Stop Calling it Plan-B

By Guest Contributor: Tamala Malerk

Plan-B: The career-trajectory of the unlucky few who do not secure a position in academia after obtaining their Ph.D.

By referring to any other job besides one in academia as “Plan-B,” implies that there is a “Plan-A” that will work for the majority. Unfortunately, the “unlucky few” from my self-created definition above is today the vast majority of people exiting their Ph.D. programs. Each year, the academic job market remains stagnant and competition seems to just get more fierce. You are not only competing with other newly-minted Ph.Ds. but the hundreds of others who were previously rejected from positions. I wish that what I was stating here was new information, but we have been seeing articles and data about “Plan-B” since the 1970s with the introduction of the field of Public History. We’ve known for almost half a century that academia will not be the end for many, if not most, PhDs and we need to start preparing scholars for the world outside of academia.

By referring any job outside of academia as “Plan-B” places unnecessary and unwarranted shame on these jobs. There is nothing wrong with not working in academia, and some historians may not even want to work in academia in the first place. *gasp* Academia offers the opportunity to continue research and writing, but places all of its value in publication. If writing your dissertation was not the most fun you had during your time as a Ph.D. student, tenure-track professing may not be for you. Most scholars believe that if they don’t land that coveted “Plan-A” position that they will end up teaching secondary school. However, there are plenty of jobs out there for historians that don’t involve educating teenagers, and even if that is where you end up: there is no shame in that, and we need to stop stigmatizing these and any other non-academia jobs. (Did you know the federal government pays its historians upwards of 6-figures a year? No shame there). Academic programs need to start placing time, value, and resources in jobs outside of academia because that is where most of us will land, and I would like to get there without feeling like a complete failure and that the last four years of my life were not a total waste of time. 

My own experience in this has been both inside and outside of the college experience. In May 2017, I was a newly minted History M.A. on the job market in one of the most historic cities in the USA: Savannah, GA. There were tons of colleges, historic sites, and museums in the area; yet, I couldn’t even land a $10.00 an hour job at an archive or an adjunct position, both jobs that I had been conditioned to see as “lesser-than” anyways. Didn’t these places know I had a graduate degree in the humanities? I ended up teaching 7th-grade social studies and language arts, a position that paid equal or more than what many of my similar-aged peers made AND gave me summers off, yet I felt like a failure because it wasn’t a position at a college.

My second experience was in my Spring 2019 Ph.D. Interdisciplinary Seminar course where we learned about how to write syllabi, cover letters, CVs, and discussed the job market. I asked my professor why if we, the students, already know that there are no jobs in academia and they, the professors, also are armed with this information, are we being solely trained as academics? His answer was basically because that is all they, as tenure-track professors, know. They are the unicorns, the lucky few who make it to those coveted positions. We need to re-frame our Ph.D. programs so that students can gain knowledge and experience in something other than teaching undergraduates and writing conference/journal articles perhaps through internships and guest speakers. There are universities out there that are beginning to do the leg-work by reshaping how a dissertation is done and how students achieve Ph.D. candidacy, but we need work like this to become more wide-spread to see any real impact.

I don’t claim to have all, or, any of the answers, but I can provide some information for articles that got me thinking about abolishing the term “Plan-B.”

https://www.chronicle.com/article/for-would-be-academics-now-is-the-time-to-get-serious-about-plan-b/

https://versatilehumanists.duke.edu/2019/09/30/career-diversity-is-not-plan-b-thoughts-from-a-phd-candidate-on-the-nonfaculty-job-market/

https://www.chronicle.com/article/restructure-the-humanities-ph-d/

https://www.usajobs.gov/Search/Results?k=historian

https://www.historians.org/wherehistorianswork

https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/february-2019/the-2019-aha-jobs-report-a-closer-look-at-faculty-hiring

https://www.historians.org/ahajobsreport2020

Guest Contributor: Tamala Malerk is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of South Florida. Her focuses include British Imperialism, Modern Europe, Public History, and Women and Gender. Her dissertation is about a British Gandhian disciple and still does not have a catchy title. In her spare time, she does freelance content writing for websites and, now, humanities blogs. Find her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/tamala-malerk-m-a-5749b999/

How to Collect Information for your Research Projects

Around halfway through the semester, many graduate students are beginning or have already begun research for their term papers. From narrowing down a topic to finding primary and secondary sources to trying to understand those sources, below are a few strategies towards beginning a research project. 

Kiri: When thinking about my final project for a class, one of the hardest things for me is coming up with a concrete idea for what I want to write about. While normally the class itself can provide a good baseline (i.e, in my class about Gender in the Mediterranean, I probably wouldn’t want to write about generals from the American Revolution), there is still a lot of leeway for where one can go. Within this space, where I feel like I can write about almost anything, it can sometimes feel like I’m staring into an abyss of possibilities—and that feeling can be quite paralyzing. I’ve found that what helps my research is to start broadly about a topic I’m interested in, and then whittle my ideas down from there. I might home in on a specific region and time period, but I try not to form any research around any specific questions just yet. Rather, I delve into an idea that I can build upon. Once I’ve done some of this research, then I start to think about questions I think I would want answered and start to explore how to answer these questions.

Another way to help form your final topic is to reach out to your professor and see if they have any ideas that might help you. Talking to your professor, who is normally well versed in the field already, will also help you to establish a solid foundation for your research, and they might have some good ideas for how you can move forward if you get stuck. Overall, it helps to begin thinking about your idea early, but you also want to make sure you don’t limit yourself too much. Reach out whenever you feel stuck or need help, and remember to always research what you’re interested in—if you’re writing about something you’re passionate about, it can really shine through the paper

Chelsi: A library is generally pretty straightforward. You go online and search for your topic in whatever search bar your library uses. You find some sources there, and then go to the library (COVID permitting) and pick up the books you wrote down the codes for. Now let’s back up.

For me, moving from undergrad to grad school went from professor’s asking for six sources maximum to twenty sources minimum. Learning how to really utilize and understand what resources my library actually offers was tantamount to actually getting to the sources I need. I heard “talk to your librarian!” plenty of times as an undergrad, but as a graduate student, it actually makes all the difference. They can teach you how to actually use that search bar to its fullest potential—or tell you that it’s actually the worst system in the world and you really should be using this other much more intuitive system that’s hidden on the website. Setting up a meeting or going to one of the many lectures they have about using the library showed me how to actually use a database search and learn how to find and recognize primary sources from secondary sources. The history librarian at FSU has set up a specific page for historians to find sources, which I would have not known about without actually talking to him

Also, I learned pretty quickly that no matter how good a search system is, that nothing beats actually perusing the stacks. Instead of focusing on what I already knew I wanted, I take my time to look at the books around it. The organization system isn’t just there to make you wander all over in confusion, but to place books together on the same topic. Once I found out what combination of letters and numbers that the Glorious Revolution books all used, it became much easier to go in and get what I needed.

