Liberal Arts Career Services
Liberal Arts Career Services

Faculty & Graduate Student Profiles

Faculty profiles offer expert advice on what you can do to prepare for grad school, what makes a successful grad student and what’s going on in your specific area of interest.

Graduate student profiles offer a snapshot into the life of current grad students enrolled in UT liberal arts graduate programs. They share what they know now and wish they knew then, share stories about life in and out of the classroom and provide application tips based on personal experiences.

African and African Diaspora Studies
American Studies

Anthropology
Asian Studies
Classics
Economics
English
French & Italian
Geography
Germanic Studies
Government
History
Latin American Studies
Linguistics

Mexican American and Latina/o Studies
Middle Eastern Studies
Philosophy
Psychology
Religious Studies
Rhetoric & Writing
Sociology
Slavic & Eurasian Studies
Spanish & Portuguese
Women's & Gender Studies

African and African Diaspora Studies

Faculty

Dr. Marcelo Paixão

Academic Background: Ph.D., Sociology, M.S., Production Engineering & B.A., Economic Sciences, Instituo Universitario de Pesquisas do Rio de Janeiro - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Area of Specialization: Ethnic and racial inequality

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I was looking for an academic position as Faculty. For almost two decades I was an Associate Professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and since 2015, here in the University of Texas at Austin.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
The Brazilian social thought and how it dealt with the question of economic development and racial inequality in Brazil.

What topics do you currently teach?
I teach on subjects related to social and racial inequality in Brazil and Latin America, methods of measuring racial inequality and comparative studies on ethnic and racial relations in Latin American countries. I also study problems of ethnic and racial development, mainly solidarity economy. For the next semesters, I intend to deepen the debate on ethnic and racial entrepreneurship and development.

Can you tell me a bit about your area(s) of specialization?
My main field of specialization is the problems of ethnic and racial inequality. It covers several topics, from methods of quantitative analysis to public policies to the theoretical debate on political economy of social and racial inequality. Like I just mentioned above, from now on, I intend to enlarge my concerns to problems on entrepreneurship and development taking into consideration its ethnic and racial dimensions.

Can you tell me a bit about your research?
Currently I am accomplishing a research on the ethnic and racial categories in the contemporary Latin American censuses. So, I have been studying problems of ethnic and racial categorization and issues on ethnic and racial inequality in those countries as well. In the future, I will have a second field of research about African-descendant entrepreneurship and development, including issues like black capitalism, affirmative action for minorities in business, cooperativism and solidarity economy.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate? If so, what was it? Would you recommend undergrads to participate in research?
Yes, I did. In Brazil, I participated in a research project that analyzed evolution of macroeconomic indicators in that country. I strongly recommend that any undergraduate student, having or not academic interest in the future, participates in some research project. It will help him or her to be in touch with more expert professionals, their methods of studies and the exigence of scientific approaches.

What makes a good grad student?
Curiosity, hard-work disposition, perseverance, honesty, capacity of work in group, tolerance, humanism, and, mainly, to have a good mood – an exigency for someone who will be all the time stressed with deadlines, referees, advisors and a competitive academic world!

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to your program?

  1. Normative affiliation to the anti-racist cause, human rights and social justice;
  2. excellent understanding of the history of the African-American fight for social and political rights, and the black movement around the globe;
  3. know how to build a research project and recognize the canonic literature in the mentioned fields.

Graduate Students

pl
Paul Joseph López Oro

Graduate Program: M.A., Latin American Studies, University of New Mexico – Albuquerque, NM; M.A., African American Studies, Northwestern University – Evanston, IL; Ph.D., African American Studies, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation Topic: Queering Garifuna: Gendered Geographies and the Diasporic Politics of Black Indigeneity in New York City

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., History, St. John's University – Queens, NY

Could you tell us about your undergraduate experience? 
I have an undergraduate in History from St. John's University in Queens, New York. During my time at St. John’s University, I participated in the TRIO program: Dr. Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program which prepared and lead me to earn a masters degree in Latin American Studies from the University of New Mexico. Upon my completing my first master’s degree, I was accepted as a Teach for America 2009 corps member in New York City, specifically teaching Spanish in a dual language middle school in East Harlem while enrolled in a master’s program in Special Education at Hunter College in the City University of New York. In the fall of 2012, I began my doctoral journey as a PhD student in the Department of African American Studies at Northwestern University before transferring to the University of Texas at Austin’s PhD program in African and African Diaspora Studies. I also earned a masters degree in African American Studies at Northwestern University.

What is the topic of your research (or title of your dissertation if you are at that stage)? Can you tell us a bit about your research?
My dissertation is titled "Queering Garifuna: Gendered Geographies and the Diasporic Politics of Black Indigeneity in New York City" is an ethnographic and archival study on the ways in which gender and sexuality shape how Garifuna New Yorkers negotiate and perform within their multiple subjectivities as Black, Indigenous, and Latina/o. This dissertation project engages multi-sited archives to closely analyze the multiple ways in which Garifuna New Yorkers politically mobilize to perserve their Black Indigenous heritage. Garifuna are a Black Indigenous community whose ethnogenesis is rooted in marronage, exile, and colonial resistance, whose mixture emerges out of shipwrecked enslaved West Africans and Arawak-Carib indians on the lesser Antillean island of St. Vincent, and subsequent exile by British colonial powers to the Caribbean Coasts of Central America in the 18th century, and transmigrations to the United States in the 20th century create a compelling narrative on black indigenous diasporic formations.

Where are you in your program sequence and what is that like? (i.e., if you are in a Ph.D.  program, are you doing coursework, in candidacy, etc.; if you are in an M.A.  program, are you doing coursework, working on a thesis, etc.)
I'm in candidacy focused on writing my dissertation. Writing is an intense process and is a very lonely process. It requires much coffee and stamina on a laptop. More importantly, it requires time and space to be able to think through so much material that one collects throughout their graduate education here and before getting to UT.

What is the most interesting thing about your graduate program?
A few things come to mind; I think one of the most interesting thing about my graduate program is the newness of it. Building a new academic enterprise has several growing pains, but beyond those trial and error moments one is part of making institutional history as the first doctoral program in the U.S. South to offer a PhD in Black Studies. Also the expertise of the faculty was one of the most interesting features that attracted me to the graduate program. I am being trained by some of the most cutting-edge and leading scholars in the field of Afro-Latin America and Black Queer Studies, whose works and mentorship have pushed me to become a better thinker, writer, and human.

What can you tell me about life as a graduate student? (life, study, work balance)
Life as a graduate student is a constant balancing act. I would argue for folks like me who are 30 and older, graduate school can be consuming if you are not able to find a healthy balance between your responsibilities in and out of graduate school. I strive in my own life to find it and there are times that is easy and times that it is exhausting. I have found that developing community and networks outside of the University has been useful in my attempts to find a balance between being a graduate student, a husband, a son, an uncle, and a human being who has interest beyond the academy.

How about graduate school activities, what is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
A typical day in the life of a graduate student varies; based on where you are at in your program and what responsibilities you may or may not have on-campus. For example, ever since I started graduate school I have tried to maintain a 9-5 work mentality, where I would be up and ready to do graduate school related work from Monday through Friday, whether it is reading for class, writing a paper, organizing conference calls, attending an on-campus talk, following-up with faculty, or simply engaging in reading group. I usually try my best to devote the weekends to my husband, and myself but am not always too successful.

Do you currently have a TA, GA, GRA or AI role? What is that like? What do you do?
In the spring of 2017, I was an AI in the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies, I taught their introductory course MAS 301. It is was an incredibly wonderful experience to bring my own research interests into a UT classroom while introducing a larger group of students to the academic debates, complexities, and dynamics to the field of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies. One of my most favorite things is teaching. I take the gift, the craft, and the privilege of teaching very seriously as a scholar-teacher I am always looking for ways that my students keep learning new things and really unsettle the ways we have all been normalized to think about on topics such as: Blackness, Indigeneity, Latinidad, gender, sexuality, police violence, racism, culture, race in Latin America, and U.S. history.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then (as an undergrad)?
I wish I knew that writing a dissertation would be the amazingly difficult. As an undergraduate, I have a very romanticized notion of the life of college professors, this real hard work it is demanding, but the finishing line isn’t too, too far for all of us. It is very possible to make it.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?
My top three tips for students interested in applying to UT-Austin’s graduate program in African and African Diaspora Studies is to do your homework on the faculty,make sure that find 3 to 4 faculty members whose research interests align with yours, contact current graduate students talk to us about how the program has been going, and also look at other faculty members in other Departments, develop a strong campus-wide network of support for your work.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it?  Would you recommend research for undergrads?
Yes, as a McNair Scholar I worked on a research project in the History Department which gave me a first-hand experience on how to conduct research with primary sources. I was researching on racial discourses, police violence, notions of masculinity on Mexican students in the 1968 Student Movement in Mexico City. Yes, I would most absolutely recommend research for undergraduates as a starting point to get a fell of what to expect in graduate school. Research is also useful skill to have for even careers outside of the academy.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself in the classroom for the rest of my life. I want to teach. I want to write essays, articles, and books. I want to keep doing research. I want to ideally be back home in Brooklyn, New York doing all of these things. Ideally, I would see myself teaching at a predominantly black and latinx college or University.


William H. Mosley, III
wm
Graduate Program: Ph.D., African and African Diaspora Studies with a Portfolio in Women’s and Gender Studies, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation Topic: Gender, Labor, and Performance in Black Fiction, Music, and Quotidian Life

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., English and Biology, Amherst College – Amherst, MA

What is the topic of your research? Can you tell us a bit about your research?
The (working) title of my dissertation is “Gender, Labor, and Performance in Black Fiction, Music, and Quotidian Life.” I approach contemporary examples of Black art and life through a Black feminist/Black queer studies lens, then I seek out historical progenitors of these examples’ aesthetic and performative choices to build a genealogy of Black queer/feminist expression.

Where are you in your program sequence and what is that like? (i.e., if you are in a Ph.D.  program, are you doing coursework, in candidacy, etc.; if you are in an M.A.  program, are you doing coursework, working on a thesis, etc.)
I just completed coursework this Spring and am currently preparing to take my Qualification Exams. For the Phd program in AADS this is a two-part exam. First, I have to develop three syllabi for undergraduate courses I would teach as a professor. My committee will pick one of the syllabi and I will have to explain my reasoning behind its construction and defend my pedagogical choices. At a later date is the Prospectus defense, the second part of the QEs. This can take the form of a 20-30 minute presentation of the scope of my dissertation in front of my committee and peers. I am scheduled to take my QEs in the Fall of 2017.

What is the most interesting thing about your graduate program?
As a scholar of Black feminisms and Black queer studies, there are few places in the world that can support my scholarship in as consummate a way as AADS does. This institution houses the highest number of Black queer scholars in the country, whose work not only advances the field but actively redefines it. I actually could not be in a more suitable environment to do the work that I do.

What can you tell me about life as a graduate student?
I am a firm believer that “balance” is a myth and try to roll with the punches. Mostly because graduate school can look like writing for 7 hours a day for a week, or participating in department-sponsored events across campus, or reading and annotating books for 3 weeks straight. That being said, I break things up into manageable parts and make everything into a “goal” which, upon completion, I try to “reward” myself by going to the gym, cleaning my house, or making plans. It’s a good way to stay motivated, productive, and positive even when the work piles on!

How about graduate school activities, what is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
Good question. I’m a creature of habit in the morning, so I start the day with a big breakfast and a strong Cuban coffee. After that I typically get right into the tasks of the day, whether that be reading, writing, or annotating. From here I’ll break up my day by going to the gym and taking a lunch break. Then the second shift starts which involves less intellectually strenuous work such as emailing, lesson planning, or going to some department-sponsored event around town. I’m usually in bed early reading something in bed just for fun (as if reading all day is not enough!).

Do you currently have a TA, GA, GRA or AI role? What is that like? What do you do?
I was on fellowship this year. I have worked as a TA for almost a dozen courses in the English department, but this was the first year I got to focus on my academics. I got to make my own schedule which was nice. I found that I am naturally a self started and even if I don’t have deadlines, I will make some up just to keep myself on my toes!

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then (as an undergrad)?
My undergraduate years were spent exploring, taking chances, making mistakes, and growing in ways I think needed to happen before I could become the person I am today. If anything, I wish I had taken more chances. Though, to be fair, I did quite a bit of that!

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Talk to current graduate students. We’re usually accessible by email.
  2. Also, be in a place where you are willing to commit to the intellectually intense and fast-paced nature of this program. It is possible, but it is not for everyone.
  3. Last, make sure you love your project. While the program is demanding, it is a supportive space for projects that align with the philosophies that make this department what it is.


Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it?  Would you recommend research for undergrads?
As a senior at Amherst College I spent a year researching the connections between speculative fiction and slave narratives. Up until then I was a Victorianist, but the research was so exciting that I decided then and there I would explore graduate school as an option.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Either in a tenure-track position in a Black Studies or English department, writing freelance, or working as a talking head on a television show.

Return to the top of this page

____________________________________________________________

American Studies

Faculty

Dr. Randolph Lewis
lewis

Academic Background: Ph.D., American Studies and B.A., History Honors - The University of Texas at Austin

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I had mentors like HRC director Tom Staley and the late historian Bob Crunden who made a life of the mind seem important and appealing. But as a first-generation college student, I was often in the dark about what to expect. I couldn’t even explain the concept to my grandfather, an East Texas logger with a third grade education.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
Then as now, I was interested in the collision of film and politics. As Americans become ever more “mediated” in relation to various screen-based technologies, it seemed to me that film studies allowed me to get at some fundamental questions about contemporary life. Then in graduate school I had the good fortune of coming across the political filmmaker Emile de Antonio. That led to dissertation, and eventually a book, about a remarkable artist who imagined a different way of representing the reality of our country.

What is your area of specialization?
As a scholar and sometimes filmmaker working at the intersection of American Studies and Cinema Studies, I focus on the documentary tradition, indigenous media, and the relationship of art and politics in the US. Simply put, I have a fundamental interest in the politics of creative expression.

What topics do you teach at UT?
My major teaching fields are Film Studies, Media Studies, and American cultural history in the twentieth century. I enjoy teaching lecture courses like “Main Currents in American Culture” as well as small seminars such as “The Politics of Creativity” and a new signature course called “Cinema of Subversion.”

What is your current research focus?
After having published the first book devoted to an indigenous filmmaker (Alanis Obomsawin: The Vision of a Native Filmmaker) in 2006, I am continuing to write about indigenous media for reasons both intellectual and political. My current book project, Navajo Talking Picture: Cinema on Native Ground, examines the intersection of cinema and Navajo culture over the past hundred years, moving across nearly a century of southwestern cinema. It provides a new way of thinking about the Western at the same time that it explores new trends in Native American cinema.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by American Studies scholars in the U.S. or around the world?
American Studies scholars have been hotly debating questions related to race, identity, transnationalism, and globalization for more than a decade. The next challenge is figuring out how to transfer the insights of our discipline to the broader public. At a time when our country seems to have lost its way, American Studies might provide insights and answers about who we are and who we might aspire to be.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate? And would you recommend research for undergrads
Yes, I completed a senior thesis in the History Honors program about the concept of generation in the novels of Evelyn Waugh. . I recommend participating in research, as it gives you a small taste of graduate school. If a senior thesis seems like bitter medicine to you, then grad school will probably be toxic. If, on the other hand, you enjoy the experience, then grad school might be enjoyable.

What makes a good grad student?
Creativity, diligence, and patience. A blend of persistence and flexibility. A desire to understand the world in order to change it. Ingenuity in the face of bureaucratic indifference.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to an American Studies graduate program?

  1. Show us that you can write well because the admissions committee reads the writing samples with great care.
  2. In addition, students should visit the department in person---no one should join a department at which they haven’t met the faculty.
  3. Finally, applicants need to make a plausible case for what they hope to accomplish and with whom they intend to study. Too many applications are silent about such details. Explain precisely who you want to work with and why, and remember that it’s possible to change direction later.

What are the top five American Studies graduate programs in the US?
Yale University, University of Minnesota, Brown University, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and of course UT, which has long been considered one of the top two or three graduate programs in American Studies.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
An interdisciplinary degree from a program that puts a premium on good writing and original thinking is strong preparation for a number of jobs in publishing, filmmaking, museums, journalism, and academia.


Dr. Shirley Thompson
st


Academic Background: Ph.D., History of American Civilization and A.M. & A.B., History, Harvard University – Cambridge, MA

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I enjoyed the conversations I was having among peers and scholars in the university setting and wanted a career that would allow me to have thought-provoking discussions on a regular basis. I recently found a picture of myself as a seven-year-old wearing a T-shirt that says “I Love School.” I think that sums it up!

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
My dissertation was called “The Passing of a People.” It was a cultural history of 19th century New Orleans that used the identities and experiences of French-speaking free people of African descent (Creoles of color) as a lens for thinking about race, language and gender in the city, nation, and Atlantic world more broadly. I eventually published it as Exiles at Home: The Struggle to Become American in Creole New Orleans (Harvard, 2009).

What is your area of specialization?
Both American Studies and African American/African Diaspora Studies are interdisciplinary areas of study which means they are driven by research questions rather than a strict adherence to any particular disciplinary methodology. For example, if I am interested in the experience and legacy of slavery, I will consider (and attempt to analyze) plantation ledgers, slave testimony, fictional accounts of slavery and mastery, landscapes of slavery as they existed in the past (as plantations, for example) and as they continue to exist in the present (as prisons or universities, for example). This is not to say that we do not respect the more discrete fields of history, literary criticism, sociology, architecture and planning, ethnomusicology etc. Rather, we try to forge connections among them and to critique their limitations when appropriate.

What is your current research focus?
I am currently in the early stages of a project which traces out some of the legacies of slavery for African American encounters with property and ownership. Specifically, it explores the interwoven concepts of race and property value from the vantage point of African American historical memory, political economy, and expressive culture. This project is situated at the intersection of legal and economic discourses; it seeks its evidence in literature and performance, material and expressive culture, things and ideas. The project draws on the methodologies of cultural history, literary criticism, performance studies, ethnography, and critical theory.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by American Studies scholars in the U.S. or around the world?
American Studies scholars weigh in on a wide range of topics, from the politics of incarceration to land use to social networking to the battle over immigration. The “War on Terror” and an Obama-esque politics of “post-racialism” have served as a springboard for some charged debates in our field. In general, American Studies scholars have been particularly insightful in highlighting the ways in which cultural matters (such as music, sports, food, style, religion, etc.) intersect with those that are traditionally understood as strictly political or economic matters. In particular, American Studies scholars have tended to focus on the broader politics of race, gender, class, and sexuality in the U.S. Also, in the last ten to fifteen years, scholars in our field have begun to think more critically about how the national identity and national interests of the U.S. have played out and continue to play out globally in the context of transnational economic and political systems.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate? And would you recommend research for undergrads
I wrote a number of 25-30 page research papers as an undergraduate, but my most significant project was my senior thesis, “’Born in Strife, But Indestructible’: The Battle of the AME Bishops and the Founding of St. Paul Community Church, Harlem.” When all was said and done, it was about 5 chapters long, 120 pages or so. It was based on sermons and other church records I found in the basement of my late grandfather who had been a minister in Harlem and who had followed African-American migrants from South Carolina to New York City. I was able to situate the church he founded in the 1940s in the larger context of African-American migration, urban culture, race and class in the World War II era, and African American theology. The process was grueling but rewarding: a great opportunity to learn about my family history and the deep history of a vibrant neighborhood. I would definitely recommend extensive research projects for undergrads. It takes more than a semester (or the couple of weeks at the end of a semester) to really immerse oneself in a project.

What topics do you teach at UT?
My grad and undergrad level courses have included: US Cultural History to 1865; Atlantic Slavery in History and Memory; Black Representations of the South; Property in American Culture; France, America, and the Problem of Race.

What makes a good grad student?
The best graduate students are both systematic in their attempt to build a body of knowledge and curious enough to pursue idiosyncrasies.

  • They are able to take constructive criticism.
  • They have enough stamina for the long haul.
  • They love to write. The only way to complete grad school is to write your way out!

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to an American Studies graduate program?

  1. Research faculty interests in programs you are applying to. Make sure there are people whose interests correspond to some extent with yours. Do not hesitate to contact them to get a sense of how they will be as mentors and how the program in general will serve your needs. In addition to impressing the admissions committee with your engagement with and knowledge of our program, you want to make sure you land in a place that is right for you.
  2. Apply for external fellowships (such as the FordNSF, etc.) at the same time you are applying for admission. External funding will give you more flexibility and will often put you in touch with a community of scholars beyond your particular program.
  3. The graduate school personal statement serves a different purpose than the personal statement in an undergraduate application. While your personality and experience should come through in the statement, the admissions committee is much more interested in your sense of the field, particular projects you have in mind (if any), and why you think our program is the best fit for you.

What are the top American Studies graduate programs in the US?
American Studies and African-American Studies Programs are not officially ranked, but I would say (in no particular order), for American Studies: The University of Texas at Austin; the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; Harvard University; Yale University; and the University of Minnesota. Also in no particular order, for African American/African Diaspora Studies: The University of Texas at Austin; Princeton University; Duke University; Northwestern University; and Harvard University.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
This varies widely. Those with American Studies degrees are professors in fields ranging from American Studies to Communication to History to English, creative writers, singer/songwriters, archivists, editors, engaged in museum and curatorial work, and public historians among other professions.


pl
Dr. Nhi Lieu

Academic Background: Ph.D. and M.A., American Culture, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, MI; B.A., History and Women’s Studies, University of California – San Diego, CA

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
Originally, I went to college to seek a professional degree but when one of my undergraduate professors told me about graduate school, I was drawn to the idea of pursuing a career that allowed me to research, write, and think critically. Academia has continued to provide me these opportunities.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
My intellectual pursuits emerged from my interests in history and culture and my personal desire to comprehend the dynamism of the contemporary world that surrounded me. This is what motivated me to study and theorize the present along with the competing narratives of memory, notions of identity, and political dimensions of culture that characterizes our times. For my dissertation, I analyzed various forms of popular culture such as live music variety shows and videos, beauty pageants, Internet websites, and other cultural forms created by and for the Vietnamese audiences to examine how sites of culture contributed meaningfully to our understanding of the ways in which ethnic identity is constructed, negotiated, mediated, and re-fashioned. Writing to counter existing narratives that pathologize Vietnamese subjects as traumatized refugees, my work argued that the formation of identity for Vietnamese Americans must be viewed through a series of previously neglected sites of popular culture because these sites are repositories of memory and desire for subjects of the Vietnamese Diaspora.

What is your area of specialization?
My field examines culture, history, politics, and social and economic forces affecting the Americas through an interdisciplinary lens. I was trained in cultural, ethnic, and media studies so I examine every subject of study through the prism of race, class, gender, and sexuality.

What topics do you teach at UT?
U.S. cultural history, ethnicity and popular culture, immigration and consumer culture, Asian American studies, theories on transnationalism and Diaspora, gender and beauty culture.

