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Posts Tagged ‘graduate school’

Do you ever see yourself as the fantasy graduate student? You know, the grad student who focuses intently on school, has it all together, has a job or some other activity outside of school, a robust personal life, and still finds time to volunteer for worthy causes on the side. The fantasy grad student sees obstacles as steps in the staircase to success. Each challenge raises the fantasy grad student higher and brings her/him closer to success.

The fantasy grad student indeed has a robust personal life, but only one that supports academic endeavors. Anything outside of the classroom that does not complement academic/professional achievement simply does not exist.

It’s easy to try to fit the fantasy grad student mold. I mean, isn’t that what we aspire to be? Isn’t that how we see our classmates? “Wow, they really have it all together” we say to ourselves.

But we are not fantasy grad students. None of us are.

We are real people. All of us are.

We have obstacles, pains, and even personal lives that are not always 100% conducive to academic/professional success. In fact, some of us have personal lives that are downright obstacles themselves, and every day that we make it to class, that we hand in an assignment however crappy, that we register for those next set of credits is a personal victory.

Despite outward appearances, many of us don’t have it all together. For some of us, this isn’t the first attempt at getting a grad degree. It’s the second.

Or the third.

Or more.

Yet we press on, grasping at the image of the fantasy grad student, hoping and believing that this semester will be the one when I get it right. This will be the semester that I submit my papers on time. This will be the semester that I’ll get the grades to justify my loans. This will be the semester that I don’t end up dropping a class. Or two.

For some of us, “this semester” is the one we say we’ll get through without the help from Mr. Jack Daniels or Ms. Mary Jane. “This semester” is the one where we finally don’t let problems with our boyfriend/girlfriend prevent us from focusing. “This semester” is the one where we’ll learn to sleep without having that same nightmare from whatever happened years ago. “This semester” is the one in which we’ll get it together.

But what do we do when “this semester” doesn’t work out like we hoped? What do we do when “this semester” feels a lot like last semester? And the semester before that? And the one before that?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that none of us – not one single person in any grad program in the universe – is a fantasy grad student. All of us have stories, stuff we’re going through, coming out of, or are about to go through. All of us have personal lives that can sometimes make our studies difficult. We’re real, whole, people. We’re more than the sum total of our GPA, our classes, our internships and jobs.

Whatever you may be going through now, just coming out of, or about to go through, just do your best. Never give up. Ask for help when you need it (it’s NOT a sign of weakness!), and breathe.

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When I came to Milano in the fall of 2010, I was 100% set on graduating in two years. Get in, get out, get on with serving urban black communities. I was also 100% set on getting the most out of my graduate experience – taking advantage of opportunities for personal and professional growth and enrichment. At the beginning of this semester though I found myself in a quandary – in my desire to graduate in two years and take full advantage of the graduate school experience I put more on my plate than is wise. I’m a TA for policy lab, I’m taking the second  half of Community Development Finance Lab, I’m taking Public Fiance and doing my PDR. And I’m taking Legislative Process for my last elective (good class). And I’m working.

Um…yeah.

That all seems very daunting, so I seriously considered pushing one or two classes to the fall. Of course, that would mean that I would graduate in January 2013 (degrees are conferred twice a year and there is only one graduation ceremony which is in May). I talked to several professors about trying to power through and graduate in the spring with my full load and I’ve been told that A) it’s not a great idea, but B) it’s doable.

“Doable” in the sense that there are students who work full-time and go to school full-time and seemingly have a high tolerance for stress. That’s 100% NOT the experience I wanted coming into grad school. In fact, I purposefully decided to go to school full-time (and took out required loan$) just so that I could really dive deep into my studies without being unnecessarily stressed.

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men.

But what would I drop? Everything I’m doing has value academically, personally, and professionally.

After much thought and prayer (and a dose of you-need-to-graduate-and-get-a-job reality from my father), I decided to power through.

Is it the best decision? We’ll see. Although I love all the things I’m doing, I fear that I won’t be able to dedicate the necessary time and care that each item deserves.

But I have decided. I am moving forward. I can definitely use your prayers and support.

Onward to May!!

