Category Archives: Dissertation

Ravynn Stringfield, Ph.D.

Hi, I’m Ravynn!

Some time around October [2015] I decided that I was going to grad school. Unlike applying to undergrad, I did not have my ducks in a row. I hustled and hurried and scrambled to get my documents in order. In the end, I’ll admit that I didn’t do as much research as I should have. But never mind how I got here; the point is, now I’m here. A Black girl who broke into the Academy by way of a Masters/Ph.D. program in American Studies.

To anyone who read any of the 194 Black Girl Does Grad School posts, followed along with my journey, or became part of it in some other way: thank you.

With love,

Ravynn K. Stringfield, Ph.D.

One Last Time

There were so many times I could have written since December: stories I could tell from the job market, the struggles of finishing a dissertation, when my defense date was scheduled, when I submitted my defense draft to my committee… These were all things I would have wanted to know about as a first year Ph.D. student, but the truth is, the last year I have completely fried. So tomorrow, after I defend my dissertation, all I want to do is rest.

If you’re reading this, you likely know that the academic job market is brutal. Search committees that ghost you or rough interviews, spending weeks on huge application packages only to be passed over in the first round and every plot twist you couldn’t imagine. I didn’t even apply to as many jobs as most of my peers did, and I still came out on the other side battered and exhausted from the experience, while still trying to find the energy to wrap up my project.

As far as the defense goes, most people on my committee, my friends, other scholars have assured me that this shouldn’t be the bad part. I understand when they all tell me that this presentation and conversation should be an opportunity for you to show off the work you’ve done for the last several years, and get some guidance on areas for growth for the book project. I know that. I also know that I have a great committee, many of them folks I’ve worked with throughout my graduate school journey.

And yet.

My brain has been wracking my body with horrible anxiety symptoms for weeks. Nearly every morning as I have my coffee, my brain cycles through every possible thing that could go wrong for my defense, adding a couple new and terrifying possibilities each day. I have imagined tech difficulties, rescheduling dilemmas, committee members missing the meeting, having to get forms resigned, someone finding a piece of evidence that unravels the whole project, not being passed…I think about it during the day and dream about it at night. So maybe I know that it will be fine, but anxiety is skilled at wrecking any possibility of peace.

It all comes down to tomorrow: after coursework, exams, and writing this monstrosity of a project over six years, I will stand at the finish line.

It’s amazing and, in some ways, unbelievable.

Most strikingly, it occurs to me that this blog truly will be ending for real soon. Black Girl Does Grad School will be the project that was active from 2016-2022, the time I spent on my Ph.D. This blog has gone through so many changes. It went from a space that I came to decompress after every week of grad school, to a place I offered others to share their experiences, to something of a magazine, complete with columnists and editors in addition to the writing I was doing. The pandemic slowed everything down, but I think, as I have written before, I was already starting to move away from BGDGS, because I didn’t need it as much.

But this blog has connected me with people who have become lifelong friends and diehard supporters, offered refuge to students needing a place to reflect on their experiences, and most importantly, instilled confidence in myself as a writer and thinker when it was hard to get that consistently in school.

I wouldn’t be half the writer, thinker or scholar I am today if I hadn’t sat down in August 2016 and decided to create this corner of the internet for myself. So I will be forever grateful to my precious site.

And to you, dear readers, who have been with me all this time: thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

And tomorrow, I hope to be able to experience the milestone every Ph.D. student dreams of, and to share that with all of you here, one last time.

Job Hunting, Preparing to Pivot and Finishing Up

Another semester is sliding to a close, and for the first time since I started graduate school, this was a semester in which I didn’t write a single Black Girl Does Grad School post. It’s an odd feeling. While I did write a “beginning-of-the-end”/good-bye post over the summer, knowing that I didn’t add anything to this project to which I dedicated five years of my life left me a little heart sore.

For five years, I wrote about everything grad school related. I wrote about the victories, the hard moments, the moments when I felt like I wasn’t taking care of myself, when I shifted gears and tried pursuing different paths. Now, as I’m crawling toward the finish line of this chapter and beginning to curate my post-grad life, it feels weird to not write about how the stars are finally aligning. And so, here we are once again.

