Reflections: One Year Later

This last year has been hard for the whole world. The pandemic and the sudden rise of Zoom helped push us all to the final step of creating this blog, which we hoped would be a bright spot in academia as jobs were being rescinded and funding was up in the air. Our goal has been to demystify graduate school, and we hope that over this year we have helped at least one person. This week, we just want to take a moment to reflect on the last year, both personally and professionally, as we look forward to another year for Handling the Humanities.

Kiri: It’s hard to believe that over an entire year has passed since we decided to create this blog. When we first started, our biggest goal was that we would help fellow graduate students in the same ways that others helped us in the past, while also fostering collaborations to cultivate a wider sense of community. Looking back at this year, there were a lot of ups and downs, in the world and in our own lives, and it’s meant a lot to us to have your continued support throughout it all. While we have always hoped that this blog would help others, it helped us in a lot of ways as well. It has offered us opportunities to reflect, and even take our own advice on a lot of things. Personally, this past year I’ve been working to develop my dissertation topic more fully, and it has been challenging to not conflate my status as an academic with my own self-worth. My anxiety reached new heights and my depression left me with all time lows—but having my friends to lean on and this blog to explore my feelings allowed me to get through the tough times and end the academic year on a relatively high note. I cannot wait to see what the year has brought everyone else who reads the blog, and I’m excited to see where the next year will take us. Thank you to everyone who has read, contributed, or even just thrown us the occasional like. It’s meant more than you could know. 

Clayton: How time flies! I can’t believe it’s already been a year since we started this blog, and honestly, I think that it’s gone pretty well! We’ve all been able to write amazing pieces, both as a group and on individual topics that we have each chosen. We have also been able to work with amazing people to bring outside works onto the blog. In such a crazy year, I like to think we were able to create something positive and helpful to those looking into graduate school, while also being somewhat entertaining. To everyone that’s stuck with us over this year, thanks for coming with us on this ride and I hope you enjoyed it so far! It’s only going to get better from here.   

Dragana: While this blog was something that we have discussed since our MA program, it was only last year that we set everything in motion. It is amazing to see how far we have come from 2018-2019 when we first started thinking about creating something for graduate students to help them navigate grad school. A lot of work has gone into starting this blog and maintaining it, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. I hope that we were able (and continue) to be helpful to any and all students in academia because we all share the same struggles. As we look back to what we have done so far, we are proud of what we have produced (from group posts to individual posts and our amazing contributors) and will continue to share more of our experiences and knowledge with you guys. On a more personal level, this blog has been like an anchor for me. Having biweekly posts and meetings has provided a sense of control and comfort during times where things in my personal life may have been difficult. It has also provided me with a way to see and talk to my fellow contributors and friends, even though it’s through Zoom. While we may be a few miles or states apart, this blog has kept the people I admire the most in my life and I look forward to what’s to come.

Stephen: One year! The blog is now a year older and so are we. It has been a challenge to maintain a weekly/bi-weekly blog while most of us are working on PhDs, navigating the workforce, and trying to stay alive during a global pandemic. I could not be prouder of my fellow bloggers and friends who have made this blog possible! They are a hard working group of people who, through a diverse set of skills and opinions, put together an astounding blog that helps guide graduate and potential graduate students through graduate school and beyond. There have been a few guest contributors to the blog whose insights have been greatly appreciated. I look forward to another year with the HTH team and putting out more diverse content for our readers. 

Chelsi: This blog is something that I think we were all unsure of in the beginning. I had grandiose dreams of having a nice medium sized following to interact with, but perhaps we did not reach quite that. We had some friends who wanted to write with us and join us on this journey, though, and people from our own programs say that what we were doing was interesting and good. That kept me going and writing more, even as we all got bogged down with our work in our respective programs. An unexpected part of this blog was how much it helped me. Handling the Humanities has served as a driving force in keeping me grounded. Even as my family was sick, I was sick, someone died, friends lost their funding, and nothing seemed to be going right, I could still come back to the blog and take a moment to reflect on both the good and bad of my life and share those experiences to our few followers. I am thankful to those who have read one post and Maddie’s mom who follows all our posts for interacting and sitting in this space with us. This blog set out to help others, but I have been helped by it as well.

Frank: It’s been a lot of fun working on the blog and hopefully helpful to our readers. After one year we’ve covered a number of relevant topics though we have barely scratched the surface on everything that could be discussed about graduate school or the different perspectives on how to approach it. Looking forward to another year of great discussion. 

Oh No, I Graduated! Now What?

By Clayton Richards

Graduating from a graduate program is something that is built up over the length of your time in a program. It’s constantly seen as both a goal and a benchmark, the thing that you spend all your time and effort working towards. However, there is something else that is always in the back of your mind, what comes next? What to do after graduation? For me at least, these questions became louder and louder as graduation came closer, even while I still had readings and essays to work on. I had some ideas on what would come next, but I was unsure of the exact details. I had to decide whether or not I wanted to go on into a PhD program or work in another field such as museums or government. Since I knew I wasn’t going on to PhD right away, I figured I had some time to get some work experience and decide on what I wanted to do. Then 2020 happened.

The craziness that has been the last year threw a wrench in my plans. Possibilities that were open before the pandemic would not be available for some time. Despite the somewhat extreme circumstances of the last year, there are some general ideas and plans that I have tried to keep to which can be helpful for anyone coming out of graduate school. One of the most important and impactful things you can do is keep up with contacts, they will be the ones to give you advice and leads as you are looking forward. Keeping in contact with my former professors and advisors has helped give me some direction and leads on opportunities after graduate school. They are also one of the main resources I go to when thinking about a PhD. I have also kept in contact with my supervisors at the Florida Holocaust Museum, and they have given me research to do from home and even brough me back into the museum to work. These contacts are always going to be useful to you.

