Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cultural Orphan-ness and the Campus Multicultural Event

I wrote this a few weeks ago before the end of October but kept myself from sending it out, but I think it's time:

The upcoming campus Dia de los Muertos event brought these thoughts to mind. As a member of the campus Latino students group, the upcoming event is one of the highlights of the year, and yet I don't feel connected to it.   This is because in the Mexican American community, I have experienced culture, but as a cultural orphan.

As a multiethnic 3rd gen American, I grew up in a predominantly American culture, but don't "look" the part of the American to the world. I speak the fluent Chinese of a three-year old, the well-traveled Japanese at a fifth-grade level, and the college Spanish of a cultural orphan. Not only that, but I just look Asian, and don't receive recognition from Latinos from my appearance.

On the internet I have seen a couple of descriptions of the term cultural orphan, and generally it is used for actual orphans in a multicultural and postcolonial context (1). But I also saw a blogger's post on culturally being from everywhere, yet nowhere (2).

I refer to cultural orphan as I  grew up speaking English. My Mexican family also was highly religious when I was a child and practiced a faith that did not celebrate holidays. I felt so blessed when, in high school, I was able to write my first letters to my grandmother in Spanish and to be able to read letters from her. I didn't learn about Dia de los Muertos until high school Spanish 2.

I attended a recent event on racial microaggressions. In the general theory, microagressions are from perpetrator to recipient. But, arguably related or not related, there is definitely continuation and variation of this theme. There are the looks of the outsider that I get when I go to the Mexican supermarket, the sudden language switch from Spanish to others but instantly to English just by looking at me. (BTW - Have you ever met the grumpy Latina cafeteria worker who is friendly to Latinos only?) I'm not seen as Latina to those who don't know me as they let me know that they don't recognize me.  Unless I say something and claim my heritage, Latino elders do not see me as a cultural daughter.

I have a Chinese mother and a Mexican father. My Latino heritage is something I feel as a part of life, looking through my ancestors' lives. I don't know how to dance to cumbias, or salsa, or anything really except hip hop.  I don't know the everyday family normal Spanish I wish I did.  I had mole just a few years ago but grew up on my grandma's chicken and potato tacos - of course, the best in the world!

Being Asian has been easier. The Chinese American world has welcomed me. I grew up going to elementary school in LA Chinatown. Even decades later, before the big migration into San Gabriel, old classmates and I greeted each other in the streets of Chinatown. Despite my 3 year old level Chinese, this is not important as we experienced Chinese American childhoods in that small pocket north of Downtown LA, now increasingly inhabited by artsy white hipsters who have moved in and claimed the historic Chinatown architecture. Anyways,childhood friends had never made me feel less Chinese or less Asian for being mixed.

 I enjoy being Asian and feel joy in participating at Asian American community events. I also love being my (although elusive) Mexican self. I love being mixed and wouldn't want it any other way.

Later, I quickly walked through the Dia de los Muertos event that day - I can say that I supported it. But I had absolutely no inclination to paint skulls on my or anyone else's face.  I feel no urge to play with skulls and themes of death. From a religious perspective, I'm still uncertain of what I think of altars. Would one have to want to do these things to be officially Mexican? I don't believe in this or most other prescribed ideas of requirement to be Mexican or Mexican American or Chicana, or Latina, etc.  I still support and enjoy participating in my graduate student Latino events but will refuse to convince myself that I have anything to prove. Simply by default of phenotype, I'm a Mexican orphan to the outside world, but I know who I am nonetheless.

1. Cultural Orphans in America:

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Study Tactics for Midterm Season

It is already midterm week, and half of the semester has already flown by. Not too long ago, I was a first year PhD student beginning my first classes, but it's so true that time goes by when we are having fun!  I really love being in school and being a student again after completing my masters degree over two years ago and spending a few years in what can be full-time drudgery. It is great to be back in academia.

But still, exams are a necessary annoyance.  No different from the undergrad experience, there are so many unknowns about how to study, how the test questions will be asked, how the questions and answers will be structured, whether to answer in enough or too much detail, how tough the professor will grade your answers, the subjectivity of the questions being asked the professor's expectations of the answers, and so on....

I am hoping and planning to do well on midterms and will share with you my study tactics. Some of these tactics depend on the type of test it is going to be.

