Probably the thing you hear me say most come fall is, “have you been reaching out to faculty?” It’s become a mantra in relation to the group of McNair scholars set to apply to graduate school this season. I usually have between eight and ten students applying, and every year I stress myself out worrying if they are “doing enough” to get fully funded offers at their top-choice programs.
I know their intention to do so is there, it’s just that sometimes demands of the semester, coupled with anxiety about reaching out, stymie their efforts.
Each summer I present at a “grad school boot camp” where I talk about the grad application process and how to make those fully funded offers happen. Besides covering the “logistical” aspects and offering a specially designed organizational tool called the Grad App Tracker, the most important thing I tell our McNair scholars is to establish “meaningful contact” with as many faculty members at programs you are interested in as you can. Whether it be through a campus visit (best option), Skype/phone session (pretty decent) or email correspondence (can still be effective), connecting with people you are interested in potentially working with is key to enhancing your chances for admission.
Don’t get me wrong, you have to do all of the other pieces to the best of your ability – writing a kick ass personal statement, building those experiences on your CV, doing the best that you can in your classes, developing relationships with faculty on your campus so that you have the strongest recommendation letters possible. All of these things are important. To really “seal the deal” though, you need to combine the added element of connection.
Case in point is one of our scholars currently investigating applying to a campus visitation program. The process hasn’t been entirely clear and I’ve even tried to reach out to their coordinator for guidance. What it basically comes down to, however, is the student making contact with prospective faculty advisors at that institution in order to be selected for the visit.
A particularly tenacious student, this scholar had been reaching out to multiple individuals without response. Then I get a text with a screen shot of a response from a faculty member indicating enthusiasm for this scholar, as well as “deep respect” for this scholar’s current McNair mentor. As well as the scholar BURSTING WITH JOY! Score! I’m going to wager that this scholar, in fact, gets selected for the visit, which very well might lead to acceptance (with funding) into the program, which is one of her top-choice schools.
This is what I mean by toehold. With these initial connections come the potential for meaningful exchanges that may lead to partnerships in the future. The goal is to establish a “toehold” at as many of your programs as possible. This means reaching out, briefly telling people about your awesome experiences as McNair scholars, indicating a sincere interest in their work and asking whether they anticipate taking on new graduates next fall. Easy peasy! In many cases, these emails will go unanswered. And that’s okay. But the few that do secure a response are the gems that could very well point the way to your future. You just don’t know.
And you especially don’t (and won’t) know if you don’t send any emails.
That’s why I’m constantly asking my scholars if they are reaching out. You never know what kinds of connections you might be able to foster if you don’t try.
It’s like fishing really. Think about how many times you might have to cast that bait in order to get even the first bite. Sometimes they hit right away, other times it takes a slew of casting, sometimes you don’t get any bites at all. But all of that information you are collecting along the way is important in your decision-making process, right? About how to better your approach, about what types of “fishing environments” you’re going to target next.
And when it comes to selecting a grad school, you’re probably going to go where you get some good quality responses. You are going to go where you feel most welcome. And the more of these kinds of “interactions” you can successfully foster during your grad application process the better!
So get out there and start sending those emails. Make it a priority to MAKE IT HAPPEN before all of the sudden it’s Thanksgiving and nearing those December 1 deadlines. I know you can do this. Let us know how it goes!
I am so excited to participate in this year’s camp and to get to know each of you. This is a terrific opportunity to network with other McNair scholars around the country – and learn everything you can about getting yourself into a fully funded Ph.D. program!
I have fond memories of the Grad School Boot Camp through the years – initially created and hosted by Indiana University and now hosted by Murray State University. This picture is of our 2006 CMU McNair scholars taking a break during camp and hanging out on the lake. That’s over TEN YEARS AGO already!!
Here you may access the handouts and PowerPoint’s associated with my presentations on the Grad App Process, Getting the Money and Taking Care of YOU on the Road to the Doctorate.
Be sure to sign up for a Trello account @ www.trello.com and then shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your username if you would like me to send you to a *customizable* CMU GRAD APP TRACKER BOARD that you can then tailor for your own use.
REMEMBER YOUR CHALLENGE
Email me by September 1 and tell me that your ESSENTIALS are complete!
Here is a video of me “interviewing” one of our CMU McNair Ph.D. graduates. Dr. Freddy Lee shares about his experiences as a graduate student at Indiana University and how his McNair experience helped get him situated on the path to the Ph.D. Lots of great insights and tips on how best to proceed, as well as demonstrating what is possible with hard work and dedication toward your goals >>>
I spent the better part of Wednesday sitting on the couch. Dazed and confused you might say. I felt sick to my stomach. I watched the speeches made that day. I watched Jerry Maguire because it was on one of the channels. Cuba Gooding Jr. made me smile.
I had tried to do the normal things I would have been doing on that Wednesday. I tried to edit some personal statements. I tried to read some applications. Instead I found myself walking around campus aimlessly, not really wanting to be anywhere. That’s why I found myself on the couch, the next best place to be when you don’t feel like you belong anywhere.
I have a half-written blog post about the excitement of interviewing new scholars for McNair. I haven’t been able to finish it, and darn it, I should have just done that and posted it last week before this all happened. I was in much better spirits then.
I can’t stop myself from being on Facebook and reading about the fallout from some of the more thoughtful and grounded observers out there. I’m not sure what I’m looking for but it’s probably hope.