Use your library, but most importantly, make sure that you use your librarian and make them do some of the legwork for you.

Clayton: The process of writing papers or articles in graduate school will take up most of your time each semester, since these are usually the main focus of your courses and program in general. These papers will require a lot of academic materials to produce graduate level work, so the more resources that you have to pull from the better off you will be in the long run, and the less stressed you will be when trying to find that perfect quote or the piece of information that’s just right to support your thesis. Besides books, articles will end up being the main source of information, and in my experience one of the best databases to find these articles online is JSTOR. Most colleges and universities (as far as I know) give students access to JSTOR through their library, so any student can use JSTOR. JSTOR is an online database that has thousands of academic articles from thousands of authors, allowing students to search for any keywords or subjects that they can think of. JSTOR also allows you to narrow your search by dates, going back into the 1800s in some cases, which means that you can find primary source articles on JSTOR, which is a major benefit for anyone writing an academic paper. However, while JSTOR can be a great starting point for your research, the sheer number of articles can make it difficult to narrow down your ideas. On the other hand, some searches that are too specific can give you hardly any useful articles. JSTOR can be difficult to work with sometimes, but overall it is an amazing resource for anyone looking for academic information. 

Dragana: When you run into a wall while looking for sources and you feel like your search is not producing anything usable, WorldCat is a great resource that is readily available for students through their university. WolrdCat is a network of library content and services that range from books, articles, archival material, maps, and much more. It searches all the libraries in its network at once to locate all the libraries that carry your particular source and shows you the closest ones to you. You are able to check out the item and have it shipped to your university or view it online, for instance e-books are readily available as well as articles. For electronic versions, the search will tell you if an item is downloadable and it usually is for articles. If you are doing research on a topic or area that is not very popular—for example, early modern Balkans—WorldCat is a great resource. When I was doing my own research on early modern Balkans that turned up very few books in my university’s library, WorldCat provided me with literature that I didn’t even know was available. There were works by scholars that I have used in previous projects, but the number of new scholars and works that it showed me was amazing. It gave me results that were closer to my topic than most other databases I am used to using. I would highly encourage everyone to at least take a look at WorldCat and just explore what it has to offer. 

Frank: One great way to find sources and information about a research topic is using the footnotes and bibliographies of related works. Mining these sources can help put you on the right track for where to find relevant information, identify kinds of primary source data that is available or often used in studies of the topic under investigation, as well as give you a better understanding of the relationship between the different literature. A good way to start is finding several books or articles that are either relatively authoritative in the field or, for whatever reason, have a great literature discussion section. From here, you can investigate those other works mentioned and look into their primary and secondary source information. Another great way to see how literature connects to each other is using Google Scholar. Google Scholar allows you to search works and identifies other works that cited them. It also provides a convenient ‘related works’ search that can yield helpful results. Sometimes databases or library searches, especially virtual only, yield unwieldy results that can overwhelm a project early on. Using the footnotes and bibliography as a guide can be helpful when starting out on a project.

Stephen: “It’s all Greek to me?” I have heard this joke by too many colleagues who see me attempting to translate ancient Greek passages for various research projects. Learning and knowing one or multiple languages is typically a requirement for undergraduate and graduate programs. Understanding another language is vital to your own research as there is a lot of terrific literature in foreign and ancient languages.

The question is: How do you work through and comprehend a text that is not in your native language for research? There are various approaches to working through a translation. If you have some previous knowledge of the language and a good dictionary with some free time than you may have all you need. The major problem is when you run into a language with which you have limited or no experience in. Of course, you could throw the text you wanted to read into Google translation or a similar translating engine. Typically, a Google translated text is fine for basic understanding, but Google tends to miss certain nuances in other languages. What I have found to be the best approach in translating a language I do not know is to ask someone else! In my own experience, my colleagues were more than willing to help me through a language which they have more skill in translating. If you do not have this luxury the next best thing is to go to your school’s language department. The students and teachers in university language departments are more than willing to help you through a translation!

History’s Mysteries: Historical Halloween Hits

It’s almost Halloween, so we wanted to have a little fun with this post and tell everyone about our favorite spooky stories (and add in a little bit of history too). This week we dive into tales about the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a Serbian vampire Petar Blagojević, and the infamous Blood Countess, Elizabeth Báthory. 

Clayton: History is a great source for entertaining fiction, with many movies, books, and short stories basing their narratives and ideas around a piece of history. This is especially true for the Halloween season, since so much from history, from local legends to actual events, can be twisted into a spooky tale. From this category, one of my all-time personal favorite stories that has been spun into movies, TV series, and much more is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. Written in 1820, the legend that is haunting the featured town has its origins in, for the time, recent American history, mainly centering around the American Revolution and the years after it. The story is set in 1790 and features two men competing to marry a woman in the town of Sleepy Hollow, New York. The town is supposedly haunted by the ghost of a Hessian soldier who lost his head to a cannonball during “some nameless battle” of the Revolution and has since been haunting the town and surrounding valley. Eventually one of the suitors, the famous Ichabod Crane, is chased by the Horseman, and whether the Horseman was real or the other suitor in disguise and the fate of Crane is left ambiguous.  

This story has proven to be incredibly popular and one of the earliest examples of American folklore. The supernatural horror of the legend has proven to have strong staying power in American culture, and the Headless Horseman is still a recognizable horror figure. Irving’s story has maintained a place in pop culture as well. The story was adapted into a feature movie in 1999, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp (one of my personal favorite Halloween movies too!) and was also made into a horror TV series in 2013. Besides those, many other TV movies, plays, games, and cartoon specials have been made about Sleepy Hollow, Disney even made a cartoon about it in the 1940s! The legend has even seeped over into the real world: in 1996 the town of North Tarrytown in New York, the original village Irving based Sleepy Hollow off of, officially changed its name to Sleepy Hollow. Irving’s legend has shown itself to be one of America’s most enduring folktales, and the perfect story for the Halloween season.   