In terms of grad schools, there are some great schools out there but are huge in student numbers. If you are attending a school where the classes have a high student to teacher ratio, seriously prioritize the focus on study groups.  Don't study on your own and have no backup if the lessons get tough.

Although I attend a smaller school, there are some general requirement classes with huge numbers of students. Unfortunately, this is the class where I have the in-class, multiple choice exam with an essay component.  These tests remind me of those horrible lower division "weeder" science classes I had to take in my undergrad years. In another class, I have the take-home exam. These are awesome and reduce the stress level of the work involved.  The third type of midterm I will receive this semester is the midterm written essay, to me the least stressful of these because I enjoy writing and researching.

Here are my study tips for midterm season:

Be sure to have a study (support) group.  This includes studying with a regular group of classmates, and networking with students who have been through this experience in the past. Ask people who have taken the class about the midterms, how they got through it and what they can tell you about it. Advice can be so golden.

Make sure the professor provides you with some sort of study guidance. Ask about the amount of time the test will take, some sample questions, how much time to focus on which topics, and how many questions/types of questions are on the test. Make time to go to office hours, ask for as much detail as you can get about the test.

Prepare and share study guides. Learning from classmates about what they think is important from the class provides you with a greater advantage of a broader perspective on the subject. How many times have I thought that something was not important while another student noticed it, and there it was, turning up on the exam.

Thoroughly review class lectures, worksheets, and tutorials. These are generally the best clue you are going to get about the structure, content, and style of questions that will be asked.

If you are assigned the midterm essay exam, get that peer-review! The reason to love the written essay exam is that you are pretty much able to seek advice, get editing guidance, and hear feedback on your work by the professor, a classmate, or a campus writing tutor. How helpful is that!

* If possible, find out what you can about the class before you enroll in it. We all have our preferences for which types of exams we prefer, and perhaps you can ask about these before you enroll in classes. If you have a broad range of course options and want to be successful in your studies, think about asking the professors and previous students of the class about this and decide if this is the kind of class where you will do well. When it comes to your GPA this is not the time to fail and try again. That transcript is going to be part of your academic career if you choose to become a professor or apply for postdocs, scholarships, or fellowships.

I wish you the best of success this midterm season!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Consider Your Goals!

Consider Your Goals!  (Lessons My Faculty Mentor Taught Me, Part 1)

I have a wonderful faculty mentor who was assigned to me when I was admitted into the PhD program. I think the school did an amazing job matching me to my mentor as we have many similar interests in the field, and he has shared information on excellent resources. I really appreciate his many years of knowledge and expertise and I appreciate the advice he has provided. At our first meeting, the lesson he provided was: Consider Your Goals.

Who do you want to be at the end of your program? Before beginning your degree program, take some time to write a list of who you want to be when your graduate program is complete. Completing an academic degree is exciting - it tends to expand your perspective and thought process, and can be life changing. Be sure to consider how you want to grow, and how to achieve your goals. Consider the following questions: 

1. What are the skills you wish to learn during your time as a student? 
Think about the possibilities of what you would like to learn - is it a new computer language, new methods of data analysis, or a new writing format? Are you planning to become a skilled public speaker or an expert at presenting at conferences? Do you wish to gain teaching experience as a student? Take this time to plan ahead. 

2. Who would you like to meet and learn from? Consider the subject you are interested in exploring within your field, and take the time to seek out faculty at your school or elsewhere. Get in contact by sending them an email about your research interests and asking to meet with them. These professors can become your future collaborators in research projects, and will likely provide you with significant new knowledge on research in the field.

3. What types of activities do you plan to participate in as a student? Are you interested in presenting at conferences, publishing articles, creating posters for conferences? Are you looking for a summer research institute?  Do you want to intern in the summer? Will you begin a campus club or research committee? Begin the process of seeking out these opportunities and planning for your submissions and applications. Be proactive in asking your mentor, faculty, colleagues or writing centers for assistance.