Also, simply putting yourself out there is a major part of the post-grad process. I have applied for many jobs including everything from city government to state and federal agencies to companies. Even in normal times this would be a tough process, and COVID only makes it more difficult. But, going through these applications and interviews do help you gather experience in this process, and can help you get a taste of what a job might be and if you are actually interested in it. Another thing that I’ve been trying to do more post-grad (and because of COVID) is taking care of myself. Taking mental breaks, exercising more, and picking up some new hobbies can help keep the stress and frustration from overloading. I now try to go for 3 miles walks almost every day to just get some fresh air and listen to some music or podcasts, it helps refresh me. All of these tips and ideas help, but they do not make post-grad decisions any easier. COVID has also made this last year a bit of an extreme outlier. The main thing is having faith in yourself and what you want to be, and with some help, everything will fall into place eventually.

University Outreach

Introduction: This week we take a look at the various ways we were involved with university outreach and the benefits it has. From going to events to planning them, university outreach can be a great way to connect with fellow students and faculty, and have a fun time. 

Kiri: Once in graduate school, it can become difficult to engage in university programs because of the pressures that come hand-in-hand with starting such a rigorous program. Joining these programs can help you to stay connected with your fellow grad students, however, and offers a great way to learn how to successfully network. When I first joined FSU’s PhD program, I attended a lot of the events hosted by the History Graduate Student Association to try to meet new people in the program, and I really enjoyed all the work that the HGSA did for the people in the HGSA. When elections came around, I decided to run for secretary of the HGSA so that I could help to foster the same sense of community that the HGSA helped to instill in me the first year I was there. Even through the pandemic, the HGSA has still managed to hold semi-frequent meetings as well as fun events through zoom for students to attend. This was a great way to continue the connections between students already at FSU, as well as meet the students in the incoming cohort who we were unable to meet in person. Although busy schedules sometimes get in the way of continually attending events, or even joining as an officer, going to some events will help one to make deeper connections to others in their program, and also attend more social events that don’t pertain directly to academia. This can be a huge stress reliever as well because you’re able to connect with others that are in the same situation as you are. Through University programs like your Graduate Association, you can form bonds and make friends that can help to support you through your graduate career. 

Dragana: University outreach is a great way to be able to get involved in non-academic related activities. As graduate students it can be difficult to step away from academics and take a break. In the second year of my MA program I became an officer of our chapter of Phi Alpha Theta (PAT). As an officer, I was involved in planning events each month that were meant to bring students and professors of the History Department together in a laid-back environment. I was in charge of creating flyers for our events and maintaining our social media platforms. Being a part of PAT allowed me to get to know the professors outside of the classroom which is something that is difficult for students to do because there are rarely opportunities to talk with professors in a casual environment. Along with getting to know professors, PAT events brought undergrad and grad students together in one space. It allowed for us to get to know some of the students who we were grading for and meet those that we were not. We strived to be open and inviting to undergrads because we knew how scary it could be to go to events where you didn’t know anyone. Our university outreach allowed us to interact mainly with the people inside of our department, but we also had a few people from Art History who would come and join us. It was a great way to talk about what we were doing and have a space where we felt like there was no pressure to do work. 

Chelsi: At the end of my first year in the master’s program, I was in a panic. I had just been rejected for funding for my second year (My lovely advisor would later come up with some funding for me, but I did not know that at the moment), and I had little to add to my CV except some part time experience at a theme park and a movie theater. Being rejected for funding essentially dashed my hopes of being good enough for a PhD program, so I needed anything to make my CV job ready for the next year. In that sense I got very lucky.

The president of the Phi Alpha Theta History Honor’s Society had not put on many events and I felt that I could challenge her for the title. I won the election and in the next year, learned how to budget a hefty club grant, organize events, reach out to professors to give lectures and talks, and other valuable things that look great on a CV and boosted my job prospects. Although I became the president in order to help my CV, I also put in the work for the organization to thrive because the experience itself was truly fun and enjoyable. It allowed me to connect with the department in ways I hadn’t even been aware of before. When I started my PhD program (with one of the highest funding packages available) I immediately became an active member of the History Graduate Student Association and participated in two Conference Planning Committees. These opportunities to get involved were not only excellent ways to make myself look better on paper, but also to know how to have a little bit of fun in graduate school as well.

Clayton: While the main focus of any Graduate Program is the academic work, it is not the only aspect of being a Graduate student. Another aspect of the program which is equally as important is getting to know your graduate community and connecting with it. In many ways, this can be just as intimidating as your actual classes, but it is still a vital part of the graduate experience. Meeting with other students and professors in your department helps you form connections and bonds with the other people who are going through the same things you are. Also, from a more practical standpoint, making and maintaining these connections will provide you with colleagues who can support you in your work and help you advance your career goals. Attending events and meetings in your department are the perfect environment to establish these personal and professional relationships, since they will be attended and set up by your colleagues.

This was the case in my personal experience. Since I entered the department at USF not knowing anyone previously (which will be the case for many), attending these events/meetings helped me get to know the people who were working around me. Chelsi was my first officemate at USF and since she was heavily involved with these events, I was able to get to know many people right away. This helped me understand how an academic environment worked, and also helped me form many great personal relationships, including with the Handling the Humanities team! This blog is proof of the positive outcomes that result from getting involved within your graduate program. 

Should I Write A Thesis?

By Guest Contributor Steven Dunn

Cheese. Not Beaufort D’Ete or Caciocavallo Podolico, fancy cheese that hardly anyone knows. Ordinary cheese, a generic block of processed dairy. That was my unexpected yet oddly satisfying starting point for writing a Master’s thesis.

