Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: 2011

Monday, November 14, 2011

Potential Overseas Work Opportunity - Summer 2012

Are you interested in working with an NGO/nonprofit overseas this summer? There is an ongoing recruitment for graduate students to organize a student-run NGO taskforce. To read more, click here.
Any idea on which NGO you want to work with? Please answer the CALL FOR PROPOSALS by answering this survey via:
Questions? E-mail

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Late Summer Farewell

The end is near, dear friends... 

Summer is drawing to a close and my time writing for the Grad Life blog is also coming to an end. 

Between my graduate study abroad experience in London, to my work writing for all of you, I have had a great summer. I hope you, too, had a fantastic summer whether you were studying for Comps, researching your dissertation, preparing to begin your first year at Fordham, or just hanging out before another school year begins. 

Someone else will be taking over the Grad Life blog soon, and I'm sure they'll do a great job, keeping up the legacy Alex Loizzo started and that I tried to uphold. 

I introduced myself back in June and shared insights about my own life as a grad student, as well as ideas about larger issues of grad life. 

I shared the benefits of studying abroad as a grad student and experiencing new ways of living, as well as the fantastic/terrible truth that as a grad student, you are always working and learning and there is no such thing as summer break. I shared the highlights from my first year at Fordham, from my work on the Turning Tides Symposium on Diasporic Literature, and my realization that grad school is hard and doing exactly what you hope to do is often more challenging than do anything else.

There were a few posts about navigating the common logistics of grad life from hunting for an apartment at the start of a new school year to figuring out study habits that combat the loneliness of grad school (in two parts!). 

I hope that you were encouraged to dig deep and think about the relevance of pop culture phenomena like Harry Potter to our work as aspiring academics, as well as the way Twitter may (or may not) change the face of academia.

And beyond all these ideas about grad life, I hope the enduring conversations you will have with yourself and others after this summer on the Grad Life blog, will be about how to learn about teaching while we are grad students so that we can be sure to pass along all that we learn effectively, and also how to honor the ties between your personal life and your professional scholarship.

Keep reading what's been written and be sure to pass it along!

May your journey to grad school take you great places! 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Twitter & The Academy

Is this the little bird we're supposed to follow into the future of academia?

A distraction.
Compulsive over-sharing.
The death of the printed word.

A revolution.
A return to written expressions of emotion.
Social media.
Poetry in 140 characters or less.

Say “Twitter” and you’ll elicit a number of different responses, depending on your audience. Some praise Twitter for the way it transforms social relationships, community organizing, and the circulation of news. Others condemn it at yet another technological advancement that encourages our cultural obsession with TMI, our unwillingness to communicate face-to-face, and our grammatical deficiencies.

Irrespective of what you think about Twitter, its force globally is undeniable. The role of Twitter in election coverage and political revolution has been hotly debated over the past year, as well as its less incendiary power in terms of chronicling conflict and romance between popular celebrities.

But what is the role of Twitter to academia? Prominent intellectuals, such as Cornel West, and major literary organizations like AWP, tweet regularly. There is even advice online about how academics can best use Twitter.

As grad students, is Twitter a tool related to our career and our work in our field? Do we tweet links to articles we’ve published and retweet the postings of academics we admire? Or is Twitter’s function to us still purely social? Do we follow Britney and tweet about the newest episodes of Glee? 

I, for one, am interested in the power of Twitter to connect grad students and professors across academia. In our fields, connection and relationships are crucial for continued learning and professional growth; these relationships are also vita to our continued wellbeing as we work in a field defined, at times, by independent (read: solitary) work.

Chad Taylor, a writer for Kirkus Reviews, praises Twitter for its ability to change the world of publishing and to create intimate contact between author and reader. In his piece, “Embrace the Digital Age: A Contrarian Opinion,” he celebrates the imaginative technology of Twitter, the cutting out of the middle man between authors and readers, and new possibilities for writing to be shared directly between author and reader through platforms like Twitter. To those who would take Twitter’s modernness as proof that old modes of communication are in jeopardy, Taylor says:

Three thousand years ago Plato told everyone who would listen that this newfangled thing called an "alphabet" was going to be the death of storytelling. Why would anyone remember stories, he asked, when you could just "write them down"?

Taylor’s perspective is a refreshing one; he reminds us that changes in technology and media can seem frightening and unorthodox (thus impermissible), the human practice of storytelling endures. The exchange of information, the pursuit of knowledge, and the human need to create and communicate is not at risk because of Twitter… or the alphabet.

In addition to the new ways of communicating and creating that Twitter and other forms of social media introduce to us, there is the good company of Twitter. As I wrote a few weeks ago, graduate study can often be a lonely pursuit. Being social and remaining connected to others requires intentionality and effort because it is easy to sink into books and learning and isolation when you have so much work to do.

