Yesterday a fabulous grad school milestone was reached! I defended my dissertation proposal! Someone asked me if I felt different. My answer then was no. But, now after some much needed rest and a slice of celebratory ice cream cake at 4am, I feel it. Excitement. Anticipation. A little bit of disbelief that I’m already this far along in grad school. The past three years have flown by – coursework, comprehensive exams, and now this. While I still have so much more to do this semester and in the semesters ahead, in this moment I can take a breath.
Today was the last day of the spring semester and my third year in graduate school. A celebration of some sort is definitely in order. Apparently time flies when you’re having fun and when you’re pursuing your PhD.
While the beginning and end of semesters and summers tend to blur, I think it’s important to take stock. This academic year I have taken and passed my comprehensive exams, started on my dissertation proposal, gotten my dissertation IRB approved, completed another iteration of a paper and submitted it for publication (prayers up, please!), applied for and received two travel grants, presented at two regional sociology meetings, had a paper accepted for the Popular Culture panel at the American Sociological Association meeting (OMG!), planned and executed a successful and meaningful symposium on our contemporary social movement, preserved my mental health throughout an emotionally taxing year, and managed to have a life outside of my work! It has been a fabulous year, but there is more to be done!
It’s never too early to compile another notoriously long summer to do list, so here it is:
Can you believe that comps are in 7 weeks?! Where does the time go?? I’d tell you I can’t believe it but the amount of tension in my shoulders that’s been steadily increasing over the past few weeks says otherwise. More advanced colleagues assure me that it’s nothing to (over) worry about, that it’s just a hurdle that you have to get over and it doesn’t matter how high you jump but just that you make it over, and that everyone passes. I like this last piece of consolation because it’s actually false. #funnynotfunny But I guess we’re doing some sort of positive imagery, so we just ignore that fact that people actually do fail. But anyways. Here’s a compilation of advice regarding comps prep:
Begin studying 4-5 months in advance
Form study groups of about 3-4 people
Gather all articles/books first (because this can take way more time than you’d imagine)
Create concise summaries on each reading: include abstract, 1 sentence finding/contribution to the field, 1-2 sentences on methods – data used, variables (independent/dependent), type of analysis etc., and then a couple paragraph summary (this should be easy because you’ve had lots of practice doing this over the previous semesters as you’ve read for courses)
Write/outline practice questions (i.e., simulate the test itself)
Read and review practice questions among your group members
For the past couple months, I’ve been reading through the reading list, creating summaries, and outlining questions for the two specialty areas – Stratification and Social Psychology – that I’ll be comping in this September (SEPTEMBER OMG that’s like tomorrow). One of the best parts about studying for comps is reading all the fun stuff that I want to read. For example, as I’m studying for the social psych comp, I’m reading a lot about identity measures specifically for transracial adoptees and bi/multi-racial individuals. This will be very useful in, not only comps but also, the identity research I’m interested in and dissertation work. But, for now, my focus is primarily on successfully clearing this hurdle. Stay tuned.
I have a list of Things to Remember as I traverse through the discipline, and one of those things is Numbers Lie. Some related comments on this topic are: “It’s not so much about the numbers as it is about the story you choose to tell” and “Data is created.”
I’m at ICPSR this summer, and one of the main classes that I came for is Methodological Issues in Quantitative Research on Race and Ethnicity. The course highlights the problematic nature of research on race and ethnicity from conceptualization to measurement and operationalization to research design and data collection. If there were any doubt about the doubtfulness of quantitative research, in general, and quantitative race related research specifically, this class dispels it.
Even though I have a healthy skepticism about quantitative methods, especially regression, the truth is, as sociologists, as well as other social scientists, we love our numbers. There’s something that seems so concrete and trustworthy about computer and math wizardry. So, here I am at ICPSR honing my quantitative skills because I refuse to be marginalized in my field due to methodology.
In addition to the usual Fourth of July fare, this past holiday also found me scrolling through a fabulous *emancipatory* Twitter rant on academic writing and the preservation of your soul by one of my fav sociologists/Memphians Zandria Robinson. Check out what she had to say here.
One of the biggest adjustments in returning to academia was learning how to write in acadamese. A little piece of my soul died every time I had to contort my thoughts into unnatural, cold, unfeeling, antiseptic words. Academic writing simply sucks all the soul out of your words. Words should move, and if I’m unmoved then how much so is my reader. Even worse, if my audience likes these words devoid of feeling, then what does that say about who I’m keeping company with?
There is just so little intellectual excitement, or rather, the excitement is dull, lackluster, a cheap knockoff of what excitement should feel like, look like. But it’s important to maintain this active disconnect with academic writing. Yes, I write my papers within the constraints of the discipline, but I hold on to my voice. Sometimes it’s frustrating and hard, but sometimes you get reminded of the hope and the shared vision and you can struggle on another day.