Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: August 2011

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.