Dragana: It’s spooky season and you know what that means? Scary stories. As Clayton has mentioned, history is a great source when looking for inspiration—think of Dracula or the Salem Witch Trials. As I focus on the Balkans, I’d like to share a story of Serbia’s vampire problem. Everyone knows about Count Dracula, Romania’s vampire, but few people know about Petar Blagojević (also known as Peter Plogojowitz) who is Serbia’s most famous vampire and one of the earliest sensational and most well documented cases of vampire hysteria in Eastern Europe. Petar was a peasant living in the late 17th-early 18th century village of Kisilova (modern day Kisiljevo) which at the time was part of the Hapsburg Empire. Told by the Imperial Provisor, after his death in 1725 Petar visited his wife looking for his shoes causing her to flee the village perhaps out of fear. Not long after, nine villagers became ill and died within 24 hours. While on their deathbeds they claimed that Petar had come to them at night in their dreams, bit them on the neck and sucked their blood. It was believed that Petar had become a vampire and was preying upon the people in his village. The remaining villagers, scared that they might be next, decided to exhume his body and examine it for any signs of vampirism. They found his body undecomposed, his hair, beard and nails had grown, he had new skin, and there was blood smeared on his mouth—all clear signs of vampirism. To be safe, the villagers staked the body through the heart which caused blood to spur out from his mouth and ears and burned it. The other nine villagers showed no signs of vampirism, but garlic and whitethorn were placed in their graves for safe measure. If you have the time, I would suggest reading the very short first chapter of Paul Barber’s Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality for more information on Petar and a translation of the Imperial Provisor’s account.

         In 2012, an article published in USA TODAY discusses another more famous vampire from the village of Zarozje (bordering Bosnia). The villagers have become fearful that the vampire Sava Savanovic has reawakened after a wooden mill that was thought to be his home, and where he drank blood from his victims, had collapsed. While many believe he is just a fairy tale, they are still being cautious by carrying garlic in their pockets and keeping wooden crosses in their rooms. The article states that the villagers are hoping to bring in more tourists to the region through their story, so maybe next time you’re thinking about visiting vampire sites consider adding Serbia on your list. 

Kiri: Vampires are certainly a popular topic for Halloween, and like Dragana I’d like to retell a story likened to that of Dracula—the tale of Elizabeth Bathory. Elizabeth’s story presents us with an interesting case study because we are certain that she was a real person, who was really tried for the crimes she allegedly committed. But her story becomes so sensational, even in contemporary times, it’s hard for historians to tease out the fact from the fiction. Nonetheless, what’s Halloween without a retelling of the story of the infamous Blood Countess?

In the early seventeenth century, a Hungarian noblewoman named Erzsébet Báthory (or, as she’s more commonly known today, Elizabeth Báthory) stood trial against accusations of witchcraft and the murder of at least eighty—though some argue as many as six hundred—young girls. The trial supposedly contained witness accounts from two hundred individuals, each one detailing the gruesome and horrifying ways that Báthory and a select number of her servants murdered young girls from around the village. According to legend, Báthory was a particularly cruel mistress who punished girls for even the most minor offenses. One day after striking a servant so hard that blood splashed on Báthory’s hand, she noticed that her skin was noticeably smoother where the blood landed. Obsessed with vanity and her own beauty, Báthory’s cruelty grew as she devised ways to bathe in the blood of her servants. Because of her noble status, there was little that anyone could do. Báthory’s crimes against peasants was hardly a concern for surrounding nobles or the Church. Once she had depleted the pool of young poor women, however, Báthory opened a school to teach noble daughters how to properly behave in high society. When a few of these girls went missing, Báthory had crossed a line. The afflicted noble families had enough power to finally grab the Church’s attention, and soldiers raided the Báthory castle. Scores of dead bodies were found, and with the trial Báthory and her accomplices were all found guilty—her servants all executed in varying painful ways, and Báthory herself sentenced to confinement in her room behind a brick wall.

As mentioned above, Báthory’s story even in her own time was quickly sensationalized, and it is hard for historians to pick apart fiction from fact. While nineteenth and twentieth century authors and creators embellished Báthory’s actions, more recent scholars have attempted to rescue the Báthory name, citing an over-reliance on fabricated sources. Either way, Báthory’s tale gives historians insight into the cultural world of both the time Báthory lived in, and the periods where her story became popularized. Although today she is remembered as the “Blood Countess,” her story offers more to us than simply a hauntingly frightening tale.

For more on Elizabeth Báthory, I recommend these sources, which I also relied on for this blog post.

 Kürti, László. “The Symbolic Construction of the Monstrous—the Elizabeth Bathory Story.” Croatian Journal of Ethnology & Folklore Research / Narodna Umjetnost , 2009, Vol. 46 Issue 1, 133-159.

Adam, Wayne. “Elizabeth Bathory–COUNTESS AND KILLER.” Renaissance Magazine 22, no. 5 (2018): 62+. Gale General OneFile. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A635559558/ITOF?u=tall85761&sid=ITOF&xid=8ad5cdb8

For funsies, I recommend The Countess by Rebecca Johns. It’s a historical fiction, but a very good read. 

Stephen: The Greek and Roman world is just as spooky as today! The ancients did not celebrate Halloween, but they sure did like phantoms, witches, magic, and even zombies?! Scary stories about ghosts and werewolves were being told more than 2,000 years ago. 

A Greek Zombie?: “I know of a man who came to life twenty days after he was buried; I was his doctor both before his death and after he came back to life.” -Lucian, Philopseudes 26

Here is a list of modern works on ancient Greek and Roman Halloween related subjects: 

  • Greek and Roman Folklore (2006) by G. Anderson
  • Greek and Roman Necromancy (2019) by D. Ogden
  • Haunted Greece and Rome: Ghost Stories from Classical Antiquity (1999) by D. Felton
  • Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Sourcebook (2002) by D. Ogden
  • Restless Dead: Encounters Between the Living and the Dead in Ancient Greece (2013) by S. Johnston 

What are the steps in applying for grad school?

With an international pandemic, plenty of schools are changing their graduate school policies or not admitting new students all together. A lot of things are up in the air right now, so we decided to at least make certain parts of the application process clearer for students who will hopefully be joining us in grad school for the next year.