4. What will your career focus be when this degree is complete? I think this is such a fun question. Many students are afraid of this question or are just not sure. It takes time and a lot of exploration to determine your career interests and goals. Investigate current publications and research on fields which interest you, and search for related job openings. Could you see yourself working on this research topic or in the position for the next several years? Do you see demand or possibilities for growth in the field?  Consider researching the job market for the types of required research or skills, as if you were already on the search. Determine what you will need to achieve in order to qualify for these positions in the future. Matching your interests not only with existing disciplines, but also with market trends will be of huge benefit when your academic program is over and you begin competing in the academic and job marketplace. If you have a career center, it could be a good idea to make an appointment to learn about the current trends and existing positions that you can train yourself toward.

5. Finally, the question again: Who do you want to be at the end of your program? Imagine what your resume would look like 2-7 years from now as you complete your graduate degree. Search the online resumes and CVs of professors and professionals you admire for ideas and inspiration. Isn't this fun?

Planning ahead provides you with the opportunity to make sure you have accomplished all you had hoped for as a student, with less risk of looking back and wishing you had done or learned something during your time at the university. Looking at the job market to shape your plans will also be of benefit. Of course, over the years the plan may change as you develop your interests and learn about new resources. That will be the time to plan again! Best wishes in your adventures toward academic and career growth and transformation. Enjoy this time!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

How to Set Up and Maximize Study Groups

As a first year student with a clean slate and a full list of required classes, the options for enrollment were pretty open. A few weeks before the semester, I selected and added the classes I planned to take.  I was attempting to set up a well- balanced schedule and to fit in all of my classes into a convenient schedule of classes one and a half days a week. There were also a couple of classes I was putting aside and hoping to delay until the last necessary minute, because of my own fears of how difficult they would be. 

However, after attending fall orientation and meeting some new friends there, we talked about the classes we were enrolled in, and I decided to change my schedule. Now having met students in a similar situation, I decided to join them in one of the classes I was dreading, with the agreement that we would struggle through the course together!

Several weeks now into the course, we have met several times and worked through the difficult assignments together, and have been available to meet at certain fixed times in the week with anyone who is able to meet that day. We are all learning together, and it is wonderful to know that when there are new concepts being taught in class that day, that we are not alone in this challenge. The intimidation I felt about the class has disappeared and what matters most is spending dedicated time to learning, and having a network to contact for help and support.

I have found that study groups are amazing. They're a great way to make friends with your classmates and to learn collectively and effectively. Also, being part of a study group makes the class more fun. Here are some suggestions on how to set up a study group and how to maximize your learning capabilities from this resource.

1. Plan to enroll in classes with other students you have already met and consider those who could be good study partners.  If you have met at a school event or are introduced through friends or faculty this is a great start. Suggest working together as a group with classmates who might be taking the same classes you need to complete.

2. Arrange a time to meet regularly on a weekly basis. Setting up this regular schedule will also help you with your time management skills as you set aside important study time each week. Use this time to ask any questions about the lesson, review what was discussed in class, and to go through homework as a group.

3. Find out where study rooms are located and reserve them when you can. Having a quiet study room space will help to keep the group focused on the assignment and to keep all students on the same "page" of the discussion. Check with your library or school faculty about group study room options.

4. Attend professor office hours together as a group when possible. This can help if your classmates may remember to ask questions you may have forgotten to ask, and also can help increase learning as different students remember different important points made about assignments.

5. Keep in touch with your study group network throughout the semester/term and plan to continue studying together in future classes. Once you have determined a great group of classmates to work with, keep this in mind when you enroll in any future classes that they may also need to take.

Being part of a study group, I feel like my learning has been more concentrated and more effective, and that I am more efficient with my time each week. Finally, spending additional time alone to study, to absorb the information, and  to successfully accomplish the assignments individually is what will ultimately be an indicator of how much was eventually learned at exam time! Best of success to you as you study with your group!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Diversity Fellowship Opportunities - Apply Soon!

It's fellowship season! Well, it is actually fellowship season year-round, but here is some information on three significant government fellowships, and also information on how to locate additional fellowships.

Fellowships are similar to scholarships in the way that they offer funding to conduct research. Fellowships tend to require a more structured approach to the application, with more detailed research goals and sometimes include specific work experience under the program or funded travel to a conference or short-term training program.

