Edit 2017: I’ve now graduated and there are new GAs writing new blogs! However, if you would still like to ask me about something, I’d be more than happy to help! I don’t check this blog’s email often though, so please email me at email@example.com 🙂
The papers are done, my internship has rapped up for the semester, and I have absolutely nothing I have to do until my plane ride next week (although, I should probably go turn in the E-Z Borrow library books that are from other campuses…).
These two semesters have gone by so, so, so quickly. I just spent some time uploading photos to Facebook from the past year (because I had neglected doing so for a surprisingly long time) and realized how many memories I’ve created, how many people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, and how many wonderful things I’ve had the immense privilege of learning.
So, today I give you 8 things I learned this year:
- Philadelphia is a wonderful place. I really really like this city. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I have just found a really great spirit in the city and its people. I feel like it has a reputation for being kind of rough around the edges but I think that’s what gives Philly its character. I have yet to try water ice or philly cheesesteaks, however.
- Gradschool is an interesting animal. Unlike in undergrad, we are told by professors to not read the material (they literally tell you to skim), and in general profs have been pretty nice with extensions (everyone, students and profs, know the realities of the Struggle Bus). Coursework/readings can be intense, but so can discussions. I have had some of the best discussions this year.
- Talking in class, asking questions, engaging with professors really helps. This is probably obvious. But in undergrad, though I knew it was “good for me,” I avoided talking in class like the plague. As I’ve written in posts before, if I spoke twice in an entire 10-week quarter, that was considered a good quarter. This year, I’ve spoken almost every class without being asked to, and sometimes perhaps more than anyone else wanted (lol). Through this, I realized how much I lost in undergrad by not talking. Part of it is I have an extreme anxiety about not getting my ideas across verbally. I don’t really have a problem speaking in front of people (since I enjoy performing), but I dislike having my ideas misinterpreted solely because I didn’t deliver the correct words. Anyway, enough about the inner workings of my mind.
- Related to #3, social ties matter. As a lifelong introvert, I don’t particularly love socializing. I prefer one-on-one conversations, and I also prefer group interactions to be capped at around 3-5 people. Still, I absolutely loved my cohort. I loved interacting with them in all situations, and there is not one member that I feel meh about. The cohort has been such a great support system, and I think I learned for the first time in my life that having a group of peers around to talk about academic or non-academic (like truly. our groupme sometimes consists of pet pictures, random memes, and so many wonderful wonderful things) can help immensely in the cave of sadness that is (sometimes) the process of grad school. Even if you, like me, do not love the idea of “reaching out” to people or even socializing at all, I highly recommend that you try to be open to the idea of having a group of people (or even just one or two) to support you through the experience.
- Theory is beautiful, powerful and inspiring. I think in some ways, I’ve always thought this, but it was not until this semester, taking Randy Collins’ prosem on classical sociology that I really felt the power of theory. Until this semester, or really until last week, I’ve been terrified of theory whether it was in the form of music theory (I really feel bad that some wonderful professors had to read my music analysis papers; I really had no idea what I was doing, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t either) or some kind of philosophical theory. For some reason, I thought theory = difficult, something intensely complicated to understand. This definitely put a mental block in my way. Through reading the classical sociology texts + Prof. Collins’ own books (he’s written many, but for this class we read Four Sociological Traditions and Interaction Ritual Chains) I’ve found that theory is not inherently complex nor dense. Many texts, even those of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, are written (or at least translated) in an accessible way (relatively speaking, anyway).
- Related to #5, I really really really really really like sociology. In the class mentioned above, the professor introduced sociology by saying that the beginnings of the field could be considered the novelists of the 19th century (like Zola and Balzac) who observed the society they lived in and wrote about them. Of course, now a well-established field within the greater social sciences, it’s much more methodical and “scientific” than a literary novel. Still, this idea really resonated with me. Through out my almost quarter century of living, I have been fascinated by the world around me and the people that I see. I am fascinated by individual stories, but also the larger patterns that can be observed in human interactions. With sociology, I’ve found some really great tools to further understand the world in which I live.
- Following your interests can be extremely rewarding, and having the confidence to go head first into these interests is the first step. It’s difficult for me to write papers, make arguments and contribute to discussions because I don’t feel like there’s anything relevant for me to say. It’s not that I don’t have ideas, but I don’t feel like they’re necessarily new or anything. I hesitate with saying things that’s not fully thought out. However, one of the biggest things I’ve learned in grad school so far is that this is normal. Students, professors, we’re all simply human. Any idea that crosses your mind, that you find interesting, is worth something. The trick to doing well in grad school, is finding the simple ideas in your head that have been swirling around for a while, distilling them into concentrated versions and then developing these little nuggets throughout the year in multiple contexts. For example, I’d been interested in how social media performance works in response to tragic events like the Paris attacks in 2015 (in January and November). I’ve been particularly interested in the media and individual Facebook friend responses and how it reflects the greater society we live in. So, last semester I was able to write an informal reflection paper for my advisor’s class Teaching and Learning in the Global Era, and then was able to write a more theoretical paper using the frameworks of Durkheim (collective/emotional effervescence, emotional energy, symbols etc) and Collins (interaction ritual chains and entrainment). While that might sound boring if you haven’t heard of those things (which is totally normal because I hadn’t either before taking these courses), I was super excited to write both papers. Anyway, bottom line: following your deep interests pays off. Just because something is exciting and/or fun doesn’t mean it’s not also academic.
- The rules of academia are real. The politics of academia are real. The struggle is also very real. That probably sounded vague. Thanks to the openness of my great professors and the PhD students in my classes, I feel like I’ve gotten a much more in-depth understanding of what graduate school (and living in academia) means. There are (unwritten) rules of the game, and I think you do have to work hard to find 1) the people who can mentor you/guide you/help you, 2) the topic(s) that really interest you and make you really excited to study, and 3) be open to lots and lots of failure.
That was so long and probably not too helpful, but let me know if you readers have any specific questions about what I learned. What I wrote above are some of the more “fluffy” things.
Now that my year of official blogging has come to a close, I want to 1) thank you all for reading! 2) let you know that I’ll still be posting throughout my time at Penn and 3) let you know that I’ve started a new blog hodgepodgeadventures.wordpress.com for my non-academic adventures (and my academic adventures, but I wanted to create a blog with a name that was broader than penn).
The weather is finally getting nicer here (although..that being said it’s about to thunderstorm tonight, so). I hope you all have a wonderful start to the summer!
You can keep sending me questions at firstname.lastname@example.org