Dragana: With the start of October, many students might be wondering when they should begin their search for graduate schools. I would say start now! Finding the right school for you could be a long and exhausting process, especially if your area of focus isn’t as popular or if it’s a very specific field that not a lot of professors study it (I’ve been there). Getting an early start allows you to have enough time to properly research schools and programs, but it also gives you a good amount of time to reach out to professors who you are interested in working with. When I was looking for programs and professors, I used the American Historical Association (AHA) website to do a preliminary search for my area of focus. It’s a great first step because it shows you professors who focus on areas and topics you might be interested in—be careful though as not all of the information on it is up to date. Regardless, it’s a great tool to get you started and exposed to schools that might have a program that suits your needs. Create a document where you have the schools, programs, professors, and application requirements. It would also be a good idea to meet with a professor you are close to or your advisor to go over the list. Professors can provide you with some extra schools/programs and they’ll usually tell you some information you might need to know about your schools. If you start your search early you are giving yourself enough time to find the best programs for you and to complete the applications (which can be long and sometimes expensive). Good luck!

Clayton: Graduate school is full of hurdles, and the first major one that you will face is often one that is overlooked, applying and getting into a program. It may sound like a redundant statement, but getting into a graduate program is much more involved and in depth than getting into undergrad (something I did not fully realize when I first began to apply). First off, one thing I would definitely recommend when getting everything together for a graduate program is good time management. The process of applying involves multiple steps and some, such as signing up and taking the GRE test (if needed) and getting letters of recommendation, take time and may not fit perfectly into your timetable. You also have to get your own materials together, mainly a good writing sample, which means you can’t be preoccupied with constantly checking on external factors.  Making sure that you have all the necessary materials, letters, scores, and whatever else you need well before the major deadlines will eliminate a lot of worries and headaches.

Besides making sure you have everything to get into a program, you should do all you can to make sure that you are getting into the right program. Every program and professor has its own strengths and weaknesses, and before you even apply, you should make sure that the program and professors fit your needs and wants from a grad program. Make sure to go on the university website and look at what certain professors usually teach and what they have written on. Researching what certain professors study and finding one that works on a similar field that you wish to study will make your time in grad school much more enjoyable. Applying is only the first hurdle, but it can often be one of the tallest.    

Chelsi: After taking a year off from school, I decided to apply to grad school in 2016. I had moved back home, four hours away from my undergrad university and no one in my family had ever been to grad school. The process was a daunting one in which I had no one I thought that could help me. Like you may be doing now, I looked up checklists on blogs for what materials I might need, and still felt overwhelmed. Finding out that I needed a letter of recommendation (not just one but three at that) was by far the hardest part to conceptualize.

When was I supposed to ask? How do I ask? Who should I ask? The first is easy: ask as soon as you have a working list of what schools you want to go to, but no later than six weeks prior to a school’s application deadline. As for the second question: If you can go to the professor’s office hours or if you can’t send them an email. Remind them who you are and tell them what you want to apply to with a short description of what you plan on doing. Tell them when the applications are due as well. Attach a CV or Resume (which I go over how to write here) and ask them straightforwardly.

The last question is the hardest. In undergrad I was not close to my professors nor did I really go to office hours. I was applying to a history program but could only think about two history professors in which to email. When considering who to ask for a letter, make sure that you did well in their class, that they have a semi-secure position, and that you did a project for them in which you are proud of. My third letter was from an internship position I had in undergrad. This obviously worked for me, and I was stressed and worried every step of the way. Hopefully this can take some of the stress out of the process for others.

Frank: After narrowing down what schools and professors you might want to consider working with or attending based on your interests, it is usually a good idea to reach out before applying. Emailing individual professors who you may be interested in working with can be a great way to learn more about the program and clarify if you would be a good fit working with them or attending their school. Moreover, sometimes department website’s can be a bit overwhelming in what is said to be offered, specialized in, and possible about a program. By reaching out, you can receive more individualized feedback about how you might fit in the department if accepted. Since most applications start becoming due by the beginning of November, it is usually a good idea to set these correspondences in motion in advance of that; however, it is never too late to reach out since the application will likely not be formally reviewed until at least a couple of weeks if not much longer after the deadline. Initiating and maintaining good communication when appropriate is a great way to learn more about a program and get a better understanding of how things might work if you decide to attend.

Owning Pets as Graduate Students

As many of us know, graduate school is a stressful time in which the work seems to never end. It is an experience that can make you feel separated from friends and family and alone as you spend hour after hour doing assignments. Many graduate students try to combat the isolating nature of graduate school by adopting a pet or two or three. Adopting a pet during graduate school has an equal amount of positive and negative aspects which need to be considered before adding a fluffy or furry member to your family. This week we share our experiences with having, thinking about having, and taking care of pets during graduate school.

Stephen: In my first three years of graduate school I did not have any pets to call my own. I grew up with multiple dogs in my house and missed the companionship which they added. It was not until my girlfriend and I moved in together that I even considered adopting a pet again. We discussed at length the potential pets that we could adopt, but more importantly we talked about if we had the time, energy, money, and commitment to give a pet a fun-loving and joyful life while we continued our graduate experience. In the end we agreed that we could afford at least one pet. I was dead set on getting a dog, however my girlfriend reminded me about the time commitment that a dog needs compared to a cat and she did not think that we could properly tend to a dog’s needs. We decided to get a cat…. two cats! Getting cats has been one of the best decisions I have made being a graduate student thus far. They are fun, loving, and require less time to care for than a dog. We named our two cats Ares and Athena! The addition of both of them to our small family unit has actually made us both less stressful and gives a companion to play or cuddle with when we are feeling down. 

Clayton: During the ups and downs of Graduate school, it is always good to have a way to relieve stress and just feel positive throughout all of the papers and stress. While this can be filled with a wide range of hobbies or activities, one of the best ways to quickly relieve stress, at least in my experience, is by having a pet. Right now I live with a dog and two cats, and they can all be equal parts annoying and endearing. Sometimes your work in grad school can become very repetitive: reading a book, taking notes on the book, writing about the book…, and having pets can be a fun way to break the cycle for a little while with something cute and fun. Especially after COVID, when we’ve all been stuck inside for months, my pets have been  great to break up the monotony.

However, dealing with pets can also be a double-edged sword. While they are usually adorable and fun they often don’t fit neatly into our schedules. When I had to be up at 6:30 to drive almost 45 minutes to campus for my 8 in the morning TA class, one of my cats (who was new and still a kitten) had no problem running around and yelling at 2 in the morning. While they can be annoying when you least want it, for the most part my pets have been a great way to relieve the stresses of grad school.