It is true that the application process can be lengthy and the pool of applicants can be competitive, and this can be daunting. Nonetheless, even it you don't receive the fellowship,  it doesn't  work against you to apply and it will only help you in terms of improving your writing skills while clarifying your research plan for future applications. If you don't apply, you can't get the funding, so why not try.

The three fellowships I will discuss here are the NSF GRFP, the NIH Predoctoral Diversity Fellowship, and the Ford Fellowships. Although these are all federally funded, it is fine to apply to more than one, as long as your funding does not overlap. For example with the NSF GRFP, you have two years within the five year period to receive funding elsewhere before beginning the fellowship.

It generally takes 6 months to hear back from these institutes on their final decisions. If you are awarded the funding, congratulations! Even if you don't receive the award, you may still receive an honorable mention. Nonetheless, if you don't receive the fellowship the first time, you are actually encouraged to try again as long as you still meet the criteria. 

1. NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program
If you are a first year graduate student or a graduating undergraduate this year, it is important for you to take a look at this fellowship. Applications are due in early November so it is important to review this NOW.

I attended a seminar on this one just a couple of weeks ago. Graduate students who receive this may receive the funds for 3 years over a 5 year period. This gives you some time to get into a graduate program if you are still applying, which is nice and helps remove some of the stress of the grad school experience! Funding consists of $32,000/year and tuition waived for those three years.  From what I was told in the seminar, NSF is looking particularly for more applicants in the social sciences, and for those with a transdisciplinary focus.  Although this is the National Science Foundation, they are also interested in funding fields of social, behavioral, and economic science.

Here is the link to the program solicitation:

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program
You can follow them on twitter @nsfgrfp

2. NIH (F31) Ruth Kirschstein Predoctoral Diversity Fellowships
Apparently the NIH receives significantly more funding from the federal government than the NSF, so it is worth a try to attempt an application to an NIH fellowship. And, as students of color, this is a great reason to apply for the F31 Predoctoral Diversity Fellowship. 

The application process is definitely somewhat trickier than the above NSF fellowship and requires you to have a strong mentoring team of professors and researchers on campus, but can be well worth it. You will need to have a strong network on campus with your department and this research can also be the beginning of your dissertation research. 

You would select the specific institute within the NIH that your research falls under, and it is important to make sure that your project meets the mission of that institute (for example, the National Cancer Institute, or the National Institute of Drug Abuse). Then, you can contact the program representative within the institute with any questions.

The great part about this fellowship is that there are three deadlines throughout the year in April, August, and December. Funding can cover up to 5 years of research.

I am still trying to work through the logistics and details of this fellowship, but if you can find someone who has received this or mentored a student in this program it will likely make all the difference.

Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards for Individual Predoctoral Fellowships to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research (Parent F31 - Diversity)

3. Ford Foundation Fellowships
Among the three fellowships here, this one is probably the most well-known. There are three separate fellowships here for predoctoral, dissertation stage, and postdoctoral students from underrepresented groups. For predoctoral students, the Ford Fellowship awards students with $20,000/year for three years within a five-year period. I believe the process is relatively similar to the NSF GRFP process. 

Dissertation fellows receive $21,000 and Postdocs receive $40,000/year

The deadline is annual and is coming up very soon in November 2013.

Ford Foundation Fellowship Programs

Finding Other Fellowships
Ask around at your department and at the career center for leads.  There should be a funding office at your school, and hopefully they will have purchased access to an online database of fellowships and scholarships such as If there is access to this, make an appointment to review fellowships for your particular field. 

If you are applying to the NSF and the Ford, now is the time to apply. I wish you the best of success in your application process!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Insecurity and the Classroom - Don't Doubt Yourself

Have you ever felt that everyone else must just be so much smarter because they made such intelligent sounding comments in the class?

I walked into a class last week and it seemed to me that several students in the class were very comfortably contributing to the class conversation. They sounded so intelligent. Wow, I had not thought of that concept, I thought in reaction to their statements. I was on the verge of doubting my knowledge and intelligence. But, I snapped myself out of it and decided to step away from the psychological game. I decided to appreciate the other students' statements and comments, but to focus instead on what my thoughts and responses were to the discussion.

It's unproductive and unnecessary to compare knowledge with students who speak well in class. I have experienced this situation many times and found that no matter how much I attempted to doubt myself, my grades ultimately were as good as I wanted them to be.