What is your current research focus?
I just completed a book project that was a revision of my dissertation topic on Vietnamese popular culture and the construction of identity. I am currently working on a new project on gender, globalization, and beauty practices.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by American Studies scholars in the U.S. or around the world?
Transnationalism, globalization, neoliberalism. Debates about Citizenship. Race, ethnicity, and immigration issues. War and the Middle East, American imperialism. Current events inspire new investigations.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
Yes. I did research projects every summer. I applied for fellowships and research assistantships that enabled me to work for and with professors who mentored me and helped me develop my own research interests.

What makes a good grad student?
One needs to be very committed for many years; loves to learn but has the humility to be challenged intellectually; and has patience to endure the life in pursuit of knowledge for knowledge sake. The rewards in this field are NOT monetary.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to an American Studies graduate program?

  1. Learn as much as you can about the program and the faculty you are likely to work with. Make sure there is a fit. If you want to study something that the program doesn’t offer or specialize in, chances are, you will not be accepted because no one will be able to work with you.
  2. Communicate—be prepared to express yourself intellectually on paper, by email, etc. Demonstrate your ability to thrive in a rigorous environment.
  3. Be open to new experiences, challenges, disappointments.

What are the top American Studies graduate programs in the US?
It really depends on what you want to study but this is a general ranking: University of Southern California, American Studies and Ethnicity; Yale University; University of New York; University of Minnesota; University of Michigan; and The University of Texas at Austin.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Academia (teaching at liberal arts colleges, research universities, state schools, or community colleges), journalism, law, museum work, public works, community organizations, consulting work for various topics of cultural, social, political relevance.

Graduate Students

 
wright
Allison Wright

 Graduate Program: Ph.D., American Studies, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation Topic: Cheerleading in American Culture

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., English, cum laude, Trinity University – San Antonio, TX

What is life like for an American studies graduate student?
PhD candidacy is a period composed largely of unstructured time. This is both positive and negative. To be a successful graduate student requires discipline; when days present themselves without a built-in schedule, the opportunity for procrastination is great. It is very easy to prioritize socializing over schoolwork. However, balance is key. In my first official meeting as an American Studies graduate student, the graduate advisor at the time ended our meeting by telling me that I shouldn’t forget to have a life. Austin is a fabulous city in which to do so. What this means, though, is that maintaining focus and staying goal-oriented are vital to finding the balance between work and play.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The American Studies program at UT is full of talented, creative people who research and write about the history and culture of the United States from often-unexpected angles. It is undoubtedly the most supportive environment of which I have ever been a part.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
My dissertation is an examination of cheerleading in American culture. Broadly speaking, I argue that popular cultural representations of cheerleaders are connected to larger social movements throughout the history of the United States. It is not a coincidence, for example, that in the immediate aftermath of the passage of Title IX and during a second wave of feminist action, we see a literal killing off of cheerleader characters in literature and film.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence? 
I am in candidacy. (Past the qualifying oral exam but before the dissertation defense.)

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
While I am not currently serving as a Teaching Assistant or Assistant Instructor, I have held both of these positions in the past. The former is less time-consuming, allows for a sharp focus on your own coursework, but also less engagement with students since your job consists mostly of grading assignments and holding review sessions. The latter- serving as an AI- proved to be an exciting and rewarding experience for me. The ability to create my own courses, serve as the primary instructor, lead seminars, and engage with students in meaningful ways is unmatched in my years as a graduate student. Teaching is often time-consuming and doesn’t always leave room for research and writing, especially the first couple of years – this is when a strong dedication to priorities is important – but it is a skill that will serve you well if a career in higher education is your goal.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
As an undergraduate, expectations were clear: go to class, read books, study, take tests, write papers. While American Studies graduate coursework looks a lot like this from the outside, it is an exercise in self-motivation. Going to class, doing the reading – that’s all up to you as the student. There are no tests (to speak of). The writing usually comes in the form of lengthy end-of-semester seminar papers. Graduate school is a marathon, not a sprint. And it’s a marathon that repeats itself every semester.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Do your research. Know the differences between the various American Studies graduate programs. One of them might serve your interests better than another.
  2. Visit as many campuses and programs as possible to get an idea of fit.
  3. Apply for as many types of funding as humanly possible as often as possible.

What websites would you tell a friend interested in American studies to check out?
There are two “interesting” websites to which I would direct those interested in American Studies. The first is …And Everyday Life, an American Studies blog whose contributors are all professors (a number of whom are UT alumni). They write about American culture and its emphasis on how cultural expressions “change our understandings of race, class, age, gender and sexuality, and vice versa.” The second is The Lazy Scholar, a site devoted to “introduc[ing] students, educators, and others interested in American Studies to the incredible wealth of archival material that can be found online.”

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Ten years from now I’d like to be an Associate Professor, teaching and writing in a supportive academic environment not unlike the department in which I’ve trained.


covey
Eric Covey

Graduate Program: Ph.D., American Studies, The University of Texas at Austin;Research Interests: Mercenaries, Soldiers of Fortune, and the United States in Africa

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., American Studies, The University of California – Davis, CA

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
My typical day as a graduate student is never typical. Some days I spend eight hours grading undergraduate papers. Others I read and write from when I wake up to when I go to bed. Most of the time I am drinking a lot of coffee, while trying to stay in shape and not go crazy. It turns out that grad students love winter and summer breaks as much as undergrads! That's when we carry out a lot of our own research, and if we're lucky we relax a little so we can mentally prepare for the next semester.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The coolest thing about the graduate program in American Studies at UT is the wide range of things that the professors and graduate students study. We write about everything from photography to barbecue to immigrant life in the Americas.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
I write about mercenaries, soldiers of fortune, and private military contractors in Africa. I am interested in the ways in which violence circulates between the United States and Africa.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad?
As an undergraduate, I wrote a senior thesis about In-N-Out Burger, a popular Southern California fast-food chain. My advisor was Carolyn de la Peña, who got her PhD in American Studies here at UT in 2001.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I arrived in Texas in August 2006 and spent my first two years at UT taking graduate courses and writing a report in order to earn my MA. After that, I took one more semester of coursework, and then had three semesters to read 300 books divided into four subject areas. That was followed by a two-hour comprehensive oral examinations with four professors. Now I am writing a prospectus, which explains what my dissertation will be about.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I currently work as a TA in Aerospace Engineering, a grader in Pharmacy, and as an assistant for a Professor in the Center for Women's and Gender Studies.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
I don't think I had the normal undergrad experience, since I was 32 when I got my BA. The most obvious difference to me has been the level of commitment required. It seems like I spend the bulk of my waking hours doing "grad school stuff." That probably isn't for everyone, but I enjoy it.

Do you have a tip for students interested in applying to a program like yours?
Start preparing early. It takes time to research schools, prepare for the GRE, and make an informed decision about your future. It's the only future you have, and it's worth it.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In ten years, I'd like to be working as an associate professor at a university on the west coast. But I'll be happy if I am living someplace with lots of public lands and able to pay my bills.

Do you have a grad school survival tip you would like to share?
You'll meet people in grad school who you will know for the rest of your life and with whom you will share important bonds. Cherish them.

Return to the top of this page

____________________________________________________________

Anthropology

Faculty

Dr. Chris Kirk

Academic Background: Ph.D., Biological Anthropology and Anatomy, Duke University – Durham, NC; B.A. Anthropology, The University of Texas at Austin

Field of Anthropology: Physical Anthropology

Areas of Specialization: Primate Adaptations and Evolution

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
As I neared the end of my time as an undergrad, I knew that I still wanted to know much more about physical anthropology. The opportunity to conduct my own research was appealing, and I particularly liked the idea of entering a profession in which I would constantly be learning new things. After graduating, I spent the summer working at a 10 million year old fossil site in Turkey and I was hooked.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
I studied three questions related to primate vision:

  1. How is activity pattern (nocturnality, diurnality, etc.) related to the evolution of different eye morphologies?
  2. How does increased or decreased visual "input" to the brain influence total brain size?
  3. What does the bony anatomy of the orbit (eye socket) reveal about the visual adaptations of fossil primates?

What topics do you teach at UT?
I currently teach three classes - Introduction to Physical Anthropology, Primate Sensory Ecology, and Evolutionary Anatomy of the Head and Neck.

What is your current research focus at UT?
I'm currently involved in several different research projects. First, I'm examining the relationship between the anatomy of the inner ear and hearing abilities in mammals. The goal is to be able to reconstruct the hearing abilities of fossil species, and ultimately relate these differences to ecological factors. Secondly, I'm studying the intrinsic proportions of the hand in a large sample of primates in order to better understand the evolution of manual prehension. Thirdly, I'm working at a 44 million year old site in west Texas to recover fossil primates. Several of the primates from this locality are new species, so I'm working to describe them and better understand their phylogenetic (evolutionary) relationships.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by scholars of physical anthropology in the U.S. or around the world?
There is a lot of discussion right now about how to interpret two recently described fossil skeletons. Darwinius masillae is a 45 million year old fossil primate from Germany. The authors claim that this species is a relative of monkeys, apes, and humans, but most previous work on similar fossil primates strongly suggests that they are more closely related to lemurs and lorises. Similarly, Ardipithecus ramidus is a 4.4 million year old fossil hominid from Ethiopia. The authors claim that Ardipithecus was bipedal when not in the trees, but the functional implications of its lower limb anatomy have not yet been fully studied. In both cases, additional research is needed to help resolve the debate.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
The summer after my freshman year, I helped a grad student in Archeology excavate an Anasazi site in Arizona for his thesis work. In my junior year, I began working on a curriculum project to develop computer based labs for physical anthropology. I was also lucky enough to be invited to participate in paleontological research in Turkey the summer after I graduated. All three of these experiences were vital in helping me to decide (1) that I wanted to go to grad school and (2) what I wanted to study. I absolutely encourage undergrads to get involved in research that interests them, particularly if they are considering going to graduate school.

What makes a good grad student?
Many qualities make a good grad student, but four very important factors are: intelligence, creativity, persistence, and intellectual curiosity.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to physical anthropology programs?

  1. Apply for an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. If you get one, you'll be fabulously rich (at least by grad student standards) and you won't have to TA for three years. That's a lot of free time to focus on your thesis research...
  2. Contact the faculty members that you are interested in working with before you apply. This step will help you decide whether the two of you would be compatible in a student / advisor relationship. It will also let that faculty member know to take a careful look at your application.
  3. Do your homework about the graduate programs to which you are applying. We regularly receive applications from prospective students who clearly have no idea what range of research interests are represented in our department. Nearly all of these applications are rejected.

What are the top five physical anthropology graduate programs in the US?
It depends on the sub-specialty. UT has a well-rounded physical anthropology Ph.D. program that's either top 10 or top 5, depending on your interests. For paleoanthropology, Stony Brook University, Arizona State University, and George Washington University have excellent programs. For primate behavior and ecology, Stony Brook and the University of Wisconsin-Madison are excellent. Other very good and well-rounded graduate programs include Wash U in St. Louis, the University of Michigan, Harvard University, UC Davis, and the University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the physical anthropology program?
Most alumni pursue careers in academia. However, some morphologists get jobs in museums, and some behavioral ecologists go into conservation.


Dr. Brian Stross

Academic Background: Ph.D. & B.A., Anthropology, The University of California at Berkley

Field of Anthropology: Linguistic Anthropology

Area of Specialization: Indigenous peoples and languages of Mesoamerica; language, culture, & society; and ethnobiology, ethnomedicine, & foodways

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
Beginning with the first social anthropology course that I took at UC Berkeley, I came to appreciate anthropology, for methods (participant observation based ethnography), for concepts (e.g. culture, society, language in culture), and for the results (various ethnography/community studies); so I majored in anthropology and never looked back. After getting my B.A., there was so much more to learn about the subject that I continued on for a doctoral degree.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
The topic was part of a cross-cultural study of language acquisition in which colleagues looked variously at acquisition in Western Samoa, with Luos in Kenya, and Afro-Americans in Oakland, California. I studied Tzeltal speakers in Chiapas, Mexico, resulting in a dissertation titled Aspects of Language Acquisition by Tzeltal Mayan Children.

What topics do you teach at UT?
I have taught many different courses during the 40 years that I have been teaching at UT Austin, and the ones that I currently teach most often are: Language, Culture, and Society (325m), Culture and Communication (307), Introduction to Graduate Lingustic Anthropology (392n), Indians of Mexico and Guatemala (322m), Food for Thought and Discourse: the Anthropology of Food (393), and Ethnobotany: the Anthropology of Plants.

Can you tell us more about your areas of specialization?
My areas of specialization fall into three interrelated parts, one geographic and two topical; 1) indigenous peoples and languages of Mesoamerica 2) language, culture, and society 3) ethnobiology, ethnomedicine, and foodways. The first and second are combined in a special interest in Maya epigraphy and iconography, the second and third are combined in a special interest in discourse, naming, and classification as approaches to ethnobiology, ethnomedicine, and foodways, and the first and third are combined in a special interest in Mayan ethnobiology, ethnomedicine, and foodways. My approach to all three areas of specialization is through the notion of communicative practices with an emphasis on the importance of context.

What is your current research focus at UT?
I am currently conducting research on several different topics. These include: nomenclature and naming practices (in which I observe naming behavior in natural settings, ask people to name things in some contrived settings, and investigate what sorts of things names can tell us about the people who use them); the cultural importance of seats and sitting (a project initiated with the study of an armadillo shaped stone sculpture that I identified as a seat, and that induced me to think about how sitting and seats are related to the various cultures in which they have been described –mostly library research, but augmented by ethnographic observation in Austin, TX); colors and Tzeltal Mayan color terminology (here I am attempting to contextualize and then theorize about some Tzeltal Mayan color terms); famine foods (in this project I am trying to understand the category of famine foods and to get some detailed ethnographic information about some famine foods in general, and some specific famine foods in and around Austin, TX); sustainable horticulture (this project seeks to develop means by which plants and animals in limited space can be used intensively and efficiently to feed, clothe, and house people while cleaning the air around them).

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by scholars of linguistic anthropology in the U.S. or around the world?
There are many linguistic anthropologists, each with their own notion of what are the hottest topics being discussed in their fields. For me some of the ones that I see as currently being discussed in a variety of ways in several scholarly venues are: endangered languages; language origins and evolution; the notion of context; language ideology, language universals and language exceptions; the relation of thought to language. These topics are actually recurrent ones, and interrelated by such questions as how our language influences our perception of the world around us, how children come to use language appropriately as well as grammatically, how our personalities and identities are influenced by our language(s), how language is used by others for control (both social and psychological), how language relates to multiculturalism and transnational migration, what the mechanisms are that are responsible for language change.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
As an undergraduate I participated in field archaeological research on Early Horizon inhabitants of central California under the supervision of Robert Heizer and museum research on Middle Horizon pottery technology on the central coast of Peru (Ancón and Nievería). I would definitely recommend this kind of hands on training as a crucial part of the undergraduate experience.

As a graduate student I participated in a study of basic color terms, in the development of a cross cultural handbook for studying language acquisition and speech socialization, and in a study of human interaction in Jalisco, Mexico. Such graduate level experience was even more important for my academic trajectory than was the undergraduate experience.

What makes a good grad student?
Enthusiasm to learn is important, as well as interest in each of the subjects one is taking. Diligence in doing homework and writing papers, and intelligent participation in seminar discussions are also important. Having personal contact with one’s professors and with other graduate students that have similar or related interests is a good way of generating and maintaining motivation.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to linguistic anthropology programs?

  1. Have a good idea of what you are interested in studying, and be able to say something intelligent about it.
  2. Prepare well for the Graduate Record Exam, focusing on the Verbal and the Quantitative sections.
  3. Visit our campus and speak with our linguistic anthropology faculty and some current graduate students.

What are the top five linguistic anthropology graduate programs in the US?
This is a highly subjective judgment, one that few people are in a position to base on recent comparative experience. So my judgment will be founded on personal evaluations of faculty numbers and quality as well as the personal and subjective evaluations gleaned from colleagues. Here is one version of the top five:

  1. University of Texas at Austin
  2. University of California at Los Angeles
  3. Indiana University
  4. University of Arizona
  5. University of Toronto (so close to the US let’s include it).

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the anthropology program?
When possible, our graduates usually pursue careers in the academic world, teaching Linguistic Anthropology, Linguistics, or Social Anthropology.


Dr. Elizabeth Keating

Academic Background: Ph.D., Anthropology, The University of California at Los Angeles; B.A., English, The University of California at Berkeley

Field of Anthropology: Linguistic Anthropology

Areas of Specialization: Impacts of Science and Technology on Society, Language and Power, Language and Gender, Multimodality

What made you decide to go to graduate school?

As an undergraduate I became very interested in language and how clever and versatile people are at using language to create the worlds we inhabit. It’s hard to imagine culture or society without language, a tool of great beauty that is also used to maintain and justify social systems, including social inequalities. I became very interested in understanding the diversity of human systems and cultures, and I think anthropology is one of the most exciting disciplines of study.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?

I studied how people use a particular feature of language, called ‘honorifics,’ to create social inequalities moment-by-moment in interactions with others. Honorifics are ways of grammatically marking status differences. To do my research I went to a small island in Micronesia where the language had this particular feature and I studied the language and the culture there, particularly the role of language in creating and maintaining hierarchy and social stratification.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
The research I participated in as an undergraduate was connected to class projects, and was a type of fieldwork. For example, in a historical archaeology class I studied changes in gravestone designs over time in several churchyards, which can give some indication of changing belief systems, and I did a project in a folklore class collecting verbal art forms. I highly recommend research as a great way to get involved with discovery, to see the patterns of everyday human expressive forms, and to learn methods for interpreting what we see and hear.

What topics do you currently teach at UT?

I teach courses in Culture and Communication and courses on the impacts of science and technology on society.

After coming to UT I continued to study the role of language in creating systems of inequality, and I also began to do research in the Austin Deaf community with the help of a deaf PhD student. We studied another aspect of language, how it is shaped by new technologies. We looked at how the Deaf community in Austin in 1999 and 2000 was adapting sign language to be used with a new (at that time) communication technology, webcameras, and for the first time they were able to communicate with sign language to friends and family located in different parts of Austin and the world. For a person like me interested in language, a visual language, sign language, was fascinating to learn and study. Through this project I became very involved in researching the role of new communication technologies in society and how people are affected by new technologies and new scientific innovations.

What is your current research focus at UT?

I am currently working on several projects, including a project studying engineers in Texas who are working on complex design projects with engineers in Eastern Europe and Asia, work collaborations only possible because of communication technologies. I have been studying online gaming and how students bring their computers together to game with others. This has consequences for communication and what it means to participate with others in activities. I am also involved in a project looking at aging and hearing loss, specifically how older people and those they regularly communicate with, can better adapt to hearing aid technologies.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by scholars of linguistic anthropology in the U.S. or around the world?
Linguistic anthropologists are very interested in how language shapes our ideas about ourselves and others, including how people discuss issues of immigration and globalization, and how language categorizes people, often in ways that maintains attitudes of prejudice and cultural value hierarchies. One hot topic is multimodality, that is, what part does the body, the face, and gesture play in communication and interpretation?

What makes a good grad student?
In my view the best graduate student has a passion for his or her subject and works hard with a mixture of pleasure, determination, persistence, and open-mindedness. In anthropology you also often have to be able to tolerate unpredictable fieldwork conditions, and work with a wide range of people.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to anthropology programs?

  1. Read widely in current anthropology literature, including ethnographies and journal articles in the anthropology journals, and interviews with anthropologists.
  2. Think about some possible fieldwork sites in other parts of the world.
  3. Hone your writing skills and analytical skills, the latter by discussing current global issues from the point of view of other cultural groups.

What are the top five linguistic anthropology graduate programs in the US?

  1. The University of California at Los Angeles
  2. The University of Texas at Austin
  3. The University of Chicago
  4. The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor
  5. The University of Pennsylvania

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the anthropology program?

Generally people teach at the college or university level. However, there are opportunities in the private and public sector for people who are experts in culture and communication and issues of cross-cultural communication.


ra
Dr. Enrique R. Rodríguez-Alegría

Academic Background: M.A. & Ph.D., Anthropology, University of Chicago – Chicago, IL; B.A., Anthropology-Archaeological Studies, The University of Texas at Austin

Field of Anthropology: Archaeology

Areas of Specialization: Archaeology, History, Ethnohistory, Mesoamerica, the Spanish empire in Latin America, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Archaeometry, Colonialism, Religious Conversion, and Food

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I wanted to be an archaeologist, and it’s a lot easier to be one if you have a PhD, although you can certainly find work as an archaeologist with a BA or an MA.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
My dissertation was about the use of indigenous and imported material culture (especially ceramics) among Spanish colonizers in sixteenth-century Mexico City. I wanted to understand whether colonizers uniformly rejected indigenous material culture or not, and why.

What topics do you teach at UT?
I teach Introduction to Archaeology, Introduction to Mesoamerica, Colonial Latin America, Technology and Society, and Food.

What is your current research focus at UT?
I currently research the changes and continuities in the use of material culture in colonial Mexico. I am interested in the relationship between power and the adoption of material goods for display, and also on technological change. The extensive literature on acculturation, defined roughly as cultural change that takes place when two different cultures meet, has been critiqued repeatedly for leaving issues of power unexamined. In my work I seek to understand how material culture was involved in struggles for power between colonizers and colonized, and also in struggles of power within those two largely heterogeneous categories. I focus on colonial Mexico in comparison with the Caribbean and other areas in Latin America.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by archaeologists in the U.S. or around the world?
There are many hot topics right now. I would say that archaeology and the public is very hot. Archaeologists are trying to create ways of collaborating with local communities and descendant communities to clarify the goals of their archaeological projects and also to make their research goals mesh with the interests of local communities. Also, archaeologists are trying to figure out ways of having a positive impact on society. Some archaeologists feel that it should be a science that is free of social interests and political biases; whereas others feel that we have the potential of affecting society in a positive manner. This has caused interesting debate and dialogue in the past several years. Other than that, anything having to do with gender, ethnicity, or race is hot.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
Yes, undergraduates should get involved in research projects. They should go on archaeological excavations if at all possible. It’ll be fun, and they will learn a lot of skills they can use in graduate school or in an archaeology job if they choose to go right into the job market after graduation. As an undergraduate I participated in archaeological excavations in Puerto Rico.

As an archaeology student, did you do any fieldwork?
Yes. As a student I went on several archaeological excavations in
Puerto Rico, the United States, and Mexico. It was great fun.

What makes a good grad student?
Good graduate students should be creative, open minded, interested, interesting, and organized. They should have initiative, try to find projects to get into, try to find sources of funding, and work on publications. Being active is the best way to succeed as a graduate student.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to archaeology programs?

  1. Write a good statement of purpose.
  2. Seek advice from your professors.
  3. If you are interested in working with specific faculty, only write to them if you have specific questions. Asking them what their research is about is not a specific question. Asking them if they will be taking students next year is a specific question. Students are being encouraged more and more to write to faculty, but it really makes very little difference in whether they get accepted or not.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the archaeology program?
For the most part, alumni work either in higher education or the work in private archaeology firms. Both career paths can be very rewarding and very interesting. It is good to have some experience in working for the private sector and in teaching, so that students can keep their career options open for the future.