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I’m sitting in the New School Study Center, which is currently occupied by the Occupy Wall Street movement. The building was taken last Thursday and has since become a home base for the All-City Student General Assembly.

It’s quite an interesting scene. I wonder how many people here are New School students vs. students from other universities vs. non-students. I’d love to give all of the details of what I see right now but I’m not sure if that would violate some some of social compact that is going on here. Journalists are not being allowed upstairs and I by no means am no journalist, but I’m sure there’s a reason for the limited info. No video or photo are allowed either. I’m sure someone else is blogging all the details, I haven’t been reading any blogs covering #ows. Really I’m just a grad student that wants to know what’s going on with my study space.

Thus, I have some mixed feelings about this whole situation. On the one hand, I wholeheartedly support the movement in its calling out of gross inequality and the unjust economic system that we have that values profits over people. The Occupy Wall Street movement has taken the national political debate from budget cuts to issues of inequality.

At the same time, the study center is relatively new, and I’m a paying student. I get upset when I see people leave crumbs on the tables in the study rooms, much less people turning this into a full-time base of operations. I must admit that it’s a lot cleaner up here than I expected to find it. That being said, the walls seem to be nothing more than a giant canvas. I’m not happy about that because that’s just disrespectful. Taping posters is one thing, painting is another, and just scrawling phrases is something else entirely. I wonder who will have to clean up when this is all done.

Part of me thinks some of the wall writing should be left for posterity. After all, this is the New School, isn’t it?

There is something that I don’t get about this current occupation: the point. It seems that there are different people with different agendas united by a general dissatisfaction with the way things are. Some of the arguments seem a bit misguided. I would love lower tuition (one of the calls here), but there the economics of running an institution. I suspect there is an alternative plan for funding universities, but saying “don’t pay tuition” is not a solid plan in my view.

I recognize that some of my thoughts are not in line with some of my fellow class mates, and that’s okay. We’re all better off with a diversity of view points.

As for me, I need to go #occupy this case study for elements of finance.

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Growing up there were always those kids who relished the last day of school. They counted every day, hour, second until the final ringing of the bell and the opportunity to loosen the tie and to get out the ‘monkey suit’ commonly known as our school uniform.  For me I knew that summer just meant a different schedule, but structure none the less. By college I regarded summer break as the opportunity to process and store away the previous semester before returning to the trough in the Fall. Part of the beauty of having 4 years to complete undergrad is if you fall of track you have time to get back on track … or at least a summer or two to find your way back.

This June as I finished up my first semester I found myself exhausted. Mostly mentally exhausted but by proxy a little bit physically exhausted.  For my first semester I expected more reading. I expected a scheduling that would be a challenge having hoofed it from 9 to 5 for the last few years.  I expected a learning curve for writing, and most of all I expected to be physically exhausted by the end of the semester.  What I definitely didn’t expect was the group process to kick my tail. It challenged me at times, it begged me to catch up at other times and most of all by the end of the semester I realized it had enriched what I learned through the course readings.  By June I had transformed into one of those kids counting off the days to the ‘official’ start of summer.  I spent a few weeks trying to get back some semblance of my pre-grad school schedule. I spent another few weeks decompressing….and boy was that fun.  But before I knew it I was hit with the panic.

For the full time (2 year program) student you have one summer to make sure you haven’t fallen off track, aren’t about to fall off track or to figure out what your track should be. Many, arguably most paid internships take place during the summer (corporations/organizations use paid internships geared towards grad students as a stop gap on projects during the summer months when salaried employees are often using vacation time). Besides the internship route summer makes an excellent time for figuring out post program fellowships.  By the time I decompressed and before I knew it…it was July and I had 35 days  left  to summer.

Of course by July most paid internships are gone. While I’ve squandered part of my summer and have lost some internship opportunities I’ve been plugging away with figuring out the post-school-fellowship-thing. Also to make sure I am on track to finish up strong in my program I have been reworking my resume, updating my interview skills, working references, looking for spring or (next) summer internship opportunities that I will be able to parlay into employment opportunities …. cause the job market is no joke.  While summer is about decompressing it is more about keeping focus for year 2 and staying on track to capitalize on the grad school experience.

