How to Prepare for the Academic School Year

A couple of weeks ago, Cohort Sistas and Black Women PhDs invited me to be a part of a panel on how best to prepare for the academic school year. Let me start by saying it was such a fantastic experience and I came out of it so energized. I learned that I love passing on knowledge and advice like that. So, invite me to more panels, people. I can speak on a myriad of topics and to a myriad of people, but especially to black women.

Okay, so as I mentioned, the conversation was about PhD students can prepare for the academic school year. I decided to blog about this based on some of what I said or planned to say because I don't think there is enough of this type of advice out there. I do realize that the academic school year has already begun but I still thought to codify this because much of what I say below will apply in subsequent years and throughout graduate school. By the way, it is certainly not too late to apply these principles towards this academic year. 

Now, how do you best prepare for the academic year? Let's get to it. Please know that I  will frame most of what I say below  based on my own experience, and as you’ll see this is much customizable based on your own needs and circumstance.  I will start with much earlier stages in grad school and then up to when I was much advanced, even though there is some overlap.

Going into my first year, while I learned a lot about broad plans and overviews of phd programs, and even read books about getting the most of your phd program, I didn’t nail down the specifics. And that’s one thing I certainly could have done better.  It was not the worst thing in the world but I was very disorganized, often overwhelmed, and just getting by day to day; so much that after just the first year, I started getting burnt out.  So the summer after my first year, I decided to change my approach. Two things really solidified that decision for me. I was very broke that summer. I also realized that my first year was done, and apart from the grades of all the classes I took that year, I didn’t really have much show for it.

So that summer [before my second year] I started with writing down everything I needed to achieve in a year. There are, of course, broad goals and somewhat vague ideas of what you want to get out of the phd program. But then there are specific goals that you need and that are attainable but that you need to plan for. And that’s what I did that summer. I made all these plans and further broke them down into how to achieve them. Each semester had its goal, what should be achieved, and by what month.  So for instance, I planned to present at conferences, work with professors, get fellowships, get started on publishing, get an internship, or other non-academic experience.  I also got a planner, a physical literal planner and I still use planners till this day. I can't imagine my [professional] life without my planner. It helps tremendously. Those semester goals I mentioned? Each week I would go over them and ask, what can I do towards achieving these goals? And then plan each day based on that. It also meant that nothing came as a surprise, I didn't miss meetings, or miss deadlines etc.  Having that plan the summer before the year began was helpful.


As the years passed, of course, I tweaked and adjusted, but the goal, the foundation was the same. Plan for what you seek to achieve in the academic year, but not vaguely, and write them down. Or If you’re more of a technology person, then yeah type them up. But they should be very visible and there should be tangible plans to achieve them. So the first way to prepare for the academic year is to do some planning.

It also helps to think a little bit further ahead. Circumstances will differ of course, but planning that early in advance, allows you to know for instance, when you need to start applying for dissertation fellowships or any other fellowships especially if you're going to do field research. It means the summer before the academic year begins, I look for fellowships I’m eligible for. Then you note information about them like deadlines, requirements, eligibility. And start planning. If it means I can start drafting essays, then it will mean I have a little less load when the semester starts and I’m being a RA or TA or writing my dissertation proposals or working on papers. 

Speaking of proposals, depending on your program requirements, the summer before the academic year begins is a good time to get ahead of some requirements of your program for that year. I'm not saying to get them done, but you can get started. Each program will have requirements depending on the year.  For instance, in my program we had to do a qualifier in our second year (and I think one comp), and then our proposal was due in the third year. It’s so much easier to work on something like your proposal during the school year if the summer before you’ve drafted or scribbled what you think you want to work on or even created a draft template to work with. This is all very customizable depending on your eventual plans of course, but you get a groove of things as the years go on. Now this all depends on how busy your summer is. Maybe you have to get a full time job, that’s okay. I would advise getting a day or two off before the school year starts to get in the frame of mind and make this plan. But the plan is essential. 