In another writer's blog post online entitled "An Open Letter to My Fellow Insecure College Students", I found a great description of one student's experience in feeling insecure in the classroom. Here's an excerpt from the post:

I looked around the room, and saw the concentrated ease-filled faces of my peers as they nodded at the professor with empathy in their contemplation. “Has anyone ever been to Poland?’ He asked the class. The lecture was now steered towards the direction of Eastern Europe. The petite girl next to me with purple streaks in her hair nodded as she shared her experience, “Oh yes, It’s a beautiful country. I feel I didn’t completely understand the influence that early 20th century Soviet Marxist ideologies had on the country until I encountered it myself in person visiting Krakow last summer.”
A stern-faced boy with a buzz cut a fraternity sweatshirt raised his hand. “But let’s be honest today in modern Poland post 1989 communists barely influence the politics, economics, or even the society within the country.”
As, Buzz cut and Purple Hair began their debate quoting the Communist Manifesto, I pondered to myself. I knew absolutely nothing about Poland. I knew nothing about communism other than it was bad and Russian from my 8th grade civics class. I didn’t know about the Cuban missile crisis. My mind’s self-pitying stream of thoughts was drowning itself in all it didn’t know. I barely had any notes written. How did I even get into this university? I was now divulged into a realm of insecurity. Maybe I was just some lucky idiot, who by some random streak of luck was admitted.

Some folks are just more outspoken, appear confident, and are just more talkative. As stated later in the blog post, another student reached out to her and told her not to feel intimidated, and that the class discussions were just "all B.S.". To be fair, I wouldn't say that class discussion is 100% B.S. ;)

Students do receive some credit just for participating in class. Professors encourage discussion to spark class participation and to hear responses, or to see whether students are even still awake in class. Professors may just have allotted some required class time for students to talk about anything related to the course.

Nonetheless, like the writer of the blog post I cited above, I don't think it really matters much. If you have already been though undergraduate school, it's basically the same experience. What students say in class is a small fraction of the grade compared to what professors will expect from you in writing, and your exam scores tend to matter much more.

Sometimes we really do just have different frames of reference. For a variety of reasons, we don't come from identical knowledge foundations. However, what matters is what you are learning in class, and where this leads you in exploring additional themes of interest -- to you.

If you have ever felt this way, it's so important to remember :  You were admitted into this graduate program for a reason. You succeeded in your past degree in order to be here, and you are smart and obviously capable.  I wouldn't say in this case that "talk is cheap", but speaking in class is just a smaller part of the overall grade. So many other factors make you who you are as an intelligent and capable student.

(photo credit: via

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Asian American Students and Graduate School - Is this Just the Natural Progression?

Today I want to share some information on the AAPI (Asian American/Pacific Islander) community in the United States and college rates. I also hope to help demystify some of the "model minority" stereotypes in education. Some of us really just can't relate!

If you are like me, you have an Asian American parent (yes, I have one), and you were not raised to expect higher education. You may have been told not to attend college due to the cost. Maybe you knew of one or two  Tiger Moms (1) from school, but could not identify because your parents raised you in a different environment. You spoke English at home with the occasional Asian language phrase here and there, may only have taken an orchestra class for fun in school, and do not know what the heck Kumon is.

Why It Actually Still Matters to Support Asian American Students
The Multicultural Doctorate aims to provide resources and support to the full diverse range of individuals who did not not have role models in higher education growing up - including Asians/Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Here's why:

According to the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education (CARE), a review of American Community Survey Data from 2006-2008 showed that among those who identify as Asian American, the following have not attended college:
65.8% of Cambodian Americans, 65.5% of Laotian Americans, 63.2% Hmong Americans, and 51.1% of Vietnamese Americans. Looking also at larger demographics and a major holder of "model minority" stereotype status, 34.5% of Chinese Americans have not attended college.  Among Pacific Islander Americans, 57.9% of Tongans, 56.8% of Samoans, and 53% of Guamanians have not attended college. (2)

In a study published in the Social Science Quarterly in 2010, studies found that there are distinct differences between Asian immigrant and Asian American parents. Asian immigrant parents are actually more likely to have higher educational expectations for their children. Asian American born parents were less likely to expect their children to excel in education, even less so than the expectations of White American born parents. (3)