Dr. Deborah Bolnick

Academic Background: Ph.D. & M.A., Anthropology, University of California – Davis; B.A., Anthropology, Yale University – New Haven, CT

Areas of Specialization: Genomic anthropology, ancient DNA, human biological variation, race, population genetics, Native American prehistory, anthropology of science

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
As an undergraduate, I was fascinated to learn that genetic data could be used to reconstruct human history. I was particularly interested in what genetics could tell us about Native American population history, and I wanted to learn how to analyze ancient DNA from prehistoric skeletal remains. Graduate training in anthropology was necessary for me to further explore these interests, so I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in this field. I also wanted to teach at the college level and knew that I could get the necessary training in graduate school.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
My dissertation examined mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome variation among extant and prehistoric Native Americans to reconstruct the biological prehistory of eastern North America. I also used the genetic data to test hypotheses about prehistoric migrations and population relationships that were formulated based on historical linguistics and the archaeological record.

What topics do you teach at UT?
I teach courses on Human Variation, Anthropological Genetics, Race and Science, and Human/Primate Evolutionary Genetics.

What is your current research focus at UT?
I am currently conducting research in two main areas. First, I study the patterns of human genetic variation and how they are shaped by culture, language, history, and geography. I also use both ancient and modern DNA to test archaeological, linguistic, and ethnohistorical hypotheses about Native American history and prehistory. 
Second, I am very interested in the emerging field of genetic ancestry research. I study what this research conveys regarding human evolutionary history, race/ethnicity, identity, and kinship. I am also investigating how the commercially available genetic ancestry tests influence and are influenced by contemporary American understandings of race, ethnicity, and identity.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by anthropology scholars in the U.S. or around the world?
One hot topic is centered around the concept of race and whether it is useful to consider racial categories when describing and interpreting human biological variation. This debate began decades ago, but there is still disagreement about whether “race” provides an accurate picture of human biological diversity. Scholars are also very interested now in how racism can affect human biology and disease.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
Yes, I participated in two research projects as an undergraduate. First, I studied human Y-chromosome variation in Britain and how the patterns of genetic variation were correlated with British cultural history. Second, I examined the effects of formalin fixation and desiccation on bone strain patterns in primate long bones. These research experiences were veryimportant: they taught me that I enjoyed research and they helped me focus my research interests before I applied to graduate school. I definitely think that undergraduates should participate in research, especially if they are interested in going to graduate school or teaching science.

What makes a good grad student?
A good graduate student is passionate about the subject (s)he wants to study, has intellectual curiosity, can think critically and creatively, and is capable of working independently.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to an anthropology graduate program?

  1. Communicate directly with potential advisors to help you decide whether they would be good advisors for you.
  2. Try to focus your interests (at least a little bit) before you prepare your application for graduate school, and write a substantive personal statement that explains your qualifications and interests. Be as specific as possible. For example, don’t just state your interest in physical anthropology or anthropological genetics. You should also give examples of specific research questions that you might like to pursue in graduate school and explain why they interest you.
  3. Apply for university and external fellowships (like the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship) whenever possible.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Most alumni pursue teaching and/or research careers at academic institutions. Some also work at museums, biotech companies, or conservation organizations.

Graduate Students

church

Krista Church

Graduate Program: M.A. & Ph.D., Physical Anthropology, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Paleoenvironmental Reconstruction of Hominin Environments in Plio-Pleistocene Africa

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Anthropology & B.S., Geography, University of Florida – Gainesville, FL

What is life like for an anthropology graduate student?
Austin is a wonderful city, but don’t expect to live the high life as a graduate student. Being a graduate student is not very glamorous, but it’s not quite an ascetic lifestyle either. We work very hard throughout most of the week, but still manage to schedule happy hours. I’ve made it downtown for concerts and revelry with my cohort every so often, but there have also been extreme bouts of studying and paper writing interspersed throughout the semester. Hence why time management is very important in grad school.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
Typically, I either walk or bike to campus from my apartment and arrive at my office by 9. My mornings usually consist of reading assigned articles for courses, as well as perusing outside articles from the main journals to keep current with the discipline. It’s very important for me to have a work-free lunchtime, so I usually try to get away from my desk for a half hour or so. Sometimes a group of grad students will wander over to Guadalupe to find something to eat, but usually I bring my lunch. I spend most of my time in the afternoon attending classes and teaching labs. I set Mondays aside to prepare lectures and complete grading for the lab sections that I teach for Introduction to Physical Anthropology. I usually leave campus around 6 to head home and make dinner. After dinner, I’ll work on upcoming projects (papers, research, etc.).

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
Since the physical branch only accepts students it can fund, there is an extremely low level of competition in our department. The competitive pressure that plagues other programs is virtually non-existent here. I’m not scared to discuss things with the others in my cohort, and I’ve gotten lots of sage advice from older students in the program. There is a very high degree of camaraderie within our group, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?

I am still trying to narrow down my MA thesis topic, but I have been involved in geochemical and methodological research combining vertebrate paleontology and physical anthropology. I am currently working on a faunal analysis of the craniodental micromammal remains from the hominin-bearing Eshkaft E-Gavi paleocave in Iran. My main research interests lie in the paleoenvironmental reconstruction of hominin environments in Plio-Pleistocene Africa. The past three summers I have been involved in paleoanthropological excavations in South Africa, and will be returning this summer for a fourth season.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I am currently completing coursework for my MA. This semester I took: Introduction to Graduate Physical Anthropology Core, Early Hominin Evolution and Paleoecology (with my advisor, Denné Reed), and Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy through the Biology department.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
This semester, I was a teaching assistant for Introduction to Physical Anthropology (ANT301). I was responsible for teaching 3 two-hour lab sections a week, grading the lab work that the students completed each week, and the grading of in-lecture exams. I honestly had a lot of fun teaching the class, and learned a great deal about what happens on the other side of the podium. Several of my students have expressed interest in learning more about physical anthropology and have asked for advice on how to break into the field. The ability to get people excited about my area of research is extremely rewarding.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
The classes are much smaller, usually less than 10 students. Because of this small class size, it is absolutely impossible to hide if you are unprepared. The dialogue that takes place in these classes is vital for scholarship and grading, so not participating is not an option.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
The best way to study for a test is to think like a professor. Provided the materials you’ve been assigned (readings, lectures, etc.), what are the most important points presented? What questions can the professor expect you to answer based on these points? What are the logistics of the way the test is structured? Keeping these issues in mind can help you synthesize the material better by looking at it from a holistic viewpoint, and possibly earn you a few more points on the exam.

Also, when you don’t know what you’re talking about (whether on a paper, an exam, or in real life), saying more usually doesn’t help your case.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Multidisciplinary coursework! Departments love to see a well rounded candidate. If you only take the bare minimum of classes required for a degree, you’re missing out on a broad array of subjects that could complement your studies. Take science classes until you’re blue in the face. I mean it, all of them. Biology, chemistry, physics: leave no science unstudied. You’ll thank me later. For physical anthropology specifically, additional coursework in geology and geography (especially GIS and remote sensing) is an asset.
  2. Research and fieldwork experience! Not only will it look good on your CV, it is a great way to identify if physical anthropology is right for you. There’s nothing like spending 3 months in the African savanna without regular showers (or 16 hours staring at teeny tiny teeth through a microscope) to figure out if you really want to do this for the rest of your life. Also, fieldwork is a great excuse to see the world and terrify your parents.
  3. Have a timeline/gameplan! Figure out the schools you want to apply to early on. Ask professors and other mentors in the field for suggestions, but know that this will be easier for both of you if you have a general idea of what you’re interested in studying. Once you figure out the where, formulate a plan to make sure that the when is all lined up. Make a checklist chart of when everything is due (letters or recommendation, your statement of purpose, test scores, transcripts, etc.) and cross things off when you do them. It will make the process much less stressful if you always know what to do and when to do it.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
As an undergrad, I was involved in several research projects. I completed a senior honors thesis on the application of paleontological preparation methods on a bioarchaeological collection and I was able to co-author two papers on the geochemical analysis of human bone found at a paleontological site in Florida, both housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History. These opportunities for research came through my involvement in the Anthropology and Paleontology collections at the museum. What started as an internship led to a part time job, which led to a research assistantship, which led to a full time job in the months between my graduation and enrollment at UT.

Research is absolutely essential for pursuing a career in academia. Undergraduate research is a great way to learn the process of research design and test the waters before you get in too deep. The sooner you start, the better!

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
Either Arizona State University or the Hominid Paleobiology program at George Washington University.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in anthropology to check out?
The American Anthropological Association (AAA) has a lot of useful resources for students, including field school and internship listings.

If you are planning on applying for graduate school, the Grad Café is a great way to connect with other students who are going through the same process or have survived it in the past. There’s even a specific forum for anthropology applicants. It’s a great way to hear the trials and tribulations of others, discuss funding resources and specific programs, and check to see when people start getting notifications in their database. However, you have to know when to stop reading the forums and start working on your applications! You’ve been warned.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully in a tenure-track position at a metropolitan university, with a dog and a raised bed organic garden.

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
The key to success in graduate school is time management. There are many smart individuals that are capable of getting into a graduate program, but those who can effectively manage their schedules are the most productive (and sane) students.

Get a good article management program so you don’t spend all of your precious time trying to find a specific paper or typing out all of your bibliography. I use Papers for Mac because it houses and organizes all of your pdf files as well, but there are others out there (Zotero is also a popular choice). Start this as soon as possible! Also, write a short synopsis of every article you read. Even a few sentences will help jog your memory if you return to it later.


Emiliana Cruz

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Linguistic Anthropology, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation: Ethnography of Landscape in San Juan Quiahije

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Political Science, Evergreen State College – Olympia, WA

What is grad school life like?
There are 4 subfields in anthropology. I study linguistic anthropology spend half of time in the linguistics department. Anthropologist and documentary and descriptive linguists often cross over between the disciplines, because of this there is great intellectual exchange between students and faculties.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
Read and drink a cup of coffee; look for grants, write grants; write a paper for class and or a conference; talk to your professor; have lunch; talk to colleagues; and continue working.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
According to my experience, in graduate school you meet great people, you specialize in your field and you get to do something really unique and contribute something important to society.

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
My program at the University of Texas is an ideal place because, I am studying linguistics and anthropology; and I am working on my own native language. I am conducting my project under the guidance of Dr. Anthony Woodbury, Dr. Joel Sherzer, Dr. Nora England, Dr. Patty Epps and Dr. Bill Hanks. I am not taking any classes but, I meet with Tony Woodbury at least once a week to discuss my progress.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?

I am currently writing my dissertation: ‘Ethnography of Landscape in San Juan Quiahije’ which analyzes the linguistic form of toponyms and reference to senses of place within narrative discourse. It combines methods of descriptive linguistics with those of long-term ethnographic study in indigenous communities.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I am an AI and I am currently teaching an undergraduate Anthropology course entitled, “Language and Culture”. I have 30 students. I really enjoy teaching because I get to share my knowledge and experience with the students.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
I believe that undergrads study hard but, they don’t have to specialize in one area and graduate studies are very specialized.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
My undergrad college did not offer any linguistic classes; I wish I would have taken linguistics in order to be more prepare for graduate school.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Have basic linguistic knowledge
  2. Have some introduction to anthropology
  3. Know how to write

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I conducted and carried out a project on the political economy of coffee in Mexico and I wrote my thesis on that research.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your next choice?
UCLA, Berkeley, Stanford. But, UT is a really unique place, I am really happy here.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in linguistic anthropology to check out?
The Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I want to continue doing research on Chatino language and I want to teach. My best opportunity to make a difference in higher education is in my home state of Oaxaca, Mexico which at present does not offer programs in linguistics or anthropology. Training indigenous students in basic linguistic analysis has been a rewarding part of my research thus far, and as a professor I would be in a position to help create more possibilities of higher education for indigenous students.

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
The first year you think “I am not going to make it” but you will. In my first year I took a class in linguistics titled “Tools for Linguistics” taught by Dr. Woodbury. I did not understand a single thing from that class. One day I ran into Dr. Joel Sherzer, he was coming with a big smile walking towards me and he asked how I was doing. I told him “I don’t understand Dr. Woodbury’s class” hoping he would give me some tips. He replied “oh, don’t worry, one day you will”. Now, I looked back and he was right, I do understand linguistics.


Jodi Skipper

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Archaeology, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation: In the Neighborhood: Race, City Planning, and Heritage Politics at the St. Paul United Methodist Church, Dallas, Texas

Undergraduate Degree: M.A., Anthropology, Florida State University – Tallahassee, FL; B.A., History, Grambling State University – Grambling, LA

What is life like for an anthropology graduate student?
Anthropology graduate students have several opportunities to do work all over the world. Although the opportunities are there, it takes much discipline, hard work, and commitment.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
A typical day in the life of an anthropology grad student includes going to class, working on a thesis or dissertation (if at that stage), working as a research or teaching assistant, writing papers, and studying for exams. It also involves spending time with friends and cohorts, in study groups and outside of the University.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
UT has one of the most diverse anthropology departments in the country, including faculty and students. It is great to get to experience different cultural backgrounds through my cohorts and professors, and learn from them.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
The title of my dissertation is “In the Neighborhood: Race, City Planning, and Heritage Politics at the St. Paul United Methodist Church, Dallas, Texas.” In my research, I work with one historically Black church community to preserve its 90 years-old church building and its 135 years-old church history.

Have you participated on a fieldwork project? If so, where and what was that like?
I have worked throughout the Southeastern U.S. and many parts of Texas. I have been to former slave plantations in Coastal Georgia and Florida, Civil War battlefield sites, prehistoric Native American sites, and have trekked through several U.S. Mexico Border Towns. It has been very interesting to see how alike, and different, various regions of the U.S. can be.

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
I am what is called ABD (all but dissertation), meaning that I have completed all of my Ph.D. requirements, except the dissertation manuscript. I am now working on the manuscript, which means writing and editing chapters for several hours a day.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I am currently a TA for the archaeology lab. The archaeology lab serves as a space for artifact collections, meeting room for archaeology TAs and their students, and a computer lab.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
Graduate school requires much better time management and a sacrifice of many things that students are able to easily participate in as undergrads, for example holiday trips home and free time with friends.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I wish that I was better able to prepare for financing graduate school. It can be a very difficult thing to do and can be very costly in the long run.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Make sure that you are adequately funded by your department or other source.
  2. Make sure that you take time out to be with family and friends.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and ask for help; being a grad. student does not mean that you can do it all.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
If I did not accept UT Austin’s offer, then I would have attended the University of Florida in Gainesville.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in social anthropology to check out?
I suggest that they check out Levi Jordan Plantation. It can help students learn a lot about archaeological and historical research in Texas.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself teaching anthropology and African American studies at a university.


Courtney Morris

Graduate Program: Ph.D., African Diaspora Program in Social Anthropology, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation Topic: Afro-Nicaraguan Women’s Political Activism

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., African and African American Studies, The University of Texas at Austin

What is grad school life like?
As you may have guessed, graduate school is quite different from undergrad – specifically in terms of the degree to which one must be self-motivated, the significantly increased workload. Some text may have been omitted here.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
I don’t know that there is such a thing as a “typical day in the life of an anthropology grad student.” It depends significantly on your subdiscipline (there is sociocultural, folklore, archaeology, physical anthropology, and linguistics). It also depends on whether you have completed coursework yet. During the first two to three years of graduate school, your days are more structured because you are still taking coursework so most of your time revolves around attending graduate seminars or completing work (readings/essays/in-class presentations) for those seminars. Once you have completed coursework you transition into preparing for your comprehensive exams and then you have to become more responsible for structuring your own time so that you can complete your work. Once you have accomplished that you have to focus on completing your dissertation prospectus, your fieldwork proposal so that you can advance to candidacy and begin fieldwork. After fieldwork, which can last anywhere from 1-3 years (depending on the choice of the student), you then focus on writing the dissertation, and most people usually try to develop a writing practice so that they can try to complete the dissertation in a relatively timely manner. The key to success in graduate school for any student is to develop effective time management because the further along you advance in your career the more critical it becomes to your ability to successfully complete your program.

However, it’s not all work either. In our department, students are VERY social and we frequently get together to have happy hours and parties. There are regular scholarly presentations from students, in-house faculty, and visiting scholars so you can learn about other developments in the field of anthropology. There is also an Anthropology Graduate Student Association (AGSA), which regularly meets to discuss issues of importance to graduate students and to organize professional development programs for graduate students. So whatever your life may be as a graduate student – at least in our department – it won’t be empty.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
In addition to having one of the strongest programs in African Diaspora studies, I appreciate the diversity of my program, particularly in terms of race, gender, sexuality, and class. Our program is very rigorous and demanding but I have had a great deal of institutional support from the diverse faculty, my colleagues in the department, and the department administration. Compared to other anthropology departments I would say that the diversity and intellectual range of our faculty and graduate students definitely places our department on the cutting edge of contemporary anthropology. And yeah, I’m kind of proud of that.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
My dissertation research focuses on Afro-Nicaraguan women’s political activism since the end of the Sandinista Revolution in 1990. I explore the work that women are doing in informal political spaces such as churches, schools, and in the community as well as in more formal political spaces including local and regional government and in non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The goal is to make sense of how Black women understand the conditions that shape their lives and how they are responding to racism, gender inequality, and economic marginalization.

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
I recently advanced to candidacy in February 2008 after completing coursework, my comprehensive exams and defending my dissertation prospectus. I am in the middle of completing my fieldwork and expect to begin writing my dissertation in Fall 2010.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I do not currently have an assistantship. However, I have worked as both a teaching assistant and a research assistant for different professors in my department. As a TA you are responsible for assisting instructors with their courses and working one-on-one with undergraduate students. It can be challenging, especially when you are TAing large classes with 100+ students. You have to be available to meet with students during office hours and address any concerns or questions they might have about the class and their academic performance. Some professors require that TAs attend all classes and do the readings along with the class, others don’t. But never assume anything, always talk to your professor and see what they want and expect from you as a TA – it’s especially helpful to get it in writing or in an email so that you can refer back to it later in the semester.

Being an RA specifically involves helping a faculty member to conduct research, usually for a book or article they may be working on, some longer term research project, or helping them with presentations they might be making. This job usually has quite a lot of flexibility and if you are fortunate enough to work with someone whose research interests are similar to yours you can really use this opportunity to learn more for your own work. However, even though this job is more flexible than being a TA, you should still talk to the professor you are working with to figure out what they need from you, what your responsibilities are for the semester, and what finished product they expect from you by the end of the semester (a comprehensive annotated bibliography on racism in Latin America? A complete catalogue of their library collection in Endnotes? A finished academic article?) Always make sure you are clear on what you are supposed to be working on and what they want from you at the end of the semester.

My advice to anyone working as an RA or a TA is to maintain open and frequent communication with the faculty member for whom you are working. Make sure you understand what their expectations of you are and check in with them regularly to make sure that you are meeting their needs. If you are a TA try to make sure that you are on top of your work at all times – grade papers promptly and return them to students as quickly as possible. This helps to cut down on stress later on when your own work in grad school is building up and the end of the semester comes around. If you perform well in your work as a TA or RA, faculty members remember that and this can really help you in the future, especially when you need letters of recommendation, an additional year of funding to finish your dissertation, etc.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
The 4 things that make graduate school different from undergrad are: the amount of work (imagine having to read 200-350 pages for a single class each week – which I did my first year in grad school), having to be really self-motivated and able to manage your time effectively, increased levels of stress, and very high expectations from faculty. I don’t want to scare off any potential grad students I just want to be honest about some of the challenges of graduate school. The first two semesters are often the hardest, but once you get into the swing of things, life is much better – not easier but manageable. It also helps for you to reach out to other graduate students, you’ll find that during your graduate school experience they will be your biggest source of support (emotional, intellectual and sometimes, when things are really rough, financial) and encouragement. When I entered graduate school another young Black woman from LA entered the program with me; she and I become close friends and we developed a little saying that we would tell each other whenever we felt discouraged: “We came together, we leave together.” We have been able to hold onto this and are basically right on track to finishing our doctorates in the next two years. So don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help – so much of your work in graduate school is done individually, but it really does take a community to get you through.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
Once you are certain that you want to pursue graduate school, begin making plans as early as possible. Think about where you want to live, what you want to research, try to look up fellowships that you can apply for so you don’t have to take out a mountain of student loans or so you don’t have to work the entire time you are in school (the Ford Foundation is a good place to look especially for women and people of color, check out the National Science Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council for a few leads). Talk to faculty that you are taking classes with and get advice from them. Talk to graduate students, maybe your TAs, and ask them about their experiences in graduate school and any recommendations they would make for where you might apply or tips about making it in grad school. The people around you are tremendous resources who can really help demystify the grad school application process and the actual experience of going through and completing a graduate program; don’t be shy about tapping into those resources.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. The hardest part of applying to graduate school is figuring out what you want to research because that should determine everything else. Don’t assume that just because a university in general is prestigious that it has the faculty and resources you need to do the kind of research that you are interested in. If you are interested in studying race in Brazil, find anthropologists who do work in this area and then find out where they teach. These are the people who are going to mentor you and help you complete your research. So follow the research, not the name of a university (i.e. Don’t pick Harvard, just because it’s Harvard). Once you’ve figured out who the experts in your field are and where they teach, send them an email, tell them who you are and your interest in the program. This is CRUCIAL. If they are interested in you they may want to work with you and take you on as a student; these are also the people who will fight for you in the admissions process and when funding is allocated. Graduate school can be very competitive and it never hurts to have some allies on your side who can advocate for you and your work.
  2. Second, think about whether you want to do a full PhD or a masters’ program. There are programs where you can come out of undergrad and go straight into a doctoral program, but if you aren’t sure you may want to select a program that provides a terminal masters’ program or an MA program that includes an option to continue on to the PhD.
  3. Finally, I believe that happiness matters and graduate school is so much work and such a huge commitment that you should really try as much as possible to choose a university in a location where you can be comfortable and happy. You can expect to be in school anywhere from 4-7 years (if you’re really focused and on task), so if you hate the snow and the cold don’t agree to study in Connecticut, choose a school where you can thrive academically and emotionally as much as possible.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I did do research as an undergraduate. I actually received an undergraduate research fellowship from the College of Liberal Arts which was really helpful. I studied the impact of hip hop on Black teenage girls’ perceptions of gender. I think doing independent research as an undergrad gives you a general idea of what life in graduate school is like and what you can expect. It is also good when you apply to graduate school because it demonstrates to faculty that you are self-motivated, able to work independently, and are an independent critical thinker. These are all important qualities for graduate students and it is good to try to begin cultivating and honing these skills well before you enter graduate school.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I was accepted to the University of Florida at Gainesville and I seriously considered accepting the offer, especially because there was a Black woman scholar there who I really wanted to work with. But I decided to stay with UT-Austin because of the strength of my program, the number of faculty who do work in African Diaspora studies, and the proximity of the campus to my family and community of friends and activists that I had built up during my time as an undergrad. I personally believe this was the right choice for me but everyone is different. However, I also applied to the University of California-Santa Cruz and Duke University (which has a very good Cultural Anthropology program).