I was lucky to go to the field twice. Once in my third year before I had a fully drafted proposal. The summer before that year allowed me to set this in motion.  As you advance in your program, some may advise collecting data during summer. I couldn’t do that; both times I went to the field was during the school year. Yet during the summers before the school year, I took the time to plan almost every aspect of my field research including reaching out to people in the field, planning where I would be collecting the data in the field and other logistical aspects. 

The summer before the school year starts is also a good time to write papers or think of ideas for papers and get started. Once the school year starts, it can be so hard to be creative and to think. But If you already have the plans, executing during the school year is a little easier. So before the school year starts, apart from planning for the upcoming year,  the second way to prepare for the school year is to do some groundwork

Now if you’re really advanced; that is, you have collected data, published at conferences, have a draft of your dissertation (depending again on your program), and you’re think about graduating, the summer before the school year starts is when you put your application packages together. In my discipline, they start posting academic jobs as early as July and can go into maybe even March. So it’s a marathon,  but again, if before the school year starts, you have put mechanisms in place to help along the process, you’ll have an easier time. So that when the school year starts, and you’re working on your dissertation, being an RA, trying to publish and also flying out for interviews and campus visits if you’re lucky, your plan helps you be a little more efficient. Before the school year starts, have a good teaching statement draft, research statement draft,  a good cover letter, and diversity statements (most schools are asking for this now), and polish your job market paper. Of course, these are not the finished product, but editing is always easier than writing from scratch. Immediately school starts, you can send them to your advisors and professors and others to help you review. Because they are not in the weeds of midterms and such, they can also get it back to you on time. I know this sounds like a lot, it’s why I roll my eyes when people think professors or phd students get summers off. Because we know that’s not true! But yeah, this point is mostly similar to the previous one about doing groundwork but just on a more advanced level now.

One other way to prepare for the school year is to just hone your skills. We learn a lot by doing, that’s true! But sometimes, we need to create time to actually learn the skills we use. Again, to give an example from my field as that’s what I know well, quant/data science/analytics is a HUGE thing in my discipline. We were mandated to take three quant classes  throughout our coursework years. However, the summers before the school year, I would take some time to  learn more quant and/or software skills so that during the school year I can put these skills to practice whether it's by writing papers or just running analysis of my data. In sum, one way to prepare for the school year is to hone skills that will help you.

So much of the above is about planning towards your academic progress. But before the school year starts, it also time to think about how you plan to take care of yourself during the school year. You have to be intentional about this. Do you want to exercise every day? Do you want to make plans to go see family every month? Do you want to eat better? Whatever that means for you, plan for it. But you must take care of you. 

To summarize, set goals and make a plan on how to achieve them, lay some groundwork, hone your skills, and take care of yourself.

Have a great academic year ahead. Good luck!



Friday Reflections

 1.) I don't know why Friday Reflections didn't happen last week like it was supposed to. Oh, I know. I decided that after working for unbelievable hours during the week, that Friday evening was the time to try an entirely new pasta recipe AND bake an entire chocolate cake. Current me is looking at past me like she had to be crazy.

2.) Okay let's go.

3.) An important statistic struck a chord in my heart today. Loneliness rivals smoking, obesity as some of the biggest killers out there. In fact, loneliness can be as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

4.) People who are lonely are more likely to have heart disease, stroke, immune system problems, and have a harder time recovering from cancer. Whew. My own research shows that people who display cohesive behavior (have more connections) are less likely to participate in political violence and less likely to justify it. Start making connections, people!

5.) This woman asks a very important question, where are the shepherds?

6.) "Take a look at this, because you're unlikely to see somebody like this again in your life time" The commentator said after Allyson Felix wins a gold, her 11th Olympic Medal, at her final Olympics. Amazing. 

7.) A couple of weeks ago, I read the most extraordinary, heart-wrenching, gripping, and powerful story of life, love, and grief on The Atlantic. It's about Bobby McIlvaine, who died in the 9/11 attacks, and how his loved ones are still grappling with that loss twenty years on. Even just writing this again, whewww, the emotions are coming back. What a story.