I’m listening to our scholars and I’m not sure how to engage. I don’t know quite what to say except I’m sorry. I’ve been though some intense times when McNair was in jeopardy. That happened two grant cycles ago when we didn’t even know if or when we were going to be writing for another round of support, we didn’t know how much money was being taken away, and then ultimately we lost 50 of our programs, many of which had been long-standing, very successful McNair programs over the past decade. We made it and I felt relieved and lucky to be able to continue the important work that we do with our scholars.
I’m not feeling that way now. I’m feeling scared and deeply saddened. We’re going to be in for the fight of our lives. We’re supposed to be writing for another five years of support in the next couple of months and we’re supposed to be doing this when I’m reading articles suggesting the U.S. Department of Education will be dismantled.
I have Ph.D. students questioning whether it’s even worth it to get their Ph.D. in a time when there might not be funding for research that is so needed. I have scholars barely making it though college with full Pell grants and I can’t even begin to imagine younger low income students trying to make it though with even less.
So what to say here? I don’t know honestly. Except that we’re going to be in for the biggest fight of our lives. That is certainly clear. I already had scholar graduates texting and asking what they can do. It’s going to become even more pertinent that we tell our stories to as many people that will listen and can hear.
It’s going to become even more critical for our McNair community to support one another and be strong. We have no other choice as I see it.
I’m scared for the future. And I’m feeling pretty helpless right now. My family can’t afford for me not to have a job and it might come to that. My heart hurts to think that I might not be able to do this work with students like our McNair scholars. This work is deeply meaningful to me and it’s helped to define me as a person. The thought of that being ripped away is something I can’t even think about.
But really, it’s not about me, it’s about our students and their chance to pursue their dreams through education. I can’t bring myself to think this might all be dashed. So I won’t.
We’re going to need our entire McNair community to become vocal. Way more vocal than we have ever been. We’re going to have to share the stories of our students, the challenges they face and the obstacles they have overcome with assistance from programs like Trio and McNair. We’re going to have to present a united front to those who might not understand or want to listen. We’re going to have to help them listen and understand by sharing the compelling stories of our students.
That’s all I can say for now.
Our scholars presented their research yesterday and Alyssa so eloquently posted this afterward:
My passion for social equality is obvious in many ways, but one thing I don’t talk about as much is my passion for education. To me, those two things go hand-in-hand. Being a McNair Scholar has allowed for me to dedicate my life to social equality by means of education & I cannot thank the program enough.
“Education is the most powerful weapon with which you can use to change the world” – Nelson Mandela 💕
Let’s keep going McNair. Dr. McNair wants us to, that’s for sure. It’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be pretty. But we must continue. We must.
My dear friend, Gracie, hosted a workshop at the yoga studio this weekend entitled, Bats and the Unsuspecting Lullaby. As part of it, she created a mesmerizing art installation encompassing hanging dream catchers made from doilies of varying sizes, shapes and designs. I didn’t get to attend the workshop, but I did get to practice yoga amidst this beautiful display and received some of Gracie’s underlying intentions as a result.
As I stood among these suspended treasures, I took in this idea of quietude and standing in one’s own quietude. Being still and feeling calm. Exuding tranquility even when life is swirling about. This concept spoke to me yesterday especially since I had lots of things swirling in my mind. I think we all do … most of the time.
While being still and quiet, I started to feel strength inside myself stemming from the stillness and listening. The dreamcatchers would softly shift their stance midair and slowly reveal another side of themselves. When we become quiet and still, I believe that is when our strength arises and our truth makes itself known. If we let it. The beauty surrounding me inspired me to relish in my own beauty. The stillness among this beauty reinforced my own belief in myself.
I wanted to write this post and share this experience with our McNair scholar community because it also makes me think of our scholars currently finding their voice through their work. Perhaps searching for their inner strength and stature. I’ve had recent conversations that point to self-doubt and questioning. Questioning one’s voice amidst the noisy playing field that is academe. Perhaps questioning if the effort required to grow one’s knowledge and utilize one’s voice is worthwhile.
I’ve had my fair share of “questioning moments” recently as well. As a matter of fact, today I will engage in discussion related to my own voice and work in this world. I spent a lot of time questioning myself, who I really am, what I’m really passionate about, how I wish to impact change and empower others. And right now, I’m done with the questioning. Not to say that the “questioning” won’t arise again and again. Because it will. It always does. But right now, I’m feeling firm in my own voice, in my choices in how I interact with others, how I share and bring beauty to each day.
In my exchange with Gracie, post-class, and thinking further about this notion of quietude and how it can lead to strength and clarity … about one’s purpose … about one’s work.
How bad do you want it? How good do you want it? Work is an unambiguous action. What do you want for yourself? What do you want for others? HOW do you keep going? Hint: it’s okay to die a little. Know your trade-offs. Know your exchange rate. You must love yourself more than any other version of you, each day, anew. You must trust yourself more than anyone. You must be content “going alone.” Details, interactions, time construction all matter. Do you believe in your work? If the answer is no, it’s time to refigure. If the answer is yes, you’re already on the path.
This is really an excerpt from her forthcoming work on Resiliency: An Art Form. I think it really captures the essence of what I’m trying communicate here today. If you are feeling a little “wobbly” with your work, where you are in your journey, try to embrace it as much as you can. Listen to the “questioning” that might be bubbling up for you. And then become quiet and still and really listen. Your strength and truth are there, if just below the surface. I’m definitely of the opinion that if you listen you will come to know. How about you?
P.S. You can find out more about Gracie and her work at HERE.