Dragana: Growing up, my family always had pets–cats to be exact. When I started grad school, I was still living with my parents so all of the work taking care of the cats was done by them while I was in school. I would usually come home pretty late, so it was nice to be welcomed by a swarm of meows and pet-sessions. Now that I have moved away for my PhD, I have two new cats which have completely different personalities from the cats at home. Marko, a tuxedo, and Liam, a Persian, are some of the most loving cats I have ever had. Being with them 24/7 as a result of COVID has made our relationship stronger. I have come to realize that they play a big part of my every day. I talk with them, I feed them, I play with them. Liam has become like a shadow lately. When I’m in the kitchen, he is too. Even now as I’m writing this post Liam is sitting on my desk watching me. When I’m sitting in a zoom class, he’s there next to me sleeping. It’s a good feeling to have someone there with me even if no one can see him. 

Even though I chose to focus on the positives of having pets, it’s important to know that it’s hard working taking care of them. There will be moments when they’re sick and you have to take them to the vet which can be a financial burden if you can’t afford a large bill. You’ll have to feed them, clean after them, and give them the attention they need. Even though it’s a lot of work, I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Kiri: When I was in my MA program, I was still living at home with my parents in order to save money. The best part about living at home, besides the free room and food, was our pets. We have three cats, two medium sized dogs, and a behemoth sized dog, and there truly was nothing better than coming home to a surge of fur and drool after a long day of work or school. It was also helpful that as my mom, grandma, and siblings shared “ownership” of the various animals, I got to relish in all of the love and, aside from a few treats given here and there, didn’t have to worry about any of the maintenance. Moving to Tallahassee for my PhD program, though, where I had no pets at all, left a peculiar emptiness in my life. Aside from the abysmal student housing I naively thought would be a great idea to live in, my roommate also made it clear that she was not a pet kind of girl. I resigned to admiring the stray cats that roamed my apartment complex from afar, connecting particularly with one gray cat that liked to slink around our dumpster. I lovingly dubbed him “Little King Trashmouth,” after Dragana gave me the idea because of her love of Bob’s Burgers, and LKT’s choice for a hangout spot. 

This semester, I’ve thankfully found much better housing (and two amazing new roommates) and we are planning on getting a cat the second week of October. We’ve had to have a lot of discussions about the cost and logistics of adopting a pet, and what we need in the apartment so that a cat would have a happy home. Stress has been a huge factor in each of our day-to-day lives, though, and we’re so excited to have a new friend who will hopefully give us lots of cuddles and love to help ease some of that stress. COVID-19 has brought a myriad of heartbreaks, challenges, and stressors, but that one silver line is that this moment is perfect for busy graduate students who have been on the fence about adoption will finally have the time at home needed to give their new pet the love and attention it deserves. 

Chelsi: As I write this, my cat, John Cena, is meowing incessantly at the office door. If I were to let him in, he would first rub himself on all of my books, jump onto my desk, and then proceed to bite at me and my computer. If I go to the living room, he will lead me to his full food bowl, rub on my leg, and then try to bite my hand. Elsa is a much sweeter cat and only meows at me when she’s feeling particularly lonely. They spend their day laying in bed together until they realize that they’re too close and start fighting. Then I’ll have to go break it up and assure them that they can both share a queen bed.

Cats are a handful. I’ve had both of them since my undergrad and they haven’t gotten particularly easier. Since grad school, I have moved three times with them, and each time they scream in the car the entire ride and I have to give apartments hundreds of extra dollars for pet rent. In grad school, I have sometimes felt that I haven’t been able to give them enough attention, especially in the pre-Covid world, where I would be out of the house from morning to night at least five days a week, and often more. Automatic feeders provide their food and they have toys spread all across the floor, but they still want real human contact. In John’s constant meowing at the door, he is telling me that I need a break. My cats give me a reason to come back home and perhaps take a day (or just a morning) off, particularly when Elsa lays on top of me and refuses to move. They take time and dedication and money, but my cats have continued to remind me that my life is more than just school.

How to deal with Syllabi Anxiety

We all know that the first day of a new class can be the most anxious time at the start of the semester. You come into the class not knowing what to expect from the professor, other students, or the class itself. Through all of our combined graduate courses, we have seen that professors handle the syllabus and first day of class in a wide variety of ways.  These can range from first day scare tactics to underwhelming syllabi, to no syllabus at all. This week we share our experiences with all of these scenarios and how to handle the stress of the first day.

Dragana: The first week of a new semester can be a very exciting time—new classes, new professors, and even new friends. I think that my fellow contributors would agree with me that getting the syllabus for each class can both be very comforting and stressful at the same time. For me, personally, I find syllabi useful in terms of laying out what will be done week by week, but it also overwhelms me. Looking at the syllabus and seeing six readings for one class, a chapter in another, and six more readings for my last class—I don’t know where to start. Besides readings, assignments can start to pile up around the same time too. Looking at the syllabus and seeing the amount of work to be done can create a feeling of anxiety. While I still struggle with that, I have found that by not looking at the syllabus as a whole, but rather on a week by week basis and planning according to that helps alleviate some of the anxiety. Try looking at each class individually. Plan out on what days you will do the work for that particular class and then move on to the next one. And as a final tip: don’t forget to take a day off—we all need a little break every once in a while. 

Kiri: Syllabi are useful for keeping yourself on track during the semester. Most syllabi outline weekly readings and assignment due dates and give you details for expectations for assignments. At the graduate level, however, I’ve found that many professors err away from over-explaining the details of certain assignments, and sometimes they give you almost no guidelines at all. I’ve found that weekly reviews or end of term papers have the most instances of general or unclear descriptions and figuring out what exactly your professor wants from you could be tricky. Not knowing exactly what to do is uncomfortable, but it’s good to get used to this level of discomfort. After all, there isn’t going to someone there to give you strict guidelines when you’re working on your thesis or your dissertation. Your professors might be trying to help you find your voice while also honing your skills in academic writing. Knowing their good intentions doesn’t exactly help the anxiety of not knowing what on Earth you’re supposed to do though.

Graduate school is a time where you should start learning to quickly and concisely learn how to write a variety of different scholarly work— whether weekly responses, book reviews, or term papers. When your syllabus lacks clear instructions, I’ve found it useful to look up some examples of the type of writing you’re required to produce and try to emulate that. It’s also always a good idea to lean on your friends and colleagues. Exchange papers to make sure what you’re saying at least makes sense, and then as the semester progresses you can grow. Uncertainty can be stressful, but learning to operate within that discomfort and adapting, especially when instructions are lax, will help prepare you for when you’re researching on your own. 

Chelsi: The year is 2017 and I’ve decided to go back to school to get my masters. I was not given funding, so I secured a job with fairly good pay and flexible hours, a really great gig…at the movie theatre. I make my schedule, excited that after taking five or six classes in my undergrad years, I only have to sign up for three now. Everything was going to be perfect.

