On Libraries and Doctoral Admissions

I currently am in the library working on a paper, and I am reminded of how much I have missed access to university libraries’ troves of knowledge. (Unlimited JSTOR access also doesn’t hurt. I burned through my (non-student) limited allowance of reads very quickly each month while I was out of school.) Although I do feel like a troll emerging from a cave each time I leave D-Level and venture back into the human world, it is that weird kind of caffeine-induced feverish academia which gives me a rush. A leisurely stroll through the stacks results in a rather lengthy reading list growing in my arms. A panicked hunt for a much-needed volume for a paper (when I look like an idiot while waving my arms at the lights’ sensors to prevent the stacks’ lights from dimming) reminds me of the privilege and pleasure it is to be able to study. A click of my touchpad and I can order a volume from any of several other universities’ libraries along the East Coast. One is on its way to me from Harvard as I type this, and another is coming to me from Yale. If I am in the mood for less frantic studying and reading, I can cozy up in the Atrium or the Hut and spend many hours growing my brain and refining, or even challenging, my world views. Truly, libraries all are magical, but a university library is a special kind of happiness.

The paper I am creating now is my very last for the summer semester. I can’t believe that I already am nearing completion of my first semester of graduate school. I have survived mountains of readings, carpal-tunnel inducing papers, and feelings of inadequacy and imposter syndrome for three months. I’ve learned so much in such a short time from both professors and students. I’ve fallen in love with Charm City and couldn’t be happier to be a Blue Jay. I don’t know if I will be staying at Hopkins for the doctorate, but this feeling of reassurance that I belong in school and am making the most of this opportunity will stick with me always.

My thoughts now turn to the upcoming doctoral admissions cycle. I’m terrified, to be quite blunt. What if I don’t receive an offer from one of my top choices? What if I don’t receive any offers? There are many great schools in this country, but I will be applying only to a handful of them. Not just my background but my ability to be a good fit will be on the line, and the reasons I could receive a rejection are significantly higher than they were for the master admissions cycle. Some of the programs where I will be applying accept fewer than five applicants out of at least a few hundred hopefuls. I am fortunate to have a great advisor and to attend a school with lots of resources for this adventure, but I still could not be more anxious or frightened.

I don’t know how much I will be blogging about the admissions cycle. There are a finite number of ways to express the emotions I mentioned previously, and I don’t want this blog to become a cesspool of stress and anxiety. I want to remember all the wonderful things about my time at Hopkins, however long it may be. I want to remember my favorite study haunts and the regulars I see there. I want to remember the regulars I see at the rec who have given me tips when I was training alone. I want to remember the magic of walking onto campus for the very first time. Even if a doctoral program elsewhere is where I go, I want to remember that I always will be a Blue Jay. #gohop.

On an Unrelated Note…

I never forget what a privilege and what an honor it is to study at such a school. I forever am grateful of all the opportunities the Johns Hopkins University has granted to me. Professionally, academically, intellectually, emotionally, and mentally this school has given me more than I ever could hope to return to the future. I promise that I will not waste this opportunity. I may have earned my way into this community, but I will make sure to pay it forward.

Forever, our Johns Hopkins. #gohop

On Feelings and Thoughts

I more or less believe that MBTI is for people who are “too scientific for astrology” but want some sort of guideline or mold in which to believe. I find psychology fascinating, but it is not my chosen field for a reason. However, for the record, I tested three times as INTJ. Fairly heavily on all four categories. (Although I think all three results are nonsense since it isn’t too difficult to manipulate the test.) I’m fairly skilled at feeling all the things without actually feeling the emotions from all the things. Maybe that doesn’t make sense, but it is the best way to describe myself. I very much have a detached, outsider-looking-in-the-box sort of perspective with most things. Unfortunately, I have been called callous on more than one occasion due to this personality trait. I also have been called sensitive, so take that as you will.

I believe in empathy. I believe in compassion. I believe in responsibility. I believe in science.  If I held any religious tenants, they would be those. Reading the news lately, and particularly yesterday, has started to make me lose hope. I’ve mentioned this before, but I describe myself as an eternally optimistic misanthrope. I believe in human beings’ capacities for sincere kindness, but I hold that we are failing miserably in doing so. As I slowly lose that little glimmer of hope which keeps me motivated, I can’t help but wonder if I we even are worth saving. It’s when I think of my students, of the next generation which hasn’t been responsible in creating this world which does not deserve them, that I find my strength to push forward.

