Writing Personal Statements (Hidden Curriculum Series #3)

The hidden curriculum includes a set of things we’re expected to know how to do, from attending a conference for the first time to applying for funding to going on the job market, without actually being taught them. In keeping with the applications theme, this new addition to the series is on the personal statement. 

Thanks to everyone on Instagram who helped with the decision!

A note on the personal statement

This post is about writing personal statements for funding applications, not grad school applications. I realize that there also exist “statements of purpose,” which are sometimes asked for in addition to a personal statement.

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Image credit: GREedge (greedge.com)

In the case of funding applications, “personal statement” and “statement of purpose” are often used interchangeably. 

Take for example these two funding opportunities from my university:

#1: The statement of purpose must be single-spaced, 12pt font, and three pages maximum including any bibliography, citations, project timetable, graphics, etc. These should be written in language for non-specialists, should describe the proposed research project and discuss its rationale, objectives, design, timetable, feasibility, and methodology, as well as the projected benefits of this trip. If the applicant will be working with an established research project, a description of the organization and the activities in which he/she will be engaged must be included. Applicants should also discuss any language skills needed to conduct the proposed research.

#2: Students’ personal statement…should address the importance of the student’s work in the beginning two or three sentences. The statement should include the theoretical framework of the dissertation, its specific aims, methodologies (how the student is conducting the research), originality, and the significance and contribution of the project to the field…The statement should be written with an interdisciplinary faculty review panel in mind; i.e., reviewers will NOT necessarily be familiar with the technical vocabulary of a specific field.

The purposes of the funding opportunities are slightly different. One specifically supports international research and the other supports work on the dissertation (writing and/or research) more broadly, with an eye toward completion. 

However, the requirements for the statements are roughly the same. 

If you’re unsure of what to include in a statement, funding institutions usually spell out what sort of information they’re looking for in a personal statement/statement of purpose.

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Asking for Recommendation Letters (Hidden Curriculum #2)

Last month I began a series on “the hidden curriculum.” The hidden curriculum includes a set of things we’re expected to know how to do, from attending a conference for the first time to applying for funding to going on the job market, without actually being taught them. This second installment features tips on how to ask for recommendation letters (or references), which can form part of all kinds of applications!

Asking for recommendation letters can be scary but if you plan ahead, the process is smoother!
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5 Grad School Interview Questions You Should Be Asking

As we enter grad school interview season, it’s time to think about some questions that you should be asking on your (virtual) visits. 

These questions are primarily ones BIPOC prospective students should have in mind. I know that in light of the recent discourse sparked by a NYT op-ed featuring Prof. Dan-el Padilla Peralta, they might be uncertain about continuing their academic journey. 

These are also questions I wish I’d asked years ago during my own grad school interviews. But I believe these are generally important questions to ask for anyone who has a serious, invested interest in reforming the field.

There are many things I wish I had asked on my grad school interview

A Change in Perspective

The recent #ClassicsTwitter discourse shows that our problems can’t (and won’t) be solved overnight. Those of us who offer critiques are painted as fatalists. We want to “burn it all down” with (they assume) no regard for the future of the field or the people within it. 

When my eyes were opened to the extent of the toxicity of Classics months ago, I swore I’d never advocate for another BIPOC student to join the field. Some have considered such a stance to be ‘exclusionary’, but I just didn’t want anyone to go through what I went through.

In the intervening months I have become a little more optimistic about the future of Classics. Despite the near-constant debates about how exactly the field should be reformed – and, no, I don’t want to talk about potential name changes – I continue to love what I study. I made this blog for other BIPOC in Classics, ancient history, and archaeology who also love what they study, even if they hate the racist, elitist underpinnings of the discipline.

I don’t want to discourage BIPOC students from continuing their studies in grad school. But I don’t want them to blindly join a program (or field) that will be detrimental to their well-being, either.

I believe now that everyone should be able to make their own, informed choice about entering or leaving the field. In that vein, here are just a few questions relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion that you should be asking during a grad school interview.