In my graduate program at the University of South Florida, writing a Master’s thesis was optional. We could chose our final torture for ourselves: endure additional coursework or write a chonky essay. But even if you were bold (or mad) enough to write the thesis, it came with a warning: if you wanted to finish on time, you essentially needed to know your topic from day one. This was a somewhat unreasonable expectation for budding historians, which is why the program made it optional. Most people don’t know which crumb in the vast bread-basket of history they want to focus on; and even if they do, they don’t always know how to approach researching it. Everyone in my cohort, including those of us who thought we knew what we wanted to study from the very beginning, grew into the historians we are now because of the experiences we had in that program. I may still be studying medieval Iceland, but I certainly didn’t ask the same questions nor look at evidence from the same perspective that I do now. I knew the ‘what,’ but not the ‘how.’

Either way, I was one of the fortunate people who knew which crumb was for me, and that’s all you really need to start writing a thesis. For me, that meant knowing I wanted to continue my undergraduate research on feud in medieval Icelandic saga literature. But don’t be fooled. That may sound specific, but it’s still too vague. I simply knew where to start looking, but I hadn’t found a question that needed answering—I hadn’t found my cheese just yet. A Master’s thesis needs…well, a thesis. What am I arguing? What’s my contribution? How should I approach this subject? That was much harder to figure out, so I spent my first semester familiarizing myself with the crumb I chose by writing a historiographic essay to learn what scholars in that field have been up to. This would eventually become my thesis’ introduction.

With that, I entered my second semester with better footing, but still lacked direction. Luckily, the answer came from a seminar called Material Matters on approaching history through the lens of material culture (hence the pun). That seminar taught me two important things: to let historical sources speak to you rather than forcing your ideas upon them, and to regard even the finest details with significance. So, after a chat with the professor who got me into Norse studies and a re-read of my favorite saga, I found my cheese. Instead of writing about feuds in general, I noticed seemingly insignificant objects were often central to those feuds and, in the context of literary narratives, gave them deeper meaning. They also said a lot about the women making and using those objects to engage in a seemingly male-exclusive activity.

Details aside, the final paper I wrote for that seminar eventually became the second chapter of my thesis; and then, in my third semester, I continued to use that methodology in other courses, which helped me write yet another thesis chapter in the guise of a final paper (this time on clothing). This meant that, by the end of my third semester, I had rough drafts of my thesis’ introduction, first chapter, and second chapter. All I needed to do was put them all together, polish them up, and write a conclusion! Simple right? Not quite…. For starters, I had to tweak (and often rewrite) the argument and conclusion of each paper. Then I was hit with hundreds—yes, hundreds—of annotations and corrections sent by my major professor. While most were minor grammatical errors, several were serious flaws in my argument or use of evidence that took time to correct. Despite all that, though, I still finished on time and passed my defense!

Despite my struggles, writing a thesis was the best way to get a taste of what writing a dissertation in a PhD program would be like, which helped me decide which course to take after completing my MA. But if you’re thinking of writing one yourself, I recommend you at least know what you want to write about as early as possible. Armed with that, your program, professors, and cohort will likely help you find the how as you engage with new methodologies in your seminars and papers. Just keep an open mind and work on that thesis one semester at a time. You may not end up with cheese like I did, but you will end up with a thesis that you can be proud of.

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Steven T. Dunn is an independent medievalist and the founder of Fjorn’s Hall (fjorns-hall.com), a website dedicated to helping people learn about Norse history, literature, and lore through inexpensive online courses. Outside of academia, he is creating a fantasy world inspired by the history he studies and hopes to write many books set in that world. All of these endeavors are powered almost exclusively by tea. Lots of tea.

Preparing for Comprehensive Exams: Part Two

Clayton: In many graduate programs, the culmination of the years of work and studies are Comps, or the Comprehensive Exams. These are the exams given near the end of your time in graduate school in order for your professors to test all you have learned during your time in the program. While these exams can vary from program to program, at USF the main focus of the Comps was to test your knowledge of various historical subjects and your understanding of the general ideas and historiography. These subjects are chosen based on what you studied in your program, for example, mine were American Imperialism, and American History 1789-1865 and 1865 to 1945. Usually your committee members are very flexible when it comes to the categories and will work with you based on your knowledge and coursework to make them fit.

While the idea of Comps and even just getting all the material together to prepare for them can be an intimidating task, there are a lot of things that are working in your favor during this process. As I mentioned before, your committee members are generally pretty flexible and willing to work with you on your categories and subjects. Since most likely you have worked with these professors a lot in the past and taken their classes, they know what you do or don’t know in the historiography, and will help point you in the direction of books/authors that will be the most useful for you. These personal relationships also mean you can go to them for advice on how to prepare and with any other questions you may have during the Comps process. Comps is a long and challenging process, but there are aspects that help make it bearable.   

Kiri: Comprehensive exams can feel like a daunting process, especially when you’re in an MA program and still feel like you’ve just started really learning all the things you need to know to become an historian. For me, I was lucky in that the professors I had asked to be on my committee were very flexible and understanding about the strain that taking comps can put on a person. In my institution, MA comps lasted for 6 hours: we had to answer a total of three questions and we had two hours per question. I answered questions based on Britain, women and gender studies, and the Mediterranean. For my women and gender as well as Mediterranean fields, I received the questions beforehand and Dragana and I had an independent study with the professor where we mapped out our responses for each of the questions. For my other professor, I had a general idea about what my questions were going to be, but nothing was set in stone. For each of these fields, I made flash cards with the names of authors I wanted to talk about on one side, and their main arguments as well as the date they published their books on the other. Connecting the dates to the authors really helped me to organize my answers effectively, as each answer functioned pretty much like a historiography.

Comprehensive exams are intimidating because it seems like they were built as a way to test the limits of students. For many exams, students are expected to answer questions through little more than rouge memorization of historians and their books. Truly, it seems that no matter how quickly we devour various historiographies, there is still so much more to learn. As Geoffery Chaucer once said of courtly love in The Parliament of Fowles, but which seems apt for academia as well, ”The life so short, the craft so long to learn.” Although in my opinion this type of test is outdated, it seems that it still dominates the historical field and it’s important to know to engage effectively with a large corpus of text in order to answer broader questions about historical trends. 

