Monday, March 24, 2014

Grad School: It's Not Where You Go, but What and How You Do

When selecting colleges for bachelors study, the college acceptance process is a huge concern for many parents and some students (heheh).  Selection of the right college is seen as the key to professional achievement, important network connections and future economic status.  All this this has an element of truth to it. (Of course there are some undergrad students wisely selected their college based on their budget and refused to take out student loans, opting to work full time while studying part time. This is also very commendable.) Your choice of major also matters, and selecting a major that serves industry needs can be that ticket to career success. If your career takes off from here, it appears that the formula has worked out for you -- Congratulations!

However, by the time you have decided to consider graduate school, the landscape has changed. Many folks have now spent a number of years underemployed or unemployed with undergraduate degrees. In graduate school, you may now be classmates with folks who went to that undergraduate school that you did not attend. Suddenly it appears that students from competitive undergraduate schools are in the same boat as all graduate students. 

In the current economic climate, the decision to accumulate additional graduate school expenses should be given much contemplation. Perhaps your undergraduate college debt has accumulated and all that matters now is determining which graduate school is affordable, or which graduate school will provide a significant portion of your doctoral tuition. Now, you may be attending a graduate school you never thought you would give the time of day to. However, after having seen the difficult job market, selection of an affordable graduate school now makes a lot of sense, and you may have seen that many graduates from these universities are being offered decent jobs with their degrees.

Basically, is no longer about about where you go. Instead, it is more about how well you do, and what you choose to do with this time.  Take the time to build your networks and to build your research skills through attending conferences, attending summer internship training programs, and presenting your work. Graduate school is the time to be truly focused on what you want out of your time and expenses as a student. It is an opportunity to reevaluate and reconsider your academic and career goals. What is exciting is that graduate school is your chance to clarify and redefine your career path, improve your skills, and develop your own individual range of expertise. The goal now is to emerge from graduate school with research and professional skills which will allow you to stand out.

In graduate school, university status no longer really matters as much as it used to. I see some online articles disagreeing with this but they are still focused on the graduate school admissions process. I can only speak from experience. I have seen folks with BAs and graduate degrees from competitive schools search for work months and years after graduation. Business owner friends of mine receive ivy league graduate resumes for unpaid internship work. I have also worked with ivy league graduates earning average pay. Don't believe the hype of the jobs waiting just for the elite school graduate. In the job market, when you graduate, you will meet folks from all types of universities who will compete for the same positions as everyone else with the same professional or doctoral degree. Regardless of your university affiliation, let your skills and experiences stand out.   Life is an interesting journey, and the same goes with undergraduate college, graduate school, and the career world.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Why Mixed Race Discussions Matter

Why Mixed Race Discussions Matter

I'm not a doctoral student in Ethnic Studies or Education or anything like that as this blog might suggest, however, because of my mixed identity I have always been interested in mixed race culture/s and how mixed folks navigate their identities in such a phenotypically-driven society as the United States. My studies focus on public health, and still, I am finding some very  interesting and important ways to discuss mixed race from the perspective of public health.

Mixed race is a significant identity in our race-obsessed society. It causes that extra level of ambivalence, that extra set of questions about identity. It is similar in some ways to the immigrant American experience for example, however, being mixed adds another level of scrutiny. 

Here are some reasons why mixed race matters:

1. Our Shared Experiences are Significant. Having parents who may not look like each other "racially" can be a normal way of life for us. Having siblings who look like "racially" different variations of us is a common occurrence. Being comfortable and feeling at home in different environments such as ethnic events as well as with our multiracial relatives can be normal to us. Having a love for multiple cultures which feel like home to us is a beautiful thing. Feeling the sense of being a cultural, ethnic, and "racial" bridge can be our life experience.

We are also aware of the experiences of  being asked a set of similar questions and hearing particular comments.  For example, frustrating questions such as  "Which 'race' do you feel like you are 'more' of?" "So do you prefer to be ---- or ----- ?", or comments such as "Wow, that is so beautiful/exotic/amazing." "Wow, how did that happen?" "How did your parents meet?"  just seem so ridiculous to us when we hear them, but  these are very real, normal questions we hear often.  Has anyone else had to endure hearing folks tell you their "favorite mix"?  In all seriousness, some of these questions and comments are forms of racial microaggressions and begin to wear down individuals upon hearing them hundreds or thousands of times.

Having a space to share these experiences is important. Additionally, some mixed folks feel a shared identity with each other regardless of ethnicity. By being mixed, I have been able to discuss some unique experiences with other mixed folks, though we are from different ethnic backgrounds.