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Tips for Applying for Funding (The Hidden Curriculum Series #1)

The concept of the “hidden curriculum” isn’t new. However, it becomes more and more problematic everyday. The hidden curriculum includes a set of things we’re expected to know how to do, from attending a conference for the first time to applying for funding to going on the job market, without actually being taught them (this handout by Amy Pistone lays out several of these).

As a first generation, Black graduate student, I think about the things I was never taught how to do a lot. This is because they’ve come up frequently in my academic journey and because they aren’t exactly things that I could’ve learned growing up.

After several months of obsessing over funding applications, I thought that sharing some tips for applying for funding would be a good place to start. It’s actually amazing how I’ve made it this far in my academic career without ever being taught how to do this.

Here are just a few pointers for those of you embarking on the harrowing journey of completing funding applications for the first time. It might be helpful for some of the more seasoned of you, too, since I feel like I’m learning new strategies every time funding season rolls back around.

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6 Things That I’m Not Wasting My Energy On In 2021

If there’s anything 2020 taught me, it’s that you can’t take anything for granted, especially your health, time, or energy. While the pandemic made us more connected than ever, it caused many of us to spread ourselves too thin. Although the pandemic is ongoing, a new year still brings the potential for change. One of my new year’s resolutions is to practice more self care. 

It's important to prioritize self care and protect your energy when you can

One way of doing this is by distancing myself from things that don’t serve me. Here are just a few things I’m not wasting my energy on in 2021.

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Funding Guide for BIPOC Students in Classics

*To no one’s surprise, the list is currently pretty scarce, despite the fact that I included one grant for Canadian students to round out the resources. However, if there are any funding sources that I missed, please let me know and I will add to the list!*

My relationship with funding throughout my academic career is not entirely straightforward.

In undergrad, I was awarded scholarships to dig in Greece at the Athenian Agora for two consecutive summers. 

For two summers I received funding to work on an excavation in Athens

However, it wasn’t until I got accepted to grad school that I started looking elsewhere for funding opportunities. But little did I know that that was just the beginning of my search.

Grad school is hard enough for anyone who’s looking for funding for anything. However, it is particularly difficult for students of color. We constantly compete with those who are traditionally favored in Classical Studies and archaeology. 

In undergrad, I had no idea that grants for BIPOC students existed. In fact, many of these funding opportunities did not exist in 2016. 

I received a Frank M. Snowden Undergraduate Scholarship that year and used it to improve my Latin for grad school. I recently applied for the new William Sanders Scarborough Fellowship, but have not yet received my results.

In sum, these are rare and precious opportunities that have emerged for students of color in Classical Studies. As such, I collected them in a place where students of color can access them easily.

In my experience these sorts of grants were not (and still aren’t) widely advertised by individual departments. Go figure.

Updated: Feb. 8, 2021.

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Work-Life Balance in Grad School: How I Achieve and Maintain It

Work-life balance looks differently for everyone!

Let’s be honest – achieving work-life balance is probably the furthest thing from your mind when you start grad school. And even more so if you started grad school this year.

This past year has been anything but business as usual, and we’ve all had to adapt in one way or another. The summer was especially hectic after an academic year without many responsibilities. It made me wonder, as I’m sure most of us do, whether work-life balance was even achievable.

But I inevitably returned to the mindset that I had achieved before the pandemic hit and changed everything.

And that mindset is that there are more important things than academia.

Say it with me now: there are more important things.

There are more important things than:

  • Staying up all night to finish the readings for a class you don’t care about 
  • Answering emails from professors, students, and others that arrive outside of working hours
  • Saying yes to every “opportunity” to serve your department in ways that might look good on your CV
  • Spending an entire weekend trying to meet arbitrary deadlines that you set yourself

Sure, my circumstance might seem to apply only to those of you who have already achieved candidacy. But in reality I had always had this mindset; I’ve only pulled one all-nighter ever because they’ve never appealed to me more than my bed has. 

It just wasn’t until I had control over my own time that I realized that I wanted to make the most of it. It wasn’t until then that I realized that it was okay to have a life outside of school, and that it really wasn’t so hard to achieve work-life balance.

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