Successfully Juggling Responsibilities While Pursuing a Doctoral Degree

Karen-Johnston-AshtonBy Karen Johnston-Ashton
Doctoral Student in Developmental Education

I have been in graduate school for five years; two of those years were at Western New Mexico University, earning an MA. The last three years have been at Texas State earning my MEd in Special Education and an MA in History. In the fall of 2014, I began my Ph.D. program in Developmental Education. I chose to apply to the Developmental Education program because I believe all students deserve an opportunity to succeed in college. I have personally seen developmental classes in action when my oldest daughter took developmental writing. My own goal is to work within the research area of the field.

The decision to apply to a doctoral program was easy. I have always loved school and truly want to make a difference and work with students at a post-secondary level. Before entering this intensive period of schooling, I was a stay-at-home mom with a side business. My five children were my priority and I enjoyed spending time with them. I spent 15 years doing what I loved and as they left high school, I felt the desire to return to university life. With a family—I still have two adult children at home and one in college—I still have to juggle daily responsibilities. Choices are tough and I miss events sometimes, but manage to make all of the pieces work out.

My first semester in Cohort 4 is fabulous! I have a heavy load to cover and work as well, but the students in my cohort are interesting and come from a variety of backgrounds. This program is still new and only graduated the first Ph.D. candidate this summer. I am taking a mixture of classes that include Policy and Politics, Statistics, Exploration of Developmental Education and Research and got to jump into research immediately. I get to work closely with the movers and the shakers of the field.  Frankly,  I am in heaven and look forward to the challenges yet to come.

International Conference and Other Academic Involvement: An Invaluable Experience

LCA_Germany_Photo

By Laura Cano Amaya
Doctoral Student in Environmental Geography

It has always been an interest of mine to explore different perspectives and approaches to “seeing things” as I look into addressing complex and multi-faceted issues whether in academia or elsewhere. Therefore, when I started my doctoral program, it was just a matter of time before I began to look for opportunities to engage internationally in my research area–which by the way is an incredible new research agenda on disaster resilience.

I knew going into seeking international conference opportunities that cost would be an issue, but long story short, I found several funding sources. With funds from my department and the Graduate College among others, I was able to present at conferences in Panama and Germany, and conduct my dissertation research in Costa Rica. As is almost always the case, our personal achievements are influenced by the incredible generosity of people around us. My family, dissertation advisor, friends, and academic department were all instrumental in this effort.

Presenting internationally is very similar to presenting at national conferences in the U.S. It is incredible how many people are multilingual around the world. This makes communicating with people at these international conferences very easy. Most international conferences have English as one of the conference’s official languages, so no problem there. To express what it means to have the opportunity to interact with people from all around the globe working on the same research as you is hard to convey. The passion and knowledge is an incredible thing to experience, but the opportunity to start building your international research and collaborative network is invaluable as an emerging scholar. My recommendation, take the time and meet your international peers. It is a worthwhile opportunity.

Libera Tu Mente: Studying Abroad in Santiago, Chile

Kevin McGovernBy Kevin McGovern
Master’s Student in Business Administration

This past summer I was lucky enough to travel to Santiago, Chile for the Texas State Study Abroad Program.  As a current master’s degree candidate in business administration, the 8-day trip to South America was the highlight of my summer term.  During our time in Santiago, the MBA group met with several Chilean business leaders who provided us with new perspectives on how Chile and other Latin American countries operate in the local market economies, as well as the global economy.  Our company visits comprised formal meet-and-greets and informational sessions with business leaders from the energy sector, pharmaceutical sector, environmental sector, and most importantly…the wine industry!  The learning experience gained from these company visits was immeasurable, and coupled with the cultural and social immersion, our group was exposed to some great life-experiences that could never have happened here in the United States.

Chile is a country rich with culture.  While touring the colorful streets of Valparaiso, a coastal city in which artistic expression is a way of life, I came across a street-wall displaying the phrase “libera tu mente,” or “free your mind.”  Like thousands of others, this type of personal expression lines the streets and sidewalks of Valparaiso.  For some people it may simply be graffiti, but for me it was a cultural phenomenon; the city walls act as an open forum where artists, young people, and tourists alike can contribute to the vibrant aesthetics for which the city is defined.

Unique food, delicious wine, and good friends helped make this trip complete, not to mention a day trip to the Andes mountains and a week of World Cup Futbol in a country where citizens live and die by their national team!  My time spent in Chile may have been brief, but the learning experience will stay with me for a lifetime!