Stephen: All the contributors of this blog went to the same MA program and had to take their comprehensive exams in the same format. The only difference between each one of us was the area of study, the amount of information needed to be studied, and questions that were going to be asked during our respective exams. Everyone is going to have a different comp experience, but there are some general guidelines that may be helpful in preparing for your final exams.

My first piece of advice is to collect your comps list early. Begin reading and taking notes as soon as possible. Chipping away an article or book chapter a day months before your comps date will ease your anxiety. This will make you better prepared for when the day comes. My second piece of advice is you should take mental breaks during the time you prepare for your exams. Constantly reading and writing is not productive. Burnout is real and it will happen to you! Try to fit in some activity or exercise between study sessions to reset and refocus both your mind and body on the tasks ahead. My final piece of advice is to relax. Comprehensive exams are going to be a challenge, but they are not the end of the world nor even an indicator of what a student truly knows on the subject.

Frank: Comprehensive exams are often considered an intimidating and daunting task, however, not overthinking them can be helpful towards your mental health and your success as a scholar. It is important to remember that your professors want you to pass the exams. They will start preparing you when they think it necessary, walking you through how the process will go and likely not putting you in a position to take them unless they think you are ready. Therefore, over-stressing about comps or stressing years in advance is not only misplaced, but can sap your mental energy for other important tasks such as individual research projects, publications, job searching and networking, and professional development. Indeed, your professors (hopefully) care more about your success in those other areas than in comps as well! As Stephen mentioned, burnout is real, and with enough academic, financial, and health pressures for graduate students, keeping comps in perspective is going to help in the long run.

Preparing for Comprehensive Exams: Advice from a PhD

By Guest Contributor Rozzmery Palenzuela

Qualifying exams tend to be intentionally mystified and that often makes preparing for them an arduous experience. Typically, doctoral students begin prepping for their comprehensive exams in their final semester of coursework and the process takes anywhere from 6 months to a year.  The process is simple: identify your committee, make your lists, do the reading, study the material, and pre-write. But simple processes are not exempt from complications and are certainly not removed from stress. These are my tips and takeaways on how to advance to candidacy (relatively) stress free:

1.  Identify your committee early: for those who have stayed in their field of study for a long time, it’s more likely than not you go into the program having identified professors that you want to work with and fields you want to specialize in and that makes this process a lot easier. For those that are switching fields or face departmental hiccups –– i.e. professors leaving, retiring, or disputes over advisor status and who gets to chair) –– do your best to identify these people early on and get an informal committee set up for when you start prepping for exams.

2.  Bureaucratic work: Many universities require doctoral students to fulfill language requirements and submit a number of forms; identify the deadlines and always submit your paperwork at least 60 days before those deadlines (it can save you a lot of grief to get those things taken care of early on)

3.  Comps Lists: After preliminary conversations with your committee about what your field with them will look like, you will then start forming your Comps lists. Some professors have a strict list that they want you to use, while others allow you to use their lists as a guide but expect you to make your own list.

  • Pro-tip #1: if you have taken classes in any of your fields, do the best that you can to include books that you’ve already read. For example, if your field is Modern European History and you’ve taken a class on 20th century Consumer Culture, create thematic subfield and include the readings from that class.

Remember: Your lists are not fixed. They are very, very fluid and will change periodically as you make your way through each section. Usually, professors will “greenlight” a list and tell you to jump into reading, but will make modifications and suggestions for further reading as you have conversations about each subfield and your reading/research interests.

  • Pro-tip #2: Let your proposal inform your list. If you’re planning to write a dissertation on Gender in Early Modern Spain, make that a subfield, or subcategory in your list. Your readings for each field should help guide you in the way you structure your teaching and should serve as a foundation for your dissertation proposal and bibliography.

4.  Comps prepping: Your lists are “done” and it’s time to start reading. Starting is often the hardest part. Depending on your field/department requirements, talk with your advisor about which lists to tackle first especially if temporally, it makes sense to tackle one list before the others. The order, in the end, is up to you.

  • Pro-tip #3: By now you should know what kind of a note-taker you are from having taken years of graduate coursework; Comps prepping is about making that process more efficient and less time-consuming.
  • If you’re a person who types, find the best platform for storing your notes; if your preferred annotation style is to handwrite, find the best way to note-take that’s separate from the marginal notes that you write in the source (book, article, etc.). Whatever your style, just remember to digitize your notes. Having the ability to Ctrl (or Command) + F and search through your notes will save you so. much. time.
  • Pro-tip #4: Once you finish a subfield, get in the habit of writing a “Comps Question” for that section and doing a rough outline or writing a short paragraph about how you would answer that question (and what readings you’ll pull from). This is a good habit to get into as some professors will expect you to contribute largely to the formulation of your comps question.

5.  Proposal writing: Every university has different requirements for what the proposal should look like. Get a firm sense of what your requirements are and ask advanced PhD students/candidates to share their proposals with you for guidance and make sure that you are clear about deadlines.

  • Pro-tip #5: Begin thinking about your proposal early on and in your meetings with your committee; after you finish each subfield, think about how the readings in the subfield inform your approach to the proposal: do they force you to ask methodological questions? Do they help you narrow your proposal idea? Etc.
  • Remember: your lists should help you write your proposal.

Begin writing the proposal at least two months before the deadline to give you ample space for your committee to review and make suggestions for revisions.