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in social anthropology to check out?
I would recommend the website for the American Anthropological Association (AAA). I believe it is the oldest professional anthropological organization in the United States. You can check out any of the different interest groups affiliated with AAA, look up scholarships, and find different professional development resources and opportunities. It’s a good place to browse and see who are the people doing research in areas that you are interested in, where they teach, and can help you figure out which programs you might be interested in applying to.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself done with my dissertation, hopefully preparing to publish it into a book (if I haven’t already done so). I am not entirely sure if I only want to work in higher education but it would be nice to be teaching at a college or university. I’d also like at some point to create a social justice think tank that addresses the needs of poor and working-class communities of color. And if my husband is game, I think I’d also like very much to be a mother.

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
My survival tip – It’s okay to change your mind whenever you like. Don’t think just because you are in grad school that you can’t do other things or explore other opportunities. Take your work seriously but remember that you grow and learn and change and that is a positive thing.

Return to the top of this page

Asian Studies

Faculty

Dr. Yvonne Chang

Academic Background: Ph.D., Comparative Literature, The University of Texas at Austin; Ph.D. Asian Languages, Stanford University – Stanford, CA; M.A., Comparative Literature, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, MI; Undergraduate Degree in Foreign Languages and Literature (similar to English in the US), National Taiwan University – Taipei, Taiwan

What is your current research focus at UT?
I have written two books on literature of contemporary Taiwan. The first focused on the western-influenced Modernist literary movement in Taiwan during the 1960s and 1970s; the second tried to explicate the determinate logic of Taiwan’s cultural production in the second half of the 20th-century. Currently I am in the early stage of a research project aimed to explore the role aesthetic modernism plays in different East Asian societies--China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong—and how it correlates with the trajectories of societal modernization in these places.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by scholars of Asian studies in the U.S. or around the world?
In the cold war era cultural imaginations in individual East Asian countries were predominantly oriented toward the West, in particular the US, rather than their East Asian neighbors. This has dramatically changed in our post-cold-war, globalizing era. In the last two decades, we have witnessed much greater cultural interaction between East Asian countries. The study of intra-East Asian cultural relations, then, is an exciting new direction of research in my area that I am currently following. A positive by-product of this latest research direction is that it helps to redress a long-standing misconception, that is, to regard East Asia as one large entity characterized by a high degree of homogeneity, which cannot be farther from the truth.

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
Growing up in the conservative Chinese society of Taiwan during the postwar period, when social conformity was emphasized, I was always attracted to intellectual discourses that probed into canonic knowledge and challenged received wisdom. As an undergraduate student, I fell intensely in love with the Euro-American modernist literature, which, to me at that time, embodied a passion for radical truth. After coming to study in the American universities, however, I gradually was able to put into perspectives that youthful passion, which was then transformed it into a sustained interest in pursuing sound, demystifying theoretical understanding of cultural processes under different socio-historical circumstances.

What makes a good grad student?

  • Strong intellectual curiosity, a logical mind, and refined cultural sensibilities
  • Good studying habits
  • A balance of idealism and realism. In particular, graduate students in the humanity disciplines, who will be entering the job market a number of years down the road, need to have both “idealistic visions” and “realistic knowledge” about the academic profession.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to your program?

  1. Lay a solid foundation in the foreign language in which you would like to pursue the graduate work.
  2. Choose the option to write an Honors thesis, or select a couple of your term papers and substantially develop them, as writing samples are given heavy weight in the admissions process.
  3. It can really pay off if you spend a year studying abroad in the country that you intend to specialize, either before or after graduation.

What are the top five programs in this area in the US?
East Asian programs tend to be small in universities all over the country, and typically have just a few (1 to 3) faculty members specializing in literature and culture. Generally speaking, Stanford, Harvard, Berkeley, Columbia, Princeton, Michigan have more established East Asian graduate programs, but each has its own distinctive strengths and weaknesses.

Could you please provide a snapshot description of the Asian Studies graduate program at UT?

The Asian Studies graduate program offers two types of graduate degrees. The Asian Cultures and Languages program offers doctoral degrees in East and South Asian literature, culture, religion, film, and popular culture. The Asian Studies program offers a terminal Master’s degree and is oriented toward a generalist approach.

What distinguishes our department from other similar programs is its considerable strengths in both the East Asian and the South Asian sides. It therefore offers better opportunities for students to gain knowledge about a wide range of non-western cultural traditions and, most importantly, perspectives that are always by definition comparative.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Ph.D. students generally get an academic job at universities. MA graduates pursue different careers in public and private sectors, such as the Foreign Service, World Bank, or entrepreneur companies. Some of our MA graduates continue academic work in professional schools (law, public affairs, film production).

Graduate Students

Guo
Shaohua Guo

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Asian Cultures & Languages, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation Topic: Writing in Alternative Spaces: Internet Culture in Contemporary China

Undergraduate Degree: Chinese Language & Literature, Beijing Normal University - Beijing, China

What is graduate student life like?
Life as a graduate student in liberal arts means two things: reading and writing enormously.

What is a day in the life of a graduate student like?
A typical day in the life of a grad student includes TA-ing for the department, taking courses, reading, writing and cooking. Sometimes I also attend seminars, watch films and hang out with friends on campus.

What do you know now, and wish you knew then?
Read as much as you can.

What makes a graduate program more difficult than an undergraduate program?
The most difficult part about a graduate program is to decide what you want to work on in the following five to eight years and make sure you can figure it out in time (not too late).

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
In Asian Studies we have many opportunities to hang out with people from different backgrounds, most of whom would be excited to inform you about which restaurant in town offers authentic Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian food and much more!

What are 3 tips for students applying to your program?

  1. Be passionate about what you are going to study.
  2. Be devoted to language learning.
  3. Be open-minded and interested in different cultures.

Did you work on research projects as an undergrad?
I worked on several research projects as an undergrad, such as writing academic papers and conducting fieldwork in China. For one project, my classmates and I went to a rural area in China and collected ghost stories. We interviewed local residents who told good ghost stories and recorded those stories. Later we wrote a paper about the folklore in China. The whole experience was fun and educational. Therefore I would strongly recommend undergrads to work on at least one research project, which will help undergrads to adjust to life in graduate school quickly.

What is an interesting website you would recommend students check out?
I would recommend the Asian Studies Events site. It announces the most recent ANS events on a monthly basis. This is a very useful channel to learn about ANS activities, such as film screening and academic seminars.

If you wouldn’t have enrolled at UT Austin, which school was your #2 choice?
My #2 choice was Washington University in St. Louis.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years, I wish I could work with my own graduate students in the U.S. or China.


Matt Milligan

Graduate Program: M.A., Asian Studies in Ancient Indian Buddhist Archaeology, Art and Epigraphy, UT Austin; M.A. Thesis Focus: Buddhist Reliquary Mounds (Stupas), from Central India 200 BCE to 200 CE

Undergraduate Degree: Religious Studies & Anthropology, Albion College - Albion, MI

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The coolest thing about Asian Studies at UT is its interdisciplinary nature. Given that I study 2,000-year-old Buddhist archaeological sites and art, these kinds of questions lead me into many different disciplines outside of Religious Studies and Asian Studies.

What is graduate student life like?
As a graduate student, you’re constantly preoccupied with finding sources of funding, working on paper proposals for conferences, writing giant term papers for your seminars, and learning two or more languages simultaneously. You get used to having much less free time but make up for it by having wonderful experiences in foreign countries while doing research. It is comparable, maybe, to taking some monastic vows!

What do you know now, and wish you knew then?
I wish I had known to study more languages. Although the languages I chose to study for my graduate work were not available to me as an undergraduate, I really wish I had taken any language, really. The sooner you begin learning how to learn a language the easier life becomes when you learn multiple languages at the same time.

What are 3 tips for students applying to your program?

  1. Study one or two languages for a long period and really know how to operate in foreign grammars.
  2. Know how to network efficiently. The stronger and larger your social network the easier it will be later on to do co-operative studies, publish articles, gain references, locate funding for projects and tuition, etc.
  3. Spend time abroad. Understanding what makes the world “run” can only serve to increase your perspective on how to approach new projects and questions.

Why did you choose UT?
I needed a school that not only had professors who did Buddhist Studies, but strong Sanskritists, art historians, social theorists, and historians of India.

Would you like to share a story about your graduate life?
I like to get down and dirty with my research. Literally. I enjoy playing Indiana Jones and searching for new, interesting sites in remote areas. For instance, just today, I went rock-climbing in 110 degree weather to photograph ancient cave paintings in Central India. This was an adventurous side-project to take my mind off of my main topic, which, just yesterday, required me to hike to a remote ancient Buddhist monastic site. But the day was not successful - as I found no new material. In the end, even though you win some of these adventures and you lose others, at least you know how to use a whip and keep a watchful eye for snakes. I hate snakes.


Keely Sutton

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Asian Cultures & Languages, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation: Mappila Folk Songs

Other Degrees: M.A., Religion, Wake Forest University - Winston-Salem, NC; B.A., Philosophy & Religion, Appalachian State University - Boone, NC

What are you currently studying?
Currently I am studying Mappila folk songs. The Mappilas are a Muslim community in the south Indian state of Kerala. India has many official languages, but the language spoken in Kerala is Malayalam. This community is particularly interesting due to the formation of a dialect and written language called Arabic-Malayalam which is, as the name says, a hybrid of Arabic and Malayalam. I have studied Malayalam for several years now, and to further facilitate my studies of these songs I am currently enrolled in an intensive summer Arabic program here at UT.

What is graduate student life like?
I think it varies depending on your program and what you are studying at the time. A typical day in my life includes classes, studying and reviewing between them, research in the library, and then going to a lecture or event that the department sponsors, if there is one. Sometimes on the weekends a bunch of grad students get together and go out, which can be a lot of fun.

What is the greatest difference between undergrad and grad school?
You are expected to be much more involved in the classes, but that’s not that big of a deal I suppose. But you are also pushed to think more critically, with more sophistication. On a more superficial level, the papers are much longer and the workload can be really intense in some classes.

What do you know now, and wish you knew then?
I think the best advice I ever got was when I was an M.A. student at a conference. A Ph.D. student who was about to graduate told me that getting a Ph.D. wasn’t about being smart, it was about stamina. And I have found that to be true. So I wish that I had known then that it isn’t necessarily about being the brightest, but it is about continuing on, and keeping your momentum going, even when you feel like you can’t do anymore. I think in graduate studies often you are your own worst enemy (and critic).

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad?
No, I did not. However, I recently worked with a student who was doing a senior honors thesis, and after seeing what she did I think that a project like that would be a good introduction to graduate studies.

What are 3 tips for students applying to your program?

  1. The statement of purpose is critical. Make sure it is succinct, not too personal, and have a professor help you with it.
  2. Make sure that what you are interested in studying is something that particular program can help you with-- e.g., don’t apply to a program that does not offer Tibetan if you want to study Tibetan Literature. Also, don’t be afraid to email professors in the program to ask questions.
  3. Make sure your letter of recommendations are from professors, or at least people who are familiar with your academic work.

Return to the top of this page

Classics

Faculty

Dr. Karl Galinsky

Academic Background: Ph.D., Classics, Princeton University – Princeton, NJ; B.A., Classics, American History Minor, Bowdoin College – Brunswick, ME

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I was supposed to be at Bowdoin for one year only on a kind of exchange (from Germany). Going into classics was my means to the end of staying in the U.S.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
It dealt with the legend of Rome’s eastern founder, the Trojan Aeneas, and combined literary, historical, and archaeological evidence.

What is your area of specialization?
One of the nice things in our interdisciplinary department has been that I have been able to pursue a variety of interests. They have been, in recent years, (1) the age of Rome’s first emperor, Augustus. My basic perspective is the interplay of politics, social history, the arts, and religion; (2) the contextualization of the New Testament with the Roman empire, especially the cult of the Roman emperor; (3) the impact of ancient Rome on modern America; and (4) the role of memory in Roman civilization.

What topics do you teach at UT?
Undergrad: large intro courses on Roman and Greek civilization; Greece and Rome in film; and a variety of Greek and Latin authors. Graduate: a variety of author and topics seminars, such as the age of Augustus and Roman religion.

What is your current research focus?
In 2009, I received a major International Research Award (c. $1 million) from the Max-Planck Society. In the humanities, this award is given out only every four years to just two scholars (one in Germany, the other in any other country). The topic is memory in Roman civilization; for the project (which will continue untill 2013), visit Memoria Romana. History is asking when, what, and why? In memory studies we look at what people remember, why they choose to remember some things and forget others, and who controls memory; we are also connecting with research on memory in neurobiology and (bio)psychology. In addition, I am completing a short (250 pp.) biography of Augustus.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by classics scholars in the U.S. or around the world?
In my field, I’d single out Romanization. It was not a top-down process but the result of many diverse initiatives around the Roman empire. The Romans were military imperialists but not cultural imperialists. The result was a hybrid, melting-pot, and global culture not dissimilar to American culture and Americanization around the world today.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
Not really. I wrote an honors thesis and actually taught a beginning Latin course in my second (and senior) year at Bowdoin. I would absolutely recommend undergraduate research. That’s one of the advantages of being an undergrad at UT, a major research university. Carpe diem!

What makes a good grad student?
Self-motivation and initiative. The faculty are there to mentor and provide guidance, and not to be a pushmepullyou. Also, resist the pressure to get two Ph.D.’s in conjunction: one in Classics and the other in Self-Importance.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to a classics graduate program?

  1. Do your homework on any department to which you are applying. Really
    demonstrate some specific reasons why you want to study there and
    because of what program and faculty strengths. Individualize your
    applications to different departments. We can spot boilerplate
    immediately.
  2. Does the program really suit your needs? Check on the placement records of the departments you are applying to. What are realistic job prospects in this field?
  3. Schedule a visit to get to know some of the faculty and grad students.

What are the top five classics graduate programs in the US?
In no particular order: Princeton University, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, University of California at Berkeley, Stanford University, and University of Chicago.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Academic careers, generally. There are other possibilities, but be wary of faculty who exalt them – these folks have a proprietary interest in making sure there are enough students to fill their seminars.


Dr. Deborah Beck

Academic Background: Ph.D. & M.A., Classics (Latin and Greek), Harvard University – Cambridge, MA; B.A., Classics, Yale University – New Haven, CT

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
When I first finished college, I didn't want to get an advanced degree at all. My parents both spent their whole working lives in the public sector and I wanted to do some form of government or social service work too. So, I went to Washington DC, where I worked for three years in various kinds of child welfare-related jobs. But one evening I was having dinner with a high school friend, and for some reason I no longer remember, I started talking to her about the Greek historian Thucydides. I realized that I didn't talk about anything else with the same passion and eagerness, that I was in the wrong field, and that I should go to graduate school. The next week I took the GREs standby on the last date that schools would have accepted for application to attend the following year, and I started at Harvard the next fall.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
It was about the aesthetics of traditional formulaic language in Homeric poetry. I wanted to think about what role there was for an individual poet to be creative within a poetic system that relied heavily on traditional repeated phrases for things that get said a lot (like "Odysseus answered him"). It seemed to me that both of those things had to be possible at the same time -- lots of repeated language that is part of the conventions of the genre, plus an individual who is creative within that genre -- and I wanted to figure out how that would work.

What is your area of specialization?
My main research interest is the way that speech is represented in Homeric poetry. To put that another way, I'm interested in things that come first, or are otherwise fundamental. Homer is first in western literature -- there is no western literary history before Homer. And telling stories to one another, representing what other people say in the course of those stories, is one of the most fundamental human activities. How Homeric poetry depicts other people talking has a lot to do with why the poems affect us as strongly as they do as narratives. People still read these poems many thousands of years after they were composed because they're still moving and meaningful stories about human beings we recognize as human beings. My most basic interest scholarly is, what does it mean to be a human being? How should we go about being humans? How have other people before us gone about it, and what can we learn from that? I think the content and methods of the storytelling in Homeric epic have a lot of useful things to say about those questions. I have also done research on Vergil, who was strongly influenced by Homer, and I hope to do further research on Vergil in the future.

What topics do you teach at UT?
Mostly Greek language. This year I am teaching beginning, intermediate, and graduate-level Greek courses, as well as a course on classical mythology where we read all the texts in English. I teach other courses in translation too, and sometimes I teach Latin poetry.

What is your current research focus?
I'm writing a book about the range of different techniques that are used in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey to present speech. This is a topic that has been widely studied in relation to modern fiction, but not nearly as much for pre-modern texts. Recent books about Latin, about the Hebrew Bible, about medieval Russian court records, and about a particular technique of speech presentation in a huge range of different texts (to name a few) have shown that pre-modern texts in fact do contain a much wider and more sophisticated range of speech presentation techniques than has been generally thought. This is important because it means that ancient texts are in a fundamental sense on the same page as modern texts to a much greater extent than people have thought. It makes literary history into more of a gradual continuum and less of a sudden cataclysm resulting in the modern novel.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by classics scholars in the U.S. or around the world?
Classics is such a huge field that it's hard to say "this is what classicists are interested in." I have a colleague in my department who works on early Christianity, and her work is in a different language, a different part of the world, and about 1000 years after my work. So it's hard to say that we have research questions in common. Something that a lot of subfields in classics are doing is applying other disciplines to their own field, disciplines like anthropology or psychology or linguistics. My current book has some linguistics in it.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
I wrote a senior thesis about the Iliad. I had a wonderful adviser who treated me like a scholarly colleague, and my enjoyment of that experience was one of the things that eventually made me decide to go to graduate school. I would not recommend that all students do a research project, though. Some students are better served by really immersing themselves in their course work and learning Latin and Greek as well as they possibly can, and doing independent work requires time management skills that not all students have yet as undergraduates. You can certainly be a good graduate school applicant without having done independent research as a college student.

What makes a good grad student?
Being able to take initiative. The faculty take our advising and mentoring roles seriously, and I don't mean at all that a grad student needs to be able to sink or swim without faculty input, but it's important that students be able to plan their time, seek out resources (both financial resources and intellectual ones), get help when they need it and not wait for someone to ask them if they need help, and so on. Another important skill is persistence, working hard and consistently at boring and/or repetitive tasks. The last thing I would put in the top three is willingness to accept criticism, to think carefully about criticism that is offered without taking it personally and to use it to grow and develop. This is hard for anyone to do, but it is impossible to learn without accepting criticism.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to a classics graduate program?
Be able to speak articulately and engagingly about the following things:

  1. why you want to get a Ph.D. in classics and what you think you can contribute to the field;
  2. what about UT makes it the right program for you, including the person(s) here that you want to work with; more broadly, make sure you are familiar with our program; and
  3. yourself and what you're like -- we like to get a sense of what our applicants are like as people, not only as future scholars

What are the top five classics graduate programs in the US?
University of California at Berkeley, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Princeton University, Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania. I think the first four are pretty well agreed on in the field, but I thought of three or four programs that have a reasonable claim to be the fifth on my list.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Most of them go into teaching, at least initially. I haven't been here long enough yet to know what they do longer-term if they don't get tenure-track jobs after the initial limited-term employment that virtually all new Ph.D. classicists do (I had two of those myself before I landed a tenure-track job). Our terminal master's students are generally going into secondary school Latin teaching, and we have a combined teaching certification and M.A. program for people who want to go that route.

Graduate Students

Stephanie Craven

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Classics, The University of Texas at Austin

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Classical Languages and Literature, Italian Minor, University of Pennsylvania – Philadelphia, PA

What is life like for a classics graduate student?
I spend most of my evenings working, and I also take a good chunk out of either Saturday or Sunday as well (or both, depending on the time of the semester). I have friends with whom I regularly study, and end up in coffee shops where the baristas pretty well know who we are. We do find ways to de-stress, whether it's playing on the departmental softball team, or sharing a pitcher of beer at the Flying Saucer afterwards. Many of my friends have had successful relationships, although I do think it's easier if you started out with someone rather than trying to find one as a grad student. While you can have a great time with other people in the department, I think it is worth trying to cultivate friends who are outside of the department, if for no other reason than to stop yourself from talking "shop" all the time.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
I tend to get up around 8 or 9, depending on what's on for the day, and pack a lunch and gym clothes to go to school. When I don't have to be at school I go find myself a coffee shop, or try to get non-school things done. Last semester and this upcoming semester I have my own Latin class five days a week, so that brings me to school every day. A couple days a week I also have seminars; most will be 3 hours one day a week, with some 2 sessions of 1.5 hours. I find it best to schedule at least one non-school work day to prepare for seminars, if you can manage it.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
Well, since getting to go to Greece and Italy are par for a graduate program in Classics... potluck dinners.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
My MA report was on koinodikion, an institution in Hellenisitic (3rd-1st C BCE) Crete. We're not sure what it is -- in fact, the paper attempted to define it -- but it appears to be a court set up to handle cases for citizens from different cities, and that it had something to do with the Cretan Koinon, which was the (sometime) federal government of Crete. Most of my sources were inscriptions and the historian Polybius.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad?
I worked as a research assistant in undergrad for a professor of Religious Studies; my own work on the side was on Alcuin of York and his Commentarium in Johannem. It ended up only producing two research papers, but I still think it was pretty useful. If you are an undergraduate who wants to go to graduate school, your life will be so much easier of paper-writing is something you've been doing, and not just starting.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I'm just starting my 4th year at UT. I finished my MA last year, and I'm still working on coursework and finishing exams for the PhD program.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I have been a TA for 6 courses, and an AI for one. The TA role varies depending on the professor; some have a routine, and don't want you to deviate from it, just grade and hand back papers. Others will let you have an active role, whether by letting you give a lecture or having you write questions for the exam or teach review sessions. They can also range from scantron grading to grading essay exams. As an AI, I had a set curriculum that I ran with two other Latin AIs, which was overseen by a professor who also acted as an advisor. It can be a lot of fun, but it's definitely a little scary to see what beginning students will remember when you yourself are a beginning teacher!

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
My undergrad program actually prepared me pretty well for the grad program: I had a lot of small seminars and wrote research papers then. For me, the biggest hurdle was time management. I was a really bad procrastinator who could do good work on short notice, and so part of the experience of grad school has been realizing the consequences of my bad planning and learning to deal with it.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
My one regret is that I didn't do a field school as an undergraduate. Even if you are a literature person, you never know if that might not come in handy later on. Additionally, as a beginning graduate student, I wish I had thought a lot more strategically about how to prepare myself for exams; I should have waited to take courses that I "wanted" to take, and taken courses that would have helped me get those exams out of the way.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a classics program?

  1. Make sure you've got your languages under your belt.
  2. Be practiced in the art of the research paper.
  3. Keep an open mind -- most people begin grad school when they're still growing as a person, and the project you may choose at the end could be totally unrelated to the one you thought you would do in your first year.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I was wait-listed at UC Berkeley, but ultimately felt like Texas was a better fit in the long run. I also liked Princeton, which was close to home (I'm from NJ), but found it a little less interdisciplinary than what I was looking for.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in classics to check out?
If you know Greek, the Packard Humanities Institute has a huge number of inscriptions online; most inscriptions cited in scholarly texts can be viewed here, and you can also see them with and without the holes in the text.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Employed? --It's not that I'm not optimistic, I just don't believe in tempting the gods...