Still Much to Be Done
As you can see there is still much to be done in terms of encouraging students of color in higher education.  This blog's primary goal is to help bring diverse students into the world of graduate school and perhaps to become future faculty members of colleges and universities, where statistics are still low among professor demographics.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the Fall of 2009, college and university faculty/staff in the United States were 7% Black, 6% Asian/Pacific Islander, 4% Hispanic, and 1% American Indian/Alaska Native. (4)  

Faculty positions for the most part require a graduate school degree, and more frequently require doctorate degrees. With a vision of seeing higher institutions adequately and equitably serve diverse populations, The Multicultual Doctorate blog serves to provide graduate school information resources to students of color, and to encourage students to find ways to network with organizations, professors, and other students.

1. Controversial in parenting circles, Amy Chua wrote this book called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. It's a very interesting read on extremely strict Chinese American parenting!

2.CARE, The Relevance of Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders in the College Completion Agenda 

3. Raleigh, Elizabeth and Kao, Grace. (2010) "Do Immigrant Minority Parents Have More Consistent College Aspirations for Their Children?" Social Science Quarterly 91:4.

4. National Center for Education Statistics, Employees in Degree-Granting Institutions, by Race/Ethnicity and Primary Occupation: Fall 2009

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

On Mentorship, and Being a Good Mentee

As part of the campus minority mentoring program, I met my new mentor today on campus and she is awesome! I am looking forward to speaking with her more about her experiences on campus,  and learning more about the overall campus landscape.

This led me to write today's blog on how to find mentors, and how to identify great mentors. Whether you are currently in a graduate program, or preparing to apply for a program, it is important to find mentors who can guide you in the process.

Where to Find Mentors
There are many types of mentors that you can have, whether they are younger or older, someone who has skills or life examples to share with you can be a mentor. Mentoring can be for a set period of time, or can even be life-long.  Mentors can be part of your community or family. Mentors can be found at the workplace, at professional associations, structured mentoring programs, and even through contacting and getting to know professors who conduct research that interests you.  Some are assigned to you, and some mentoring relationships naturally develop from inspiring conversations.

I have found some of my best mentors at church, at work, at academic conferences, and at professional association events. There's no need to ask if he/she would officially be your mentor, although it's also fine if you do. Just spending time with the person, letting them know that you value their experiences and advice is often enough to cultivate a respectful and inspiring relationship.

What Makes a Great Mentor?
A great mentor is someone who has important life experience and advice to share, someone who is willing to share wisdom with you for your learning benefit. A great mentor is a good listener, and is someone who is interested in supporting your academic and career development. A great mentor is encouraging and inspires you to achieve the next levels of success. Finally, a great mentor is someone you can contact, and is approachable when you need words of advice. Mentors are also excellent at writing great letters of recommendation for you as they are familiar with your capacity and willingness to succeed!

Your Role - What Makes a Good Mentee?
According to The Mentee's Guide by Lois J. Zachary, an effective mentee should have a personal vision of the future, be willing to set and follow through on goals, and to establish a mentoring agreement of goals, milestones, and a work plan.

Consider what your goals are, the skills you are interested in developing, where you plan to be in the next few years, and whether you have the energy and motivation to follow through on the necessary steps for personal growth.

In terms of a work plan or milestones, my mentoring relationships have tended to be more friendly and informal, and because I know that we are all busy people, I let the discussions be as frequent or as infrequent based on our personalities and other obligations.  However, I suppose it is possible that the more structure there is, the better.

Best Mentoring Moments
My best mentoring memories are informal talks where my mentor shared a story of when they were in my predicament, and what they decided to do.  Sharing personal stories and testimonies is always a powerful tool as it allows the listener to walk in your shoes for a moment. Another inspiring moment in mentoring was when my mentor encouraged me to apply for a PhD program when I had not even been considering the idea.  Other powerful, empowering mentoring experiences involved my mentor suggesting a project or inviting me to be part of a research project. It is amazing how one person can inspire others to achieve success.

