I made it through my first week of graduate school! Praise Jesus, Hallelujah!
Admittedly, I didn’t have much class stuff to do because my classes are Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and classes didn’t begin until Wednesday of this week. Even so, my Monday and Tuesday were jammed packed with orientation stuff. I spent all day Monday learning the odds and ends of being an Arts and Sciences graduate student at William and Mary. I ended up having to spend my afternoon in Teaching Assistant/Teaching Fellowship training even though I’m not going to be teaching this year. At least I don’t have to redo it when I do start teaching. (*fingers crossed*)
I ended the day in a “pre-class” for my Intro to American Studies course. My professor brought lots of food and a relaxed demeanor to the room, which calmed me and my overactive anxiety. It was the first total meeting of my cohort, which is six students, including me. There are 3 terminal masters students, two PhDs, and me, the joint MA/Ph.D. We are a particularly diverse group, what with the two Black girls and a Korean woman maybe in her late twenties, early thirties who is a major in the South Korean military thrown in the mix. (I think she’s fantastic, by the way.) It’s a nice mix of experience levels and perspectives; two of us are straight from undergrad, two took about two years off, and the other two even more years. Some of us are trained in political science, some in art history, some in English…and then there’s me, the resident French major. Nevertheless, the longer I spend around the American Studies faculty, the less I feel like my interests are random and unconnected. They value my interdisciplinary approach to knowledge acquisition and encourage me to not dismiss my seemingly “trite” curiosities. I’m starting to feel a lot braver when it’s time to introduce myself. In academia, introductions are as follows: “Hi, my name is [insert name here]. I’m from [insert hometown] by way of [insert city where you last did school] and I do [insert research interests here].”
Hi, my name is Ravynn. I’m from Suffolk, Virginia by way of Charlottesville and I do superheroes.
I get a lot of nods of appreciation for my ingenuity, raised eyebrows and intrigued looks. I happened to go off on a rant about Zendaya’s casting (which you can read here on my other blog, Quoth the Ravynn), catching the attention of an art history professor as she was on her way out the door. She gave me a look of pleased interest before she continued about her way, and suddenly, I felt a lot braver.
I belong here.
What I have to contribute has value.
It may seem like an obvious observation, but sometimes I don’t give myself enough credit. I’m genuinely surprised when people are interested in my ideas. A really incredible young woman I met at UVA recently tweeted at me: “FYI. I fell in love with your brilliance in Professor Harold’s office the first time I met you!” I remember meeting her in great detail. She was explaining her thesis on the influence of go-go in Wale’s music and I was thinking, “Jeez, that’s amazing, I never would have thought of that.” I was admiring her work, and she was admiring mine. But for whatever reason, I never thought anyone was really engaging with what I do. I write what I write because it makes me happy, and I never really thought about how, or if, it fits into a bigger picture.
Then, I spoke with a friend of mine who’s killing it at UVA Law right now, who affirmed me. I was showing her the scholarship I was reading in what would inevitably become my field of research, and being excited about being able to contribute, and she told me, “Lowkey, you’ve already contributed to the field with your thesis and with your [blog] articles…”
I honestly never even thought about it.
I just do what I love doing; I just talk about what sets a fire in my stomach.
That’s why I was so excited on my first day of classes.
I realized I get to write about the things that set my soul on fire for the rest of my life.
My first class was Interracialism, a course on miscegenation laws and literature, which I already love, just based on the reading list. We read some Hughes, Chopin, Chesnutt, and I recently finished The Mulatto by Victor Sejour for class on Wednesday. Everyone keeps telling the new people that you absolutely have to find a way to read for meaning, learn to skim, or inspect the reading, and I’m definitely trying, but sometimes, what I’m reading is just too dope to skim. I read a case about the grandchildren of a white woman and a black slave appealing for freedom in the 1700s, and winning because of the “condition follows the womb” rule, and I had to repeat the entire thing to my mom, it was so fascinating.
With my first day of class down, I spent Thursday running to meetings and dropping off forms so that I can take a History course called Popular Culture and Power, which I’m hoping to produce a good paper in. I also found out who my Advisor is and she is honestly the most amazing scholar in existence. She does a lot of what I want to do in terms of finding narrative beyond the book and treating as a subject of analysis. She blogs and is interested in digital culture, and her research interests are broader than mine, if that’s even humanly possible. I have so much to learn from her and I’m excited to meet her, even if I am just a tiny bit intimidated.
And if you were wondering how my social life is, it’s just fine. I’m making friends with my cohort and with the students in the years above me. Many of them are really invested in making sure the newbies get through okay, and I’m so appreciative of all of their love and support.
I spontaneously decided to end my week with a trip to Waller Park, where I went kayaking for the first time!!
I made a friend who I already love hanging out with and she helps me push out of my comfort zone. She’s already become my sounding board for a lot of my ideas and is helping me to think harder and more creatively. We had a fantastic time unwinding from the hectic first week getting some exercise on the water.
If I could offer any advice based on what I’ve experienced so far, I think it would be
1. Make sure you know what forms you’re supposed to fill out and when they’re due by, well in advance. It will honestly just make your life so much easier, I promise.
2. Ask questions. If you don’t know the answer, ask. Don’t assume. Don’t guess.
3. Know when to stop working. This is going to help you take care of yourself.
And maybe this advice is more for me than anyone else, but my Intro professor gave us point 3 which I think is useful for everyone. Treat what you do full time as a job. Have a life outside of it. Know when to stop. Know when to go home.
Yes, I am a grad student, but it’s not all that I am. I am also a blogger, an artist, a novelist, a knitter, a dog lover, a baker, and a newly minted kayaker and I shouldn’t forget that for the sake of getting to write about the things that I love full time.
TL;DR, grad school was the move.
Tune in next week for a review of my first full week of classes and work!