Notes on Surviving and/or Flourishing in Graduate School

Mark Ortiz (far left) graduated from the University of Alabama in May 2015 with degrees in Religious and Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Geography at UNC-Chapel Hill, where he studies the connections between global climate politics and ethics.

Survival…, what a dreary thought. As a climate change researcher, the concept of survival calls to mind dystopian images of underground bunkers, moribund ecosystems, and tough political trade-offs. Graduate school, while taxing, is (or should be) considerably less miserable and trying than these apocalyptic scenarios.

That said, graduate school is difficult. I’ve found it helpful during my short tenure to mine the wisdom of people who have been through it before – professors and colleagues further along in my program especially. Here, I offer a couple of the lessons I’ve learned during my first three semesters of graduate school which will hopefully have resonance beyond the walls of the academy: Continue reading

4 Tips For Applying to Graduate School from Dr. Simmons

Snippet GradOn Monday, April 13th, the Religious Studies Student Association hosted an event where undergraduates gleaned insights about the ins and outs of applying to graduate school from the department’s very own Dr. Micheal Altman, Dr. Matthew Bagger, and Dr. Vaia Touna! In case you missed the event, Dr. Merinda Simmons has listed some advice of her own below! Continue reading

Get Ready to Run

driftwood

While working on a Masters degree, I recall an early-career professor in whose office a friend and I would regularly meet for one of our classes. As I recall, he was still working on finishing his own Ph.D. at the time and on his wall he had nicely mounted a large piece of interesting-looking driftwood, all gnarly and weathered, which had been signed by a bunch of people. One day we asked what it was. He replied with a story that, as I recall it now, went something like this: Continue reading

Turtles All the Way Down

It’s the day after our inaugural lecture in 2012-13’s series on the place of the Humanities and Social Sciences in the contemporary university and I’m troubled by the student feedback that I’ve heard so far. It’s come from some of our undergraduate majors, who attended, as well as from an assortment of students enrolled in my 100-level introductory course who also attended. (“Write me a one page description and you can earn some extra credit in the course”–the professor’s old trick to get students new to the university to think a few new thoughts, and, as we used to say, expand their horizons.) Whether or not it was the intended message of the speaker–Prof. Gregg Lambert from Syracuse University–the students seems to have heard a message of lamentation for the future of the Humanities–not a description of how we got here or a renewed defense of our relevance but, instead, a (to their ears at least) dire message from a senior professor concerning the fact that they may be deluded to think that grad school might be for them (since they’ll possibly be mired in student debt that will take them decades to repay–making grad school sound like a bit of a scam); because they’re all just human capital, spewed into the global market from a never-ending pipeline, why continue in their studies? As one first year student who attended the lecture said to me today, sounded both intimidated and incredulous: “Declaring a major may be the most important decision of my life?!” Continue reading