Not all mentoring relationships are going to work out. People are not always compatible and perhaps the mentor will be too busy to contact you when you really would appreciate their help and advice. Perhaps the mentor does not inspire, but intimidates. Or, it is possible that a mentor may provide advice that may not apply to you. It is fine to end a mentoring relationship if it does not work well for you. There are many other opportunities to meet new mentors and to learn even from this experience.

Don't Give Up
By all means, be sociable and network with your classmates, professors, and social organizations. You will eventually meet individuals that you admire and look up to. Some of them will be willing to reach out and share their advice and stories with you.

(photo credit: via

Saturday, September 7, 2013

How to Find Inspiration, Guidance, and Motivation for Graduate School

This may be one of the most important posts I will write on this blog.  This is in part my story about the experiences I have been through and learned from. For students of color, we know that we are among the smaller percentages of individuals attending university, and many of us are the first in our families to attend higher education.

Family As Motivation:
It is possible that you were raised in a family that valued education, and encouraged you to go this far into your academic career. Even though you may be the first in your family to attend college, you may have had much motivation and guidance along the way. This is a great situation to be in, and I hope that you were able to make the most of your undergraduate experience and are now academically prepared for graduate school. From many stories and situations, your parents can be a strong motivator for pursuing university education.

Or Not:
There are also others who were not raised in a family that valued education. Perhaps culturally -because you are female, or financially - due to the cost of college, your family discouraged you from attending university. This was my situation. But my love of learning and understanding of the new horizons it could bring really motivated me to do well in school and apply to college.

Financial Considerations: 
I grew up in a blue and "pink" collar family (mechanic and secretary parents), and university was not seen as necessary. My dad, a Mexican American, did well finding work after high school, and college sounded pretty much like a waste of money. Finding funding for college was basically going to be a matter of student loans. Not only that, but finding guidance and mentoring was also going to be a huge obstacle. I still can't get my mind around the idea of funding a child's college education -- Who does that?

The good news is that there are many ways to manage your student loan debt. Unfortunately, at this time, bankruptcy is not an option for student loans, but there are other programs. There are income based repayment plans through the federal government, and also the Public Service Forgiveness Loan (you need to know about this!!!), which removes your remaining debt after 10 yrs of payments as a full time employee of a nonprofit or government agency.

Networking Considerations:
For students of color there are some great programs as you enter university, such as Upward Bound, etc. But it may not be easy to locate these programs if you do not have friends in college, or if you are multicultural and do not look like someone from an underrepresented group. Being multicultural (and multiracial), I often have to explain myself before being welcomed into some groups. (For example I received cold, unfriendly looks when I visited a MEChA meeting in college and never went back -- but that's another story!) I did my first college degree before the age of the internet, and in terms of finding resources or even knowing what to look for, I was lost.

Thanks so much to the internet, you can find these resources on your campus or in your community. There are some great mentoring programs for students of color, and also some national networks. The internet is a great place to start, and from there, joining campus cultural organizations will also bring you mentoring, guidance, and networking for academic success.

Pursuing Graduate School and Perhaps the PhD
At some time in the far away past I dreamed about having a PhD. But as student debt accrued and the work world demanded my time, I kind of stopped thinking about it. However, one day while I was a masters student, at an academic conference I met a professor who suggested the idea of a PhD to me. I will not forget this moment. Having a mentor encourage me to pursue the PhD made all the difference in the world to me.

If you are interested in pursuing graduate school, attend academic conferences in the fields you are interested in, even while you are not yet in school. Get to know people at these conferences (attend the small meeting sessions at conferences). Meeting professors and other students will likely propel you to take those first steps in applying to schools! Maintain contact with your new acquaintances. All of this matters.

These are the basic tips I have for now on finding your inspiration, guidance, and motivation for graduate school. I hope this information has helped you.

(photo credit: Aristocrats-hat via

Thursday, September 5, 2013

New Blog Home on Blogger!

Please note that I have just moved my blog home onto Blogger. There are a couple of reasons for this but I found that I prefer the features on Blogger. The previous Wordpress blog will no longer be in use. Thank you!