Colson Whitehead, award-winning novelist and Twitter personality, wrote a fantastic article for Publisher’s Weekly about Twitter and the gift of connection that it provides to homebound writers who create largely in isolation. In “Better Than Renting Out A Windowless Room: The Blessed Distraction of Technology,” he confesses:

I used to think that I was the only one hunched over a keyboard in soiled pajamas, rummaging through the catalogue of my failures and intermittently weeping. Now, I open Twitter and see that I am not alone. I am part of a vast and wretched assembly of freaks who are not fit for decent work and thus must write, or wither. I am fortified by their failures, and I hope they take succor from mine.

As a grad student (and writer), I relate to Whitehead. I take succor from the knowledge that I am not alone in my daily struggle at my desk to learn something and to produce something meaningful. Twitter, for me, is a way to feel that I am part of a creative and intellectual community that stretches beyond just my apartment, university, city, and nation.

The range of opinions on Twitter still holds, and tweeting might not be as powerful a tool for sharing information and connecting with peers for everyone as it is for Whitehead and Kirkus. 

You might choose to professionalize your Twitter handle (I recommend some reference to Derrida, Foucault, or Said) and use social media only as a part of your work in your field. Or, you might use the platform for your personal life, locking your Tweets so that prospective employers and other conference attendees can’t read about how much you loved the latest Jersey Shore

Whatever our choices may be, Twitter is a part of the way we network and share information. As grad students, we'll be interacting with the social media platform for years to come, whether it proves as radical a change to our culture as the alphabet... or not.

Monday, August 15, 2011

grad school is hard

If you think coming to grad school means a straightforward path has been set before you, you're wrong. Pursuing your interest in grad school often creates more questions than answers and presents you with tasks that are as daunting as they are rewarding. Welcome to the maze of higher ed and pursuing your passion... 

When I was applying to Fordham, grad school seemed like an answer to my problems. I was tired of the 9 to 5 grind of full-time employment. I wanted more time to write and the freedom to work on my own projects. I missed the intellectual and creative community of college.

I couldn’t wait to be a student again. I figured the working world had been hard, and grad school would be easy. What could be more fulfilling and straightforward than studying what I had always had it in my heart to pursue?


While the labor of grad school will never be hard in the way many other types of labor in the working world can be, graduate study is challenging in its own respects. Grad school has pushed me intellectually, but also personally and emotionally. It has totally widened and complicated my vision of my life’s work in terms of art and scholarship.

The old cliché is true; I have found that the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know. It has been transformative to come to know the meaning of this adage intimately. I have felt increased drive and a heightened sense of urgency about my work and writing, as I grasp how much more I must learn and improve.

Beyond the drive and urgency, I have also felt panic. How do we deal with the knowledge of how far we are from where we hope to be? How do we stay encouraged and exhilarated, rather than daunted and overwhelmed? In many ways, I feel as if I am on the first page of an incredibly long final paper and I cannot see the end – except in this analogy, the paper is my life.

For me, the dilemma manifests itself particularly in terms of my writing. While I celebrate the strides I have made as a writer at Fordham, I feel fear sometimes, as well as hopefulness. As I have grown at Fordham, the errors and deficiencies in my work, as well as the strengths and aptitudes, have come into clearer focus.

I am thankful that grad school gives me the time, space, and guidance to improve.  I am aware of the gift of such an opportunity, and yet I can’t help but have a "gulp" moment when I think of the immensity of the task set before me.


This summer I started working on a memoir as part of a graduate tutorial in the English Master’s program. I have been writing a coming of age story about cultural difference, identity, and belonging. I have stretched myself this summer, venturing beyond my usual genre of fiction.  It has been exciting to see memoir writing emerge as a viable way for me to work, but the memoir writing hasn’t gotten any easier. The better I get at it, the harder it is.

Again, I say:


The great surprise (and it really shouldn’t have been a surprise since I knew the old cliché) of grad school is that work has not become any easier or simpler since I began working full-time as a student in my field. But growth is never easy or simple, is it?

I was reminded of this as I completed my tutorial (in London, where there was plenty to keep me reflecting on questions of difference and belonging). As I wrote, I waded through the seeming formlessness of my own memories; I fumbled for a structure to impose on the narrative of my past. I wondered how to organize feelings and images that are contiguous to me emotionally but not chronologically.

I felt lost, but I was moving forward, one way or another. And when I managed to set aside feelings of panic and intimidation, I felt the thrill that comes from progress, however partial.

Grad school is dynamic and daunting precisely because of this paradox. As our understanding deepens and our vision expands, the tasks before us become more rigorous. The amount of work multiplies as we become more adept to do it. Nothing is easier, but everything is richer. The process of discovery is constant and without end.

So far, Fordham has not provided me with an answer to anything. My coursework and independent study have brought me instead to a series of exciting beginnings, which is more than I bargained for. This is a good thing. So no gulp moment.

Did you get more than you bargained for when you applied to grad school? Was there an interest you expected to pursue straightforwardly? Was it more difficult than you imagined it would be? Have you been intimidated or invigorated by the challenge?  

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


 The words on either side of that forward slash are more closely linked than you might think. What we study while we're in Walsh has everything to do with who we are outside of it.

Fordham professor and novelist Christina Baker Kline has a fabulous blog on creative process and craft called Writing/Life. She taught a class at Fordham by the same name about the lines between memoir and fiction. As writing students in her class, we investigated the relationship between life experience and the narrative decisions we make about our work in fiction and creative nonfiction.

I'm fascinated by the way life experience -- from the big moments to the seemingly insignificant ones -- define so many of our choices as writers and scholars. I wonder why my peers in graduate school as well as my professors and mentors have chosen their fields. What about our pasts draws us to a particular field of study?

For example, why does one become a Virginia Woolf scholar? A mathematician? A classicist? Why does one choose to dedicate her life to the study of black feminist poetics?

To say that we study what we study because we love it is true, but a bit opaque and incomplete. "I love Mrs Dalloway," and "Math is the universal language," are straightforward answers. "I've always been good at Latin," and "I believe in the power of black feminist expressive culture," might be honest answers too, but they do not get at the deep personal roots of scholarly passion. I would contend that even if we do not fully understand why we have chosen to work in our fields, we are not grad students merely because of our proficiency in a field or a coincidental interest in a text. Our motivations are profound and intimate. Why else would we devote our lives to scholarship, research, and writing?

I decided to pursue writing for many reasons. The more surface reasons are because I loved it and it was fun.  I enjoyed the process of discovery in writing. I feel a rush when I imagine a whole world and whole people. I am exhilarated when I'm writing and I feel my initial plan begin to shift. The story takes me somewhere unexpected, or to a place I had expected to go but by an entirely different route. This rush and exhilaration is part of why I write.

I was an avid reader as a child, and I became obsessed with words and the meaning they could convey. This childhood love persists and has grown to include my love of editing. Re-envisioning an image, reordering sentences, and cutting extraneous words are puzzles and brainteasers that fully absorb my attention. When I make strides in a revision, I feel a satisfaction that is so visceral it could be described as "a tingly feeling."

But these reasons explain why I like writing and why I am good at writing -- not why I am drawn to it, why I have chosen to pursue it in grad school and beyond, or why I must keep at it. This reason is deeply rooted in my own personal experience of my family and my community, and my own place in both.

As a girl, I adored hearing stories. I learned so much about the world and life from listening to women in my family speak. Sometimes they spoke to me, and sometimes to each other. Sometimes they were intentionally telling stories, and other times they were doing it without noticing how much they were disclosing. I loved the way I could fall into their experiences and their way of seeing the world. Their words transported me to specific moments in time and to regions of the Dominican Republic, where they were raised, that I had never been. I felt their loss and ecstasy and reality although I had never lived them.

As a shy child, writing and storytelling became a way for me to connect to others. I not only accessed the memories and consciousness of other people with pen, paper, and my imagination, but I learned to express my own inmost hopes and ideas, which I found difficult to do aloud. (Being shy ain't easy.) I knew firsthand how telling a story, or hearing one, could change a person. This power made me want to spend my life sharing other people's stories and my own.

I imagine the same is true for the poet interested in the sacred in Gloria Anzaldúa's work, or the scholar interested in Anglo-Norman saints' lives. We want to contribute to our fields because we have seen and known their power intimately. We choose to do what we do because of who we have been and who we hope to be.

As we move forward in our fields, our personal lives and our scholarly lives may seem to diverge. Life might be partners and parties and travel and bills, maybe children and families. Scholarship might be what we publish, the universities where we teach, our paid work. But I believe there will always be synergy between scholarship and life, an inextricable relationship between who we are and what we pursue.

What about you? What experience in your personal life has inspired your course of study? Was it a particular event or a series of moments? In short, why do you do what you do?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Back-to-School Apartment Hunt

 This photograph depicts a typical grad student apartment – except not really, not at all.

Around this time last year, I was preparing to start grad school. No, I wasn’t buying school supplies. No, I wasn’t buying frilly white ankles socks to go with my patent leather Mary Janes. Unlike high school and college, grad school didn’t require much of me up front.

Thankfully, most of the preparation I had to do for grad school was internal; I had to prepare mentally for this next step in my education. Besides this internal work, the only “thing” that I had to really “do” was find an apartment close to campus before classes began.

Anyone who has ever survived a New York City move knows that relocating in the city is a momentous task. Apartment hunting can mean braving Craigslist, asking everyone you meet if they’re looking for a roommate or know of someone looking for a roommate, scouring newspapers, and wandering around hoping to find a FOR RENT sign in a window.

I was daunted by the prospect of moving for many reasons. I had to find a neighborhood I liked, a reasonably priced apartment, and a kind, non-crazy, responsible roommate. Even after I sorted out where to live, I would have to weather the horrific process of actually moving – heavy-lifting, disassembling furniture, sorting all of my earthly belongings into boxes, and then loading them into a U HAUL. I would also have to find (read: bribe) a friend into driving a U HAUL truck, city since as a true-to-form lifelong New Yorker, I have never learned how to drive.

I exaggerate a bit about how “horrific” it can be to move, but after moving four times in the past three years, I have learned a good amount about searching for housing in NYC.

I’ve put together a list of tips I wish someone had shared with me each time I began my search. And while everyone has unique tastes, budgets, needs and priorities in terms of living situations, I hope that these ideas will prove useful – and that you will pass them along!

1. Use your networks.
For a moment, allow me to channel Mark Zuckerberg and encourage you to use the friends you have to help you in your search. The city is always changing, for better or for worse, and it’s likely that you’ll find someone in your circles (to channel Google + for a moment) who is looking for housing.

Before turning to Craigslist (or anywhere else), I would recommend changing your Facebook status and sending out an email blast about your search for an apartment or roommate or both.

Email your friends and ask them to pass along the news about your search for housing to their contacts. Be sure to mention neighborhoods you’re interested in, your timeline, living habits, price range, and qualities you’re looking for in your roommate.

If you email enough people, and they pass it along to enough people, you’ll hear from interested friends and friends of friends soon! The greatest benefit of the email blast is that you can search within your circles without sifting through scores of Craigslist strangers. You can live with someone you know or a person who someone you know can vouch for. Try the email blast first and you might just find the apartment or roomie of your dreams. 

2. Use Fordham!
Fordham has a range of resources for grad students in search of housing. Don’t be afraid to use them!

Fordham offers furnished off-campus housing in the Bronx at Arthur II, as well as graduate housing at Lincoln Center. Beyond the graduate housing offered by Fordham, there are tools GSAS offers to help grad students in their search off-campus. The Office of Residential Life uses the Places 4 Students server to help students browse off-campus housing options. Best of all, the Fordham Grad Housing site posts listing for housing, as well as listings of grad students looking for roommates.

The advantage to living with another Fordham grad student – even someone in your program! – is the grad life camaraderie, and a shared experience deeper than splitting the Con Ed bill and taking turns washing the dishes.

3. Account for the commute!
Be sure to consider how you’ll get from wherever you’re living to Rose Hill or Lincoln Center, depending on your class schedule. Perhaps having a quick commute is of the utmost importance to you, and you’d be happiest just a few blocks away from campus on Arthur Ave. Or maybe you’ve got your heart set on Williamsburg (you hipster grad student you) and you like reading on long train rides. It’s up to you – just be honest about what will work with your study habits.

The truth is that Fordham is in New York, people, and in New York everyone commutes. Columbus Circle is highly accessible, and so is Rose Hill. The 4 and D are within walking distance from the Bronx campus and the Bx12 bus connects to the 1 and A trains.

Between the subway, buses, Ram Van, and MetroNorth you can get to Fordham from pretty much anywhere in the city. So after you’ve found a neighborhood you love and accounted for commuting time…

4. Just live wherever you want to live!
Part of the beauty of grad school is that it is a fundamental part of your life but it need not define your experience of New York City. You can be as immersed in university life as you’d like, or you can turn up on campus only for class and conferences with professors.

I have friends at Fordham from all five boroughs (yes, all five – including Staten Island), as well as other states. I know grad students who commute from as far as Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania!

Live where you want to live – and do what works for you.

Grad school is so all-consuming (in a sometimes fantastic, sometimes stressful way), that your home must be a refuge: a place where you can do work but also be at peace. Find the roommate, space, and neighborhood that feel right and try not to worry about the rest. (The rest will worry about itself.)

If you’re thinking about moving before this next year of grad school begins, I wish you luck! Remember to keep calm and carry on, and do what is best for you! Use the resources and networks within your grasp, and make sure to thrive wherever you land.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ode to the Study Date, Part 2

If you read the last post on the Grad Life blog about study dates, then you know that I firmly believe in the power of the study date to soothe the solitary scholar and build community. I've decided to share my ode to the study date. It is a list poem. Or rather, simply a list.  
 No, this is not a post about artichokes. It is an ode, like Pablo Neruda's Ode to the Artichoke. Only Neruda's ode is much, much better. 

Ode to the Study Date; Or, Why Study Dates Are Awesome

I learned firsthand how having a lot of work to do for grad school can be stressful and isolating. Pages do not write themselves and not only can no one else do it for you, you must do it alone. For hours. The beauty of the study date is that you are not, in fact, alone in the work you have to do. Although you are still working independently, you are working with someone else. There is a friend across from you or beside you, peeking out from behind her own equally massive pile of books. She is chugging along, as well. You are in it together.

Every grad student needs to break up the monotony of schoolwork with some relaxation. Unfortunately, when I work alone my “study breaks” consist chiefly of checking Facebook, idly sifting through my email, eating a snack, Facebook, snack, email, and then Facebook again. I remain glued to my computer. I don’t feel refreshed at all by the end of my study break. Rather, I feel that I’ve been procrastinating, which casts a shadow over whatever strides I may have made. But on a study date, the break is conversation! Chatting with a good friend or a fellow grad student who could become a friend is refreshing. I can step outside of my work and myself, and look away from the computer screen. The human contact is regenerative, and the conversation – whether light-hearted or serious is far more fulfilling than scrolling through status updates. After a laugh or two, or some much needed venting, I can return to the work with fresh energy and eyes!