Valuable lessons for doctoral students: Make meaningful contributions and provide well-researched solutions

Granger-headshot-1By Sydney L. Granger
Doctoral Student in Developmental Education

I am proud to say I spent my summer working less than one mile down Auburn Avenue from where Dr. Martin Luther King was raised.  The location in Atlanta, Georgia, could not be more appropriate as I was working with the Southern Education Foundation, an organization committed to “combating poverty and inequality through education.”  As SEF’s Higher Education Doctoral Intern, my contribution to that mission came in the form of applying my knowledge and expertise of Developmental Education to support projects focused on improving the educational experiences of academically underprepared students attending Minority-Serving Institutions.

As a PhD student, my classes have centered primarily on Developmental Education as related to curriculum and instruction.  However, this summer I was able to apply what I have learned at Texas State to much larger contexts, like program planning for four Minority Serving Institutions as part of a US Department of Education grant proposal and policy analysis to better understand the degree of differential effects of performance-based funding programs on Minority-Serving Institutions.

Through my 10 weeks in Atlanta, I learned two very valuable lessons I think every doctoral student should hear.  First, at a certain point in your program, you become an expert in your subject.  While this may seem obvious, I argue this happens before you have your degree in hand.  While graduate school is largely years spent being told about all the things we don’t know, as doctoral students, the depth and breadth of our understanding of our respective fields are expansive and impressive, which means we should not wait until graduation to start making meaningful contributions to our field.  Second, stop thinking you alone can solve the problems in your field but instead, contribute nuanced, well-researched solutions.  Big problems, like inequity in education, cannot and will not be solved by a single person.  Instead, solutions will come through the constant and focused efforts of dedicated individuals who believe in the power and possibility of change.

This summer was the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education and the 50th anniversary of The Freedom Summer, and, yet, many of the same problems surrounding equity in education and racism still exist.  This doesn’t mean these problems are insurmountable; this only means we’re not done yet.  I am confident that my 10 weeks at SEF helped support, if only a in a very small way, the work for equity intrinsically tied to Auburn Avenue.

An Incredible Internship Experience at the Smithsonian

Virginia with  Dr OttBy Virginia A. Pickel
Master’s Student in Public History

If you had told me a year ago that I would be completing my internship at the Smithsonian, I wouldn’t have believed you. I might have laughed in your face. Nevertheless, I just spent the last ten weeks interning at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History (NMAH) in Washington, D.C (http://americanhistory.si.edu/).

What can I say about working at one of the most renowned museums in the country? It was both amazing and surreal. I walked across the Washington Mall every morning to get to work, with the Washington Monument on my left and the U.S. Capitol on my right. In NMAH’s Division of Medicine and Science, I worked with Curator Dr. Katherine Ott to research post-World War II government contracts regarding the adaptation of lightweight aircraft materials into prostheses. I even got to talk to one of the participants of the program who did not fight in WWII, but rather fell out of a cherry tree at the age of 12, ultimately leading to the amputation of both his arms.

Besides the incredible research opportunities, the Smithsonian offered a wide range of enrichment activities for its interns. I attended the Philadelphia Orchestra’s performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, met Rita Moreno (yes, that Rita Moreno), went to a naturalization ceremony featuring Hillary Clinton and Ralph Lauren, toured the Supreme Court, and volunteered at the 200th anniversary festivities of the original Star-Spangled Banner (on display at NMAH), not to mention many other events!

It was very difficult to leave my friends and family for ten weeks, but their support made it possible for me to have one of the most incredible experiences in my 30-something years. It is truly something I will never forget. (Special thanks to everyone in the history department and their ceaseless efforts to make sure my internship happened!)

The Best Way to Experience Life is to Do It

By Jordon HatteryHattery
Master’s Student in Mass Communication

The SXSW Interactive Festival 2014 in March was the most amazing week of my life, and there is not enough space on this blog for me to list all the ways that it affected me. I got the opportunity to attend it as part of a class that focuses on this conference experience.

On the first day of Interactive, Hugh Forrest, the director of the conference, gave a talk about how to maximize your experience at SXSW. One of his key points was to embrace serendipity, and go with whatever opportunity presented itself to you. Ironically, I wasn’t in the room for these words because I had been invited last minute to a taco lunch and was standing outside the event trying to get in. This was how I treated my SXSW experience. Before SXSW started, I got some advice: “Say yes to everything.”