Take away suggestions:

  • Have very open and candid conversations with your committee about their expectations for the meetings as well as the written or oral exam. You don’t want to start off on the wrong foot.
  • Think like a professor. Role play and flip the script. If you had a graduate student, what things/themes/arguments would YOU want them to know from the readings in the subfields/lists
  • Also get to know your professors: who trained them and who they’re friends with and collaborate with. Odds are that they know their work best and it will come back and bite you if you don’t understand or are not familiar with their work or approaches.
  • Know when to stop reading and when to start pre-writing. This is very important; stop reading 30 days before the exam and start pre-writing as soon as you have or relatively know what your questions are or could be. 
  • Remember that your professors are rooting for you. We all are. Imposter syndrome is unavoidable but have faith in yourself that you have done the work and you are capable of proving your mastery of the field. Your committee would not let you take exams unless they know that you’re ready. Stew in that and let that give you confidence as you take the written and/or oral exams.
  • Before the exams: Get a good night’s rest, eat well, drink lots of water and remember to breathe. Your body and mind will thank you and will take over from there.
  • After exams: go out and celebrate with friends. Distract yourself and take a much needed rest. You did it!


Rozzmery Palenzuela Vicente is a third year Ph.D. student at Florida International University where she studies gender, family and childhood in Modern Latin America with an emphasis on Cuba. She is also interested in comparative communist cultures, black internationalism, and tackling heavy theoretical works – most notably, affect theory. In her spare time, she is an avid film buff, beach bum and actively engages into arguments with Miami-Cuban Republicans.

Graduate School Funding Decisions

Introduction: In our last post we discussed the daunting acceptance and rejection process of graduate applications. This week we are highlighting an integral part of that process which is, applying, receiving, and maintaining funding for graduate studies. Before accepting an offer to any university, you should always know the “price of admission” or how much tuition will cost without internal or external funding. It is our collective experience that it is better to accept an offer from a university that is willing to fully fund you for a higher degree. There are a variety of opinions when it comes to funding for graduate schools and below are just some of our experiences: 

Dragana: When applying for grad school, funding is something important to consider and plan for. We all hope that the schools we are accepted into will have enough funding to offer incoming students, but that is not always the case and especially now with COVID-19. We have seen a lot of universities cutting funding overall and this results in fewer funding opportunities for students. My advice would be to accept a school that offers you funding because it waives your tuition which is the biggest cost factor. While you are still responsible for taxes and fees, it is not nearly as much as tuition (keep in mind that different universities and programs offer different funding packages). With that being said, you might still have to take out student loans. If you have no funding through your program, there are fellowships that are available to students—some require an application and some don’t, so just be sure to research them properly. Often second year students who did not get funding for their first year do end up getting it, but that is not something that you should rely on.

Ultimately, if you are applying for grad school you already have an idea of how much your degree is going to cost. If you attend a university in your state, then tuition costs will be lower than for an out-of-state university. As acceptance letters have been sent out and decision time is approaching, I wish all of you the best and hopefully our posts are able to assist you in some way with funding opportunities.  

Clayton: While simply getting accepted into a graduate program is a major accomplishment, finding the funding for the program is also a major concern for anyone looking to attend graduate school. Graduate school is far from cheap, so in many cases the decision whether to attend a program or not is tied directly to what funding is offered along with the acceptance. When I was first accepted into the graduate program at USF, I was told that all the graduate assistant positions in the History Department were already filled. There was no more funding in the department for any more GAs. While this was initially disappointing, admittedly I was not fully sure what a GA position meant and what funding it would provide.

This all happened in February of 2018, and throughout the rest of the spring and summer I went about preparing to attend the History program at USF. I had made the decision to attend the program even though I didn’t receive any funding. Although I was excited to begin the program, the finances were always in the back of my mind. Then, with less than two weeks before classes began, I received an email saying a spot had suddenly opened up for a GA, and it was being offered to me. It was at this time I also realized how much funding was provided to GAs. I was worried about whether I would be able to handle the combined graduate workload and the GA workload, but the opportunity was too good to pass up. It was a sudden change to my graduate school plans but looking back it was an amazing opportunity that changed so much. 

Kiri: Funding is an important facet when considering which schools to apply to or whether you should accept an admittance. For my MA program, I did not receive funding my first year and it put a lot of extra strain on my ability to do work because I had to find outside employment. I was lucky, however, because I had recently moved back in with my parents and my family helped to support me whenever I needed it. I was thus in a privileged enough position to accept a position at USF without funding for the first year. I received funding in my second year as an MA, and for me the lack of funding for the first year did not outweigh the merits of pursuing my MA.

When I was looking for PhD programs, however, I knew I would have to go to a place that offered me funding, or I would not be able to go at all. When I received my acceptance into FSU, I did not hear about funding until a much later date because I was shortlisted. During this period, I couldn’t help but begin to question myself and my worth, especially as I later learned that my funding package was a bit more limited than the fellowship packages a lot of my peers received. It’s hard to not tie your worth to your funding package, or lack thereof, because it feels like a solidified value that the institution ascribed to you. Even today, the limits of my funding package cause me anxiety because a lot of stress and tendrils of imposter syndrome stem from questions of why I was not “good enough” to earn a fellowship package. However, funding (much like acceptances) is not some hard-set determination of your worth. It’s important to understand your own needs when looking for schools and remember not to settle for a package that would cause too much strain or stress. For some, a full funding package is needed to attend a graduate program, but for others the funding isn’t as necessary. Both are okay, but it’s important to understand where you fall on the spectrum before committing to a program. 

Chelsi: Last week I mentioned that I had applied to eight schools and gotten into two for my PhD. What helped me make the decision from two very similar state schools was primarily the different funding packages I received. FSU was the first school to tell me about my acceptance and very quickly gave me a strong fellowship package that included a year of research funding. A few weeks later, I was nominated for a minority scholarship for incoming graduate students by the department. My other package was a run of the mill assistantship funding, where I would be working for five years for my tuition waiver and would have to fund research through other methods. Considering the cost of living in each city, FSU was definitely the better offer.