Internships for Graduate Students

Unpaid Internships - Just as Competitive as a Paid Position?
Today  I was speaking to one of my classmates, a masters student, about the internship she is working with. The internship is clear across the other side of town (at least a 1 hr drive away), and it is unpaid although she referred to it as her job. She also mentioned that it is too late in the year to choose a new internship as demand is high and supply is low.
Now, when did it come to the point that free, unpaid internships were in such high demand that the workplace has become saturated with them??? When did we get to the point where it would be such a great honor to be selected to volunteer my time to work for an organization for free? We are living in such a precarious time, when free, unpaid work - let alone normal paid work - is not something we can so easily secure.
Apparently, it doesn't matter where you live, what your demographics are, or even whether you are in the Ivy Leagues. Not too long ago, a friend of mine owned a small business, and young unemployed graduates were competing for unpaid positions at her company too. Including ivy league students.
Advice for the Student in Search of an Internship
I choose to believe that the solution will involve a combination of resourcefulness and networking.
1. Get Acquainted with Professional Networks:  If you are aware of local associations in your field, by all means become a member and attend the conferences and networking meetings. This can open up opportunities for you to intern - or hey, even find paid employment with the organizations your acquaintances are part of.
2. Frequent Your University Career Office: Also, get to know your university career center, browse and scour through their listings. Being a student at the university will likely flag your resume to the potential employers/internship coordinators who chose to advertise at your school.
3. Keep in Contact with Faculty Advisors: Let your department advisor know that you are searching for an internship and they may have information about campus opportunities to share with you.
4. Utilize the Internet: Assuming you have already cold-called or cold-emailed your favorite organizations and companies and provided your resume and haven't heard back from them, I recommend going ahead and placing an ad on a site such as craigslist, saying that you are searching for an internship position. Don't be afraid at this point to state that you are hoping to be paid for transportation or a small stipend, but that you are open to negotiation.
I hope these tips are useful. These are what helped me to locate my volunteer opportunities and campus job. I wish you success in your search!

Graduate School Funding Resources

Here are some links to useful graduate school funding resources. 
These are generally lists provided by universities and although may provide scholarship info just to internal students, some of the information is useful to all graduate students:
Columbia College: List:
National Science Foundation:
North Carolina State University:
University of California, Berkeley:
The University of Chicago:
(Please note that some of the information will be repetitive, and some resources may be out of date or no longer funding students.)

The Unsubsidized Student Loan Monster

I am just a little out of the loop I guess, but maybe I'm not the only one. I applied for a student loan for graduate school this year, but when I saw that I was offered only an unsubsidized loan, I decided to turn it down to pursue more work opportunities to cover remaining costs. I had no idea that the subsidized loan for graduate students had left the scene!
Beginning in July 2012, graduate students applying for Stafford loans will only be offered unsubsidized loans with a 6.8% interest rate and 1% origination fee. Unlike subsidized loans, you will accrue interest on all of the loan while you are still in school. Before 2012, students were able first consider borrowing the majority of a subsidized loan and if necessary after this, then to borrow a portion of the unsubsidized amount.  It makes me uneasy to consider a student loan that accrues interest before I have even had the chance to complete the education it was borrowed for. But if this is what you need to do, it's best to attempt to pay off the interest while you are in school before facing that interest-accruing monster amount after graduating.

Welcome to the Multicultural Doctorate!

Welcome to The Multicultural Doctorate! I am April, the Multicultural Doctora in training. I live in Southern California, and am a PhD student.
For the most part in the United States, if you look around at the graduate school classmate demographics, ethnic and cultural diversity continues to be low. My goal is to be a support to women of color who wish for a graduate school education but don't quite know where to begin. The purpose of the blog is to be a resource for students of color who are pursuing graduate studies in university - from the women's perspective.
In 2009, the Council of Graduate Schools publication, Broadening Participation in Graduate Education (2009), reported that only 12% of students from underrepresented populations were enrolled in graduate programs. (1) The stats on women of color in academia are extremely low. As recently as 2007, the NEA reported that women of color working in faculty positions were at a national percentage of just 2%. (2)
With this blog I hope to serve as an encouragement for women of color to continue to seek further academic study. Not only this, but to find the capacity and resources to do well in school, locate scholarship and fellowship funding, and ultimately secure successful work in academia and other sectors.
Getting into a PhD program - with full funding - was not easy. It took me a few attempts but I finally got through. Here are the stories, resources, and useful tips I learned along the way!
1. Council of Graduate Schools:
2.National Education Association: