Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: September 2010

Monday, September 27, 2010

Stuff Graduate Students Like

Recently, OKCupid came out with a study (I know…since when does a dating site do cultural research?) tracking the correlation between people’s self-identified ethnic backgrounds and favorite things. Basically, they wanted to expand the categories of the popular book Stuff White People Like (Good thing the whole book is totally sarcastick #81 would be asking for trouble).

Well, this article got me thinking (this is getting weirder and weirder…OKCupid is making me think?)…why isn’t there a list of “Stuff Graduate Students Like”? After Googling the phrase (the tried-and-true research method of grad. students the world over!), I discovered that, apparently, only one other person has attempted such a list. The one item on the list is:

  1. Procrastination.
Since the author of the list never went past that, I’m guessing this proves the theory that procrastination is, indeed, the number one joy of a grad. student’s life. But I think we should expand the list. Don’t you? Here goes…

  1. Free food.
Maybe this is just MA students…a leftover from college days? I don’t know…but I know free food tastes better, and I almost cry if I ever find out I missed any.

  1. Sleep.
It just never gets old.

  1. Grants and Fellowships.
Who wouldn’t want to be paid to explore the topics you love? Sometimes they even give you money to travel to weekend…

  1. Conferences.
It’s like we get a high from discussing the stuff we like with people who consider themselves as obsessed as we are. Sometimes it’s even enough just to listen…especially if some of our scholar idols are speaking!

  1. Research.
We are the archaeologists of the library (or maybe you’re really an archaeologist…).

  1. Anything on sale.
Maybe this goes deeper than graduate students, but since our budgets are so tight I’ve noticed people think anything being on sale is practically a command to “buy it!” What if you need it later, and it’s not on sale then? Or you’re stuck waiting for a pay check so you can’t get it and then it’s sold out (oh, the joys of living paycheck to paycheck)? Or what if you wanted it 4 months ago and, yeah, maybe you don’t really want it now but you did before and now it’s 25% off!?

  1. Helpful administrators.
How much better is life when the person who’s supposed to know everything about your department, your funding, etc. A. actually knows everything and B. is willing to help? (e.g. How would any of us live without Lydia?)

  1. Old pop culture references.
You know…stuff you can refer to that was on TV before you entered grad. school and no longer had any time for it.

  1. More school. And then more school. And then some.
Why else would some of us still be here after 7+ years, just to get a degree that will keep us in school forever? Oh, right. ‘Cause school is something grad. students like!

PS Comment with anything else you think should be on the list! Maybe...studying places where people will feel bad that you have so much work (I may be guilty of this)? Or "misery poker" (e.g. Grad. Student 1: "I have 300 pages left to read for tomorrow." Grad. Student 2: "I have 300 pages left to read for the class that starts right now!")?  Or let me know if you think any of these aren’t right for the list.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Parental Control

When I get sick, I go home. And when I say home, I mean to my parents’ house. Maybe you’re asking yourself: “Why would she do such a crazy thing?” Well, it’s because I have enough on my plate, what with grad. school and all that, to add taking care of my sick self to the list. And my mom is more than happy to take care of her 23 year old daughter when she’s feeling terrible.

In fact, my parents (but especially my mom) would probably be happier if I came home even more often than I already do. I’ve already gotten three phone calls asking me why I have yet to print out my school schedule for them so they can put it on the fridge.

May I take this opportunity to remind you that I’m in graduate school?

Ok, so I don’t mind it that much. And I have to admit I like that my mom asks to see my final papers when I get them back from my professors at the end of each semester…I know how smart she is, and I like hearing what she thinks of my work (and of the comments). And if my parents weren’t so involved they wouldn’t have helped me pay for my applications to graduate school (which, as you all know, can cost a lot of money).

But a recent article in the New York Times has discovered that this kind of parental involvement may be getting a little out of control, with parents helping with applications (and I don’t mean just financially), calling their children to remind them of exams and due dates, and even showing up at orientations!  (Let’s just say this article made me feel like my parents are totally hands-off.)

I know that, on average, children of all cultural backgrounds are living at home much longer than they used to. And this is due to a lot of different factors, including everything from the financial crisis to the rising average marriage age. And, personally, I don’t see anything wrong with that! But, as the NYTimes article mentions, this level of involvement can become a little risky when it’s applied to something like graduate school, or choosing a career.