The merits of community, companionship, and support are obvious. When I feel stuck writing a paper, or overwhelmed by the amount of reading I have to do, it feels good to have someone there to assure me that the work will get done and I will be all right. (And of course, we all need to share about what’s going on in our lives beyond grad school! Even if there’s a paper due!) Moreover, it feels good to step out of my own crazed schedule to comfort and cheer on a colleague. Such is the stuff of friendship. We all need a pep talk or a hug sometimes, especially near the end of the semester or during tough times. And on a study date, there is someone nearby who can give you the company and support you need while knee-deep in Thoreau or anatomy or whatever else you might be working on.

There it is friends – my short and sweet list-ode to the study date. It’s not exactly Keats or Neruda, but it’s true and will hopefully lead to happier, more fruitful semesters for us all.

Grad school is long, and it’s essential to figure out how to balance grad school commitments with the rest of our lives. As I try to establish my own routines and rhythms as a grad student, I’ll rely on the study date as one way to keep me from living entirely inside my bedroom, my head, my work, and my self. If grad school can be yet another way that I forge connections with others than grad life is an even sweeter deal than I originally imagined.

How about you? How do you counteract the isolation that comes along with lots of independent study? Do you study with friends? Or use purely social time to create a sense of balance? Tips, questions, and ideas are welcome!

Ode to the Study Date, Part 1

Do not become this person. Study with friends to preserve your sanity.

“Many hands make light work.”

I am sure this adage was not meant to describe life as a graduate student, but it has become my mantra for Master’s. The saying applies to many kinds of “work,” including the tasks that are a part of grad life – reading, writing, and research. I have found that although no one else can do your work for you in grad school, and not all projects are collaborative, sharing study time with others can lighten the (academic) load.

Being a full-time grad student is a rare opportunity. At 25 years old, my job consists of reading, writing, and working towards an advanced degree. I attend class about three evenings a week, and I usually work from home, which affords me a good measure of flexibility and autonomy.

I can study in my pajamas or under the covers in bed. I can listen to my favorite songs at top volume. I can stop working whenever I might want to make a sandwich, call my mother, or go for a run (not that I ever do that, regrettably). If I begin to feel stir-crazy, I can leave wherever I am working to sit in a coffee shop, good ole Walsh, or anywhere with outlets and wireless.

Usually, I spend my days reading on my living room sofa and writing at a desk in my bedroom. I don't take full advantage of the flexibility in my schedule, but it’s great to have options.

Whenever I start feeling swamped by school or distressed because of a particularly long and dense article I have to read for class, I remember what a sweet deal I’ve got – learning and creating full-time under whatever conditions I deem best.

The trade-off, however, to this flexibility and freedom is isolation. Reading, writing, researching (and all the other more mundane grad student to-dos like Xeroxing, waiting for hundreds of pages to print, and scouring the internet for articles that aren’t on JSTOR) are solitary activities.

Knowing I am “living the good life” hasn’t always been enough to keep loneliness at bay this past year. At the beginning of my first semester at Fordham, I realized I could go days without seeing another person. I had enough work to keep me busy through the week, and I enjoyed my classes, so it was easy to fall into the work completely. I could work through meals, eating at my desk while I typed. Sometimes, I'd receive a phone call from a friend in the evening and become startled when I realized her voice was the first human voice I had heard all day.

Being a grad student was different from being a college student living in the dorms and participating in clubs. It was also different from working in an office with coworkers, a boss, and lunchtime conversation. My course of study was largely self-directed in grad schools. It was just my work and me.

Thankfully, I worked as a Graduate Assistant to a professor but even after the hours I spent assisting him in his office, I still had to devote the majority of my time to my studies. Having social weekends and evenings helped but wasn’t quite the solution to the isolation I was beginning to feel. 

By November, I was ecstatic about going up to Fordham on days when I had class. In class I could be around people. Talk to them! See their human faces! Brush my human shoulder against their human shoulders! Interact.

I recognize that some grad students might thrive in such solitude. I certainly enjoy time alone, and I do my best writing when I am by myself. But in the fall of last year, I became a grad-school hermit who never left her desk, broke bread with another person, or stepped out of her apartment during daylight hours. 

It was clear something needed to change. And then I remembered…

The Study Date!

I was a big fan of study dates in college, and I decided to bring them back into my life as a grad student. While it would take more coordination than it did as an undergrad, when everyone lived on the same campus, I was determined to make study dates a staple in my grad life.

I started meeting up with friends (and potential friends) in coffee and teashops around the city. We worked together at small tables, caffeinated and mostly in silence, but the company was superb. After a while, just planning study dates or revision parties made me feel like I was breaking out of my hermetic existence. 

How about you? Have you felt like grad school was making you become a hermit? Did you enjoy immersing yourself into independent work when you started grad school? Or did you miss the distractions and social interactions of pre-grad life? Please feel free to share your own experiences in the comments.

And if you want to read more about the study date and why it’s awesome, check out Part 2 of Ode to the Study Date. (Part 2 will include the actual ode!)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Harry Potter & the Ph.D.

What does the struggle to bring down He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named have to do with grad school?