I am of the opinion that those of us in the social sciences have a greater obligation than most humans not to harm and to view our careers as service. Yet, if the world is going to go up in flames, if we can’t share our ideas or make them accessible, what even are we accomplishing? These events make me more certain than ever before that we must remember to bring our services to people outside the academic community. We can’t hoard our researches and evaluations in journals in order to fuel our egos and our neoliberal exchanges of knowledge as a marketable good while disregarding the reasons why we entered the social sciences.

We have a responsibility. We have a duty. Do no harm. Serve.

I am in this field for a reason. I am in graduate school for a reason. It is time to set aside my feelings once more, to re-direct them into energy for study and research, and use my voice to make the voices of the marginalized no longer be excluded.

Summertime in the City

Baltimore is mostly delightful in the summer, but there have been a few days when I’ve felt like the humidity has done nothing but repeatedly punch me in the face. Nothing quite like showing up to class glistening with sweat, but at least the AC on campus is more or less unreasonable chilling and I cool down pretty quickly.  I’ve spent the last few library study sessions shivering slightly, but the cold helps fight off the comfy chair sleepies. (Seriously, some of the chairs are too comfortable for studying.)

Campus has been crowded with tour groups of seventeen-year-old, wide-eyed hopefuls and their parents, and I don’t expect this to change anytime soon. I don’t mind too much, but it would be nice if they learned not to spread across the entire walkway. It feels like ages since I was doing the campus tour circuit, and it’s nice that I don’t have to go through that again. That being said, the admission season for PhD programs is getting ready to begin, and I already have some virtual informational sessions scheduled. I’m fairly certain that my stress will do nothing but rise until March, but intensive exercise has been helping to keep it at bay for now.

School continues to be going well, and I am enjoying all of the work. Which is good, because there is a lot of it. I’ve missed this kind of mental challenge, but I also miss my students every day. I was cleaning out my bookshelf and found all of the letters and pictures they had made for me. Definitely was A Moment.

The only bad news is that Titan and Bun will not be friends. Bun is back home with me for now, and we will try her with another Bun in a few weeks. For now, it is time for her to get some rest and enjoy being queen while we watch Game of Thrones. She enjoys sleeping on the ottoman, jumping on my face to be my alarm clock, and chewing on any bits of paper she can find.

Public Speaking is Rude

Yesterday, I had to present a research proposal. It had been a hot minute (or several) since I gave a presentation, and even more since I gave one in English. As interested as I was in the topic, as I was happy to pitch the idea, well…

It did not. Go. Well.

Public speaking is a skill which I used to have, but it seems that I have become quite rusty. I couldn’t hide that painfully obvious intonation and speed of anxiety. My heart started pounding faster than Bun’s when she is getting her nails trimmed.  As soon as the presentation had finished, I was ready to melt into the floor and disappear on the spot. Teaching in a classroom, while a kind of public speaking, is a different kind of skill. My abilities and comfort levels definitely have shifted to reflect that difference.

Now, this was an important learning experience. I fully recognize that. PhD applications will be opened/released in a few weeks, and then it will be crunch time to get everything ready. Interviews are a part of the process, but interviews don’t begin until January. So, I expect to have approximately six months to re-develop this ability. Speaking well in front of a committee is a skill which I will need, and I am fortunate that I discovered this weakness now instead of later. (I am painfully aware about the grade which I might receive, but still. You know. Learning experiences.)

I had a conversation about this experience when I was working with my personal trainer. In an effort not to get a doughy, spent-too-many-hours-sitting grad student body, I work with a personal trainer once a week in addition to gymming it daily on my own. I should have some down time in August, so I might up my training sessions for the month, but I digress. We sometimes talk about non-fitness things during the sessions. It helps to keep my mind off the muscular misery, and I appreciate being able to bounce ideas off another person.

My personal trainer also dislikes giving presentations. It might not mean much to others, but I felt relief that I am not the only twenty-something struggling with this point. I feel confident that I will be able to re-learn this skill, but in the meantime I am considering joining Toastmasters or a similar organization.

