The Dissertation Prospectus (Hidden Curriculum #6)

For those of you who are new here, 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 month I’m talking the dissertation prospectus: what it is and how to write it.

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Congratulations, you’re a PhD candidate! You might be either celebrating the fact that you are done with exams and coursework or tentatively wondering, “Now what?” (Or both.) 

While you are definitely free from the constraints of courses and teaching, there still remains one final hurdle before you’re really free (aka ABD): the dissertation prospectus. In this post, I offer some general guidance for navigating this onerous and often inadequately explained requirement.

Writing the dissertation prospectus doesn't have to make you feel like this guy
Writing the dissertation prospectus doesn’t have to feel like this

Prospectus Timeline

As with everything, the timeline for writing and submitting the dissertation prospectus may vary somewhat from department to department. However, in general, there are certain steps that you usually must follow before officially changing your email signature to include “ABD” (all but dissertation).

These steps are, roughly:

  1. Assemble dissertation committee, including deciding on a chair or co-chairs, and submit through appropriate channels
  2. Consult with committee members about dissertation topic and possible approaches
  3. Draft dissertation prospectus
  4. Defend prospectus (aka meet with your committee members to discuss your draft)
  5. Complete revisions and submit prospectus to department for final approval
  6. Start dissertating!

This post focuses primarily on writing the prospectus. If you want to know more about how to approach other steps in this process – such as how to choose who’s on your committee or how to prepare for and what to expect at a defense – let me know!

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5 Things I Wish I’d Known My First Time Teaching

If there’s anything you know about me, it’s that I’m always thinking about teaching. It’s a wonder that this entire blog isn’t dedicated to the subject. 

But since it’s August (!) and a new school year is suddenly right around the corner (!!) I figured now was the perfect time to share some thoughts about teaching.

My first time teaching was in Fall 2017

Over the last year there have been tons of resources created and shared relating to pedagogy, including this recent workshop organized by the Women’s Classical Caucus. Many of these aimed to remedy the fact that pedagogical training is severely lacking in Classics, and provide support to instructors at all levels and stages in their teaching careers.

What all of these workshops and resources have taught me, at least, is just how much I was missing when I first started teaching. Here are just a few things I wish I’d known way back then.

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Demystifying the Dissertation Chapter (Hidden Curriculum #4)

The hidden curriculum series is back! For those of you who are new here, 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. Since I signed up for a Dissertation ECoach last term, I thought I’d share a few tips that I found most helpful from it.

Actually footage of me pretending to work on my dissertation

Dissertation ECoach – What is it?

The Dissertation ECoach is an interactive digital messaging tool that draws on dissertation writing strategies to affect graduate students’ writing practice. It was developed by several teaching and writing centers at the University of Michigan, and ran weekly for the duration of the Winter term (Jan-Apr). 

Through the ECoach portal, graduate students who are starting to write their dissertation receive personalized messages that influence a positive writing process. The personalized feedback that students receive helps them engage with more effective writing practices.

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3 Tips for More Anti-Racist Mentorship

This morning I participated in a plenary session for a workshop on anti-racist and decolonial curricula in archaeology hosted by the Columbia Center for Archaeology. In my talk, I framed the topic of anti-racist curricula in terms of mentorship, and the ways in which good mentorship could help alleviate the pressures placed on first-gen, marginalized, and underrepresented students in Classical Studies and archaeology by the hidden curriculum.

The Hidden Curriculum

The hidden curriculum is a set of skills or norms that individuals are expected to know, particularly in academia, without being formally taught them

On this blog, I have taken a particular interest in the hidden curriculum, and have made several blog posts illuminating different aspects of it.

Skills and norms which are part of the hidden curriculum include:

  • Preparing for fieldwork
  • Writing a dissertation (prospectus, chapter)
  • How and when to apply for funding
  • Writing conference abstracts and papers
  • What to wear and how to act when attending a conference
  • How to interview for a (usually academic) job

These range from seemingly simple skills to more complex ones. However, our assumptions about individuals’ knowledge of these skills and norms disproportionately harm students from marginalized backgrounds. These students feel they must put in twice the work to keep up with their peers.

Here are some ways that we can better support students throughout their academic careers.

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Why I’m Not Traveling Abroad This Summer

It should be unsurprising to anyone who knows me when I say that fieldwork plays a big role in my success as an academic. This is because I’m an archaeologist who specializes in ancient Greece. My fieldwork requires me to travel abroad for several weeks to months at a time each year, usually in the summer. 

I am very sad that I haven’t gone to Greece in nearly two years. The reluctance of some of my colleagues to cancel field projects and research trips in light of the ever-changing COVID situation has also been surprising.

I get it, I do. The last year was a total setback for many archaeological projects, including my own. My dissertation has taken a new path thanks to the fact that I couldn’t do fieldwork last summer, despite my best laid plans. 

But is getting that dissertation done or that excavation going more important than the lives of the people who live in your destination country?

The answer should be simple: no, it’s not.

The challenges to admitting this are many. It’s no secret that many programs and departments have grappled with how to deal with funding and time to degree for those of us whose research got derailed by the pandemic. 

Some places, such as at Michigan, have found ways to support students needing extra time to finish, which lessens the burden on students scrambling to secure support elsewhere. However, I know this isn’t the case everywhere.

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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.

https://www.greedge.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/1-1.png
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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