Those were the words I would live my SXSW by. I went out every night and met new and interesting people. I met a guy who built a fusion reactor in his basement. We had dinner together. In what other world could that happen?

SXSW wasn’t just about the people I met and the fun I had, even though I had quite a bit. I also learned a lot. I focused a lot on politics, and attended multiple panels discussing the Wendy Davis filibuster from the previous summer. I saw people from the Texas Tribune, activists, and political operatives all discuss the role that media, especially digital media, played in the activism during the special sessions of the Texas Legislature.

As an outspoken advocate of the power of Twitter, even some of the entertainment panels I attended had valuable lessons. A panel on Twitter humorists and a panel with Seth Meyers both talked about the importance Twitter plays in new job markets. Writing is an essential skill, and quick, sharp writing on Twitter is quickly becoming a new test for employers.

I also got to witness the personal power of Twitter as I live-tweeted every event I went to. It was a wonderful experience to interact with people and watch other people’s reactions to panels as they unfolded.

There was a moment during Edward Snowden’s talk via teleconference from Russia where I seemed to find all of the answers I have been searching for. Where suddenly I felt like I had a clear direction and path to take. It was a moment that I had heard others talk about, but was surprised when it hit me.

I cannot thank Texas State and the SXTXState program enough for this amazing opportunity. You can see what I and my fellow classmates did at the conference at this website: http://sxtxstate.com/ . The more hands-on experience you can get in your field the better you will be. Whether it guides you in a new, exciting direction, or confirms where you’ve already been going, the best way to experience life is to do it.

Time Management – The DON’TS

Courtney-LoveBy Courtney Love
Master’s student in Mass Communication

I am in my final semester of my graduate career as a Mass Communication student here at Texas State.  It’s amazing to be able to look back at my graduate career and see all the skills I have developed through the past couple of years.  When you have semesters full of multiple research papers and projects, it’s very easy to get caught up and carried away.  Time management is a skill that is absolutely necessary when trying to keep up with all the work that goes along with graduate studies, especially when you are balancing a social life and working at the same time.

I could sit here and list all the time management skills, such as planning, setting a routine, and prioritizing your assignments that you need in order to make yourself a more productive student. However, most of you are aware of these techniques and employ them daily. If you’re not, a simple Google search will give you plenty of suggestions on what to DO when trying to manage your time better. You rarely see things about what you should not do.

My biggest “don’t” for you as a graduate student is don’t overreach: You will be tempted to say yes to everything that comes along.  Opportunities that you think shouldn’t be passed up.  Remember time is finite and you don’t have an unlimited supply. Everyone needs “me” time.  Do not be afraid to take it.  If you fill up your schedule to the max and leave no time for yourself, it could backfire and actually make you less productive.

Don’t be a hero:  This is a HUGE thing to remember. You are only one person.  There are some things that you are going to need help with.  Be willing to ask for help when you are feeling overloaded. You will tend to get stuck in this cycle of being in your own headspace and not being able to get out.  A second pair of eyes might help you see things more clearly.  Even Batman had Robin!

Don’t stress out: Letting your emotions get the best of you is dangerous, and often counterproductive.  Stressing out and breaking down takes a lot of brainpower and time.  If you control your emotions and stay calm, your tasks will go by smoother and quicker than you anticipated.

New Performing Arts Center Meets Students’ Needs

J-Robert-MooreBy J. Robert Moore
MFA Student in Directing

Last spring, I was pleased to learn that I would be returning to Texas State’s theatre department as a graduate student in the new Master of Fine Arts in Directing program. Since my graduation in 2007, the Department of Theatre and Dance has grown a great deal. There is the addition of my highly selective MFA degree plan, and we also boast one of the country’s best undergraduate training programs in musical theatre. As a director with a lifetime devotion to musicals, I was elated that the first production on the stage of the new Performing Arts Center’s Patti Strickel Harrison Theatre would be Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, my favorite show. When the offer came for me to assistant direct the production, I was ecstatic. The show, currently in rehearsals, in the new Performing Arts Center, and open to the public April 8 – 15th, promises to be a spectacular production, featuring classic music, exhilarating dance numbers, and a stunning design concept.

As a returning student I can see first-hand how the Performing Arts Center’s recital hall, studio, and design space are helping meet the needs of students from music, dance, and theatre backgrounds by providing technological amenities and space the old building could not. The building features new rehearsal areas and a graduate directing room with offices and space to hold classes and meetings. I encourage all graduate students to utilize the finely polished facilities of the PAC or to take a moment to lie on the grass, outside the building, for a much needed breather.