Why can’t my brain just keep all the knowledge and information forever instead of letting some of it disappear into nothingness? How rude.

In Which I am a Horrible, Inconsistent Blogger

Well, time flies. Who could have guessed that? Already I have failed to document the first month of my graduate student journey. Oops.

I couldn’t be happier to be a student again. The amount of learning my brain has been doing sometimes feels like a never-ending headache, but it is the best possible kind of headache. The kind of headache I would get from cram reading a new Harry Potter book immediately after returning home from the midnight release. I hope to have this kind of headache again soon, but it seems that The Winds of Winter is still not in the near future. Boo. Hiss.

The balance of the courses which I am taking this summer is forcing me to think critically about how best to consume research and to look continuously for alternative viewpoints and interpretations. The diversity in the courses facilitates engaging conversations as the educational and professional backgrounds of my classmates have given them particular perspectives and practices. I am trying my best to hear their stories and consider how best to keep them in mind when I will do my own research. I do not intend to return to the traditional classroom, but I absolutely do not wish to become the kind of researcher who remains locked away in a lab and does not consider the in-the-classroom impacts of the work.

In unrelated news, a fosterer is working to try and bond Bun to another bun. I am hoping that there is progress, but rabbits are rather particular creatures with demands exceeding those of even the most obstinate two-year-old. The initial meeting went well, so fingers and toes and paws crossed that there won’t be any surprises.

스크린샷 2017-06-30 14.35.35


First Day of Graduate School

Well, the semester officially is off to a start. The readings are piling up faster than I can count, the planner is looking rather stuffed, the checking account is becoming lighter, and the furniture hopefully is arriving soon.


All of that being said, I couldn’t be more satisfied with my decision to attend Hopkins. I’ve spent the past week and a half getting settled, becoming familiar with the area, and eating too much not enough sushi. Everyone is kind and friendly, and I live in an apartment with a fantastic view and plenty of space for Bun to explore. There is plenty of fresh air, sunshine, and breeze. Baltimore felt like home the moment I arrived, and as I slowly establish myself here it becomes even more wonderful.

I will be spending the day digging into case studies and articles, creating a research proposal, and contemplating education, economics, hegemony, language imperialism, microaggressions, politics, privilege, and systemic racism over bowls of fruit and glasses of almond milk. It still feels bizarre not to be in the chaotic happiness of a classroom, but I think that I could get used to this lifestyle of quiet thought. Instead of worrying about who hit whom, office politics, and scraped knees my biggest concern is keeping Bun away from the router cable.

Cheers to the new semester.



Brief Update and Thoughts

I realize that I already am failing on my posting goals, but I am in the process of moving. Regular posting will begin after Bun and I are settled in our new home. We went to the vet today to get her wellness examination and travel documents. Unfortunately for me she threw a tantrum during the appointment. Will I ever not be embarrassed by a pet’s behavior at the animal clinic?

Anyways, I had the opportunity today to speak with a professional in education outreach. She is heading a program designed to expand the reach of STEM-oriented English education, and something in our conversation really struck me. I asked her opinion about the quintessential component of getting educational research out of the lab and into the communities. She immediately replied, “Passion. More than in any other field you need passion for this. You can’t be driven by money. Passion.”

I realize that this gets into tricky territory. I could write a series disproving the myths that vacations really are vacations, that parents don’t call at all hours of the day and night, and that teachers are avaricious leeches who simply should be satisfied that they get paid at all. For the time being, however, I would like to set aside those thoughts. I never had anyone say so frankly and fervently that passion was the key. It’s typically a lukewarm, noncommittal response; it is the answer given when there is none. The insistence and feeling she poured into that word left an impression on me.

I am about to embark on a new journey. I am full of nervousness and anticipation, but I am eager to become a force for improvement. I dream of a world where quality education isn’t a privilege. I look for a future when education isn’t simply a means to an end. I hope for a day when children aren’t ignored because they don’t fit a restricted view of success – when they are more than numbers used to establish parameters for resource allocation. I work for a place where every child will be valued sincerely as an individual and will experience the joys of discovery and creation. I strive for a time when language learning and cultural appreciation (not appropriation!) are borne from respectful curiosity and not entwined with language death or hegemony.