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It’s been three weeks since classes started, but it feels closer to three months. The hardest thing so far has been finding a schedule that works for both the personal and the school stuff as well as realizing many of the great talks on campus happen while I’m in class during the evenings. As a Year One my schedule consists of schoolwide and program core courses and so far it’s been a mixed blessing. The biggest benefit has been the heavy concentration of other Year Ones in the classes, this has served to take off some of the hesitation about being vocal during class for fear of sounding  ‘stupid’.  On the other hand having core courses have given me mixed feelings about the collection of courses I am taking this semester. By far the most difficult course for me this semester is my economics class. Initially I was considering taking Quantitative Methods, but after the student panel during orientation I decided to go with the economics core course – Economics for Management and Public Policy.  Part of the difficulty lies in having the dominant part of my grade determined by the midterm and the final (80 percent), with homework and classroom participation making up the remainder of the grade. Essentially, it’s a microeconomics course and while supply and demand may work for widgets and widget consultancies, it is hard to map that on to the nonprofit sector which is essentially answering the need for services that the for profit sector was unable to find a profit driven response too….

By far my favorite course has been Making a Difference: Global, Organizational and Individual Perspectives of Social Change.  This class demands my engagement and then once engaged it smacks me around a bit … just to send me out into the school week a little pissed (which is a good thing). The readings test my base knowledge and understanding of critical thought while giving me enough gristle to wrestle with the stuff I don’t know yet. This is one of the rare classes over my college career (both undergrad and grad) that I’ve found myself looking for other readings to supplement the assignments for the week because I want to be better prepared for the class.

As it stands my Theory and Practice of NonProfit Management class is my least favorite course this semester. Essentially, it’s a survey course and I believe for me after 5 solid years of nonprofit experience I was looking for more ‘theory’ and less ‘practice’. We read …. we talk…[we are] getting bored and it’s only week four. Hopefully, the professor will recognize the lack of participation as a cry for help and will shift to meet our needs.

The tally thus far for reading (in pages): 114 (week 1), 201 (week 2), and 234 (week 3)….

Eulalia

PS  – I’ve added a couple of pics from this week’s ‘snow day’….school was canceled which was good for me (as my new notebook was delivered) but was a dud for the snow enthusiasts. NYC only received 8-9 inches while my hometown of Philly (a 2-hour drive away) is sitting in 88 inches worth of snow (over the course of back to back weekend snow sessions).

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At the end of August (2008) I was gearing up for our EOY (end of year) individual appeal, and had drafted a letter which referenced the recession. Our ED who received his letters in economics, and according to him was the youngest tenured professor at Wharton at one point, summarily told me there wasn’t a recession. While technically Bernake/Paulson/ or whomever had not declared a recession I decided it was a point worth arguing. My ED argued that there are certain parameters that must be in place for a recession to be called and mentioning the ‘R’ word was tantamount to screaming the ‘sky is falling’, and I argued that while I didn’t possess a PhD I knew enough about economics and more importantly understood hood economics to warrant using the “R” word. I explained to him the hood tenet of black folks as the first to suffer from a recession and the last to recover from one, and coupled this with the anecdotal information coming from our own nonprofit. Typically summer was a slow time of the year for us, but we had seen a steady stream of people looking for work and more importantly folks with jobs coming in looking for a better (or second) job. Also, many participants noted that it was difficult to purchase the basic necessities … particularly staples such as milk, paper goods, and meat. During lunchtime it was not odd to hear participants speaking about running up larger tabs at the local bodega (where many poor New Yorkers do a hefty portion of their food shopping) and ‘cutting back’. For the hood, cutting back takes the form of buying a gallon of milk one quart at a time (eventhough this results in a higher gallon cost for families)….or by replacing the staple of chicken with the less expensive substitutes of ox tails and pork parts.