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
If, as an undergraduate, you are thinking about a program like the Centro or the American School or CYA, by all means, do it! I did the Centro as an undergrad and the American School my first year in graduate school. Not only will you make some very good friends, but these will also be the people who you will see at conferences, and possibly be professional contacts in the future. I apologize for talking about networking the way business schools do, but there are a lot of good reasons to do this:

  1. interacting with people in other programs will give you a sense of how other departments are from an undergraduate perspective; for instance, if someone is doing something you think is interesting, you can ask what their advisor is like and whether that advisor sounds like someone you might want to work with;
  2. it makes conferences a lot more fun -- I was pleasantly surprised to go to my first American Philological Association conference and see so many people that I knew from my travels; and
  3. for crying out loud, it's Greece/Italy. At least you can say you've been there, you know the rough distances between cities via tour bus, and the taste of ouzo/cheap Italian table wine. And you can bond over adversity -- sleeplessness, hunger, bad plumbing, and that time you didn't get to go to the beach because your nutty professor had you clambering over brambles and scrub brush in search of some otherwise unknown tomb that turned out to be fenced off with razor wire and you got to stand there with him as he contemplated how to climb over it. (True story. The beach was called "Fun Beach".)

Return to the top of this page

Economics

Faculty

Dr. Daniel Hamermesh

Academic Background: Ph.D., Economics, Yale University; A.B., Economics, University of Chicago

Area of Specialization: Labor Economics

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
My father was an academic, so I was familiar from an early age with the academic lifestyle. Also, I started taking economics courses my freshman year. Even before that, though, in my senior year of high school we had an honors social science course in which we read Robert Heilbroner's The Worldly Philosophers. The combination of mathematics and relevance in economics struck me as exactly what I wanted to be involved in.

What makes a good grad student?
A good grad student is one who views economics as very nearly all-consuming. S/he must also love DOING economics--thinking about economic issues and reading economics articles.

What was your dissertation topic as a Ph.D. student?
My dissertation dealt with the determinants of employers' rates of hiring and firing and how these were affected by demand for their products.

What is your current research focus at UT?
I work in various areas of labor economics. My current major topic is how people use their time. I have been publishing in this general area since 1990, have given several endowed lectures and keynote addresses about it, and I taught a curriculum on it to a broad group of European graduate students this summer.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
I certainly did--there were summer programs in which we picked our own topic and worked on it under supervision of a faculty member. After my sophomore year I did one of these, worked on a model of the economic demand for children. It later became my undergrad honors thesis.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to your program?

  1. Take a lot of math.
  2. Take more math.
  3. Think about behavior in the real world around you, and how that behavior reflects economic incentives.

What are the top five programs in this area in the US?

  1. MIT
  2. Harvard
  3. Princeton
  4. Stanford
  5. Chicago

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program? (MA & PhD)
The Ph.D. students typically get jobs as professors, in consulting companies or in government.


Dr. Gerald Oettinger

Academic Background: Ph.D., Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; A.B., Economics & Statistics, University of California - Davis

Area of Specialization: Labor Economics, Microeconomics

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
There were several reasons. First, I liked economics. Second, I did well in economics (and statistics, my other major field) as an undergraduate. Third, an academic career seemed appealing.

What makes a successful grad student?
In general: creativity, curiosity, self-motivation, persistence, confidence. In economics in particular: strong mathematical/technical skills and preparation.

What was your dissertation topic as a Ph.D. student?
My dissertation topic does not lend itself to a “short and sweet” description. Instead, it consisted of several essays that focused on two distinct topics: (i) discrimination in the labor market, (ii) non-traditional school enrollment behavior (i.e., interruptions in school enrollment).

What is your current research focus at UT?
Labor economics (i.e., the analysis – primarily empirical – of various aspects of labor markets).

What is the latest national or international research topic in labor economics which you are currently following?
One issue that has been the subject of a large amount of study by labor economists in recent years is the evolution of the wage structure in the U.S. and other developed countries. The one line summary is that wage inequality has increased dramatically (especially in the U.S.) in the last several decades; in other words, the gap (in real terms) between “high wage” and “low wage” workers has widened considerably. In the data, this increase in wage inequality shows up both as an increase in the labor market return to measurable skills (e.g., educational attainment, years of work experience) and an increase in “residual” wage inequality among individuals with the same education and experience levels. In addition, the increase in wage inequality has been particularly pronounced at the top of the wage distribution; that is, in recent years the very highest earners have seen much larger increases in their wages, on average, than everyone else. Several factors probably have caused this increase in wage inequality: changes in technology that have favored highly-skilled workers, increased international trade and decreases in unionization that have put downward pressure on the wages of less-skilled workers, etc.

However, there is anecdotal evidence that the current recession may have caused a significant decline in the wages of top earners. In the coming years, when the appropriate data become available, it will be interesting to see how the current recession affected wage inequality. It will also be interesting to see whether the effects of this recession on wage inequality are just a temporary “blip” or whether the effects of the recession (perhaps in concert with other factors such as increased government regulation of certain markets) on wage inequality are more lasting.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
I did. I worked as a research assistant for an economics professor whose specialty was international economics. If I remember correctly, the project tried to measure the extent to which changes in foreign exchange rates got passed through into the domestic prices of foreign imports. I would heartily recommend that undergraduates contemplating graduate school in economics work as a research assistant (even if unpaid) in economics if the opportunity presents itself. First, taking such a job provides the student with a taste of the research process. You get to find out whether this is something you like or not. In addition, taking such a job allows you to get to know the professor quite well (and vice versa), which can be tremendously valuable when you are looking for letters of recommendation for graduate school.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to your program?

  1. Take (and do well in) a lot of math courses. A full year of calculus plus linear algebra/matrix algebra is the BARE MINIMUM preparation for admission to a decent Ph.D. program in economics. Good math preparation would also include courses in advanced calculus, probability theory and statistics, and real analysis.
  2. If possible, take courses from and get letters of recommendation from faculty members who have strong reputations in their fields.
  3. Try to take graduate level economics courses, obtain internships/research assistantships, and/or undertake any other activities that will give you a clearer picture about what graduate school in economics is like and what your post-Ph.D. career will be like.

What are the top five programs in this area in the US?
In no particular order, the top 5 probably are: MIT, Harvard, Princeton, Chicago, and Stanford.

Could you please provide a snapshot description of the ECO graduate program?
Here are some statistics about the economics graduate program. Enrollment: approximately 125 students. Average size of entering class: approximately 25 students. Average number of Ph.D. recipients per year: approximately 12-15. Information about the number of faculty, their ranks, and where they obtained their Ph.D.’s is available from the department web page. The program is focused on training students for the Ph.D. degree and equipping these students with the skills needed to perform frontier-level economic research. We seek to place our students in top positions, both inside and outside academia.

What is one thing this department does particularly well that makes it better than other similar programs?
In recent years our department has restructured the Ph.D. program in ways that (i) allow our students to begin doing research earlier in their graduate careers and (ii) give our students more frequent and more in-depth feedback on this research. Ultimately, we hope this will allow our students to have more and more polished research when they begin the job search process. Our program also allows top students to work closely with faculty, with the possibility of coauthoring with professors.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Ph.D.’s: Academic jobs (i.e., professors); research economist jobs at government/quasi-government institutions like the IMF, World Bank, Department of Justice, Bureau of Labor Statistics, etc.; research economist jobs at private consulting firms. M.A.’s: most go into private sector jobs. These jobs may have “research economist” titles, but the research is much less scholarly in nature.
English

Graduate Students

Kyle Kretschman

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Economics in Applied Microeconomics, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation Topic: The Application of New Econometric Methods to Public Policy Issues

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Economics, University of Pittsburgh - Pittsburgh, PA

What is graduate student life like?
For me, graduate school is quite different from undergrad. A normal day in undergrad usually entailed about 4 hours of schoolwork and the rest of my day was spent working at a bar/restaurant or working on my social life. I didn’t exercise or do many outdoor activities in beautiful Pittsburgh. The majority of my time was filled with fraternity activities or exploring different parts of the Burgh. Undergrad was the first opportunity to live in an urban city and I was never bored. Therefore, I never felt the need to challenge myself academically. The material in undergrad came very easily to me and I did not have to do extra work ouside of attending classes and completing assignments. Basically, school was a part-time job.

What is a day in the life of a graduate student like?
Now, school is a full-time job that demands numerous overtime hours. A typical day during the semester entails waking up around 7 A.M. and biking to my office by 8:15. I will spend the morning either in class or grading homework and exams. I normally take an extended lunch break to workout or play basketball with the other guys in my office. My afternoons are split between holding office hours and either working on assignments or my own research. During busy weeks, I eat dinner in my office and work until about 9:30 at night. This type of “typical” day happens six days a week during the semester. Even though it might sound like a lot of work, I love what I am doing so I do not mind the long hours.

What makes a graduate program more difficult than an undergraduate program?
There are two main differences between grad school and undergrad:

  1. While the material is harder, the amount of material you must learn and completely comprehend is exponentially greater. There were many times when I left a lecture and had completely forgotten what was presented at the beginning of the lecture. Also, I was lacking a really strong background in mathematics and had a lot of catching up to do.
  2. Just because you get accepted into the Ph.D. program does not guarantee you will earn your Ph.D. Grad school is competitive. In fact, only about a third of the students who initially enroll in the program will graduate with a Ph.D. In my program, not only are there first year qualifying exams and a second year paper that must be passed to continue, but there are a lot people who just decide that a Ph.D is not right for them. For these reasons, I to had dedicate countless hours the first couple of years to determine if I wanted a Ph.D. and then prove that I was capable and dedicated enough to earn it.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The coolest thing about my program is the freedom that it provides. I mentioned a typical day during the semester, however there is no such thing as a typical day during the summer or vacation months. After my first year, I took 2 months off from school and just lived in Austin with no responsibilities. Last summer I interned for the Office of Management and Budget in Washington, D.C. This summer, I am not taking any classes but am working on my own research and do not have any sort of set schedule. I really enjoy this kind of personal freedom not often available to many people. My program also provides a lot of academic freedom to research any economics topic that you choose. My current research focuses on how expenditures by Congressional election candidates can not only sway voters, but also how they can attract a greater number of people to vote. My next project will be studying a college grant program in Pennsylvania that is designed to increase the number of Pennsylvanian workers in technological industries. Economics is one the few, if not only, graduate programs that allows me to do research on an array of different topics.

What recommendations would you give a student who is researching economics programs?
My best advise for comparing grad schools and choosing your program: look at the jobs that the recent graduates from that program obtained. We call these placements. The recent placements by the department should be a big factor when deciding on a school. While rankings can help guide you, it is better to see if your interests match well with their placements. After all, you are going to grad school to get a job that you will enjoy. Also, make sure you get a really good idea of the requirements and the material you will be studying. Before I started my program, I had no idea just how important math theory and proofs are to the first year economics courses. This left me a little unprepared and I had to do a lot of independent work to catch up. Basically, find the program that is the best fit for you to get the job that you want and go for it.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
After undergrad at the University of Pittsburgh, I came straight to grad school and have now been in school for 21 consecutive years. With any luck, I hope to become a college professor when I finish my Ph.D. and then will never have to leave the academic lifestyle.


Jeff Thurk

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Economics, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation Topic: Intellectual property rights and their effects on firm innovation

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Economics, Carleton College – Northfield, MN

What can you tell me about life as a graduate student?
Life as a graduate student is, well, complicated. Those outside academia tend to be nostalgic about school life. They remember all the fun things they did as an undergraduate and assume grad school is much of the same. In actuality, graduate school is not very different than having a “real world” job. You'll work hard and be challenged every day. Before grad school, I worked as a management consultant and I can honestly say that I work as hard now as I did as a consultant. The difference, of course, is that I get to choose what I work on and where I spend my time. For me that's a great thing – I get to work on projects I find interesting. When things get stressful and deadlines loom, however, I have no one to blame but myself!

How about graduate school activities, what is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
I typically get into the office around 8 am and leave around 6 pm, with an hour or two of work at home each night. I try to take Saturdays off and Sunday is usually a half-day. My dissertation is math and computation heavy, so I spend a lot of time programming (ie, I'm at my desk a lot). It may seem weird, but I can become so totally engrossed in what I'm working on that occasionally I'll go an entire day without having a real conversation with somebody. For that reason, my day usually flies by.

What would you consider the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
Ambiguity. Earning a PhD requires a lot of work, patience, and determination. Whereas as an undergrad, the course plan is more or less laid out for you, writing your dissertation is completely up to you. Sure, professors are there to help you along the way, but they're busy people. Success requires a self-driven and motivated demeanor.

Is there anything you know now, and wish you knew then?
Math, math, and more math. Having a strong math background is essential in economics.

What are your top tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Again, take a lot of math as an undergrad, especially Real Analysis.
  2. Have an idea of what you're interested in pursuing with your degree. You're going to spend a lot of time and effort working towards your degree, so it's important that you have a goal in mind when stress levels are high.
  3. Take a break. I worked for a couple years after undergrad. Those experiences solidified my desire to pursue a PhD, as well as instilled valuable work and inter-personal skills. I think it's important to understand how the real world works.
  4. Don't take yourself too seriously. I think grad school is designed to make you feel stupid at least once every day. Learn from your mistakes and deficiencies.

What is the most important piece of advice for a prospective grad student?
Be humble. You probably did well as an undergrad, but graduate school is a different ball game. First off, the people around you will be as intelligent and accomplished as you, if not more. It may be difficult to not be the smartest person in the room. Second, you're going to be bombarded with material, concepts, and tools. I liken it to drinking from a firehouse. Success is dependent upon you facing your weaknesses and actively working to address them. When you miss a question on a test or problem set, really take the time to understand why you missed it. When someone critiques your paper, make sure you address their concerns. Above all, don't pretend that you understand something when you really don't.


Eva Dardati

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Economics – Environmental Economics and Industrial Organization, The University of Texas at Austin (May 2009);Dissertation: “Environmental Regulation and Firm Dynamics”

Undergraduate Degree: Economics, University of Buenos Aires – Argentina

What is grad school life like?
In general, we have a lot of freedom with our time in the economics department. That is, professors are not always checking in on what we are doing, or not doing. Given that, sometimes it is difficult to sit and work the whole day so for me it is important to have a routine and stick with that. During the week, I usually wake up between 7:30-8, go to my office, work there until 6-7. I go to a couple of seminars a week. Besides work, I try to go to the gym a couple of times a week. I do yoga. I try to take off one day of the weekend (the brain also needs to rest!) and usually I work a half day the other day of the weekend. Of course, it depends on my schedule. If I have an upcoming presentation I don’t take days off! But in general, I leave some time for going out or doing some social activities. I really need it, in particular after a long day of hard work.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
We have a lot of freedom to choose what we want to work on. In economics, we have to find our own research questions, which can be really difficult sometimes but it also allows you to be creative and do what you most enjoy.

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
I am in candidacy, which means that I spend all my time working on my dissertation.

Can you tell us a bit more about your dissertation?
The title of my dissertation is “Environmental Regulation and Firm Dynamics.” The focus is on cap and trade programs. In particular, I use the experience of the Acid Rain Program in the US which implemented a cap and trade system to control sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants. My research question is about the free allocation of permits and how they influence the firm dynamics (investment, exit and entry). I find that firms with more free permits are less likely to invest in new equipment. Since they have free permits they prefer to keep the old equipment to get the permits rather than invest in a new one and lose their right to get free allowances. Of course, this has adverse consequences for welfare. I use this fact to give advice about the optimal design of cap and trade programs.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I currently have a TA position but I have also had an AI role. As a TA you are expect to hold office hours, grade homework and exams but there’s a lot of heterogeneity depending on the professor you work with. In the past, I have also done review sessions, or prepare homework and exams. If you are an AI, you are in charge of your own class. That implies doing everything! (preparing the lectures, the exams, the homework, etc, that is a lot of work but it is also a great experience!).

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
During the first couple of years of grad school you have to take classes and exams, which makes it more similar to the undergrad experience. It is much harder though! You have to spend the WHOLE day studying, solving problem sets, and you have an infinite amount of work. Once you start to work on the dissertation, being a grad student is completely different. It is more like a job. You spend the whole time doing research and working toward your dissertation. And the outcome of that will determine the type of job you get in the future, so you work with much more responsibility.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
Being a grad student is learning how to do research. You should really consider whether or not you like that.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Check the placement stats in the department to see where alumni start careers.
  2. Research the faculty. Do you like what they do? Would you like to do something similar?
  3. Consider where you see yourself in the future. What would you like to do? Where you like to be? Would a PhD be useful for that?

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I did some research work when I was an undergrad. I would completely recommend research because it gives you some idea of what grad school will be like.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your next choice?
Rice University and Arizona State University

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
Begin a grad student is not only a job but it is also a life experience. You have to be humble. You regularly get frustrated (you don’t get results, results are not as you expected, you get stuck in the mode, etc) so you have to learn to be persistent and patient. 


Noah Kaufman

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Economics, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Clean Energy and the Various Impacts of Climate Change

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Economics, Duke University – Durham, NC

What is grad school life like?
It really depends on the student. Some treat it like an extension of the undergraduate experience, working when they have to but not letting it take over their life. Many of these students don’t make it past the first couple years in the program because they can’t keep up with the workload, but others do just fine relying on their intelligence alone (befriend these types because they are fun to have a beer with, and resist the urge to strangle them when they do better than you on tests). Other students seemingly do nothing but work. It depends on what type of person you are, what your goals are, and how prepared you are for the program. Personally, I found that for the first year or so I had to work extremely hard, and as I have become more comfortable with the material, I’ve been able to enjoy a more humane work/life balance.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
I make sure every day is a little different. Some days I work from home, other days I go to my office, and still others a coffee shop – most days I jump around from place to place. In general, I try to wake up between 7 and 8, and then start working or heading to campus around 9. I take a break at some point in the day to play basketball or go for a run. Nights are totally dependent on my schedule – if I don’t have plans or a football game to watch, I work some more.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
I worked in finance before graduate school, and spent 50-80 hours per week behind a desk in cubicles and offices. The best part about graduate school by far is the freedom it offers. The requirements can all be accomplished on your own time. If you feel like working in a coffee shop instead of your office in the economics department, you can. If you feel like playing basketball in the middle of the day or taking the day off and going to Houston for dinner, you can. This type of freedom does not exist in the real world. People who prefer or need a more regimented schedule sometimes find it difficult to adjust to this freedom. I am not one of these people.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
Specifically, my research has focused on clean energy and the various impacts of climate change, in terms of the methods and magnitude of prevention efforts.

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
In spring 2009 I earned my MA and I am now in the third year of the program en route to the PhD. The first year consists almost exclusively of coursework, with lots of readings, exams and problem sets – not all that different from the format of undergrad classes. If you’re like me, you may at first be underprepared and overwhelmed by the intensive math and statistics required in these classes, so you spend most of the first year feeling like you’re behind the program. Fortunately, a year is a long time. The second year is a transition between coursework and research. You take more specialized courses in the fields in which you are most interested. These courses are a little less intensive than the first year, and you have a much better idea of how to succeed in a graduate level class. This gives you some time to begin conducting your own research. Starting with the third year, you can still take classes, but the focus is mainly on research and writing from this point on.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I’ve been a TA every semester I’ve been here (this spring will be my 6th TA-ship). The work is mostly tedious tasks that the professors don’t have the time (or inclination) for, such as grading problem sets and exams. I hold office hours for 2-4 hours per week; they are generally very quiet in the beginning of the semester and very hectic at the end of the semester and before exams. Nobody goes to graduate school in order to fulfill the dream of becoming a TA – but the work is important, and it’s how the funding for graduate students is justified (Ph.D. students don’t pay tuition and receive a small stipend). Not to mention, the opportunity to teach review sessions and answer questions in office hours can be valuable experiences for graduate students who hope to one day become professors.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
The biggest difference for me is the goal of the experience. As an undergrad I mainly tried to have fun and get good grades, hoping the grades would get me a decent job after college and convince my parents to continue to subsidize the fun I was having. In graduate school my goals are to become an expert in economics and begin a career as an economist. Two important notes on the difference: 1) the disappearance of the word “fun” from the graduate school description; 2) there is no such thing as being “done” with graduate school work like there is with undergraduate work. There is always more to learn, and to be successful, you need to learn the material even though you don’t have to. That’s why it’s important to be passionate about whatever you choose to study.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I wish I knew that what I learned in undergraduate classes was far less important than the experiences I had and the relationships I built. In two different jobs and in graduate school, I’ve found that specific knowledge isn’t expected at the outset – what is far more important is intelligence, responsibility and a positive attitude. For that reason, as an undergrad I should have worried less about the details and more about my big picture development as a student and as a person.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Talk to as many people in the program as possible. Just send us an email. We like the attention.
  2. Don’t go to graduate school in economics if your goal is to avoid getting a job in the real world. There’s a good chance you won’t make it through the program if you are not excited to learn the material or to become an economist. Not to mention, the workload is at least as intensive as any 9 to 5 job you will find.
  3. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you won’t succeed in any graduate school program because of a lack of previous experience with the subject. These programs are very, very, very long – there is plenty of time to catch up from any starting point.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in economics to check out?
Freakonomics.com is a great place to find practical, interesting and amusing examples of economics in our society.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Graduates of the economics program find jobs in academia, the private sector, or the public sector. I hope to find a job that gives me the opportunity to utilize the tools I’ve gained in grad school. I could see myself as a consultant, working for the government or becoming a professor. The more I get to travel the world, the better.


Timur Hulagu

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Economics (December 2009), The University of Texas at Austin;Dissertation Topic: “Essays on Monetary Economics”

Other Degrees: M.S. & Undergraduate Degree, Statistics, Middle East Technical University – Ankara, Turkey

What was grad school life like?
Finishing the graduate studies is a huge relief, I must say. The PhD program in economics is extremely demanding, especially in the first and last years. The first year is the most stressful stage because you can fail to continue the program unless you succeed the comprehensive exams at the end of the first year. You have to understand the core of macro and micro classes and need to have a high level of analytical skills to be able to pass these exams. The final year, on the other hand, is the one in which you complete your own research and this research will get you a good job if you do it well. The final period of your graduate school life will not be easy; you will start to think about details of your research every minute. No matter what you are doing; walking, eating, chatting with friends or even watching the Horns’ game, you think about your research. So, be well prepared. You will be more comfortable in your final year if you spent your previous years working hard. It is almost impossible to do decent research in the final year without giving enough effort after the comps.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
I must admit that I didn’t have a well programmed schedule for my days in school. All I could plan was to have 8 to 10 hours study time in any part of the day. Don’t think that you will be free after those hard working hours, you will be thinking about your research all the time. This is really the worst part of graduate school life. The achievement, on the other hand, is great. Once you are done, you will have one of the most honorable degrees which you will have the rest of your life. I think it will be worth all the pain.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
My thesis title is “Essays on Monetary Economics.” Mainly, I analyzed the interaction between inflation and inequality in my research.

Did you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I had both TA and RA positions in different semesters to finance my studies. In my opinion, RA positions are better even though they are more demanding. You learn much more compared to a TA; assisting a professor in research teaches you a lot about the basics of conducting decent research. You have to proctor and grade exams if you are a TA, which are really time wasting activities. You may prefer a TA position in your final year because it is very hard to concentrate on your own research in RA positions. Either way, I think the professor whom you are assisting is very important and can turn your life to hell if you do not perform well. I was very lucky in this sense, all the professors I assisted were nice people (or I performed well enough that they didn’t show me their evil side ☺ ).

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
There are well prepared exam questions that you need to answer in your undergrad program. They all have an answer and you need to learn the way to get to that answer. Doing research in the graduate school, however, is different. You come up with your own question and this question might not have an answer. You can find yourself in an endless road and this can cost you precious time.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
If I were an undergrad now with this experience in my pocket, I would get more high-level math classes, especially real analysis. I also would take honors macro and micro classes.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I would have accepted Georgetown’s offer if I hadn’t accepted UT’s offer, but I am so happy to be a horn after all (Hook’em!). Georgetown is also a great school with many valuable professors but I loved my school and city so much that I would make the same choice today.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I am currently an employee of the Central Bank of Turkey as an economist and I can see myself participating deeply in the economic policy of the Turkish economy 10 years from now.


Tess Stafford

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Economics, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation Topic: Essays on environmental and natural resource economics

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Economics, Vassar College – Poughkeepsie, NY

What is grad school life like?
Early on in my grad school career, I had the mentality of a student. I thought of the summer and winter breaks as just that – breaks from work – and I did a lot of traveling. As the years progressed, my mentality changed and I began to think of grad school as a job, or really more of a business that I owned and ran. I think once this happens, you realize there are no breaks, only days and evenings that you decide to take off. So, while freedom and ownership are the benefits to grad school, they are also a huge responsibility. There is always more work to be done so it can be difficult to take time off with a clear conscience.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
The daily routine definitely changes over time. As a first year grad student, I was on campus for 10 or so hours a day working with other first year students on problem sets and preparing for exams. It was a very social time for me. We ate out a lot. I think we were all a few pounds heavier then! This routine slowly started to change to more time working alone and, for me, less time on campus. Now, in my last year, I work entirely from home and rarely go to campus. I have a fancy desktop (thank you fellowship) that I can’t part with!

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
Independence. And I think this is true of most economics PhD programs. We have two years or so of course work and then you are on your own more or less to work on your research. This of course can be dangerous if you don’t stay focused since, in many cases, no one will be checking up on you!

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
I am currently in candidacy and working full time on my dissertation research.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
My dissertation consists of several essays on environmental and natural resource economics, which touch on many aspects of applied microeconomics. My job market paper assesses the effect of indoor air quality in schools on student attendance rates and test scores. My second paper estimates the wage elasticity of labor supply using data from the Florida lobster fishery. My third paper examines the bias associated with ignoring the multi-species aspect of labor supply decisions in spatially explicit bioeconomic fishery models. And a final paper is a second-best general equilibrium analysis of pollution taxes and environmental quality.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I am currently on a fellowship that pays my tuition as well as a generous stipend. Not only this, but the only requirement of the fellowship is for me to continue to work on my dissertation research. I highly recommend looking for fellowship opportunities while in grad school. The money is out there!

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
I work about 10 times harder now. Grad school is so much more demanding of your time.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I wish that I had taken more math and econometrics. Even if you end up changing your mind and not going to graduate school, these classes will probably still be of use to you.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Take more math and econometrics courses.
  2. Consider doing a one-year master’s program in economics (or math). My impression is that those students that entered the program with a master’s degree suffered much less than the rest of us. At the very least, many concepts that were covered the first year were familiar to them, which goes a long way. Also, I think having a master’s improves your chances of getting into better PhD programs to begin with. Of course, this means dedicating another year of your life to school, delaying the PhD, and these programs often cost a fair amount. But it’s something to consider.
  3. I would suggest applying to many schools. The marginal cost of applying to another school is fairly small, but doing so will increase your options. It can also be difficult for undergraduate professors that may be advising you to determine where they expect you to be admitted if they do not regularly send undergraduates to PhD programs every year. So, applying both high and low will help with that uncertainty. Also, being admitted to more programs improves your ability to negotiate with schools regarding funding.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I completed a senior thesis as an undergrad. In retrospect, it was not a very good paper, but it was a great experience and I really enjoyed it. I think undertaking a task like this early on will help you identify if you’re really interested in conducting original research. My topic was in American economic history and required reading through old census records. I found that I really enjoyed the investigation and creativity. And, if you’re lucky, it may even turn out to be a good paper!

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
My decision came down to UT Austin, University of Wisconsin at Madison, and UC Santa Barbara. It was a difficult choice, but I think I made the right one!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself as a professor, involved in both research and teaching.

Do you have a ‘grad school survival tip’ you would like to share?
I don’t know if this classifies as a survival tip, but I strongly recommend attending and presenting at conferences as much as possible while in grad school for several reasons. First, it’s great practice. Being able to orally communicate your research is very important. Second, it gets your name and research out there, which can be very helpful when it comes to getting a job. And third, you’ll begin to meet the network of economists that you will be working with for the rest of your career. In the end, it really is a small group of people so get outside of your home institution and go and meet them!

Return to the top of this page

English

Faculty

Dr. Patricia Garcia

Academic Background: Ph.D. & M.A., English, Texas A&M University – College Station, TX; B.A., English, The University of Texas at Austin

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I was encouraged by my parents to continue my studies, so I went back to graduate school with some hesitation. But, once I was back in school, I remembered how much I loved the conversations about literature and culture and, even more, how much I enjoyed the process of discovery, even in the dusty libraries.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
My dissertation examines Catholic writers and reading audiences in early modern England. I analyzed various religious pedagogical texts such as rosary guides and devotional poetry as methods used to help maintain a Catholic identity during a time of persecution.

What is your area of specialization?
While my primary area of research has been in the English Renaissance, specifically poetry and drama, I have also developed a specialization in Mexican American literature and culture.

What topics do you teach at UT?
I teach British literature survey courses, Shakespeare, Mexican American literature, and a class on Chicana Feminism.

What is your current research focus?
I am beginning a research project that will examine the work of Mexican American quiltmakers, especially the development of an aesthetic. This will most likely involve a collection of oral histories as well as images and, hopefully, examples of these works.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by English scholars in the U.S. or around the world?
We are constantly evaluating what we mean by literature itself, especially as more forms of texts surround us everyday in the media. Traditional notions of literature have moved beyond books and now includes film, hypermedia, and popular culture among many genres.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate? And would you recommend research for undergrads?
I did not participate in a research project as an undergraduate, but as a faculty member, I have been involved in a few. Based on the experience of my students, I would highly recommend it as it not only provides tremendous opportunities to learn about your subject matter, but it also connects you to scholars in your field.

What makes a good grad student?
An inquisitive and earnest nature, patience, and a sense of humor.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to an English graduate program?

  1. Do your research on the programs so that you find what you want and can state as such in your application.
  2. Look at both small and large programs to see what sort of options they offer.
  3. If you can, correspond or meet with a faculty member in the program to figure our your own expectations as well as theirs.

What are the top five U.S. graduate programs in your area?
Stanford University, Yale University, University of California at Berkeley, Harvard University, and University of Chicago.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Many find teaching and research positions in universities and community colleges. Or, they work as archivist or research librarians. Some also move to the corporate world as consultants, editors, or publishers.

Graduate Students

Meghan Andrews

Graduate Program: Ph.D., English, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interests: Renaissance literature, especially the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., English Literature & Religious Studies, Brown University – Providence, RI

What is life like for an English graduate student?
Being a graduate student is definitely a full-time job; in many ways, it’s even more intense, because your work comes home with you at night. I spend my evenings during the week doing work, and usually spend at least one weekend day and night (sometimes both, depending on the time of the semester) doing the same. Depending on my mood, I either work at home or go to a coffee shop. I often study with fellow grad students—if you feel like you have too much work to go out, it’s a good way to be both social and productive. However, I usually do manage to reserve one night a week to do things that aren’t school-related, even if I only have the energy to sit on the couch and watch TV. You can definitely have a social life; the important thing is just to always prioritize your work.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
While we’re in coursework, we take three seminars. They meet once a week for three hours or twice a week for an hour and a half. We also are TAs, which on a weekly basis entails attending all the professor’s lectures, leading two one-hour discussion sections, and holding office hours outside of class. I usually wake up around 9 and depending on what time I have to be on campus, either head right over or do a little work at home before I depart. I’m usually home between 4 and 5 and eat dinner around 7:30. In between, I go for a run and/or do something that’s not related to school. That way, I’ve had a little break to recharge my batteries and am refreshed enough to work for a few hours after dinner. I try to have work-free mealtimes; I almost always eat lunch with grad student friends in our lounge. I usually bring lunch to campus and cook dinner for myself at home, but about once a week I eat out (I eat out more often at the end of the semester).

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
On the professional side, I’d say the size of the department. Not only do we have an amazingly rich array of faculty to work with, our graduate students receive multiple professional opportunities that might not exist if our department was smaller. On the personal side, the camaraderie is amazing. Our graduate students are all incredibly supportive of each other and we get along fabulously. Everyone is willing to go out of his or her way to help someone else out.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
My research thus far has primarily focused on gender and, to a lesser extent, sexuality in the Renaissance. Moving forward, I see myself incorporating a historical formalism, textual studies, and a dash of psychoanalytic theory into my work.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
Having just received my MA, I’m finishing up my coursework and beginning to read for the field exam, our oral comprehensive exam, the subject matter of which is tailored to each student.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
The past two years I’ve been a TA, and I’ve found it both enjoyable and rewarding. As stated above, we attend all the professor’s lectures for the class, teach two one-hour discussion sections, and hold office hours outside of class. We handle all the grading for the students in our two sections (usually 40-50 students), and usually the TAs will have at least one grading meeting per assignment with the professor. I enjoy the interaction with students as well as the connections I form with my fellow TAs. Being a TA is a nice complement to my own work. In the third year, graduate students become Assistant Instructors (AI), which for me is next year. The AI position differs from the TA position in that I will be able to teach my own class.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
Graduate school is professional training. You shouldn’t think of it as an extension of your undergraduate career; instead, you should view it as a full-time, professional job, with all that entails. You have to be on top of your game every day.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then?
I wish I’d taken more language classes in undergrad.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Check out the faculty profiles at the programs you’re interested in, and read some of the professors’ more recent work. You want to go to a school where at least one or two of the faculty share your interests, and if you read the most recent article or two from each faculty member, you’ll also have an idea of who you want to work with when you arrive. Look at the classes offered; do they teach many in your area, and do the classes sound like the kind of classes you want to be taking? You might even email one or two professors whose research interests correspond strongly to yours.
  2. If you can, talk to the program’s current graduate students. They’ll quickly give you a sense of the feel of the program and what graduate life is like there.
  3. Your undergrad professors are the best resources you have throughout the process of identifying graduate schools to apply to, applying, and choosing. Take full advantage of their knowledge—most if not all professors are more than happy to share it with a promising student.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
For my Religious Studies concentration, I had to write a capstone paper, longer than a normal seminar research paper but shorter than a traditional thesis; I wrote mine on the influence of Greek and Roman philosophical schools on the development of early Christian monastic societies. I would definitely recommend research for undergrads interested in grad school, as you’ll find that already having a strong sense of how you yourself function as a researcher is incredibly helpful. Especially so in that stressful first semester!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully teaching at a college or university.

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
Everyone has imposter syndrome (generally defined as the feeling you got in by mistake, that all your fellow students are roughly a thousand times smarter than you, etc.). Everyone. It’s not just you. On a related note, your best support system is your fellow graduate students; it’s easy to become reclusive that first semester, but the more you and your friends lean on each other, the less painful the experience will be.


Louisa Hall

Graduate Program: Ph.D., English, The University of Texas at Austin; * Research Interests*: Seventeenth century poets who find interesting formal ways of distinguishing between private and public voice.

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., English, Harvard University – Cambridge, MA

What is life like for an English graduate student?
Graduate school is relatively unstructured, which is something to be aware of. As long as I make up schedules for myself I love it. Sometimes days slip away, and that’s something to try to avoid. But if I stick to a schedule, and stop at the end of the day, I could not have a better life.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
I take my sweet time waking up in the morning, and then I write for a few hours. After that, I prepare for class, teach, then grade or read. If I were not working I would spend my time reading and writing. It’s a gift to be able to call your ideal day a workday.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
Definitely the teachers. I get so excited to go in to school and hear their thoughts about books. Also, I’m writing this from Wales right now, because I was given travel money to research a couple of manuscripts here. I’ve spent the last two weeks sifting through delicate old script in delicate old libraries. The English department is very supportive of its graduate students in ways I had no idea about when I came here.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
I am researching poets in the seventeenth century who find interesting formal ways of distinguishing between private and public voice. In particular, I’m thinking about women poets who use unique formal tools to move through the imposed privacy of women’s writing in order to speak more publicly. Women were expected to write from within confined spaces; the ways they use syntax, prosody, and grammar to open small spaces, or to fortify the boundaries of their proscribed spaces, are fascinating to me.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I did write an undergraduate thesis, and I’d recommend that to someone considering graduate school in literature. I would recommend any long writing projects you can get yourself involved with. The less intimidating writing feels—the more you can just sit down and write—the less painful grad school will be.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I’m done with my coursework; now I’m reading for my field exam, and slowly moving into the dissertation part of the process. I’ve loved the relatively unstructured time in which to read poetry and imagine the directions my dissertation might take.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
This year will be my first year as an AI in the English department. I’ve spent one year as an AI in the rhetoric department and two years as a TA in the English department. TAing is a joy. You get paid to go to fascinating lectures and then have two hour long conversations with bright students about those lectures. The only thing that is not a joy is grading, but really, that is a very small price to pay.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
I’ve actually had an easier time as a grad student than I did as an undergrad. As an undergrad, your focus is torn between so many different things. As a grad student, you have a much clearer idea of what you are doing in school. I took a few years off between undergrad and grad school, and that also helped me to clarify my sense of self as a student.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then?
I wish I had been braver about going to teachers’ office hours. As a teacher now, I know that I love when students come to me with their particular questions and interests. At the time, I thought my extra questions would be a burden.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. I would talk to a favorite teacher about the idea. The wealth of knowledge they have about the experience—as well as the application process—can’t be gotten elsewhere.
  2. This isn’t for everyone, but I would also consider the idea of taking some time off in order to get some distance from the life of a student.
  3. Finally, I would seriously consider the faculty at the schools to which you are applying. Are there teachers there that you would like to work with? You will find teachers you love no matter where you go, but it helps the transition process if you have a few picked out from the start.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I’d like to be teaching somewhere. Hopefully with some time to write. Hopefully in a city, but I guess we can’t be too picky about these things.

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
My best experiences in school have always come out of finding teachers that I love. I would advise future grad students to be open minded about subject matter for the sake of finding teachers who think and write in ways they admire.


Dustin D. Stewart

Graduate Program: Ph.D., English, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation Topic: Miltonic heterodoxy and mid-18th-century English poetry

Other Degrees: M.A. and B.A., English, Baylor University – Waco, TX

What is life like for an English graduate student?
An American graduate student can look like a curious cross-breed between a full-time student and a working professional. And our field expects that we will use graduate study to learn how to carry ourselves as professionals, as more than students. We have to become competent teachers, promising scholars, and active participants in campus life. No sooner do you think you have the hang of being a good graduate student (mastering the readings, contributing to class discussions, writing solid seminar papers) than you’re reminded that you need to think of yourself as something more. Because “something more” is, in fact, what you’re here to become. Graduate study, enriching though it is, is not its own reward. This point may also serve as a mild caution for folks who see graduate school as an opportunity to extend a charmed undergraduate experience. The charms here are real, but they are quite different.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
I’ll take Tuesdays this semester as an example. I teach an introduction-to-literature class at 2:00 PM, and I hold office hours for my students between 11:00 and 12:30. (I can also use some of my office hours to finish up preparations for teaching.) With these times in mind, I wake up around 6:30 or 7:00 AM, I work out in the on-site gym at my apartment complex, and I try to catch a bus to campus. (I have a car but prefer not to pay for parking near the university.) This puts me on campus by around 9. I’ll often spend that two-hour window (before office hours) either tracking down materials in the library or writing in a coffee shop. Then office hours, then lunch, then class. I might have meetings of various kinds in the late afternoon: with a committee, with a research group for the Digital Writing Research Lab, or with one of my faculty supervisors. Otherwise, more writing or checking e-mail or grading my students’ work. After I take the bus back home and have dinner, I’m not likely to do much more writing. But depending on the time of term, I probably will have a little more reading to do. Often I’ll meet up with friends to share dinner or a drink or to watch TV.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
I’m impressed by the program’s range: the sheer variety of what faculty and students work on, where they come from, why they do what they do. I guess what makes this range cool, and not just imposing, is that it doesn’t force the program to be impersonal. Certainly ours is a large program, but I’ve been pleased to discover that large doesn’t have to mean faceless.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
Scholars have done a good bit of work lately on the theology of John Milton. We now have a clear sense that some of Milton’s views departed pretty radically from the Protestant mainstream of his day. My dissertation project emerges from a desire to track those views into the following century. Numerous poets in the 1730s and ‘40s wanted to look back to Milton as a model, but they had to be careful. As a public figure he had advocated for scary ideas like divorce and revolution, and his side in England’s civil war had lost. I’m exploring how several notable writers consequently worked in their poetry and criticism to separate Milton’s poetic style (which they applauded) from his religious and political ideas (which they scorned). You might say that these writers hoped to raise Milton’s body but to keep his soul dead and buried. The trouble is, Milton didn’t think the two could be separated.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I didn’t participate in an extended research project while I was an undergraduate. However, when I served as an administrator in an honors program (before coming to UT), I worked with numerous undergrads whose research-intensive thesis projects helped them immensely as they prepared for graduate study.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I’m moving right now into candidacy. Which means that I’ve completed required coursework and defended my dissertation prospectus, a formal proposal for the project. A persistent challenge is organization. In terms of scheduling, I have to coordinate a number of different commitments (balancing meetings, research, reading, writing, and teaching). I also have to find ways to manage a project as big as a dissertation. Self-motivation and goal-setting are crucial. Sharp colleagues and strong coffee help, too.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I’m presently an assistant instructor (AI) in the English department. This semester I’m teaching an introduction-to-poetry course that I designed. The past two years I’ve been an AI in the Department of Rhetoric & Writing, teaching first-year writing courses (RHE 306) and a special-topics course (RHE 309K). Being responsible for a class--from proposing the course and developing the syllabus and assignments, to planning each class, to meeting with students and grading their work--requires a lot of time and work. But I’m grateful for the flexibility, too. I don’t teach the same class every semester, and I have the freedom to develop a few classes of my own. Our program also normally assigns AIs, in addition to their teaching, to work several hours per week in the University Writing Center or the Digital Writing and Research Lab.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
As an undergraduate I found that I could excel by making time to do the assigned work. (This wasn’t easy, given all the different pressures undergrads face.) I find that success in graduate school depends a good deal on what you do over and above the minimum assignments. Also, undergraduate courses often seem self-contained. Graduate courses, by contrast, usually assume that students are placing the material into larger contexts--the course content interacting with disciplinary problems and with each student’s distinctive research.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then?
I wish I would’ve spoken with more faculty members as I made plans to apply to graduate school.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. As you think about how you want to present yourself as an applicant, try to build on what you already know. Talk to faculty mentors about some places of overlap between the stuff you’ve been doing as an undergrad (say, an economics minor) and the recent developments in your proposed field of study (say, questions about how literary works relate to financial networks).
  2. Contact at least one faculty member in each program you’re applying to. Try to talk with such people about your interests and how they fit with their departments. (Maybe even read over some of their scholarly work beforehand.) Some of your own current professors might know these folks and might help you make a preliminary connection.
  3. Be intentional about studying for the GRE, including the Literature in English subject test. Doing well can help you in ways you might not recognize.

What is one fun or interesting website you would tell a friend interested in English to check out?
The Valve – A Literary Organ

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Working at a college or university. It feels presumptuous to say so, but it would be nice if I could have tenure by then, too.

Do you have an achievement you would like to share?
Happily, a couple of articles I’ve written have been recently accepted for publication by well-regarded academic journals. The articles grew out of seminar papers, so I advise new graduate students to take their in-class writing seriously. You never know where those pieces might go.


Jennifer Harger

Graduate Program: Ph.D., English, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Catholic British writers of the early 20th Century

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., English and French, Houston Baptist University – Houston, TX

What is life like for an English graduate student?
Graduate school is a consuming lifestyle; the standards are high, yet the workload is impossible to complete. In the first year especially there is a lot of turbulence and upheaval, and there is a temptation to fall into a vicious cycle of burn out/veg out/repeat. Once I realized that I simply couldn’t read—much less reflect deeply upon—every page I was assigned, I was freed to prioritize without feeling guilty. The key to balance is to decide ahead of time what is important for maintaining your own health and wholeness, and to be intentional in setting up boundaries to guard those things (certain relationships, healthy eating, hobbies, spiritual pursuits, exercise, etc.). The balance was much easier to maintain when I consciously guarded certain times for study, and certain times for personal fulfillment outside of my work.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
Most days I have some mixture of classes, teaching, and personal study; but since my individual days vary so much, I think more in terms of a typical week. I prefer to write in solitude, but I like to do my reading in the company of a friend several times a week (even friends who aren’t students will bring a book for pleasure, or other work). This helps me to connect with people even when I don’t have time for purely social activities. I also make space several times a week to cook for myself and/or friends. And finally, I try to set aside some time each week for a creative or artistic pursuit, either to do myself (such as photography), or to enjoy the work of others (like watching a play or renting a good movie).