Things were definitely not perfect. As I have mentioned before that schedule didn’t last past one week. Reading those first syllabi, I was overwhelmed, scared, and anxious. My professors explained what was expected of the class in the first hour, and then jumped straight in for the next two. All those readings a week, final papers that I either didn’t understand (Historiography is much too big a word to not be scary) or were twice as long as anything I had written before. I couldn’t skip classes anymore and all assignments were required to be done (no more the lowest grade will be dropped). That anxiety the first time was overwhelming, and while it’s been three years since then, some syllabi still make me consider dropping out.

Overall, in 2017 that first week panic helped me realize that the schedule I had made for myself was not going to happen. I just needed to take a deep breath, pull out my planner, and chart week by week the assignments. While some weeks looked like hell, it also gave me a good indication of when things needed to be done. Syllabi are there to help you adjust your time and expectations, not to just scare you. Take a deep breath and it’ll be fine.

Clayton: When going onto a new class, I think that we all expect and prepare for the scare tactics approach from the professor and the syllabus. We expect to be bombarded with requirements and deadlines, however, what happens when it’s the exact opposite? In classes that I’ve had where there is no real scare tactics moment, it at first feels like a major relief. We’ve all had those moments of anxiety while the syllabus is being reviewed, so it can feel great to not have those initial pressures. These feelings only increase when there is also a lack of firm deadlines and assignments for the course. At first glance this makes it seem like the workload will be less than the other graduate courses, the one “easy” course everyone’s always looking for each semester.

These feelings shouldn’t last long, however. Even if a course/professor feels initially underwhelming, it is still a graduate course filled with graduate level coursework. While it may have no set deadlines, it can be risky to let work slide or come into the class unfocused on the work. While pushing one assignment back may seem like not a big deal, that can lead to pushing back the next one to finish the first one, on and on until you have three major assignments due the last week of the semester for one class. I’ve had a few classes like this and in my experience the best way to deal with this is to treat the suggested deadlines as hard deadlines. It helps keep you in a routine for the “easier” class, so you don’t risk falling behind. To sum this up with a fun paraphrase: the greatest trick a grad professor ever pulled was making their class seem easy.   

Stephen: Many of us are used to receiving a highly structured syllabus that lays out every project, point, and period that is required during a single semester. Typically, a syllabus is required for every class to be approved by the department and it provides a comprehensive schedule to follow. It is a rare occurrence that a class does not have a syllabus, but there are some exceptions at the graduate level like independent or directed studies. These classes may or may not provide a syllabus, or the syllabus is something created by yourself and the professor at the beginning of the semester. Again, this is an extremely rare occurrence; however, in my experience a class without a hard and fast syllabus is not necessarily a bad thing. I have taken part in two separate graduate classes that did not provide a syllabus. The first was an independent studies class that was based on achieving a single yet arduous goal that was set by myself and the professor. This class did not need a syllabus since it was research oriented. The second class I took that had no syllabus was a directed reading class that was highly specialized and only had a few students attend each week. Based on the subject matter and overall attendance, the schedule of readings and assignments was created the week before the next class. A “no syllabus” class is inherently challenging, its downfalls are evident, and it is something that many of us are not used to. Counter to the pitfalls, in my opinion they provide a great way to connect students and professors in class creation, self-responsibility, focused research, and at the same time fuel unrestricted creativity.

How to Handle Being a Graduate Assistant

Being a Graduate Assistant, Teaching Assistant, or Research Assistant as well as a full-time graduate student can be overwhelming. While we were all excited about the opportunities that being graduate assistants offered us, we felt a lot of pressure to be good at our jobs while also being good students. In this week’s post, we share our experiences in dealing with time management, workloads, and advocating for ourselves as both students and graduate assistants. 

Dragana: Being a Teaching Assistant, Graduate Assistant, or a Research Assistant can take up a lot of time that you might want to be spending on your own schoolwork. At times it can be overwhelming to juggle both your graduate school work and your assistantship responsibilities. One of the most important things that I learned in my very first semester as a TA was that if I don’t stand up for myself and my time, I will be expected to do work that I am not meant to do. With that being said, I still managed to divide my time in ways that allowed for me to get everything done. I spent most of my time in my office at school doing my readings. Each morning I would take care of my TA duties—be it grading, responding to students, or creating reading questions—and then I would move on to my own work. When my schoolwork got too hectic, I would prioritize getting that done before my TA duties. Sometimes, if I knew that I had a busy school week coming up, I would get ahead in some of my class readings so that I was not behind in my TA class. An ending tip: it’s okay if you can’t do everything every week, just do what you can and move on to the next week.    

 Frank: An appointment as a teaching assistant can be both a demanding and rewarding experience, especially if one plans to pursue work as a teacher after graduating. It can be a very useful introduction to teaching and course preparation, and there is some truth to the idea that teaching a topic is the best way to learn it. Finding a good balance between assistantship duties, coursework and research is important, though. In my opinion, coursework and research should come first. Negotiating workload and duties, should they become too time-consuming or difficult, is something that should be communicated with your supervising professor.  

In my TA experience, I had the opportunity to lead the class lecture on several occasions. While stressful at first, I was grateful for the experience. It helped me conceptualize how to structure a presentation for a class period, lecture for a more significant amount of time than I was used to, and consider different pedagogical approaches. This experience also helped me become a better presenter in my seminars. Grading can also be useful preparation for how to successfully evaluate students and other’s writing. 

Kiri: Working as a Teaching Assistant, Research Assistant, Grader, or whatever else your University has, can present a particular challenge for graduate students. There is a wide range in expectations from professors, and it’s often hard to gauge what exactly your professor expects from you each semester. In order to alleviate any potential misunderstandings or miscommunications, I’ve always tried to make sure to meet with my professor often, at least one a week outside of the physical class, especially if the class has weekly assignments like quizzes. When I’ve worked with professors who were more aloof, I’ve found myself anxious and it became easier to fall into the trap of imposter syndrome.

The workload from grading can become overwhelming, as it’s almost like you’re taking on an extra class. I’ve found the best way to make sure that I keep on top of grading is to set strict deadlines for myself and communicate with my professor if I ever feel like I cannot adhere to that schedule. Most of the time, your professor is going to know how hard it is to be a graduate student, and they’re going to understand when you need help. Communication, for me anyway, is the key to making sure that I am performing to the professor’s standards and ensuring that the professor knows what my limits are.

