grad school. I got a couple opportunities that I hadn't anticipated through that program, and that quick 1-2 year sojourn turned into a 4 year stop, but I'm so thankful it did. By the time I did get around to applying to grad school, I had a completely different area of focus, and can see how it's a much better fit in the long run.

All of that to say: focus on enjoying your current opportunities, use your free time well, continue reading, thinking, and wrestling with ideas, and you'll be fine. Cheers.

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It's already been emphasized, but I thought I'd throw my hat into the "keep reading" pool. 

Read, read, read, and then read some more. :) 

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I'm in a similar situation as you. I graduated December 2016 and will be going to grad school fall of 2018. One thing I've found wildly helpful is to keep a running list of articles, books, passages, etc. that are applicable to my desired research field. I just keep a spreadsheet on Google Sheets with the title, link, a short explanation and the date. For passages out of books that I want to be able to refer back to later, I have a running note on Evernote with all necessary biographical information.

I've also found a couple projects to work on to keep my writing sharp. I blog about every other week and while it doesn't have high readership (my mom likes it though ;)) it gives me space to craft an argument and present evidence like a mini research paper. And I can write about anything I want! Just remember that graduate schools are likely to do a social media check so keep your footprint PC. I've also found a project that is working to get biographical sketches of over 2500 suffragists across the country. They'll give you a couple names and a few months to come up with 500 words on the woman. They give you a by-line as well so you can claim the credit for the writing and research you do.

As everyone has said before, read, read, read. Find new areas that you aren't familiar with and put yourself through your own introductory course. I have been focusing on the War on Drugs and mass incarceration for my graduate school topic, but I've found that Australian history can be illuminating on this issue, though I know nothing about Australian history. So, I've taken it upon myself to learn the basics. On this same note, I usually carry a journal with me everywhere I go so that if something comes up and I think, "Huh, I'd like to know more about that," I can write it down and look it up later.

I think it all comes down to staying active in your learning and finding new ways to be excited by the process. Hope this is helpful.

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Congrats on your achievements (from a fellow first-gen student!) I took a year off to work for my undergrad institution after graduating, also to work in education, and will be starting my PhD this fall. One of the best bits about staying connected to an academic institution when you're not studying is access to the resources on offer that you'd struggle to find elsewhere. I had French and some German coming into this year, but as I hoped my future research would have a significant Jewish history dimension I found a few casual classes in Hebrew and Yiddish running elsewhere in the university. I just went along when I had chance so I could get a head-start on picking these languages up. Turned out to be a great decision - in my applications I could highlight my continued commitment to my research even when I wasn't studying, and it was a nice change from my day-to-day work! 

I'd also recommend keeping your writing sample fresh. I had a few months where I didn't look at my undergrad thesis, but after I'd had a bit of time to get some distance from it I found it really helpful to go back to it, revise it, and then expand it in a few new directions that I didn't have time to flesh out properly first time around. 

Best of luck with everything! 

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FWIW, I agree with those who recommend that you read. I would like to make the implicit explicit: when you read, read like a graduate student in history--with purpose, intensity, and pace. I recommend that you join the AHA, use your membership to get a discounted JPASS, and invest time in relevant journals.

I respectfully disagree with @AP's guidance. Because of the diversity of your interests, I recommend that you focus your initial effort on figuring out as soon as possible what it's going to take for you to focus on East Asia and/or Europe and/or performance art/dance and/or anthropology. If this initial effort starts pointing you towards broader topics, then start branching out. (If you were torn between two different parts of East Asia or of Europe, I'd be inclined to agree with @AP.)

On 5/17/2017 at 8:31 AM, Kismine said:

 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.

 

On 5/17/2017 at 10:10 AM, rising_star said:

No, they don't.

With respect, @rising_star, while congratulations are in order, the celebration Kismine's achievements should not come at the expense of managing expectations.

Kismine will be competing for admissions offers with undergraduates who are as accomplished (if not more) and have a clearer understanding of their research interests.

She will also be competing against applicants with master's degrees who have had even more time to define themselves as historians.

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11 hours ago, Sigaba said:

With respect, @rising_star, while congratulations are in order, the celebration Kismine's achievements should not come at the expense of managing expectations.

Kismine will be competing for admissions offers with undergraduates who are as accomplished (if not more) and have a clearer understanding of their research interests.

She will also be competing against applicants with master's degrees who have had even more time to define themselves as historians.

@Sigaba, I don't disagree with this. But, let's be clear. It's not as if the entire application pool is going to be made of people with 3.9+ GPAs who have done significant independent research (including for pay) AND done a thesis AND had time away from school to hone their interests. Or, if it is, I should never, ever advise any student I teach (or have taught) to pursue graduate study.

My point was a broader one: women tend to diminish their own accomplishments. See here for an example of what I mean:

"Lean In names another, “performance attribution bias,” which is about how women are less prone to claim (and so get) credit for successes. The article points out the downward spiral that can come from this tendency: “Because women receive less credit — and give themselves less credit — their confidence often erodes and they are less likely to put themselves forward for promotions and stretch assignments.”

My point was that @Kismine would do well to start thinking about and recognizing that she has done things that not everyone has done. She's first gen and graduated near the top of her class, which is something to be proud of and certainly not something everyone applying to a PhD program has also done (see the numerous threads here about first gen students feeling out of place in grad school, for example). So be realistic but also take the time to recognize where and why one is unique in certain ways.

Edited by rising_star
posted too soon!

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