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
Can I have two coolest things?! One is the collegial atmosphere of this program. I’ve been surprised and delighted by how supportive my fellow grad students are. Everyone I know in this program is cheerfully willing to share advice, ideas, and any other help they can offer, and I haven’t observed even a hint of envy or backbiting. The other “coolest thing” about my program is the Harry Ransom Center, an incredible collection of manuscripts, letters, photographs, and countless other objects of significance in humanities disciplines. When I first walked into an orientation for the HRC, I saw gathered in one room a letter from John Keats to his brother, a first edition of Milton, and the typed manuscript of Lucky Jim—and I felt like a kid in a candy store.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
Because I’m still in coursework, I’m not yet focusing intensively on my own research, but am still exploring topics and themes. I’m interested in Catholic British writers of the early 20th Century, particularly Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, who were writing during a period of significant cultural transition. I’m interested in how the strength of their religious tradition both complicates their places in this new modern culture, with greater diversity and fragmentation, and also gives them bearing within it.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I did not work on a research project per se, but I had excellent mentors among my undergraduate professors and benefitted from their guidance in my upper-level undergraduate research and work. I can’t comment on research projects from experience, but I think it’s always wise to pursue opportunities that will teach skills, offer experience, and build growth in areas that you know are important to you.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I am beginning my second year in the program, which means I’m still in coursework. I will also complete my Master’s Report this year, which is my first occasion to pursue my own research and writing independent of particular course requirements. I am still a TA in the midst of all that, so this season will be very full of widely divergent responsibilities and challenges. I enjoy the variety of this coming year, though, and hope it will help me avoid the temptation to obsess too much over any one aspect.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I am excited to be a TA again this year! Our responsibilities are two-fold. In our role of supporting the professor, we attend all lectures, track student attendance, administer and grade student assignments, and lead discussion sections for smaller groups of students within the larger course enrollment. Sometimes a professor invites us to teach a certain text in lecture as well, which is exhilarating, and great for professional development. In our role of helping students, we keep office hours to answer questions or work through difficult material in a more tutorial fashion. I love teaching and found this to be my one consistent source of joy and confidence throughout the turbulence of my first year. The one challenge for which I wasn’t prepared was occasionally feeling caught in the middle between a student and professor, with a responsibility to honor and advocate for both while having to enforce a decision I didn’t agree with.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
Two significant differences come to mind. I’ve already mentioned the incredibly increased workload; I don’t have the time for unhurried, thoughtful reflection that I enjoyed as an undergraduate. The other significant difference is that my undergraduate program focused so much on close reading and on the literary texts themselves, whereas grad school is heavily focused on theory and criticism.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then?
I wish I had been better versed in theory and criticism before I arrived at grad school.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Know what you want. Different programs have different strengths, from faculty specializations to research collections to travel opportunities. As you research schools and make applications, take into consideration what is most important to you, such as: working with a particular professor, having access to a particular library, or even the area of the country you wish to live and make connections in. Each of these factors is important. And apart from academic considerations, remember that grad school is a long time, so make sure you can be reasonably content living in the place you decide to go.
  2. Have real life experience. I worked for nine years before returning to school. You certainly don’t need to take that much time off, but I know in my own case I have more wisdom and a stronger sense of self than I did right out of college. My work and life experience has enriched what I bring to the table in my work for others, and in my own studies.
  3. Take charge of your own education. An undergraduate professor once told me, “Never let school get in the way of your education.” Obviously there are requirements you must follow and commitments you must be faithful to within your program, but read more and do more than simply what’s assigned. Know what you’re interested in and what enriches your mind and soul, and make time to pursue that even if it’s not part of the degree plan.

If you wouldn't have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I would have gone to the University of Dallas. Though they lack some advantages that I’m grateful for at UT, I was attracted to their classically liberal arts approach, with interdisciplinary students sharing a core reading list and early coursework together.

What is one fun or interesting website you would tell a friend interested in English to check out?
I try to avoid spending too much time online, but I enjoy Arts and Letters Daily, which is a compendium of links to interesting articles around the internet concerning literature, current events, cultural concerns, etc.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself at a teaching rather than research institution, preferably in or near a great city. My publishing will be primarily non-academic: popularly accessible books, and essays and articles in magazines such as The Atlantic. I’ve always loved the idealism of the academy, but I want to press out beyond the walls of the ivory tower and connect that idealism and energy with “the rest of the world.”

Do you have a grad school survival tip to share?
Survival tip: Practice hospitality and friendship, because people and meals shared in a home will last far longer than the work you do today. I know everyone does not agree with me, but it’s a belief I’m committed to and have seen proven true in my own life. Don’t let your work consume you, because there’s always something more you can/should do. If you wait until you’re actually “done” before you do something for yourself, for your soul, or for important relationships in your life…then you’ll never get to it, and you may not even end up with the professional goals that you sacrificed everything else to gain.


Jessica Shafer

Graduate Program: Ph.D., English, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interests: Literary and cultural representations of female education in Victorian Britain

Undergraduate Degree: M.A. and B.A., English, University of Virginia - Charlottesville, VA

What is life like for an English graduate student?
Although the lines between work, study, and ‘life’ are a bit more blurred for me than for some of my friends out in the corporate world, I really enjoy the fact that there are so many parts to my ‘work.’ I think life as an English graduate student teaches you to be flexible and keep multiple projects going at once, but also that this kind of flexibility and multi-tasking still allows for a ‘life’ inside and outside the graduate program.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
Aside from scheduled events, like classes, a typical day in the life of an English grad student is pretty unstructured. There’s a lot of time to use as you want, so a schedule or to-do list is very helpful to keep yourself on track. For example, I might spend the morning creating a lesson plan or grading assignments, attend or teach a class in the afternoon, and read or research in the evening, or I might spend most of a day on only one of those activities. Really, each day’s activities depend on my current projects and goals.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
I think that the idea of graduate school (when you’re considering it and when you’re actually in it) can be very daunting—especially in terms of learning from and working with Professors in your subject. The coolest thing about the English graduate program, in my experience, is the faculty’s level of involvement with their students. Professors are willing to share ideas, give input to projects, and to create relationships with students; they create a scholarly community that can be very fertile. Another really cool thing about UT’s graduate program is their affiliation with the Dickens Project, a multi-university research group that (among other things) hosts a yearly conference called “Dickens Universe.” At this conference professors and scholars, graduate students, undergraduate students, and literature fans of all kinds meet for a week to discuss a particular Dickens novel as well as other elements of Victorian literature and culture. It’s also great for students because of the Dickens Project’s focus on collaboration; other students and professors are excited to share scholarly ideas as well as survival tips and tricks of the trade.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
My research focuses on literary and cultural representations of female education in Victorian Britain. I’m interested in how girls and women are depicted as learning and teaching, as well as how these depictions comment on ideas of femininity or womanhood. I also see my work incorporating historical and cultural questions into readings of literature.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I didn’t work on a research project as an undergraduate, but I would recommend it! Tackling a project is a good way to figure out how you work in a particular field and to learn new skills that are part of participating in a particular field of study. I learned a lot about myself as a student, researcher, and writer as I wrote my MA thesis!

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I passed the field exam, an area-specific, comprehensive oral exam, at the end of the spring semester, so now I’m working on my prospectus, which is the formal proposal for my dissertation project. Since I started the PhD program here at UT after completing my MA at another school, I’m on a bit of a different schedule than the typical program sequence, which means I’m also finishing up my coursework this semester.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I am currently an AI for the English department and for the past 2 years I served as an AI for the Department of Rhetoric and Writing. As an AI, I’m responsible for the entire course, from creating the syllabus to grading the assignments; the responsibility is exciting and sometimes exhausting, but it’s all worth it! Teaching is one of my favorite elements of my graduate school experience because I get to encourage discussion on great books or topics and to share ideas with bright students.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
The major difference between graduate study and undergraduate study, I’ve found, is the fact that graduate study is meant as preparation for a specific end in a way that undergraduate study often isn’t. As an undergraduate, I felt that each course I took would teach me different skills and had its own goal. As a graduate student, I see that each course and each project feeds into the same goal—I’m still learning new skills as I go, but I’m using these new skills together to become a member of the scholarly community.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then?
As an undergrad, I was pretty shy about going to office hours or talking with a professor after class, even when I had an idea or question that I wanted to talk about. I wish I had been more confident about approaching professors—it’s a great way to build relationships that will help you as a student and help you think about graduate school.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Research, research, research. Try to get an idea of who on the faculty works in the areas in which you’re interested. Who might you want to take classes from? Who might be your advisor? Also, research the program’s and the school’s resources. Do they have an amazing library system? Do they have access to materials, people, or other assets that will enhance your studies?
  2. Talk with faculty members and graduate students at your current school and, if possible, at schools to which you’re applying or considering. Get their take on the work, the atmosphere of the program, and how your goals and ideas fit with graduate studies.
  3. Keep an open mind. Your areas of interest, your goals, or your outlook may change as you develop as a person and as a scholar. Don’t feel locked into the mindset you’re in as you apply to programs.

If you wouldn't have accepted the UT Austin offer, what was your #2 choice?
My second choice was the University of Georgia.

What is one fun or interesting website you would tell a friend interested in English to check out?
I check Arts and Letters Daily every morning. It’s a gateway to book reviews and articles about anything from 18th century travel writing to current economic policy. New articles are added daily and, while the site is run by the Chronicle of Higher Education, a publication devoted to news and issues about higher education, there is a wide range of topics and viewpoints showcased on the site. It’s kind of a grab-bag, but I almost always find an interesting article or book to investigate.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I’d like to be teaching, hopefully at a college or university.

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
Don’t be shy! Think of everyone you meet as a potential resource, from professors to other graduate students and anyone in between. Plus, graduate work can often seem lonely (reading or writing alone in a library or coffee shop), but connecting with friends and colleagues will make grad school seem much more collaborative and fun.


Kirby Brown

Graduate Program: Ph.D., English, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation: “Stoking the Fire: Nationhood in Early Twentieth Century Cherokee Writing”

Other Degrees: M.A., English, University of Texas at San Antonio; B.A., Biology, The University of Texas at Austin

What is life like for an English graduate student?
It's demanding and challenging, but also highly rewarding. Boning up your time management chops is a must, since early in the graduate program you're juggling a full load of coursework, term papers, teaching assistantships, and service work. And, of course, you've got your health and social/family life to consider, depending on your circumstances. Maintaining a good balance between all aspects of your life is a must, as neglecting one element of your life over others often leads to frustration and burnout. This is probably the hardest thing to get a hold of early on, but the benefits really are indescribable.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
Well, I'm a morning person, so my day starts kind of early. I get up, walk the dog, have a cup of joe, and then hit the ground running. In coursework, you'll meet for each of your three classes twice a week for an hour and a half, attend lectures for which you're TA-ing or teaching, and more than likely have another few meetings with other interest and service organizations that you're involved in. There always seem to be awesome lectures and presentations happening, so you'll probably try and catch these whenever you can. Though I could probably go solid through the day from sunup to sundown, I've decided to treat school like an 8-6 job, making sure to give myself time to take care of my health and hang with my family and friends. All work and no play makes the graduate student insane...

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
I would have to say the opportunity to work with super supportive, brilliant scholars—both faculty and other graduate students—who are interested in what I'm doing and more than willing to give advice or assistance when asked. The English department also provides some of the best professional training in the country, allowing grad students a variety of opportunities to grow professionally as well as intellectually. By the time you graduate, you'll likely have had opportunities to serve as a research assistant, teaching assistant, instructor of record in rhetoric and writing, instructor of record in the English department, editorial assistant, and assistant director in the English and Rhetoric departments.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
“Stoking the Fire: Nationhood in Early Twentieth Century Cherokee Writing” I like to say I came to my topic about two hundred years ago when a Pennsylvania Quaker named Caleb Starr moved to the Cherokee Nation in what is today the state of Tennessee and married into a prominent Cherokee family. His great grandson, Henry Starr, was my grandfather and was born into the Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory in 1907, months before Oklahoma became a state. When I was growing up, he used to tell my cousins and me stories about his life in Indian Territory, and we'd return with him to visit periodically for summer vacations. As a grew older, I gained an interest in that part of my family's history, and when I made the decision to return to graduate school after being away from the academy for a few years, I gravitated to American Indian literatures. I am particularly fascinated with the ways in which Cherokee and other Native writers thought about, imagined, and wrote nationhood in the early twentieth century.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I am currently in candidacy, which means I've finished all my course requirements, passed my qualifying exams, had my prospectus approved, and am now writing my dissertation. In many ways, the dissertation is more difficult than coursework, not only because I'm now doing original research and writing, but also because there are no “official” deadlines to keep me focused and on task. I'm learning (slowly!) to be more self-motivated and to break down large projects like dissertation chapters into their constituent tasks!

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I've been a TA, GRA, and AI. Depending on the instructor you're assigned to, as a TA in the English department, you'll generally be responsible for attending class lectures, taking great notes, preparing and supervising a weekly discussion section, holding office hours and grading exams and papers. Graduate research assistants are generally assigned to a professor or two and work with them in various stages of their research, including everything from putting together research bibliographies and tracking down sources to securing permissions and editing manuscripts. In my case, I twice served as an editorial assistant with Studies in American Indian Literatures, focusing specifically on production logistics and taking each issue from rough manuscript to finished product. As an assistant instructor, or instructor of record, the training wheels come off and you're on your own in front of bright eyed and bushy (or barbed) tailed students. Though it can be stressful structuring the course, choosing your texts, and making up your first syllabus, and while the responsibilities of the course are solely your own, the freedom the department gives you is awesome and, from what I understand, relatively unique among major Universities.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
I'd have to say the intellectual and logistic demands graduate school brings with it present the greatest challenges to undergraduate students and are probably the most difficult adjustments they have to make. For those going directly into grad school, this might be less of an adjustment than for those, like me, who were out of the system for a while before returning. The key to handling these demands, I believe, is to have accurate and informed expectations when you come in and to have at least the beginnings of a solid time management system up and running that works for you.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then?
When I was heading off to college as an undergrad years ago, I told one of my high school coaches that I was thinking about walking on with the football program. Though he noted that my lack of height, size, and speed would make it really difficult for me, he said that if I was truly committed to football as a central part of my life I would probably be able to make the team. I quickly realized that it wasn't centrally important to me and saved myself the time of investing in something that wasn't really what I wanted. I see grad school in much the same light. It's not necessarily something you do because you don't have another plan, although some have and have succeeded greatly. Generally speaking, though, I think grad school is something you have to know you want, if only because it becomes a great part of your life over the next few years. It also helps to give a flip about what you're examining. If you care about and are deeply invested in your topic, the research and writing becomes a joy rather than a chore.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. First, I'd make sure the program fits them and their research interests. Check out the department's web page and get to know the kinds of courses they offer and the research interests of the faculty. While finding exact matches is ideal, also consider the ways in which course offerings and faculty interests parallel your intellectual interests. One great thing about grad school is being exposed to different ideas, methods and approaches and allowing yourself to go into unfamiliar but intellectually exciting territory.
  2. I'd also check on opportunities for professional development, especially if you're planning on continuing as a teacher and researcher. You want a program that offers plenty of opportunities in teaching, research, editing journals, and service work, all of which are important considerations for potential academic employers.
  3. Finally, take the initiative to get to know some faculty and current students. Ask them about their experiences, their likes and dislikes, and where they see the program going. Grad school is challenging enough without throwing yourself into a dysfunctional situation.

If you wouldn't have accepted the UT Austin offer, what other universities would you have considered?
Well, as a Native Americanist, I probably would have considered Universities with strong Native Studies programs, those that staffed strong Native studies faculty whose work I respect and draw upon, or those in close proximity to Native communities. Right now, UCLA, and the Universities of Minnesota, Illinois, Oklahoma, and New Mexico come to mind. There is also important work for Native scholars in Arizona right now, so the University of Arizona and Arizona State might also be considerations. I also have colleagues at schools in the Pacific northwest who are able to do great scholarship and connect it with community service work which is exciting.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope to be doing responsible work in the academy as a teacher and researcher serving students from working class and underserved communities, and being intimately plugged into local Indian communities and putting my work to use for them as best I can. Whether that's at a research one institution, a small state school, or a tribal college is anyone's guess. Wherever I wind up is exactly where I'm supposed to be.

Do you have a grad school survival tip you would like to share?
The best advice I've ever received is to learn to be comfortable with my own average. For the overachieving, perfectionist-oriented grad student, this probably sounds counterintuitive. However, like anything in life, it's easy to get consumed with your work and ignore other equally important areas of your emotional, physical and spiritual health. So, figure out what your own average is (which for most grad students will be pretty darned good) and allow yourself to be comfortable at times being average. This doesn't mean you can't shoot for greatness; it just means that you'll keep yourself grounded in the knowledge that “good” happens way more frequently than “great,” and good is, well, a pretty huge accomplishment on most days.


Jenny Howell

Graduate Program: Ph.D., English, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interests: Women's writing in the 20th century

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., English, Baylor University – Waco, TX

What is life like for an English graduate student?
Life as an English graduate student is more than a full-time job. It can easily become an all-day-every-day consuming lifestyle. Grad school--in any field, I think--encourages an unbalanced existence. There isalways something more that can be read, studied, researched, or edited, and it is a skill to be able to make yourself turn it all off and nurture parts of your life that have nothing to do with school (health, relationships, hobbies, etc.)

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
My daily routine usually consists of waking up around 9 (or 10, if I'm particularly tired) and getting some work done. Then I head to school around noon since I usually have afternoon classes. I attend lectures, seminars, etc., and then am usually home around 6 or 7. At that point, I try to cook myself something quickly. Cooking is so important because it is a time for me to concentrate on something that has nothing to do with literature! Then it's reading and writing until I go to bed, usually around midnight or 1. Since I am easily distracted if I'm with other people, I tend to stay at home to get my work done, but I try to leave the house at least once after I return from school to go for a walk, to visit a friend, or simply to run errands.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The thing that I am most grateful for is the camaraderie within the program. Before coming to graduate school, I had heard horror stories about the competition and sabotage that goes on in some programs. Here at UT, my classmates are helpful, kind, and fun. I am able to ask what I sometimes think of as "silly questions" without feeling inferior. And, even better, that sense of camaraderie extends to the relationships between faculty and students. I could not be more pleased with how helpful and supportive my English professors and advisers have been.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
Since it's only my second year in the program, I don't have a well-defined research topic, but I am broadly interested in women's writing in the 20th century. I like to think in particular about the relationship between women writers and the traditional roles of women. In what ways do female authors envision their characters escaping the conventional roles of wife and mother? How do female authors themselves combat those stereotypes?

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
As an undergraduate, I researched how two different novels--Ian McEwan'sSaturday and Don DeLillo's Falling Man--depicted the trauma of 9/11. I would absolutely recommend doing a research project as an undergrad. Not only is it great experience for formulating a larger research project like a thesis or dissertation, but it also will ease the pain of writing a graduate school application essay and will make you feel more at ease writing longer seminar papers of 15 to 20 pages.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
At this point, I'm halfway to my M.A., so I'm still doing a full load of coursework (9 hours). Next semester, I'll be taking 6 hours and writing my Master's Report, which is our version of the master's thesis.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
Last year I was a TA for Masterworks of American Literature (E316K), and I had to attend lectures twice a week and then lead two discussion sections once a week. Although being a TA adds to my workload, I genuinely enjoy discussing texts with my students and hearing what they think about the assigned reading. Our discussions often helped me think about a text in a completely different way. This semester, however, things are different. I am a TA in an upper-level literature course, and I no longer teach any discussion sections. I am responsible for grading exams and essays and keeping track of attendance. I only meet with the students when they have questions or concerns about the course. Although the lighter workload allows me to concentrate on my own studies, I miss getting to know each student in the class personally!

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
For me at least, I feel more pressure in grad school to supplement my education outside my classes than I did as an undergrad. It often helps to readabove and beyond the syllabus. Over the summer and on weekends I try to rework papers I have written, expanding them with additional research in order to submit them for publication. Success in a graduate program has little to do with simply fulfilling the requirements of each course as it did when I was an undergrad; instead, it depends on viewing a course as a starting point and continuing your education from there.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then?
I wish I had read more literary and critical texts outside of class so that I would be more comfortable reading and interpreting texts on my own.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Develop a strong point of view. I don't think that any graduate program expects you to have a dissertation idea ready when you apply, but I think they all respect individuals who have done good research, have a particular critical point of view, and can envision themselves "specializing" in a certain area. Sure, it's great if you love all modern literature, but think of a niche you can carve out for yourself. Maybe it's the way that technology is represented in modern British literature or something equally compelling.
  2. Do your research on graduate schools and what they have to offer. Do not be daunted by the number of schools out there; take the time to really check out English grad programs and make sure you're getting what you want. Think about funding and location, of course, since those are major concerns. Most importantly, though, find faculty with whom you can see yourself working. Although you should have a clear vision of what you want to study, keep in mind that your focus might change. It never hurts to look for programs that have faculty with a wide range of interests. If you have the courage, the best way to research a program is to contact one of the professors and talk to him or her about your interests and how they might fit into the department at the school you are considering.
  3. Talk to your undergrad professors. They are by far the best resource you have. Ask them where they went to school, what their experience was like, if they know any professor or student in a certain program, etc. Most professors are more than willing to help students who express a strong interest in going to graduate school.

If you wouldn't have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
Probably the University of Virginia or Boston University. When I came to visit UT during a recruitment event, however, I loved the atmosphere of the program, and I knew that I wanted to be here.

What is one fun or interesting website you would tell a friend interested in English to check out?
Well, since I have a feminist bent, I often read Jezebel, which keeps me up to date with articles and news aimed specifically at women. It also has lots of fun stories and editorials.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully, teaching and continuing to research at a small liberal arts school.

Do you have an achievement you would like to share?
Happily, I was recently named the 2010 Outstanding Teaching Assistant in the English Department. I think my award was a product of my honest passion for reading and thinking about literature and for encouraging my students to enjoy those activities, too. I would advise you not to lose sight of the reason you came to graduate school in the first place! With so much stress and pressure and work, it's sometimes difficult to remember what you love doing and to be grateful that you have the opportunity and luxury to explore literature and ideas!

Return to the top of this page

French & Italian

Faculty

Dr. Guy P. Raffa

Academic Background: Ph.D. & M.A., Italian, Indiana University – Bloomington, IN; B.S., Mathematics & Computer Science, Duke University – Durham, NC

Area of Specialization: Medieval Italian Literature (Dante)

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
After graduating from Duke and working for a year and a half as an associate actuary in the corporate offices of a major insurance company, I decided to return to school for graduate study in Italian. I made this early career change for two reasons: first, because I wanted to deepen my knowledge of Italian culture by spending time in Italy and by taking courses there and in the U.S. (as an undergraduate I had taken Italian language courses as well as electives on Italian literature and art); second, because I knew that I wanted to teach at the university level, and I believed I would be happiest and most productive teaching, studying, and conducting research on Italian literature.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
I combined my mathematical and scientific interests with my graduate work in Italian literature and medieval studies to write a dissertation titled "Dante's Mathematical Imagination."

What topics do you teach at UT?
I most often teach courses that focus on early Italian literature and culture (Dante's Divine Comedy in particular), and I occasionally offer courses on modern Italian literature—usually centered on writers, such as Umberto Eco and Italo Calvino, whose work bridges the "two cultures" divide between the humanities and the sciences. When I teach medieval and Renaissance topics, I emphasize how works from these earlier periods influence and relate to modern and contemporary culture. For example, I am currently designing a course for first-year students—"Dante's Hell and Its Afterlife"—organized around modern works (literary and cinematic) indebted to Dante's Inferno.

Can you tell us a bit about your areas of specialization?
My primary scholarly field is medieval Italian literature—Dante above all—with additional interests in modern Italian literature and interrelations of the humanities and the sciences. I recently researched and wrote The Complete Danteworlds: A Reader's Guide to the "Divine Comedy" (University of Chicago Press, 2009). I combined an abridged version of the textual commentary from this book with images and audio selections from Dante's Divine Comedy to build the Danteworlds Web site. This multimedia Digital Humanities project is used by many students (at UT and elsewhere) as well as by other Dante teachers and researchers.