Chelsi: Being a graduate assistant ultimately depends on the professor you’re working for. The professor decides what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it, but in my experience, there are two major things I’ve learned. First, be upfront about what you have on your plate that semester because the professor knows that you are a student first. Second, sometimes you don’t have a choice with how much the minimum of work you’re assigned, but you can always ask for more.

In my first course as an assistant, my duties were essentially that of a grader, which was good for the first semester of my second year. Still, I was nervous and didn’t advocate for myself or my own work nearly enough. The professor noticed that I had gotten overwhelmed at certain points and would slow down on my grading, but I insisted it would be fine (it was not). My work suffered, and some students probably got away with more than they should have because I didn’t have the time to read that well.

In my second course, my duty was to sit in front of the class and take attendance, nothing else. Very early on my professor made it clear that because my masters was ending, I was in the middle of studying for comps, and dealing with the stress of PhD acceptances and rejections, he didn’t expect much. I was thankful for his understanding, even though I knew I could do more.

Hopefully, third time’s the charm and this year I can find the perfect balance and instead of letting professors think I’m fine when I’m not or letting them advocate for me, I can take it upon myself to know how much work is too much and how much is too little and speak up.


Clayton: Being a TA can be both a stressful and fun experience. As I have mentioned before in previous posts, my time as TA began in a very hectic way: about a week and half before my first year of graduate school I was offered a position as a graduate assistant because someone had just left the program. I was emailed about it on a Friday afternoon and had to respond by Sunday. I was obviously going to say yes, but because it was so close to the start of the semester, I went through a very rushed process preparing to be both a GA and a TA (I’m still not sure if I actually took the TA training). The actual job of being a TA is a balancing act. You have to make sure you are keeping up with the professor’s lessons, grading assignments, and paying attention to student questions, all while making sure you stay on top of your own work. However, being a TA also has some very rewarding elements. Personally, I found the classes I was assigned to interesting, so it was enjoyable to sit in on a class without being in a graduate student mindset. Getting to work closely with the professor in planning their lessons and assignments, I learned about the thought process that goes into planning assignments and lessons, and what it takes to teach and grade a class. I also got along great with the professors I was assigned to, which made the process much easier. I was even assigned to the same professor in three of my four semesters, which meant I developed a great rapport with that professor. Being a TA has its ups and downs, but overall for me it was an enjoyable and rewarding job.

Talking to Your Advisor: Even When You Really Don’t Want To

by Kiri Raber

In shifting from an undergraduate program to a graduate program, one of the biggest changes faced is the new dynamic between students and professors. Professors will range in how they interact with you, from those who now regard you as more of a peer than a student, to those who prefer to maintain the student/professor delineation, and every possible variant in between. One of the most important relationships you are going to form is between you and your advisor, and your advisor can land anywhere on that spectrum. It can be difficult to ascertain where your advisor falls, but it is important to pinpoint where your advisor is so that your conversations are both beneficial and encouraging, and you can quickly build up a rapport. Your advisor is going to be the person to go to when scheduling classes, cultivating research ideas, adding your minor fields, and later working closely with you on your final project (whether an MA thesis or dissertation). Your advisor will help to guide you through graduate school but can also seem intimidating and unapproachable at times. I hope to help ease some qualms and fears about meeting with advisors by delving into my own experiences with mine. Although each person and advisor relationship is different, I’ve learned that it is always better to be open with your advisor than to close yourself off for the sake of comfort.

 For my master’s degree, I had the benefit of already knowing my advisor from undergrad, so I had a good sense of the kind of professor and person he was and I already had an established rapport. He was always open to discuss various things in his office and was generally a laid-back person. Since he was a fairly casual man, our meetings would mostly be casual as well, and it was easy for me to relax and speak freely around him. For my PhD program, though I skyped with my new advisor before I joined the program, I was unfamiliar with how he worked with students and what his academic expectations would be. It wasn’t until I met him in person and took a class with him that I realized my new advisor had a more professional and serious demeanor than I was used to. This is not to say that one is necessarily better than the other, but I realized the way I presented myself had to change if I wanted to successfully advocate for my research project. To me, this felt very close to changing my language and the way I spoke to accommodate another person, and I worried about losing my identity in order to conform to the expectation of someone who directly oversaw me. Meeting with my advisor panicked me because I didn’t think I could live up to who he wanted me to be—or rather, who I thought he wanted me to be. As such, I would become nervous and stumble over my words and ideas, and found that when he called into question the foundation of what I wanted my research to be, I was unable to explain or defend what I wanted to do. That moment was truly a low for me, and I worried and stressed incessantly until we finally met again. The next talk I had with my advisor was very candid and needed. He explained to me that he was on my side and believed in my project, but I had to be prepared to answer difficult questions and needed to practice how to professionally defend my topic in a cohesive and coherent way. Talking openly to my advisor and standing strong within my belief that my project was one that was worth doing, allowed for communication and a better flow of ideas. Getting to this point wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.  

In most cases, your advisor wants to help shape you into a successful professional and give you the tools needed for you to make your mark on the world. The relationship isn’t a one-way street, though, and learning how to communicate effectively with your advisor and opening dialogues will help you to move forward with both your program and your profession. That being said, it is also important that you do not allow your advisor’s personality to dwarf your own or make yourself small to accommodate them. Remember that your advisor is supposed to be on your team, and though they might push you, ultimately, they have your best interest at heart. If your advisor is not someone who is like that, I recommend reaching out to another professor that you feel safe with and voicing your concerns and exploring your options. Graduate school should not function as an institution that tears you down to build you up, and though certainly it is to be challenging, you should never feel that you are less than or losing yourself because of the demands of an advisor. Sometimes, you have to be your greatest advocate, but opening that line for open communication will help you to reach your goal and gain the most out of the mentorship from your advisor. 

Once in a Century Pandemic….Again?!

By Clayton Richards

The last few years have brought a whirlwind of change and devastating circumstances to our society. These events have recently ranged from political stalemates, both domestic and international, racial protests and violence, and even a global pandemic. This combination of events has produced a defining moment in our recent history, something that will be analyzed and debated by our society for many years to come. The last time a series of events like this occurred was much more recently than you would think. Only one hundred years ago, the world was faced with the Spanish Flu pandemic, the earth-shattering aftermath of the First World War, and in the US the fight for African American rights engulfed the nation. Surprisingly, one hundred years later the world is faced with a strangely similar chain of events which are having just as profound an impact upon us.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has forced society to change over the last six months, from how we work to how we travel and interact with each other on a daily basis. Many have taken to calling the COVID-19 outbreak as a ‘once in a century pandemic.’ To highlight this point, almost exactly one hundred years before, a similarly devastating pandemic rocked the world. The Spanish Flu (although it likely began in the U.S. or China as opposed to Spain), began in 1918 and rapidly spread across the world. With so many people massed together because of World War I, the flu would go to infect about a third of the world’s population over the two years in which the outbreaks occurred. Just as today, society was forced to adapt to the threat of the flu. Although public health initiatives didn’t traditionally aid with flu outbreaks back then, public safety programs such as social distancing and closures were put in place all over the world to fight the flu.