But there were other things to consider as well. When I had initially looked into the schools there were less professors at FSU in my area of study. I was also apprehensive about moving closer to family and staying in Florida, where I had been my entire life. I didn’t immediately jump for the bigger package, but asked around with friends, professors, and family of what they thought would be better. Ultimately, I email both schools asking for a visit, to sit in on some classes and meet the professors I would possibly be working with in person. FSU paid for my visit and the other school essentially told me they couldn’t afford it. Money doesn’t mean everything, and I may have been better off at the other school, but as someone coming from a poor background, just knowing that I would be more financially sound at FSU meant much less stress to worry about overall.

Graduate School Acceptance and Rejection

Introduction: It’s that time of year when graduate schools begin to send out acceptance or rejection letters to potential students. It’s a very stressful time for many of us wanting to continue our education. We all know that the graduate application process and waiting for an answer is daunting. All of our team members have gone through the graduate school application process. We have all been at some point accepted, accepted with funding, accepted without funding, waivered, and rejected. In this post we present some of our experiences, feelings, and general knowledge concerning the acceptance and rejection period.

Kiri: When applying to PhD programs, I decided to apply for six different schools to spread myself as much as I could without completely breaking the bank. Of those six schools, one school accepted me. I always knew that PhD programs were competitive, but the rejections of five different institutions felt like it solidified the feelings of imposter syndrome that began creeping up throughout my MA program. The one silver lining was that I received my acceptance for FSU first, and though I wouldn’t hear about funding until much later (which is a tale of anxiety for another time), this did help to soften the blows from the other schools. Having even just the one school gave me something to focus on and helped me to mitigate the emotional fallout from the other rejections. Though it’s taken me awhile to realize it, acceptances and rejections do not define my worth as a scholar, nor do they mean that I cannot pursue my dreams. It also took me a while to feel proud about my acceptance amidst all the rejections. When speaking of my acceptance, I always prefaced it with “only.” I “only” got accepted into FSU. I “only” made it into one of the six schools I applied to. I’ve now realized that receiving my acceptance from FSU is something to be proud of though— getting into FSU was an accomplishment in and of itself. I’ve stopped needlessly prefacing the “only” in my acceptance, and learned that my worth as an historian, an academic, and a person is not tied to the number of acceptances I receive. My one acceptance turned out to be the best thing for me, and I could not be happier with where it landed me. 

Dragana: Getting a rejection letter from a university (or all of them) you had your heart set on can be crushing. Besides not being able to attend the university and program I wanted, the emotional impact it took on me was great. I began to question myself. Was I even good enough to pursue a PhD? Did I choose the wrong area of focus? Were my school choices wrong? Is my research interest not good? It became difficult to focus on anything else besides my failure. As my friends were celebrating their acceptances, I was closing in on myself and refusing to talk about how I was feeling. There came a point where any time my friends were talking about their future schools, I would quietly go back to my office and be disappointed in myself. The more I tried to not think about it, the more I actually thought about it and the worse I felt. It wasn’t until I broke down in front of my friends in my office that I started to feel a little better. It took me a while to come to terms that although it didn’t work out this time, it didn’t mean that I had to give up. Understanding that just because I didn’t get accepted doesn’t mean that me and my work were not good enough. It’s okay to take a moment and feel disappointed, but you have to push forward and focus on what comes next. It was difficult for me to accept my failure, but that’s what made me work harder on making a stronger application for the next cycle and it paid off.

Chelsi: I applied to eight schools and got into two of them. I had heard all of the normal platitudes: “Academia is akin to a lottery, where most of it is luck. It doesn’t mean you’re not smart, but that luck wasn’t on your side. Sometimes these things just happen.” In a lot of ways, I was lucky, because the first letter I got back (from FSU) was an acceptance, which lessened the sting of the later rejections a bit. What surprisingly hurt me the most was an acceptance to another master’s program—when I had applied to the PhD. It seemed like a backhanded compliment, like the school saying that I had the potential, but that I obviously needed training only that they could provide. It made the master’s that I was still in the process of working on seem pointless and made me feel stupid for going to such a low level school in comparison to the one I was applying to.

In the end it was still technically an acceptance though, with no funding. Obviously, I didn’t accept their offer, but before I received it, I didn’t know that such a thing was common. It took me by surprise and bruised my pride quite a bit. I had to weigh the prestige of a better school against the idea of starting grad school from square one all over again. My other acceptances won me over, but this one gave me the most to think about.

Clayton: Applying to any college program, undergrad or graduate, can be a daunting task. Generally, when it comes to picking the programs that you are going to apply to, it is best to have few in mind. This allows you to focus on your favorite school or program, while still having other options available to you. This is something that I learned only through experience. While I did apply to multiple schools for graduate programs, I only applied to one school for my undergrad. While this did work out for me in the long run since I was accepted into my first-choice school, looking back on this it was definitely risky! If something would have happened with that application, I did not have a backup option. 

Luckily, I didn’t take this chance when looking at graduate programs. I applied to a few programs for graduate school, and in the end was accepted into two of the programs. While this was exciting, a major issue was funding. Although I had applied to be a graduate assistant in each program, I was told all GA positions were filled for the upcoming year. This was very stressful, since graduate school is not cheap, and the GA positions would have helped greatly. I still decided to accept the USF program; being accepted into any graduate program is a major accomplishment and I wanted to take full advantage of my opportunity. Figuring how to apply to a college or program can be almost as stressful as the actual courses. Planning out your applications and knowing what your bottom lines are when it comes to funding doesn’t make it easy, but it can make it less stressful in the long run.  

Taking a Break

Dragana: With the fall semester having ended and the spring semester approaching, it can be difficult to take some time to just relax and not worry about work or school. Oftentimes we feel like we need to work, to be productive or we are doing grad school wrong. While some students outside of the humanities are not able to take proper time off, think of those who work in research labs, those of us that have a break tend to struggle with it. How do I relax and stop looking for work? Is it okay to silence the emails? Is my advisor going to be okay with me taking a break? These are some of the questions that I’ve asked myself and to be honest there have been moments when I just want a break and don’t care, but there is always this voice in the back of my mind telling me that I need to be doing something school related. While the pressure to do well and be productive is still there, I know that I need a rest.