It’s all ending.
For those of you who have already seen Part 2 of The Deathly Hallows, it’s already ended – “it” being the film phenomenon of the Harry Potter series, which began in 2001 with the Sorcerer’s Stone and has lasted a solid decade. Although I not among the record-breaking number of people who have seen the film, I am a Harry Potter fan, and I’ve been following the worldwide response closely.

Last Friday, July 15th, I watched my Facebook newsfeed erupt in statuses about the film. Some of my friends confessed to sobbing at the film's end; others questioned whether the epilogue was successful or necessary. One friend, a Fordham Ph.D. in literature, of course, posted quotes from the seventh book:

“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love.”


“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it isn’t real?” 

As an aspiring writer and scholar of literature, I am amazed whenever a book (or, in this case, a septalogy of books) becomes such a cultural force. Rowling’s books have not only made millions for all those invested in the franchise (book publishers, film studios, and makers of HP-themed lunch boxes), but they have shaped the way a generation of young readers think about the world. Rowling has not shied from theological, political, and moral issues in her books, and the Deathly Hallows mania is a testament to the cultural impact of the series.

While some academics might frown upon the Harry Potter books as “low” art and simplistic (it's contemporary children’s fantasy literature written by a woman!), many academics are intrigued by the way effects of the books and have taken an interest in all things HP.

One such scholar Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio has taught theology classes about Harry Potter and published a book about the experience entitled God and Harry Potter at Yale: Teaching Faith and Fantasy Fiction In An Ivy League Classroom. Her students' conversations about Harry Potter and theology sound fascinating and have become a part of their experience in higher education.

These conversations about Rowling's books have gone beyond the academy; the "big themes" of the series (Morality, Death, Friendship, Good, Evil, etc.) are happening all over the internet. Facebook, The Leaky Cauldron, and Twitter are alive with closereading, questioning, and dialogue about the series and its conclusion. The average reader has become more than just a fan but is at work on message boards and in social media as a critic and theorist in his or her own right.

I have especially enjoyed reading all the feminist criticism of Harry Potter that has emerged on the internet, like the fantastic Ms. Magazine article, “Hermione Granger and the Fight for Equal Rights,” and “An Unabashed Love Letter to Ginny Weasley” that went up on Feminsiting after the release of Part 1 of The Deathly Hallows

These non-academic pieces are illuminating and provocative... sans jargon! These pieces are available online to a broad audience. Young readers might stumble upon some feminist theory when they Google Hogwarts! How exciting for us, as grad students, to see these conversations thriving  across a range of communities and platforms. Very.

While I have yet to meet someone whose dissertation is on Harry Potter, the impact of the books on our cultural and intellectual life is clear. And as the world buzzes over the eighth and final film, we grad students get to satisfy our deep nerdy inner desire to talk about Apparation and the Dark Mark, what it all means, and why it matters.  

What is your take on scholarly interest in pop culture phenomena like Harry Potter? What about the closereading and theorizing happening on Facebook, message boards, and Twitter? And, most importantly, what can we learn from Snape about the nature of good and evil?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Turning Tides @ Fordham

This past year I was fortunate to be a part of the Turning Tides Symposium at Fordham. The fabulous Sarah Gambito, Director of Creative Writing at Fordham, envisioned the event and put together a team of grad students to help her orchestrate the day. On November 6, 2010, distinguished poets and academics from across the city gathered in the McNally Auditorium at Lincoln Center to learn and share about Diasporic literature.

Sarah envisioned an exchange between artists and academics – a conversation that was both scholarly and creative about the way literature reflects and responds to crises and change along the routes of various Diasporas.

From beginning to end, the symposium was awe-inspiring. As a first-semester grad student, I was grateful simply to be in a room with so many writers and thinkers at the forefront of their fields. For a grad student and aspiring writer, the experience was like working backstage at the Oscars; I felt so star-struck and thankful to be among writers whose works are not only formally impressive but also politically urgent and socially relevant. 

Fordham’s own Yvette Christiansë offered opening remarks, setting the tone for a day of reflection, questioning, and dialogue. Fordham professor Daniel Contreras moderated the first panel, Haiti: After the Earthquake, which featured the poetry and scholarship of J. Michael Dash, Denize Lauture, Yolaine M. St. Fort. Graduate student, Li Yun Alvarado, moderated the second panel Creative Disobedience in New Nuyorican Writing with Arnaldo Cruz-MalavéWillie PerdomoEdwin Torres. The final panel was moderated by Luis Francia; Nerissa S. Balce, Bino Realuyo, Melissa Roxas shared their work and insights on The Filipino Artist as Activist.

Each panel focused on distinct political struggles and geographies but they all affirmed the same reality: that art and academia are about the world. Their writing and scholarship does not exist in isolation from the current political moment; their art and research are living efforts to understand, record, and change culture.

Symposium discussion ranged from an exploration of how Nuyorican poetry represents the complexity and multiplicity of Puerto Rican identity, to the striving of writers to rebuild a cultural infrastructure for Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, to the struggle of Filipino writers and scholars against invisibility and silence.