Besides the Spanish Flu, politically the U.S. was facing a variety of challenges from 1918 to 1920 that seem quite familiar to us today in 2020. At the international level, both parties were deadlocked over how to proceed after World War I as an international power. At home, fears over Communists and other radicals in the U.S. led to political arrests during the First Red Scare. However, the events that have the most connections to events in our time was the violence of Red Summer in 1919. Red Summer was a series of racially violent riots and attacks in major cities across the U.S. following World War I. African American communities and leaders looked to maintain the limited expanded freedoms and opportunities they had gained during the War, while pushing for more equality. Hundreds died throughout the U.S. in these months. Sadly, what these leaders were pushing for relates directly to what the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is protesting for, racial equality and opportunity.     

Some say that history repeats itself, and in this circumstance, it eerily seems like it has. It is strange that despite a century of advancement and progress, we are confronted with the same threats. However, despite all the tragic similarities between these two eras, we can see that lessons and progress has been made. Some places have taken the lessons on how to fight a massive pandemic from the Spanish Flu and have been able to slow their COVID outbreaks. It should be noted that the progress that has been made that allows the BLM movement to be both so widespread, supported, and largely peaceful today cannot be understated, especially when compared to a hundred years ago. This is our once in a lifetime series of events, our history making moment, and our chance to make our mark, as a society, on history for the better.


Further Reading

For more in-depth information on this era of U.S. history, please see Ann Hagedorn’s Savage Peace: Hope and Fear in America 1919, which focuses mainly on 1919, but covers the flu pandemic, the Red Scare, Red Summer and many other events that make this era one of the most impactful and interesting in U.S. history (in my opinion).

Also, while researching this piece I read a very interesting article from USA Today comparing the 1918 flu pandemic and COVID-19 in terms of social distancing, which was incredibly interesting. https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2020/05/31/lessons-1918-flu-coronavirus-social-distancing-historian-column/5283023002/

There is also this article from NBC news which discusses the racial violence of Red Summer and how it relates to what has been occurring in the U.S. during summer 2020. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/racial-violence-pandemic-how-red-summer-1919-relates-2020-n1231499

What is it like to be a graduate student in the midst of a difficult political climate?

(Photo of protestors in front of Boston State House on Monday, July 13th, 2020. Courtesy of the Boston Herald)

By Rozzmery Palenzuela

We live in an unprecedented time. Our country is battling systemic racism, corruption, sexism, and xenophobia in the midst of a pandemic that has dramatically altered our understanding of what is normal. On Monday, July 6th the Federal Student and Exchange Visitor Program announced that international student visas would be revoked for student’s registered as fully online. As a response to covid-19, most universities are offering fully online, remote, and/or hybrid courses as an alternative to in-person classes for the safety of all students, faculty and university employees. Many international students, a large sum of whom are coming from Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East, were forced to consider putting their health at risk from fear of having their student visas revoked and returning to their home country.

I am currently a Ph.D. student at Florida International University; keyword being “international.” Not only is our student base diverse, but we also pride ourselves as an institution that welcomes international students. As an M.A. student at the University of South Florida, I was one of two women in my cohort and to my knowledge, the only non-white Hispanic or Latino student enrolled in the program. At USF, I was an anomaly. At FIU, I am not only surrounded by people who are like me, but also by people who are not like me. In my graduate cohort alone, we have students from Colombia, Peru, Chile, and Brazil among other places, who knowingly expose themselves to anti-immigrant discourse and racism in this country even though many of them held vastly different social statuses and positions in their home countries. I’ve watched them face judgment from their professors and their peers because they struggle with language acquisition and articulating themselves in a classroom. Internally, I think to myself, why would someone willingly do this unless they wanted to learn and improve themselves and their communities back home?

I am an immigrant, but I am privileged. I benefit from the privileged immigration status that Cubans have had since the early 1960’s due to Cold War policies placed against Cuba in an effort to combat communism on the island. Growing up, I benefitted from immediate green-card status upon arriving on U.S. soil, having had ESOL instruction in the classroom, and now from being a naturalized U.S. citizen in a political climate where resident aliens and undocumented people continue to be judged, targeted, and marginalized under the law. Just as my family fled Cuba during the Special Period for better opportunities for my brother and I, so too have these students left their home countries. It has been heartbreaking to watch members of my cohort fearfully follow the news and monitor the increasingly xenophobic discourse that has permeated through this election cycle; especially in how they are increasingly being marginalized on a local, regional, and federal level on matters like financial aid, healthcare, housing, and emergency funding in response to covid-19.

As a person who grapples with intersectionality – in this case, I’m referring to the discrimination that I face as a non-white, immigrant woman – it’s become increasingly apparent to me that battles have to be fought on all fronts. Recent events involving police brutality against people of color have produced a renewed interest in the BLM movement and demands for policy change and justice against people of color has become difficult to ignore. But I know that is not the only area where we, as a nation, need to work on. As a society, we can’t afford to fight one battle at a time. We have to fight all battles, at all times. Just as we are demanding change and accountability for years of systemic racism and police brutality against people of color, we need to equally demand that children be released from cages, that LGBTQ+ people be protected and treated equally under the law, that immigrants be met with kindness rather than hostility, and that women’s bodies be controlled by women.

As graduate students, we feel powerless. We hold very little power within the university hierarchy and are often brushed off by the professional community for being “just students.” However, it is our responsibility to use our platforms to the best of our ability ­–– whether it’s highlighting these issues in a student paper, continuing these discussions during seminar, by pushing faculty and GSO’s, or by emphasizing these issues in our research and writing. Between writing this article and seeing it published, the combined efforts of the public’s outrage on social media and student protests at various universities has forced the Trump administration to rescind their announcements and allow international students to maintain their student visa status even if they are enrolled fully online. This is a small victory, but it shows the power in unity and popular protest, and, as the woman holding the poster that reads “I love someone on an F-1” shows, it is the responsibility of the privileged to serve as allies and fight to dismantle the structures and hierarchies that allowed us to benefit from that privilege. We have to keep fighting until change happens. In other words, vote in November!


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.