Despite everything I knew I couldn’t convince my ED we were in the right to use the ‘R’ word and that our funders would appreciate the forethought by us of calling a ‘duck’ – a duck. While I am a big proponent of finding professional mentors who you can count on for learning the concrete tasks of your profession I found myself just lacking the background knowledge to articulate my insights, and for me this was the beginning of the realization it was time to go back to school. By the time the holidays rolled around I used vacation time to visit Columbia and NYU to look at program options and to get a sense of the application process. Through acquaintances I had secured inauguration tickets for me and my mom, and while the cold weather kept my mom from heading to DC with me, I decided to do a post-inauguration brunch in Philly with her. By this time there was no doubt we were in a recession and at brunch I decided to share with my mom my desire to go back to school. After almost ten years of giving my mom reasons for not going to grad school, I found myself articulating why this was the time to go. My mom’s main concern was the cost prohibitive factor of returning to school. My youngest sister is still trying to get her undergrad degree and my mom was clear that she wouldn’t be able to help me financially as she was still committed to helping my sister. She also felt that I should be happy that I still had a job and that if I was serious about school I should wait until the recession ‘blew’ over before returning. I had hoped to leave the brunch bolstered by my mom ready to commit to applying to school, but instead I left riddled with anxiety at the thought this perhaps wasn’t the smartest choice to make.

While reticent about the country’s future, my future and more importantly about returning to school I moved forward with applying to school. I prepped for the GRE/GMAT, and took the GRE, visited classes, read blogs by current students and alumni, talked with friends who did various programs, collected immunization/transcripts/recommendation records …. basically I started the process that would dominate 2009 for me. As I visited the various admissions offices I learned that many other folks were applying to school (thanks in part to the recession) but many schools would not be increasing the number of accepts – thus making it ‘harder’ to get into school. I initially had hoped for a fall admit, but ended up waitlisted at one institution and denied by my fail safe. I was ready to chalk it up as maybe my mom was right (it isn’t the right time to consider returning to school), but instead I decided to double up. I increased the number of institutions I applied to and decided to push for a January admit. The strategy paid off …. and I found myself with a few choices for January. I think I have made the best choice in Milano and only time will tell. Overall I am looking forward to being challenged by my classmates and reading material. I am looking forward to challenging myself to embrace the new and lastly to be a bit more proactive than I was as an undergrad. With classes starting tomorrow I am still unsure what to expect (other than more complex math and reading things I don’t like) and I find myself as equally ambivalent as I was starting out the process….on some level I believe this ambivalence will be the only certainty about the next two years.

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I grew up in Philadelphia, 92 miles away from New York City, but in the long (very long) shadow of the city. While many of my peers spoke ‘early and often’ about moving to New York, I always assumed I would move to the nation’s capital – DC. After majoring in political science during my undergrad years I had my DC opportunity. I found myself working as a researcher for the Democratic National Committee during the 2000 presidential cycle and the subsequent recount, and had some surreal moments during my tenure at the DNC such as White House dinners, debate prep, and the constant fear that today would be the day I would go to work and find out I was going to Florida – like right now – due to the recount. After the 2000 election and recount, I along with many of my fellow DNC researchers decided to move forth in the world. A few went on to do research for cable news networks (a burgeoning FoxNews and a transitioning CNN), others went off to law school, and I decided to join the campaign trail again. After turning down an opportunity to work on the 2001 Israeli snap election, due to what I thought would be a ‘crazy’ environment, I ended up working on the ‘crazy’ 2001 mayoral election in New York City.  September 11th was New York’s primary day, and like many in the city and the country by the end of the day the things I thought I knew I no longer felt certain about them.

For me politics was a way to bring about systemic change. I believed by working to elect individuals who could introduce legislation and use the bully pulpit of the office to effect policy shifts, would ensure the things I cared about (such as social security, Medicare, funding for higher education, et al.) would survive and thrive. But after September 11th I realized there were many nonprofit organizations that were carrying out and building the systems for those policies to be effective that were losing funding due to the priority shift towards national security. I began working as a fundraiser and saw how ineffectual leadership within an organization drove away programmatic talent and was unable to draw new talent. With the 2008 financial crisis I realized it was time to step up to the plate and so I applied to Milano for nonprofit management.

Growing up in a city of 1.5M and living in a city of 8.2M, I often find myself defining (and re-defining) what I mean by community and how I valuate the community I’ve defined. Politics taught me the art of crossing community boundaries. The nonprofit world taught me to give edges to the boundaries crossed as well as to see the spaces created by crossing those boundaries. It is the community of Milano that ultimately drove me to accept admission to the program.

— Eulalia

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