I was especially moved by the work and testimony of Melissa Roxas, a poet and human rights activist who shared pieces about her experience as a survivor of torture. Her works were “poems of evidence” and reminded me of why I began writing and came to graduate school.

Turning Tides was a critical reminder to me – and all in attendance – that stories and scholarship can change things; they possess a power greater than just themselves.

Beyond the nerdy glamour of working so closely with writers and scholars, I was honored to be a part of an inspiring event that forged connections across the divides of art and academia. It was an opportunity to lead and to learn. It was the out-of-the-classroom experience we grad students hunger for – the chance to be a part of something bigger than just our own work or the institutions to which we belong. 

The Turning Tides Symposium will return to Fordham in Fall 2011. Be sure to check the Turning Tides website for more information: 

Friday, July 8, 2011

New Ideas of Living: Study Abroad as a Grad Student

I have two academic regrets from my time as an undergrad. 

1. I didn't study a language.
2. I didn't study abroad. 

I didn't see the value of either pursuit while I was in college. I could already speak Spanish, and I was sure I'd get a chance to visit other countries “some day.”

When I graduated and realized how difficult it was to find funding to go abroad, I regretted my decision. When I noticed how multilingual many of my friends had become in college, I wanted to speak more than two languages. I envied the jobs my multilingual friends could apply for all over the globe, in countries they had already visited.

By the time I started my Master's in English at Fordham, I thought the farthest my studies would take me was the Bronx. Fordham Road is a formidable trek for a Brooklyn girl! I was fine with drifting between the Rose Hill and Lincoln Center campuses, studying in the city where I had grown up, where I knew how things worked (or didn’t…).

I was wrong to think my studies at Fordham would not call me any place I couldn't reach by NYC transit. My “second chance” to study abroad has come and now, dear reader, I write to you from London.

Yes, London!

It turns out study abroad isn’t just for undergraduates, which is excellent news for me! I am completing a graduate tutorial in memoir writing with the talented, brilliant novelist Christina Baker Kline.

I’ll be working intensely on memoir pieces, exploring issues of belonging, cultural difference, and identity. The goal is to learn more about myself as I learn about the city of London and to write it all down.

Another Fordham grad student is here as well, in the central London neighborhood of Clerkenwell. Alexandra Verini, a Ph.D. candidate in the English program, is working as a graduate assistant for a class on Arthurian literature.  

Both of us are delighted to be here, not only because we are abroad (and can share scones!) but also because of the way London will enrich our course of study and challenge our view of self.

Study abroad offers the sorts of opportunities that grad students dream of. Even in this digital age of online archives of text and image, nothing on a computer screen can compare to a trip to the right library, museum, or community organization. Emails, Skype, and electronic correspondence connect people across the globe but cannot replicate the experience of sitting down and listening to those whose academic training or life experience have made them experts in a particular field.

And beyond access to people and information, travel allows us to be transformed by seeing and being somewhere, if we choose to be emotionally and intellectually, as well as physically, present.

Miriam Beard once said, “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” This sort of growth, the formation of “new ideas of living” is larger than developing as a scholar or writer – it is about becoming a different kind of woman.

I will be here only for the summer for about as long as I am writing for the Grad Life blog. In the next several weeks, I’ll be sure to share what it’s like to be an American grad student in the UK, studying writing and literature, getting lost on the tube, and trying – earnestly trying – to take it all in.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Accidental Pedagogy; or, What You Learn When You Go to Class

“What are you going to do with that?”

Every grad student faces this question – at family parties, high school reunions, and even the occasional OK Cupid date. The logic behind the question is that there is no practical application for any graduate degree that isn’t an M.D., J.D., or M.B.A. And if you can’t do anything with the degree, what’s the point in pursuing it?

Thankfully, there is a range of careers open to us as grad students, and many of us came to grad school because a range is precisely what we’re interested in. And beyond the catalogue of rare jobs a grad student may choose to pursue (radical librarian, anyone?), there is always teaching.

Whether you are a medievalist or biologist, grad school prepares you for work in the classroom. More importantly, choosing to teach addresses a dire national need for good educators.

At Fordham, many grad students complete a teaching practicum; others learn about teaching by working with professors and undergrads through graduate assistantships. And everyone goes to class!

I believe that as grad students we learn a great deal about teaching just by being students. I like to refer to this phenomenon as “accidental pedagogy,” wherein a professor offers pedagogical instruction just by a good (or not-so-good) example.

The professor who shows up to class looking frazzled and carrying a mass of papers bound with a rubber band teaches you about the importance of punctuality and manila folders. The professor who returns a forty-page paper to you with a seemingly arbitrary grade and no comments teaches you about the importance of critical feedback.

(Let it be noted that I’m not referring to actual professors – least of all Fordham English professors, who are great. Seriously. See?)

And yet, as much as grad students learn from interacting with less-than-awesome professors, we gain so much more from working with fantastic professors. Most of us already know what not to do as teachers, but the elements of an unforgettable, illuminating teaching style are far more elusive.

This spring I had a professor whose teaching style was compassionate and egalitarian. She encouraged everyone to speak without thrusting anyone into the awkward seminar limelight. She structured the class so that participation was a cornerstone of our time together. We shared, presented, and discussed every time we gathered.