2. Our Differences Matter, Too.  It's good to be respectful of our differences as mixed race folks. Do you have siblings who identify differently than you do? I do, and I choose to respect their identities. We all know we are mixed, but their selected categories are different. I also choose different categories over time, and based on the situation. There are also mixed folks who have been much more welcomed by one ethnic population and not others, and they choose not to identify with these groups. There may be folks who also claim not to be mixed, or select not to be identified or broken down into identity fractions and that's fine. It's not easy to guess and not my place to presume what all mixed individuals have experienced, but it's important to be respectful of our different experiences and identities.  

3. Our Critical Lens Can Inform the Public Policy of Racial Categories. As the nation's demographics continue to change and become increasingly diverse, organizations such as the Census Bureau have been attempting to define all groups in new ways at least every ten years. These changes may be to maintain the relevance of categories, to be politically correct, or to more successfully capture the specific identities of populations.... Social perceptions of race do impact the way that the federal government and other organizations decide how to define diverse individuals, whether it be the "Other" category,  "Multiracial", "More than One Race" or the "Other Race plus Non-Hispanic" or "Some Other Race plus White" categories. As the number of identifying mixed race folks increases, these categories will continue to change to represent the population the way that the federal government and other organizations believe is most appropriate. Providing your feedback such as in the  "Other: Please Specify" column also informs these categories. By speaking to our community, local, state and federal officials, we can help to influence the ways that publicly defined categories of mixed race can be changed to be more inclusive and more accurate of our nation's demographics.
(See and  

4. Our Discussions Can Have Far Reaching Influence. By continuing the discussion by conducting our own research and data collection in policy, education, ethnic studies, history, and other disciplines, we can be part of making significant progress in serving the mixed race population. For example, let's look at the public health side of mixed race. A variety of studies have shown that individuals of mixed race experience higher levels of depression, substance abuse, various aches and pains, and sleep disorders.  Health services organizations tend to prefer clear race categories in their attempts to provide appropriate and relevant services, while mixed race folks and adolescents in particular are not being served in the same way. Culturally competent health services to mixed race populations is not highly developed at this time.  Society does not make it particularly accommodating to be mixed race in its perception of identity. However, continuing these discussions in public settings can bring about new ways to improve the quality of life for mixed race individuals.

Here are some links to public health research on the effects of society on mixed race individuals:

Friday, March 21, 2014

The First Year is Definitely Tough- Advice to Get Through Successfully

I am a couple of months away from completing my 1st year of the PhD. It has definitely been an adventure! I can say that it definitely has not been easy. I thought that my studies would be just a part of my year, and that research and part time work would equally matter. But it is difficult to say that this is the case. As my classes became more demanding, I started finding less time to spend on my research ideas and had difficulty investing as much time as I would like into work. I am learning some tough lessons this year that I want to share here:

1. Your classes really do need to come first. Thinking that other activities such as time spent on websites and social networks, working part time, or thinking about your research ideas really do need to be managed very carefully at this stage in the program. Getting the best possible grades and learning coursework skills as thoroughly as possible will be the most rewarding thing you can do in your first year. 

2. The toughest time of the year is between midterms and finals. Prepare time to focus on this.  Cut down on your activities at this time. As you prepare to take your midterms, realize that your final grade is seriously beginning to materialize. Your final exam will be the grade that can change everything. If you did well on midterms, you still need to keep up the work for the final grade. If you didn't do the greatest on midterms, you have another chance to make things better with the final. So, it really matters. 

3. Meet often with your professors to see what to study and how to improve. Professors have been very helpful and are often pleased that you have made the effort to meet with them. It's important for them to know that you are making an effort in class and that you truly care about doing well. I believe that this will count to bring up class participation and effort grades, while informing your academic progress as you prioritize what is important to study. 

Best wishes with your first year in grad school.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Spring Break Ahead!

What are you planning to do for spring break? I was hoping to get out of town for the weekend, however I am in a Saturday class this semester, and the professor decided to have class the Saturdays both before and after spring break week. (Our midterm, in fact, is the Saturday after spring break week. Whatever. )My husband recently began a new job and is not ready to take weekdays off. So, I won't be traveling very far for the break.

Here are my thoughts on planning for spring break:

1. If you aren't traveling to visit relatives or friends but want to get away, book hotels for the weekdays if you can. I am finding weekend rates to be a little too high.

2. Stay in town instead. Do the stay-cation. I never get to play tourist in my town and don't get around to visiting places I was looking forward to visiting when I moved to my town.

3. Take the time to plan out your research goals and do some recreational writing (if so inclined). I hope to do some research and creative book writing.

3. Catch up on work on the syllabus for the second half of the semester. With that entire week off, use some of it to get ahead on required writing assignments to make life less stressful when school gets back into session.

4. Apply for summer internships and scholarships if deadlines are still pending.

5. Plan for summer internships or look into possible summer travel and study abroad programs.

I'm the type of person that likes to have something planned, otherwise I spend time watching TV and can't decide what to do with the time. Preparing a list like this is going to be helpful here. I hope!