At the end of the semester I could feel myself burning out. I was working hard to write my final papers and once I was done, I didn’t know what to do. I had all of this free time now and what did I do? I waited around for one of my papers to be graded so that I could see if I wanted to submit it for a future conference. Instead of taking the time to relax and clear my mind, I was busy thinking about my paper and whether it was good enough. My professor ended up grading it fairly quickly and I submitted it for that conference. After that, I told myself that I was going to take the remaining time for myself.

I allowed myself to be lazy. I watched some shows on Netflix. Re-watched some movies that I love. Most importantly, I gave myself a week or so to forget about school and my work. it felt great. Sometimes we become so focused on work that we forget to give ourselves a proper rest. If we keep pushing ourselves to work without a break, our work is going to struggle. Knowing when to take a break is very important because it gives you and your body a break from all of the pressure that you may be feeling. As the end of my winter break comes to a close, I am still relaxing and enjoying my free time. I know that once the spring semester starts I will be busy and most likely won’t have a proper break for a while. I hope that other students will allow themselves to take a week, or a few days at least, to just forget about school and the responsibilities that await them. Know that it is okay to take a break and recharge yourself. Work can wait, your mental health cannot. 

Chelsi: Academia tries to pull a very mean trick on its students. Anytime a break is written on the calendar, such as Thanksgiving break, Winter break, Spring break, etc., we are told that those are prime moments to get some work done. There’s always another conference, another paper to edit to try to publish, and another language that you should know. It does not particularly help that grad school and fellowship applications end up due at this time.

I spent the first weeks of December compiling a list of fellowships I should apply to for the summer. Then I remembered that the idea that I should be working on my break is actually a huge scam. This fall semester which had the normal challenges of grad school, but also extra challenges due to COVID. I am tired of listening to professors and colleagues either telling me how much I should be doing or how stressed they are because they haven’t done anything. I did not plan on reading any books or furthering my research or planning for my future. I have an email from my advisor still sitting unanswered in my inbox, that I will get to when the semester begins. It’s called a break and I will take the break. It does not make me lazy, or a slacker; it only means that I want to take care of myself and use the time as intended. There should be no further discussion past that.

Clayton: Graduate school has a habit of burning out students. A long semester of research, writing papers, classes, and other academic responsibilities is enough to drive up anyone’s blood pressure. That’s why breaks of any kind during the semester are a necessity for every student to make sure that you stay fresh and on top of your work, and to just keep from getting overloaded. That’s why whenever an extended break comes up during the semester, it is important to take a little bit of time to decompress. I would typically try to read something that was unrelated to my major focus or go to a movie theater. Both allowed me to turn off my academic brain for a while and enjoy something that was not related to any of my work. It’s important to find these little distractions for yourself, whatever they may be, in order to allow yourself to relax when you have the opportunity.

While the major breaks are the ones everyone anticipates and looks forward too, they are unfortunately few and far between, especially in the spring. A small way I would try to de-stress when there was no break was to set aside a couple hours during the day when I would do something to take a small break from classes or research. Usually it was something as simple as taking a quick walk outside, anything to take my mind off my studies. These mental breaks may not seem like much, but they can help break up the sometimes monotony of academic work and keep you fresh and invested.

Election Anxieties: The Elections of 1800 and 2020

By: Clayton Richards

Another election cycle has come and gone in the United States. The practice of peaceful and efficient transfers of power have been a hallmark of American democracy for most of this nation’s existence, and it has allowed American democracy to survive almost 250 years. While this concept has become a steady part of the political way of life, it was not a concrete principle, but had to be established and put into practice. Many elections have helped create this tradition, but the one that can be credited as being the most impactful in establishing this tradition is the election of 1800, also known as the “Revolution of 1800.” This contested election was the first real test of the American Constitution and electoral system, and what helped prove that the American republican experiment could succeed.   

While the current Constitution is a well known document, it did not create the first American government. This was the Articles of Confederation, which was adopted during the Revolution. Although the Articles helped unite the colonies during the war, they proved to be weak afterwards. During the years after the Revolution, the weak Confederation government teetered between bankruptcy and ineffectiveness, while also dealing with constant threats of disunion and open rebellion. After years on the edge of the abyss, the 1786 Shays’ Rebellion in Massachusetts pushed many in the U.S. to call for a new government, which was established in 1789 with the adoption of the current U.S. Constitution. The origins to the election of 1800 can be found in these early years of the new government under President George Washington. Although Washington never joined a political party and wanted to avoid the formation of parties in his government, two “factions” began to form that would evolve into the first parties: the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans.

These two factions developed in the Washington years, and finally emerged as function parties after his retirement in 1797. This caused problems with the election of 1796, due to the way the elections were set up at that time. There was no separate vote for President and Vice President, the person with most electoral votes became President, while the runner up became Vice President. With the development of the Federalists and Republicans, this created a tense situation where John Adams, a Federalist, became President while Thomas Jefferson, a Republican, became his Vice President. The end of the century saw many intense political battles between these two parties as they became more entrenched in their ideologies..