We all know graduate school is challenging. I balance classes with long hours of rehearsals and late nights of reading and writing. Yet, when the curtain comes down on the closing night of Anything Goes, the voyage will have been worth it tenfold.  We are all so proud not only to be working and creating in Texas State’s new Performing Arts Center, but also to be ushering in an exciting new era of Texas State performances.

Handling and Overcoming Language Barriers

lorella_photoBy Lorella Di Gregorio
Master’s Student in Modern Languages (Spanish)

I am an Italian and came to study at Texas State University in Fall 2012. Being a foreign student in a place very far away from your own country is very exciting. The diversities found in one’s daily life are without any doubt enriching. To discover new customs and traditions is one of the most important purposes for choosing to study abroad.

Besides that, international students from a non-English speaking country often have the problem of language. Even those who have studied English in school for years have to handle and overcome the language barrier. The first big obstacle that a foreign student meets before moving to an English speaking country is the TOEFL test. In order to be accepted by an US college, every student has to achieve the score required by the school he or she is applying to. Some students reach the score easily, many have to repeat the test several times, and others join the intensive English programs that many schools provide.

Nevertheless, the true training begins when you are into the language! When you start being part of the student body, you start learning for real. The first weeks can be quite tricky for somebody or very frustrating for somebody else, but this is how it works!

In my personal experience, I got lost at the very beginning. Units of temperature, weight, length, food; everything was different. Most importantly: the language was different. The first month I understood very little of what people told me. English on books or in songs is very different than people speaking, particularly in a university environment. I had little knowledge of English prior to coming to Texas State. Hence, my first semester, I started the Bridge Program at Texas State Intensive English, TSIE.  Thanks to those classes (which I was attending along with my Spanish classes) and to my every day practice with those who have become my friends, I got the required TOEFL score for the full admission.

Today my English is still far from perfect, but I have achieved huge my steps toward a good academic communication. Sometimes, I can even understand some Texan slang!

In conclusion, an advice I can give to an ideal international student who wants to learn English quickly is: avoid talking only with people who speak your own language; it hampers your full immersion. In a way, I have been fortunate to not find lots of Italians on campus with whom I can hang out.

Spring Break: An Ideal Time to Catch Up With Research

HolmesBy Megan E. Holmes
Master’s student in Agricultural Education

I’m beginning my fourth semester of graduate school here at Texas State University majoring in Agricultural Education.  I am currently working on my thesis as well as an additional publication with my advisory professor Dr. Tina Cade, while serving my second term as Graduate House Representative for the College of Applied Arts and also working full-time for the university as an advisor for the Upward Bound program.  It is one thing to start graduate school but quite another to learn how to conduct research and work 40 plus hours a week and remember to save time for studying, writing papers, and maintaining somewhat of a social life. It was not until I found a happy medium through healthy, learned time management skills that finally made it all possible.

Conditioning myself to actually integrate the concept of micromanaging my time into my daily routine the first year brought with it a whole new kind of stress I had never experienced.  It took me a solid year before I really understood and embraced the meaning of micromanaging my time.  I finally realized the key to managing the stress of so many deadlines and papers was to account for all those seemingly lost minutes throughout the day.  I also had to remember crunching for exams was out the question and breaks are crucial when spacing out extended hours of studying.  I used to look forward to the weekends and getting out on a regular basis, but now when Friday night rolls around I honestly really look forward to hiking and going to the river with my dog, Boomer.  During the semester my weekends are generally reserved for resting, catching up on reading, papers, research, and working at the Bobcat Blend compost site for additional research.

I have definitely found an ideal time to catch up on reading and research is during Spring Break.  Spring Break has proven to be an exceptionally valuable time to utilize extra hours for catching up on not only research, but rest as well.  The majority of students leave for the break and our small town becomes really peaceful and quiet, turning the local coffee shops into the perfect spots for posting up and studying all day long. Last spring break I spent nearly 40 plus hours completing nearly half of all my data collection for my thesis proposal.

The advisors and professors here at Texas State University in the Graduate College are the reason I will be successful and achieve my dreams out in the real world.  Working and maintaining an open line of communication among my professors has been key to dealing with the stressors of graduate school and genuinely understanding the material and opportunities presented before me.  They truly understand graduate school is not easy, but their willingness to mentor and assist in any way possible along the way make those exhausting days, long nights and early mornings possible.