This professor seemed to understand that although we are all grad students, we still get shy! I appreciated her deliberate nudging and facilitation of class discussion as much as I did her knowledge and expertise.

And sometimes she brought us snacks!

Although “Being Awesome” and “Teaching You All to Be Awesome” were never listed as course objectives on the syllabus, effective teaching skills were a part of what we learned.

It might not be quite accidental that I learned so much about teaching from this professor. She was experienced and deliberate in her efforts to establish a safe, inclusive, fruitful class culture.

Good teaching indisputably requires more substantive credentials than “I went to class a lot,” but all great teachers begin as observant students who notice what works in the classroom and what does not.  

I have a year left at Fordham before I enter the job market. If I am teaching next fall, I’ll be sure to use all I have learned from my professors. I will arrive to class on time with a multicolored array of manila folders. I will create space for everyone’s voice. I will be awesome and teach others how to be awesome. And since I am bound to make mistakes along the way, I will bring snacks – just in case.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Summer as a Grad Student: A Testimony About Work, Play, and “Vacation”

In elementary school, I equated “summer” with “vacation.” The words were interchangeable to me.

Although I was an incredible nerd (bookworm, teacher’s pet, and extra credit fiend) who loved school, I cherished summer as a welcome break from the routines and rules of the school year. By every June 1st, I was dreaming of warmer weather, longer days, and leaving the house without a backpack or No. 2 pencils.

Even in high school when I started working summer jobs and internships, I still thought of summer as vacation. I worked 9 to 5, but there were never any assignments waiting for me at home. No required reading, no exams to study for – just wide-open evenings and weekends. Endless possibilities.

Now that I am officially done with my first year of graduate school, I am realizing that I might never have another summer “off.”

My first year at Fordham was exhilarating, full of new people, books, and unexpected opportunities. Still, by the end of the year, I was ready for a break. I wrote my final papers while looking forward to another magical date – May 18th. This date was circled in my calendar, marked with emphatic ink stars and exclamation points that meant the end of the semester, the start of summer.

May 18th came and went. And since, I have enjoyed some R&R, but I have also done quite a bit of… well, work.

For one, I have been trying to revise stories that I wrote this year. Although I turned in final drafts of these pieces, none of them are quite finished. I may have completed my course requirements, but it will take much longer than a single semester to make the work actually publishable.

I have been reading magazines and journals, trying to decide where to submit and subscribe. Unfortunately, there isn’t a comprehensive list somewhere (no, not even at Poets & Writers) of which journals will expose me to the writing, authors, and techniques that I will learn from and love. I am sort of making a syllabus for myself: a list of nonrequired required reading to keep me current and connected.

I have been reading books, too – texts that will help me understand the issues I care about more deeply and also grow as a storyteller. Most recently, I have been reading The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr. This memoir about Karr’s “God-awful childhood” made me laugh and weep and sink into the 1960s Texas of her memories. I am reading for fun but not just for fun; I try to pay attention to the writing and take in all that I can about craft.

I am sure other grad students on “vacation” (those fortunate enough to take some time off before a summer class, job, or research project) have also filled their days with work related to their fields. It is not the break I imagined myself when I was counting down the days to May 18th. 

And yet, I’ve been able to watch more episodes of Buffy than I usually can during the school year, and I’ve felt all right hitting the snooze more than once in the morning. I have been taking more walks with friends and by myself. Undoubtedly, I have been on vacation; it’s just the busiest, most focused and fruitful vacation of my life.

Perhaps this is the greatest gift of graduate school (besides that degree!) – this seamlessness between work and pleasure, duty and play. As a grad student, you learn to regard your passions as a part of your life’s work and not just your schoolwork.

This sort of thinking is undeniably a sign of (oh my!) maturity. I’m a writer and scholar now full-time, all the time. As grad school ushers me into the future, I know that I cant go on being that same restless little girl, counting down the days to summer on her calendar, wishing she were running through sprinklers instead of sitting in class.

Well, maybe sometimes I can.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Passing the Baton

Hello everyone!

My name is Naima, and I’m delighted to be taking over the Fordham GSAS: Grad Life Blog. I have big shoes to fill since Alex Loizzo, long-time writer for this blog, did such a fantastic job creating an online community for GSAS students, friends of Fordham, and other graduate students near and far.

Alex has graduated and is moving on – but the Grad Life Blog lives!

I just finished my first year as a Master’s student in the English program and Creative Writing Concentration at Fordham. I am still processing and reveling in all that I learned about grad life, writing, and myself.

This summer I’ll share my insights on life as a grad student in New York City and at Fordham University. My hope is that this blog will be a space for all of us to explore how grad life is changing because of social media, the current political and economic climate, and other cultural shifts.

In short, I am aiming for a broad but also an intimate scope.

I would love to hear your feedback on my posts, as well as any questions you might have about life at Fordham. Suggestions for future blog posts are very, very welcome.

The more interactive and participatory this blog can be, the better.

Here’s to a great summer!

-- Naima Coster