The Election of 1800

The election of 1800 was a rematch of 1796, featuring Jefferson vs. Adams. Each party ran two candidates, with one meant to be the Vice President (each elector cast two votes; one elector would vote for someone else, giving the main candidate a one vote lead). Although the candidates did not campaign for themselves at this time, political mouthpieces and newspapers spread the candidates’ and parties’ platforms while attacking the opposition. The Republicans attacked Adams and the Federalists as being monarchical, elitist, and attacked them for raising taxes and the Alien and Sedition Acts. Federalists in turn attacked the Republicans as dangerous anarchists and Jefferson as a dangerous atheist who would bring the bloodshed of the French Revolution to America. However, while the Republicans generally rallied around Jefferson, the Federalists were a divided party. Washington, although he had never joined, was seen as the head of the party, and his death in 1799 left a vacuum. Although Adams was President, he was not overly popular and a group Federalists, called High or Ultra Federalists, rallied around Alexander Hamilton. Adams and Hamilton despised each other, clashing over how to deal with the escalating tensions with France. Adams was working to send peace envoys to France, while Hamilton, who was in charge of the Army raised in case of open warfare, wanted to use the Army to expand the U.S. into Spanish and French territories in North America, and maybe even to suppress Republican opposition to Federalist policies. Adams eventually won out, sending the envoys to France while also firing Hamilton loyalists from his Cabinet. Adams went into the election with a divided party while Jefferson was riding the opposition wave. It came down to Adams (the would be king) vs Jefferson (the anarchical radical).

Leading up to the elections both parties were fully mobilized. The political newspapers printed scathing propaganda aimed at the opposition, while supporters for each party rallied and brawled in streets across the U.S. Despite this backdrop the election itself went smoothly. However, as the results began to come in, both parties were unsure how to proceed. It became clear that Adams had been beaten in the election by the Republicans, but no one received a majority in the Electoral College. Additionally, the Republican electors had failed to leave one vote off for Jefferson’s Vice President, meaning Jefferson and Aaron Burr were now tied in Electoral College votes. In only its fourth presidential election, the U.S. was forced to look to the Constitution for what to do next. A deadlock like this meant that the election would be sent to the House of Representatives. Although the Federalists held the majority in the House, the Republicans controlled more state delegations (states vote as a block in this instance), but still not enough for the clear majority needed. Since Jefferson and Burr were the only ones tied, no Federalists were considered. This did not stop some Federalists from exploring ways to stay in power. Some suggested delaying the vote past the March 4th inauguration date, which would mean either the president pro tempore of the Senate (if one was elected) or Speaker of the House would be President until December. A small group wanted to invalidate some electoral votes and give the election to Adams outright, while others wanted to support Burr to spur Jefferson and make Burr rely on Federalist support for power. Republicans also were concerned. Their main worry was that Burr had not stepped aside from the election, but he hadn’t said he wanted the presidency either. He was taking a wait and see approach to this election to save his political career no matter what happened, but this approach was causing tension to mount among the Republicans. As the February 1801 House election approached, both sides continued to weigh their options.

Tensions Rise

As the House met in February both sides were discussing their options. The Federalists were divided between those who wished to find a way to hold onto power and those who wanted to make the best of the current situation. Adams virtually disappeared after his defeat, so Hamilton led the Federalist efforts in Congress. Jefferson was meanwhile trying to figure out how to secure the necessary votes while dealing with Federalist demands and Burr’s unexpected challenge. In this tense environment, anxieties and conspiracy theories ran rampant. Rumors spread that the Federalists meant to assassinate Jefferson while both sides accused the other of starting two random fires in Washington D.C. Threats of violence were commonplace among this turmoil. Several Federalist Representatives received threatening notes or had their houses pelted by stones. Republicans also threatened that if Jefferson’s election was delayed or taken away, they would call for a new constitutional convention, looking to reorganize and amend the current government and make it more “democratic.” Most concerning was the news coming from Virginia and Pennsylvania, two of the strongest Republican states. The governors of both states sent messages to Jefferson stating that their militias were ready in case he was denied the election and took steps to make sure their militias were properly prepared. The Federalists also had their backers, with newspapers claiming that the militias of New England were prepared to meet any threat of force from Virginia and Pennsylvania. Although these threats of violence never came as close to happening as either side believed, many felt that disunion and civil war were inevitable unless something gave way.

Luckily, in this tense environment, calmer heads prevailed. For a week in the capital, the votes in the House were deadlocked. Jefferson was unable to secure the majority of states needed to become President. Working behind the scenes, Hamilton warned other Federalists that in his mind Jefferson was the lesser of two evils when compared to Burr. Some Federalists were willing to throw their support to Jefferson on the condition that he continued certain Federalist policies, mainly their financial program, the navy, and assurances that not all Federalists officeholders would be dismissed. This was the best-case scenario in the mind of many Federalists. Finally, on the 36th vote by the House, some Federalist delegations abstained from voting, leaving the final tally at 10 states for Jefferson, 4 for Burr, and 2 abstaining. This majority finally gave Jefferson the win, making him President of the United States.

The rest of the election process in 1801 was uneventful compared to the previous few months. Jefferson and the Republicans took power in March while Adams and the Federalists left office peacefully, although bitter over their loss. There was no civil war, no mass upheaval. The Revolution of 1800 was peaceful and showed that the American system of democracy could work effectively under intense pressures (although the 12th Amendment in 1804 made sure the votes for President and Vice President were cast separately, making the process smoother). Despite all the threats and allegations thrown out by each party, neither had attempted to use violence to either overturn or force the election results. This principle has been a cornerstone since 1800 and has helped American democracy thrive. While this election did show the possible dangers of contested elections, it also demonstrated how democracy survives in a republic and what we as Americans must do to make sure that it continues and prospers in our country.   

Further Readings:

Ferling, John. Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800. https://www.amazon.com/Adams-vs-Jefferson-Tumultuous-Election/dp/019518906X

Taylor, Alan. American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804. https://www.amazon.com/American-Revolutions-Continental-History-1750-1804/dp/0393082814

Wood, Gordon S. Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815. https://www.amazon.com/Empire-Liberty-History-Republic-1789-1815/dp/0199832463

Sharps, James Roger. American Politics in the Early Republic. https://www.amazon.com/American-Politics-Early-Republic-Nation/dp/0300065191

For a brief overview of America’s other contested elections, read this recent Time Magazine Article: https://time.com/5903361/contested-election-history/