8.) That story moved me so much; in ways I can't even put in words. I cried, and marveled, and wondered, and sighed, and cried again. 

9.) Beyonce's evolution

10.) Living with anxiety and holding strong.

Much Ado About Hiding Your Significant Other Online: Should You or Should You Not?

We haven't had a book of the month SINCE MAY. And none of it is my fault. For some reason, everyone is interested in reading the same books I want to read.  There are 194 people waiting for a book I have on hold at the library (they only have 24 copies). And then, another book I have on hold has about 150 people waiting (they only have 20 copies or so). I really don't want to buy a new book so here we are. I will admit that the past couple of weeks have been really busy for me so maybe it's good? I don't know. I plan on going back to really old books that have never been featured on this blog so watch out for that. 

Alright here we go. What are we ranting about today? Nothing really. I wanted to write about billionaires and the obscene idolizing of rich people. But quite frankly, I'm too tired. While this post will be published on a Tuesday, it is being written on a Sunday morning so yes, I am too tired to rant about that on this beautiful, peaceful day of the Lord. Instead we will rant about something else.

I am bringing you a topic I already talked a little about on Instagram. 

A few weeks ago, Issa Rae got married. Yay her. Good for her.  But it was apparently a surprise wedding? I'm not entirely sure about that because I know we all knew she was engaged but Issa Rae has always presented an allure of extreme privacy; secrecy, if you will. Apparently, that's something people respect a LOT. Because all over the interwebs, people started preaching about the virtue of "moving in silence"  and how much better Issa Rae is for not showing us her boyfriend/fiancé/husband all this time. Even though her posting this man (AND her wedding) is what prompted this conversation. Even though this man has walked red carpets with her. Even though she had talked about him in interviews. But all of a sudden, people started talking about the virtue of secrecy, how you should never share, and how social media is not the place to talk about the good things of your life. Weird flex.

Wait a hot minute. By the way, before we move on, this (right here, what is happening in this post) is why I can't have a niche for this blog because I talk about too much nonsense. But moving on. 

I had been entirely confused and thought I was alone in this confusion before people started posting my thoughts and basically articulated what I was thinking. Someone said,

"Before you start projecting your own relationship onto Issa's and going on about 'moving in silence' and 'popping up married' please remember you're not famous and literally no one cares about who you're dating and you should probably post your partner if it makes them feel good." - @austinxwill on Twitter.


I preach against social media A LOT but like most things, it is a tool. And it is one that can be wielded for good and for evil. However, using social media to celebrate the people in your life doesn't seem like the worst thing in the world to me. I should know, I do it a lot. And I can tell you for a fact that people LOVE to be celebrated. They may not be as generous as to celebrate others but it doesn't stop them from receiving it or even desiring it. So what is all this nonsense about hiding things? As with most things, it can be traced back to fear. 

I think, like @judnikki on Twitter said, it is extremely pathetic that you're afraid of showing off your partner because of other people's opinions. It is in fact cowardly. Even if it does not work out eventually, so what? Why should you be embarrassed because you were IN LOVE. It doesn't mean you failed and frankly, it doesn't mean the relationship failed. It just ended. We have to change the conversation around stuff like this. For most people, the fact that things went sour doesn't mean it was never good nor does it take away from the good and amazing times you had.  

Now, most importantly: WE DO NOT CARE. At the core of most people, they don't care. Yea, sure they talk about it for a minute, but they don't care. It's not even up to a WHOLE month that Issa got married and everyone has moved on. That's right; we have better things to do (this is awkward, since I'm quite literally basing an entire post off it. I swear, I also have better things to do😔😔). I love what Denola Grey tweeted:

"Post you boo. Don't post your boo. Reveal them on your wedding day. Don't reveal them. But if you're following an inaccurately perceived blueprint from a public figure who you have no access to personally, you might want to try some autonomy. There is way more scrutiny, on a large scale in celeb couplings. Which is why some certain precautions and dedication to privacy are taken and tailored to the individuals involved in a celebrity coupling. if you're not a public figure, the scrutiny is objectively less."