Along with dedicated time to finish my dissertation, the Halleran Dissertation Completion Fellowship I was awarded through my institution’s provost’s office gives me time to job hunt. I spent most of the semester shifting between revising my dissertation and perfecting my job materials. As I’ve said for the last few years, I am prepared to shift out of academia. I’ve spent the last two years building my resume as a freelance essayist and an agented fiction writer while I finished my dissertation. Editor Matt Ortile picked up my first essay for Catapult around this time two years ago and I’ve stayed very close to the magazine since, writing more essays and a column dedicated to superhero girlfriends, reading fiction from their Submittable queue, teaching a one-day course on creative non-fiction for academics, and even motivational consulting. Catapult has provided me with a launchpad to explore many of the skills I’ve gained in grad school in spaces outside of the academy. It gave me the confidence to know that I could make it if I decided to pivot out and write, edit and teach elsewhere.

That confidence allowed me to say that I would only apply to academic jobs that I felt would be perfect fits for me. As I’d lost my taste for academia, I informed my advisor I would not be applying for any and every job that could even loosely be a fit. I would only be applying for jobs that checked my boxes: I wanted jobs that would support and help me develop my deeply interdisciplinary and creative intellectual interests, where my fiction would be as welcome as my peer reviewed manuscripts, in places that I could see myself living and most importantly, that were near my family. Grad school taught me that I am built for mid-sized cities within a few hours of my primary support system, my parents. The only reason I got through grad school was because I was an hour from my home—a place where people cared more about me than what I could do. They remind me to be human, and that means I have to be more than my work. They remind me that I am not, and was never, a grad student first: I was a daughter and a friend and a niece and a granddaughter long before I even considered making this my life.

As a result, I only applied for a handful of jobs this semester, but I was very pleased with each position. It also meant that I could spend more time crafting materials that I felt were great representations of me and my work. I was fortunate to have an application due early on that required a lot of materials: a cover letter, CV, research statement, teaching statement and a writing sample, plus recommendations. Having all of that perfected before anything else was due made it easier to use those documents as templates for other jobs. I was able to reverse engineer a kind of formula that worked best for me and use that as a guideline for the next set. I absolutely did not do this alone. I had a lot of help from my advisor, who offered lots of careful feedback and did a mock interview with me before my first one, and the director of our Arts & Sciences Graduate Center, who helped me punch up my materials and made sure they were spotless before I clicked, “submit.” I am grateful to both of them, as well as the many friends and family members who hyped me up and reminded me who tf I was.

For the first time, I’m starting to feel confident about what my life will be like come May. It has less to do with job opportunities, and more to do with me finally ceasing to force the different pieces of my life and interests to fit together. I’ve stopped trying to make myself choose one path. I’ve worked so hard over my time in grad school, and I think now is the time to step back and watch God work.

So where am I now? After putting the finishing touches on a few academic pieces, giving a couple of talks, submitting those applications, while revising my dissertation, I’m focusing on rewriting the introduction to the diss and finishing up an articular manuscript that’s forthcoming. The introduction I’d originally written didn’t quite work for all of the revisions and restructurings I had done to the project since May. I’ll admit, it’s difficult to get myself to focus at this point. I open the document and my eyes glaze over the screen. I feel burnt out and like I’ve given all that I can to this. My solution has been to take breaks; if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. At this late stage, it’s better to have it done than perfect. And I know it can get done if I give it a few good days of work, but those good days haven’t made themselves known to me yet.

As far as the manuscript is concerned, I’m really excited for this one to go up. It’ll be my first peer-reviewed article in a pretty reputable journal. I don’t want to share details just yet, but perhaps when it’s done and available, I’ll write a post about what that process was like from start to finish. I also want to do a couple posts on job materials, if I feel up to it.

I know this is the long good-bye, but there are still a few more secrets and resources to share. There are still some exciting things yet to come that I will want to reflect on.

And I’m glad to be back and to have this space to use for when it feels right.