If there’s no separation, how do you know if you’re going to a certain school because you chose it, or because your parents did? Or if you even want to go to graduate school at all? And, if parents are going as far as getting involved in their child’s work, how can that child take ownership of their research, or feel confident when it’s time to take their comps, or take their orals, or defend their dissertation, when they know mommy and daddy held their hand every step of the way? And, though the article gives some hints at how to cut (or at least loosen) the oh-so-tight strings, it’s not always easy to say “no” to the people who raised you and may still be financially supporting you.

So what’s a poor grad. student to do?


Monday, September 13, 2010

Can You Get Senioritis in Grad. School?

A friend of mine recently told me she thinks she's developed what she termed "grad. school senioritis."

But can you get senioritis after you've gotten your undergrad. degree?

If you're motivated enough to get into graduate school in the first place (which you most likely are, since you're reading this blog), then you probably wouldn't expect to have problems with staying motivated once you're in grad. school. Right?

But stuff happens, people. Sometimes life gets overwhelming. Sometimes things aren't what you expected.

And, in case you thought you were alone, a great post I found on gradshare (a site I only recently discovered, and that you should all check out) proves that you are definitely in good company. In this post, Dora Farkas, PhD, Founder of PhDNet, lists five things you can do to stay motivated in graduate school (which are all much more fleshed out in her post):

1. Don't say you "have to." Say you "choose/want to" (after all, you want to be in grad. school, don't you?).
2. Don't think "I must finish." Think "When can I start?"
3. When you think something is too big to handle, break it up into small and attainable steps so you can feel accomplished.
4. Realize you are not perfect, and neither is anyone else (yes, even in grad. school). You are human.
5. Change your mantra from "I don't have time to play" to "I must take time to play."

Dora says her favorite is #3. Personally, #4 and #5 were the toughest for me to get over. I am a type-A nutter (as Hermione Granger might say), and it took me a long time to realize that all I can do is do my best, and that is all anyone can do. Balancing work and play was also really rough. If you ask most of my friends, they'll probably tell you they think I still don't have it down. But I've gotten better. I realize I have to take breaks or I'm not as productive (though I still have a problem with always trying to take "productive breaks," like reading for one subject as a break from another, or cleaning my bathroom and then going right back to writing a paper). And I realize that sometimes I just need a few days off (though, in order for my guilty conscience to allow this, I have to work ahead like a maniac for three days in advance so I can actually relax during those days off instead of having a panic attack). it's probably pretty obvious to everyone that I have not mastered #5 yet. But even just recognizing that you have more control than you think (if you take the advice of this list) will probably help you prevent burning out (it's helped me so far, anyway...*knock on wood*).

What item on the list was hardest for you to get over? Is anyone else still struggling with one of these concepts? What else should be on the list?

I'd love to hear some other thoughts!


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Perfect Place--Guest Post!

This week, we are lucky enough to have a new Fordham graduate student as a guest blogger: Andrea McCrary.

The Perfect Place
Finding Housing Near Fordham’s Rose Hill Campus

It’s really intimidating, it’s seemingly complicated, and it’s absolutely necessary — I’m talking about finding a place to live while attending Fordham University.

I’m from Florida, so the housing market of the Bronx wasn’t really one of my specialties. I will tell you upfront my story has a happy ending. I am currently a comfortable resident in my very own one bedroom apartment situated two blocks away from campus. This blog entry is about my journey; I’ve filled it with helpful hints I wish I had known from the beginning.

It all began when I decided I was going to attend Fordham for graduate school. I was really excited because NYC is a big change from a small city in Southwest Florida. Just to give you an idea, at my previous university I walked past alligators on my way to class. I had a friend from college that moved to Manhattan and she gave me some helpful tips, but I quickly learned the Bronx was a different beast.

I decided exactly what I was looking for early on. I wanted my own place — either a studio or a one bedroom. I also wanted it to be within walking distance to the Rose Hill Campus. Laundry in the building was a preference, but not a deal breaker. If I had decided on roomies there would have been a few extra steps to the process, and I’d have to factor in my roommate(s)’s preferences.

My first attempt happened in May. I Googled “Apartments in the Bronx near Fordham” and other variations of that phrase. That got me a bunch of funky websites that showed me expensive places to live. It was hard to narrow my search and I really wasn’t pleased with the sites that popped up.