He didn't stop there:

"The obsession with how people hide their SO or whatever logistics are involved in perceived extreme privacy is so weird."

Most people really do not care as much as you think. I will give you one better, most people do not have the time to care. So please, if you want to share, please share. Ignore this nonsense "move in silence". I am a little nosy, yes, but more than that I love good news. I want to see the joy on your face with your partners, your babies, your friends, your families. Joy. Love. why would you not want to share that? Do you think we only want to read about racism, depression, anxiety, wickedness every single day? Come on.

For me particularly, I don't think anyone gives an eff whether or not my picture is online. For better or worse, I don't have a sense of self-importance AT ALL. I am not deluded into thinking some "hater" somewhere cares how I move or whatever. I have realized that people are dealing with wayyy too much to care about random nonsense. I don't know if this is good or bad. I used to assume everyone else was like this. And me being me who loves to celebrate and cheer people on, whew it HAS been a thing  (is all I will say). I am learning that people move differently. I don't want to be seen as too much so now I just post me and me alone. But anyway, no I don't really believe in the concept of the "hater". [Alright, there is this one babe lowkey obsessed with me and my family. Otherwise, meh.] 

Let's be honest, privacy has an allure; all that mysteriousness, there is a seductiveness to it. Beyonce is a global power for many reasons, including she is one of the biggest pop stars of this generation (and generations to come), BUT one of the many reasons she is so adored is people just can't figure her out. It could work either way: people couldn't figure out Hilary Clinton and so they resorted to despising her. I'm saying, when people don't know you and they really want to, they obsess about you. 

If you genuinely want to keep certain aspects of your life hidden because you're  a little shy (which I get since I can be like that); or  maybe because you just actually suck at expressing yourself; or because you feel like your motives are wrong (perhaps you are also like me, chasing humility); or because you just honestly want to be considerate of other people's feelings (yes that's a thing. I can relate to it too cos I have decided not to post on certain days to protect people's feelings); then good, that's all okay and fine. You do you.

But if you don't want to post because you think using social media makes you uncool, you're lame. Or if you don't want to post because of fear, then you need to work on those feelings. You cannot let fear drive your life; whether that's fear of what people will say or fear of failure. And yes, I too, have been too afraid to post sometimes—though this is more about my radical opinions than pictures or my "private" life. 

Congrats to Issa. The rest of us: you don't have some moral high ground because you're "private". You are not curing cancer, sweetie. You fell in love. In the words of the legendary Ellis Grey, "anyone one can fall in love and be blindly happy..."

So should you or should you not? Well, it all depends, doesn't it?



Friday Reflections

1) Hello people! Welcome back to another installment of this.

2.) In Washington, Chasten Buttigieg is still a stranger in a very strange land. Can I just say how absolutely adorable they are!

3) I recently promised myself to always show up for me and it's been working well so far. That sounds more complex that it is but it basically means investing in myself, doing what I like, and taking care of my self. Simple.

4.) "Is Dave Ramsey’s empire the ‘best place to work in America’? Say no and you’re out". This is definitely the wildest thing you will read about this week. 

5.) Thanks to that story and others like it, I found out that Dave Ramsey fired an employee for having premarital sex, brought a gun to a meeting, he would ask for your family's budget before hiring you; and also interviews your spouse before hiring you. It is the worst story on toxic workplace culture and cult like worship I have ever read. 

6) I had been getting really uncomfortable with him because he comes across as a bully. I was right. 

7) “I’ve got a right to tell my employees whatever I want to tell them,” he wrote. “They freaking work for me.” - said a Christian  man claiming piety.  What is wrong with Christians?  I am one of them so I guess, I gotta ask, what is wrong with us?

8) Speaking of, see what happens  when God visits a prayer group.

9.)  A father nearly killed his son in  a gruesome crime. One of the detectives on the scene later adopted the child.  I brought you some feel good story today. Aren't I so kind? Haha

10) That's it folks. Have a good and relaxing weekend. I know I'm planning to. [well, after I get some work done on Saturday, that is. UGH.]