I jokingly describe myself as a borderline misanthrope with eternal optimism, but I think that is what drives me. That is where I find my passion. I hold that, no matter how terrible we are making this world, we do have the capacity to improve it. There will be obstacles to surmount. There will be disappointing setbacks. However, as long as I have this passion to drive me, I think that I will be able to consider my efforts as contributions.

The Cost of Master’s Applications

I expected that the transition from salaried, government employee to graduate student would be frustrating, but I did not expect just how many expenses would find their way into the budget. One such expense is the upcoming cost of doctoral applications. I am anticipating this by researching the 2017-2018 application costs for each school to which I intend to apply this autumn. However, as an extra evaluation tool for calculating the anticipated fees, I decided to review how much I spent on master’s applications. Here is a breakdown:

  1. Graduate Record Examination
    1. Test Fee – $205
    2. Additional Score Reports – $27 each x 3 schools = $81 (I didn’t even complete two of the applications as I received an offer from JHU in early December.)
    3. Prep Materials
      1. Princeton Review GRE Premium Edition – $23.29
      2. ETS Official GRE Quantitative Reasoning Practice Questions – $10.56
      3. ETS Official GRE Verbal Reasoning Practice Questions – $14.66
      4. Manhattan Prep 5 lb. Book of GRE Practice Problems – $11.96
    4. Test Day Transportation – $8.00
  2. Application Fees
    1. Johns Hopkins University – $80.00
    2. Iowa State University – $60.00
    3. Ohio State University – $60.00
    4. University of Colorado – Boulder – $60.00
    5. University of Indiana – Bloomington – $55.00

I spent $660.47 to apply to master’s programs. That is more than $600 just to apply. That number would have tripled if my work schedule and location hadn’t prevented me from attending an examination preparation course, and there was the possibility that I wouldn’t receive any offers. Where would I be then? I think honest discussions are important to developing financial health, and one of the topics regularly posted here will be how I am managing the financial aspect of graduate education.

Summer Semester 2017 – Goals

While preparing this post I was reminded of the scene from Seinfeld when George pretended to be a marine biologist in order to impress a love interest. He charged into the ocean to do a good deed (albeit reluctantly) and save a beached whale, aware that his scheme was teetering on the brink and that his folly could be exposed at any moment. Fortunately, he was able to save the whale by extricating one of Kramer’s golf balls from the blowhole. He ultimately confessed his deception, but his lack of remorse or change in life direction was as unsettling as it was humorous.

My goal for this blog and my graduate education is not to be George Costanza. Fellow fans of the show will contend that this is a rather low bar to set, and I would have to agree, but I wish to be genuine and deserving of any achievements. I intend to be transparent about not only the hardships I face but the privileges from which I benefit. I strive to be a responsible, conscientious human being. I hope to be successful without that nudge from Chance.

Despite seeking growth and appreciating meticulous organization and routine, so far I have stumbled over my shoelaces fairly consistently. I have the best of intentions, I really do. I create a grocery list to remember everything I need, but I forget or lose the list and return home with a haphazardly purchased bag of La Croix Grapefruit, almond milk, mustard, and Teddy Grahams. I diligently use my planner, yet I allow my rabbit to sit on my desk and rip out pages. Most embarrassing of all, I spent my final undergraduate semester painstakingly completing a field notebook only to drown it in coffee less than a week before the submission. The consequences of this absentmindedness never are enjoyable. This pattern, while potentially endearing, should be better contained.

Therefore, I have spent the evening creating a schedule for the upcoming semester. It includes some of the following activities:

  1. Twenty minutes of Duolingo German and Russian per day
  2. One hour of exercise per day
  3. Two hours of doctoral application preparation per week
  4. Three blog posts per week
  5. Three no-spend days per week

Of course there are other things on this list. I require time for reading the newspapers, time for completing school obligations, and definitely time for Netflix and bunny snuggles. I value time for reading fiction, cooking, and playing Mario. Neglecting self-care is the express lane to burnout, and I have six or seven intense years ahead of me. I hope that by scheduling relaxation as carefully as prioritizing tasks I can make it through graduate school in one piece.