I then turned to Craig’s List. Ah, Craig’s List, home to many-a-creature of the virtual underbelly. But the most annoying are the scammers. It was easy to locate places near Fordham through CL, but I detected a few scams along the way.

(Important Aside: A few indicators you are being scammed: 1. The landlord claims to be from or currently in another country, especially Africa. 2. They would like to mail you the keys once you send them money through a bank, such as Western Union. 3. You’ve seen the same pictures listed more than once for different places.)

I called and e-mailed a few places from CL, but none of them really panned out for me. I’ve heard those lovely stories of people finding exactly what they want on CL, but it’s reminiscent of finding your spouse through an online dating service — it doesn’t work for most people. By all means, go for it. It helped me familiarize myself with street names and the streets neighboring Fordham when I Googlemapped the apartments from CL, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere by sitting around scanning the internet all summer, so I booked my flight for early July and went to New York. I decided to stay with a friend in Manhattan while searching for my apartment. Hotels in the area were expensive and shady. I’d recommend staying in Manhattan or the Westchester area if you must stay in a hotel, but it would be cheaper and safer to stay with a friend.

I’m a very lucky sort of girl, so, of course I arrived during the freak heat wave when it was 100+ degrees outside. It was difficult walking around the neighborhoods when I felt like I was going to die of heat exhaustion. No worries though, folks. I took many breaks in the shade with a big bottle of water. The lesson: Be prepared for the elements, whatever they may be.

The most helpful thing I did was talk to Nicol Gotsis, Director of Student Development. She gave me a big list of places that were renting out to students (a list that is available to all students), and she gave me some advice. After my first day revealed no luck, I wanted to get a broker. I was hot, exhausted, and my spirit was just ready to take the easy way out. Nicol encouraged me to keep trying on my own. She’d lived here for a while and told me that though it was intimidating, it was not impossible to find a place.

I continued on, calling a few more places on the list I was provided. I walked the streets and called the numbers on posted signs that read, “Fordham Student Housing” and other similar phrases. After making appointments and visiting a few studios and one bedrooms, I was able to narrow it down to the two places I liked the best by my third day of searching.

A word of advice: Every time I tried to bargain with a landlord about the monthly rent they would go down in price. Don’t be afraid to ask. The worst they can do is say is no. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Take pictures of places so you can review them at the end of the day. Measure the rooms and windows. Make sure you don’t leave without all your questions answered and information gathered. It will help you in making your decision.

Some questions I asked were: Is there a problem with pests in this building? How noisy does it get during the week/weekend? Has there been a lot of crime in the building or nearby? How big does my air conditioner need to be to cool the room/apartment? Do you allow pets?

But let’s not beat around the bush, people. I know you are wondering about prices. The roomie option will definitely give you something reasonable such as anything from 300ish-700 bucks per person, depending on how many people you want to live with you, the size of the place, etc. I took the more expensive route. The places I looked at (studios and one bedrooms) cost anywhere between $800 and $1,500.

And don’t forget to factor in utilities. Keep in mind different places make you pay for different things. Heat, electricity, gas, internet, and cable can be your responsibility. Most places cover heat and some places cover heat and gas. In most cases you need to pay for your electricity, cable, and internet.

After the arduous search, make sure you are happy with what you’ve found. Ask yourself some important questions such as: Do you feel safe? Is there enough space? Is there laundry in the building or a laundromat nearby? Do the police patrol your street? How far do you have to travel to get where you need to be for work and classes?

If you aren’t happy, don’t just sign the papers because you think you can’t find anything else. There are people who back out at the last moment and a landlord might cut you a deal so they can have all their units filled. Just make sure you are satisfied with what you are getting — you’ll be living there, after all. Also, when signing your lease just make sure it’s at an office or a public place.

To find the perfect place you’ve just got to get out there, make the phone calls, visit the apartments, and put on your bargaining hat. And, of course, know what you want (what are your deal breakers?). It might take a few days, but I’m pretty certain you’ll walk away with a place to live. I wish you the best in your search and don’t give up until you’ve found what you want. 

Andrea McCrary is from Fort Myers, Florida. She is currently a graduate student in the Public Communication program.