What is your current research focus at UT?
My current research project is a book-in-progress titled Dante's Bones. Beginning with the Florentine poet's death and burial in Ravenna in 1321, I focus on the amazing adventures of Dante's mortal remains—from the theft of his bones in 1519 and their accidental rediscovery in 1865 to their disinterment and examination in 1921. This research follows Dante in his afterlife on earth as he evolved from an object of civic rivalry between Florence and Ravenna during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance into a symbol of Italy for the Risorgimento, then into a proponent of nationalism and imperialism under the fascist regime, finally to become the global cultural icon that he is today.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by scholars of Italian studies in the U.S. or around the world?
As Italy marks its one hundred fiftieth birthday as a nation, many Italian Studies scholars are turning their attention to the intersections of Italian nationhood and identity: What does it mean to be Italian today? How does the nation respond to ethnic, racial, regional, sexual, and religious differences among its inhabitants, particularly as people from other parts of the world—fleeing poverty, war, or political repression—come to live and work in Italy. These more recent demographic changes also encourage reflection on the role played by such differences in Italian society during earlier times.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
Learning to do academic research properly is a crucial part of an undergraduate education. My most memorable research experience occurred during a study-abroad program when, although outside research wasn't required for the assignment, I realized that I needed to consult critical and philosophical works on the topic of humor in order to develop and support my argument for a literary essay on Samuel Beckett. I still recall the excitement and satisfaction of finding relevant books in Oxford University's famous Bodleian Library and incorporating ideas from them in my paper. For undergraduates in the humanities (including Italian Studies), I believe research skills are best acquired as integral parts of core courses in the field, such as presentations or written assignments that require the discovery and use of valid materials beyond the course texts.

What makes a good grad student?
A deep passion for the field is a necessary starting point for success in graduate school, but it isn't enough. Successful graduate work requires abundant energy and intense discipline to study and learn a vast amount of material in a relatively short period of time. Graduate students in Italian Studies must also be able to balance course work and teaching duties (as teaching assistants or assistant instructors). The best graduate students are able to think critically and independently—to question existing assumptions and paradigms—from a position of knowledge.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to an Italian graduate program?

  1. Prepare extra hard for the Graduate Record Examinations (a significant factor in university-wide fellowships) and write an intellectually substantive personal essay.
  2. Impress undergraduate teachers with your academic work so they can write detailed, persuasive letters of recommendation.
  3. After your undergraduate education, take a year or so off (if feasible) before beginning graduate studies—use this time to work, perhaps to travel; this break from the academic world could help you decide for sure that graduate study is the right choice.

What are the top five Italian programs in the US?
Currently, I would say that there are six top-tier US graduate programs in Italian Studies (with their order depending on area of specialization): Yale, UC Berkeley, New York University, Stanford, Columbia, and the University of Texas at Austin. The UT graduate program is new (2009-10 is our first year), but I believe it already belongs in this elite group based on the strength of the faculty and on outstanding research collections in Italian Studies and related fields.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Students who enter the Italian Studies program at UT are expected to earn a PhD, with the MA earned as a stage toward doctoral work. Like PhD students in other humanities programs, they generally aspire to a teaching position at a college or university. However, the knowledge and training they receive in Italian Studies also equip them for non-academic careers that place a premium on advanced language competence, international cultural expertise, and research skills.


Dr. Cinzia Russi

Academic Background: Ph.D. & M.A., Linguistics, University of Washington – Seattle, WA; M.A., Linguistics, San Jose State University – San Jose, CA; Laurea (MA equivalent), Foreign Languages & Literatures, Università Gabriele D’Annunzio – Pescara, Italy

Area of Specialization: Historical Linguistics

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I wanted to pursue an academic career.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
My dissertation examined the grammaticalization of Italian unstressed object pronouns.

What topics do you teach at UT?
For the past five years I have been teaching both lower and upper division Italian language courses and graduate courses in Romance and Italian linguistics, primarily dealing with issues in historical linguistics and sociolinguistics.

Can you tell us a bit about your areas of specialization?
My primary area of specialization is historical linguistic, specifically diachronic morphology and morphosyntax. I am also interested in language variation, Italian dialects, comparative Romance linguistics, and cognitive grammar.

What is your current research focus at UT?
Presently, my research focuses on two topics. I am investigating a small group of Italian predicates denoting the notions of lack (e.g., mancare ‘be lacking; lack’) and necessity (e.g., bastare ‘be enough; suffice’, servire ‘need’, volerci ‘be needed; be required’). In addition to examining the syntactic, semantic and pragmatic properties of these predicates from a synchronic perspective, I aim at reconstructing general trajectories of diachronic development for each of them. Furthermore, I am conducting a collaborative research project in the evolution of aspectualizers (aspectual verbs/auxiliaries; e.g., cominciare a fare qualcosa ‘begin to do something’, continuare a fare qualcosa ‘keep to do something’, finire di fare qualcosa ‘finish to do something’) in Italian (standard varieties and dialects), specifically the relevance and implications that the development of this type of predicates bears to grammaticalization studies.
I am also involved in two other collaborations: one deals with the pragmatic functionality of unstressed object pronouns in double object constructions in 14th-century Florentine, and the other examines syntactic and semantic properties of unstressed object pronouns in several Italian dialects.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
No, I did not have the chance to participate in a research project as an undergraduate; however, I strongly believe that it is highly beneficial for interested undergraduate students to be exposed to research.

What makes a good grad student?
I believe that the key ‘ingredients’ that make a good graduate student are:

  1. Genuine passion for the discipline studied;
  2. Determination to achieve goals; and
  3. Intellectual/professional integrity

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to an Italian graduate program?

  1. Be prepared to work hard
  2. Stay focused
  3. Enjoy what you are doing

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
The majority of students who graduate from our program pursue an academic career.


Hélène Tissières

Academic Background: Ph.D. & M.A., Francophone African Literatures, New York University – New York, NY; Demi-Licence, University of Geneva – Geneva, Switzerland; BFA, Painting and Print Making, Art Center College of Design – Pasadena, CA

Areas of Specialization: African and Caribbean Literatures Written in French, African and French Film, & African Contemporary Visual Arts

Can you tell us a bit about your academic background?
I grew up in Geneva, Switzerland where I did my schooling. After graduating from the College Calvin (equivalent of high school and two years of college), I spent a year in Florence, Italy, to pursue my passion for painting. The following year, I went to Art Center College of Design, where I obtained a BFA in painting and printmaking. Then, I returned to Switzerland where, while pursuing painting, I studied literatures written in French at the University of Geneva.

There, I had the opportunity to study with two renowned authors: the Martinican poet Edouard Glissant and the Tunisian writer Abdelwahab Meddeb. Their perspectives, which go beyond artistic, cultural and national boundaries, strongly influenced the academic trajectory I came to pursue. Their world’s views made me realize that I wanted not only to work on Francophone African and Caribbean literatures, but also to combine my interests for visual arts and writing. Therefore, I decided to apply to New York University as I would then be in the heart of a city that has a dynamic creative production. Later, when I was working on my PhD, I taught at Sara Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York for two years. Then I returned to Europe and spent time conducting research in Morocco.

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
A great interest in the arts and cultures and in Africa, and the desire to gain deeper knowledge.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
My dissertation was on challenging established barriers between North and sub-Saharan Africa as well as between the different arts, in particular literature and painting. It demonstrates that many contemporary African writers wander between locations, cultures and art forms, turning to ancient knowledge and traditions, interweaving arts and ideas, using elements of tattooing, signs, calligraphy, rituals and oral forms.

Over the years it became a book, which is divided into two parts. The first one presents several circulations: geographic -- between North and sub-Saharan Africa; cultural -- between orality and writing; and aesthetic -- between literature and painting. The second part of the book documents these circulations in the works of four writers: the Tunisian Abdelwahab Meddeb, whose texts refer to contemporary painting, tracing a parallel between abstraction and Sufism; the Cameroonian Werewere Liking and the Congolese Tchicaya U Tam’Si, both of whom incorporate elements from the oral tradition and are inspired by ritual or divination systems; and the Algerian Assia Djebar who turns to visual images, moving away from relying solely on the use of language.

What topics do you teach at UT?
I teach African and Caribbean literatures written in French, African and French Film, African contemporary Visual Arts.

Can you tell us a bit about your areas of specialization?
The literatures I study and teach are those written in French, which come from Africa or the Caribbean. They present the numerous obstacles faced including Western clichés and prerogatives, economical and political constraints, colonial/postcolonial prejudices. And they tackle many layered cultural and social complexities.

What is your current research focus at UT?
I recently finished a book Créations et défis au Sénégal: Diop, Sembene, Diadji, which is about the works of three Senegalese figures: Boubacar Boris Diop, novelist, Ousmane Sembene, writer and filmmaker, and Iba Ndiaye Diadji, art critic. It examines how they position themselves to question social norms, political or religious absolutes, and international prerogatives. In Senegal, where the practice of Maslaa regulates people’s exchanges and promotes tolerance and politeness, this study shows how these writers confront taboos (role of women, corruption, social inequalities), while unsettling norms.

Thanks to a Fulbright, I spent nearly two years in Dakar, Senegal (2003-05) where I taught at Cheick Anta Diop University. Ever since I have been working on the Senegalese art scene, following closely the art biennial held in Dakar. My next research project will be on writers, artists and filmmakers from Mali, Tchad, Niger, Mauritania who denounce political control and inequalities. It will examine how the imaginary and the actions of marginalized populations (for example the Tuareg) have been major sources of inspiration for writers and filmmakers, as they operate as a defying force of the power systems in place.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by scholars of Francophone studies in the U.S. or around the world?
There are many topics as African literatures written in French continuously raise cultural, social, political and aesthetical issues, challenging norms and Western views.

What makes a good grad student?
Motivation and hard work. A successful student is passionate about the field chosen, has interesting ideas which challenge world views, has a broad knowledge and is constantly open to learning and exchanging ideas.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to a French graduate program?

  1. Motivation and a great interest in other cultures. It is necessary to put aside one’s views and open up to entirely new approaches. The French-speaking world is vast and encompasses many cultures. Therefore curiosity and humbleness are essential.
  2. Students need to take every opportunity to gain as much knowledge as possible in order to obtain solid foundations. It is important to acquire strong language skills, while perfecting excellent writing abilities in the student’s native language. One needs to know how to perform literary criticism, engage in existing ideas and constantly keep up with reflections being made in the field.
  3. An unlimited love for and belief in literary and artistic creations.

What are the top programs in your area in the US?
1. New York University
2. Yale University
3. Harvard University
4. UCLA

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
When they are motivated and flexible they find an academic position in a University or College. If they can’t move from Texas, they become High school teachers or take an Adjunct position. They can also work for a Press or a Journal.


Dr. Daniela Bini

Academic Background: Ph.D., Comparative Literature, The University of Texas at Austin; Laurea Summa cum Laude, Philosophy, University of Rome (La Sapienza) – Rome, Italy

Area of Specialization: 18th and 19th Centuries Literature and Philosophy

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I have always loved teaching and research. I never thought I would do anything else. My greatest satisfaction is to succeed in eliciting an intelligent response in my students when reading a text, watching a film or listening to an opera.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
I wrote on the relations between the philosophers of the French Enlightenment and the Italian romantic poet and philosopher Giacomo Leopardi.

What topics do you teach at UT?
My favorite topics are: "Writing Fascism, the War and the Resistance;" "Sicily through Literature and Film," "The Antihero in the Italian Novel of the Nineteenth Hundreds," and "Italian Civilization Through Opera."

Can you tell us a bit about your areas of specialization?
I have always been fascinated with the theme of the inadequacy of verbal language (quite ironic, I know, for someone who mainly works with literary and philosophical texts) and the consequent impossibility of arriving at a thorough mutual understanding. My major studies deal with Italian authors who have asked this type of question: Giacomo Leopardi, Carlo Michelstaedter, and Luigi Pirandello.

Are you currently conducting research? What is your research focus?
Not as much as I would like since I have to handle the administrative work of a chair. What I am working on now, however are two different topics: 1) I am studying the relation images, sound, words in Italian multi-media works; 2) I am involved in an anthropological study on the figure of the "vitellone," the Latin eternal adolescent male who never leaves home, and especially mom.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by scholars of Italian studies in the U.S. or around the world?
I do not want to be presumptuous in singling out this particular one, but I think a very "hot" topic today, given the times we are living and the globalization which we are experiencing, is certainly that of the "pensiero meridiano" (the title of a famous book by the Italian sociologist Franco Cassano) a revaluation, that is, of the south--that has always been considered backward, lazy, uncivilized, as, instead, capable of teaching some valuable lessons to the western world that seems to be hurrying to produce, consume, and produce more in a race that does not contemplate any rest or pause.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate? Would you recommend research to undergraduates?
Absolutely YES on both fronts.

What makes a good grad student?
The ability of taking nothing for granted and of challenging what is presented to him/her; the patience to go into depth in the issues that are being studied and discussed; the love for writing, or at least the realization of its importance, and the acceptance of the fact that it is a strenuous exercise that requires many revisions and a lot of patience.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to an Italian graduate program?

  1. Challenge any truth that is presented to you.
  2. Go into depth in everything you read and discuss.
  3. Accept the frustrations and hardship that accompany the discipline of writing--a major skill for success in graduate school.

What are the top five Italian programs in the US?
University of California at Berkeley, Stanford University, UCLA, Yale, and of course, UT! Our new graduate program in Italian Studies.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
With an MA in French or Italian Studies you can teach in high school, community and junior colleges, go into a career in international business, law, fashion, advertisement. With a PhD, all the above but first of all the academic career.


Dr. Paola Bonifazio

Academic Background: Ph.D., Italian Studies, New York University – New York, NY; M.A., Italian & M.A. Certificate in Film Studies, University of Pittsburgh – Pittsburgh, PA; B.A., Italian Literature-Theatre & Film Studies, Università Cattolica – Milan, Italy

Area of Specialization: Italian Cinema, especially of the post-World War II period

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I came to the United States with a scholarship from my university to be a teaching assistant of Italian at Franklin and Marshall College. At F&M, I met wonderful faculty who encouraged me to pursue graduate studies in an American institution. During my M.A. at the University of Pittsburgh, I discovered a passion for academic research and teaching. Once again, my decision to continue and get a PhD greatly depended on the inspiration I received from the faculty I met there.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
I wrote my M.A. thesis on the theory and politics of cinematography by the Futurist Avant-Garde of the early twentieth century. My PhD dissertation, “Narrating Modernization: Documentary Films in Cold War Italy (1948-1955),” explores the documentary films produced between 1948 and the mid 1950s for Italian and American Information Agencies and distributed in Italy during the same years in order to publicize the Marshall Plan and other programs of reconstruction and welfare.

What topics do you teach at UT?
I teach Italian Cinema, Modern Italian Literature, and Italian Language.

Can you tell us a bit about your areas of specialization?
My primary area of specialization is Italian Cinema, especially of the post-War World II period. I am also interested in Italian Cultural Studies and, generally, in film theory and history, including the documentary. My second areas of specialization are twentieth- and twenty-first century Italian Literature, Futurism, and Modern Italian Theatre.

What is your current research focus at UT?
My current book-in-progress, The Logic of Productivity: Documentary Films, Modernization and Democracy in Cold War Italy, builds upon my doctoral dissertation and examines the films sponsored by Italian and American Information Agencies through the end of the 1950s. My claim is that film functioned as a cultural technology of government, creating a system of meaning but also participating in the programs of governing; providing subjects with perceptions of themselves, in relation to others, as well as governing their moral and social behaviors. Publicizing democracy and modernization as the only way to stability and prosperity, Italian and American governmental agencies aimed to educate citizens, by means of cinematography, on the practices of the Welfare State and the system of mass production.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by scholars of Italian studies in the U.S. or around the world?
(Im)migration literature and film, the role of the intellectual in contemporary Italy, Italian culture in the context of Mediterranean Studies.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
I wrote a thesis in Drama Theory of the Futurist theatrical production (1909-1921). I recommend undergrads to participate in research, not only as an occasion to engage in a topic of one’s interest, but also as a way to become more responsible and independent, whichever your future profession will be.

What makes a good grad student?
A strong passion and curiosity in your field, a good sense of how to discipline and pace yourself in working on and completing your assignments, rigorousness in your research.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to an Italian graduate program?
1. Make sure that you find faculty whose fields of research are of interest to you
2. Inquire about requirements and regulations of the program, such as course-works, especially if you are interested in interdisciplinary work
3. Try to get in contact with other graduate students in the department and ask about their experiences.


Dr. Karen Pagani

Academic Background: Ph.D., Comparative Literature, University of Chicago; B.A., Comparative Literature, Cornell University

Areas of Specialization: Eighteenth-Century French Literature and Philosophy; Secularization

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I wrote a senior thesis as an undergrad on the musical compositions and writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Over the course of the project, I realized that I really loved doing research, that I wanted to learn more about the eighteenth century and that I wasn’t ready for my studies to end, so I applied to graduate school.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
I wrote a dissertation on what forgiveness meant in secular terms for Fénelon, Voltaire, Rousseau and Madame de Staël.

What topics do you teach at UT?
I teach graduate seminars on the European Enlightenment, the late seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (with a focus, of course, on France). My graduate seminars focus on the interplay between philosophy and literature and on intellectual history. Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau, Hobbes and Locke often find their way onto my syllabi.

Can you tell us a bit about your areas of specialization?
I work on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century moral theory (British and French in particular); the seventeenth and eighteenth-century French novel; Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie and secularization.

Are you currently conducting research? What is your research focus?
Yes, I am currently writing a book entitled Marginal Prophet Figures: Accounting for Forgiveness in the Age of Reason, which investigates a discursive crisis provoked by the secular understandings of forgiveness (le pardon; pardonner) that developed in early modern France, from the late seventeenth to the early nineteenth century. Through an analysis of the literary, philosophical, theological, and political discourses of the period, my book will provide a new, more complex understanding as to why it was so difficult to speak about forgiveness in the language of the Enlightenment, and, in the conclusion, how earlier accounts of forgiveness can illuminate debates about reconciliation today.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate? Would you recommend research to undergraduates?
As mentioned above, yes I did. I would highly recommend doing so to undergrads. How else are you going to know if research is something you like doing and have a talent for?

What makes a good grad student?
Intellectual curiosity, discipline, an ability to assimilate constructive criticism, more intellectual curiosity and even more discipline.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to a French graduate program?

  1. Make sure that you application is in the best shape possible. Put time into your GRE’s, writing sample and your cover letter. These documents (along with you letters of recommendation) are going to determine not only whether you are going to be accepted into a program but whether you are going to get any funding and how much.
  2. Graduate school is a lot of work. The ones who succeed are the ones who are self-motivated and who really love to read and learn. As one of my professors once told me, “when you’ve finished the reading that was assigned for the week, you’ve only just begun reading all that you need to.” That might be a slight exaggeration—both only a slight one.
  3. Talk to as many professors and graduate students about the field as possible before you decide whether to enroll in a graduate program. Read books about graduate school, about the area of specialization you want to go into and about the job prospects for those who have the degree you intend on seeking out. This is the best way to make sure that you are going in with your eyes open and with realistic expectations about what it will take to succeed.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Most students go into education in some form or another. Many become lecturers in universities around the country, others teach French and/or French literature in high schools and some go onto become professors in research institutions.


Dr. Jean-Pierre Cauvin

Academic Background: M.A. & Ph.D., French Literature, Princeton University; B.A., German and History, Princeton University

Areas of Specialization: Nineteenth and Twentieth-Century French Literature and Cultural History

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
After graduating with a B. A. degree and serving for two years in the U. S. Army as an interpreter in Germany, I realized that my love of literature could not be relegated to a simple leisure activity, but was such that it had to become my professional focus. Teaching literature would make it possible for me to share my love of it with others as well as deepen my knowledge of it.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
The poetics of the sacred in the work of the French writer Henri Bosco (1888-1976).

What topics do you teach at UT?
Aspects of French literature : poetry of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; Dada and Surrealism; the short story and the prose poem since the 18th century. Also aspects of French history (1930-1945) and the history of the arts in France.

Can you tell us a bit about your areas of specialization?
The primary fields in which I have worked in recent years are Surrealism and several French poets (Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Breton, Michaux).

Are you currently conducting research? What is your research focus?
My current research focuses on an archive of materials concerning the French writer of fiction Guy de Maupassant.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate? Would you recommend research to undergraduates?
I did not participate in a research project as such but did write a senior thesis on Montaigne and Nietzsche, an exercise which I found very beneficial. A project of some breadth and depth --whether research or a substantial piece of writing -- conducted while an undergraduate is the ideal means of developing and perfecting research and/or writing skills. There is an old French proverb, C'est en forgeant qu'on devient forgeron, which means that it is by hands-on practice that one acquires experience and skill. That remains as true as ever.

What makes a good grad student?
Graduate study requires not only a genuine love of the subject matter, but an abiding intellectual curiosity, that is, the will and energy to constantly learn new things, hone one's critical acumen, and think independently and imaginatively. If the graduate student is called upon to teach, s/he must have, or quickly acquire, the ability to manage his or her time and effort, that is, to juggle different types of responsibility with equal effectiveness and dedication.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to an Italian graduate program?

  1. Love what you are doing; revel in the immense and rich array of offerings in the fields of French and Francophone literatures, cultures, and art.
  2. Perfect your proficiency in, and mastery of, the French language, the better to understand. appreciate, and communicate its literary and cultural expressions.
  3. After completing your undergraduate education, take a breather, or a step aside, to ascertain your motivation and commitment and "recharge your batteries" -- if you can afford to.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Most graduate alumni pursue an academic career as teachers.

Graduate Students

Kelle au Nouveau-Brunswick, Canada
Kelle Keating

Kelle au Nouveau-Brunswick, Canada
Graduate Program: Ph.D., French Linguistics, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Language Attitudes of Speakers of Chiac, an Acadian French Dialect

Other Degrees: M.A., French Linguistics, Arizona State University – Tempe, AZ; B.A., French, Arizona State University – Tempe, AZ

What is grad school life like?
For one thing, French graduate students are expected to demonstrate a high degree of proficiency in French, both spoken and written. A lot of us who are not native speakers have spent time abroad, so the speaking isn’t always a problem, but writing in French at the academic level can be a challenge! I learned that even as a student who earned As as an undergrad, there is absolutely no shame in asking a native speaker to look over my papers. I also found out recently that even the professors do that!

The field of linguistics also comes with its own set of challenges. Most grad programs in linguistics require you to take a broad overview of courses in multiple areas of linguistics. I can guarantee you that you aren’t going to love all of them, and it’s tough sometimes to find the drive to push through those courses that aren’t your best subjects. Yeah, this happens even in grad school.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
I entered my program as a Ph.D. student, so I can only speak to that experience here at UT. We are required to take 9 graduate credits, and we either teach 5 or 6 credits per semester. So, a typical day of a doctoral student who is still working on coursework involves running from prepping to teach, to teaching classes, to taking grad classes, with grading during free time. Then, at least for me, most of the work I did on my own projects happened in the evening. Finally you sleep, and then you get up and do it again. In my experience, a “typical day” involves a lot of caffeine to keep up the fast pace!

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The coolest thing I’ve experienced during my time in grad school at UT is the level of interest and dedication that our professors demonstrate for their students. I noticed this in talking to my department’s professors when I came to do my campus visit, before I chose UT. It was one of the main reasons I ended up coming to UT. The professors I’ve interacted with have all shown a genuine desire to push me to achieve the best of my ability, even while still keeping up their own research and writing. They’ve let me explore my own ideas, but they’re good about keeping me on the right track, too. I’d have to say that this investment that my professors have made into my education has had a direct impact on who I am as a scholar.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
I’m particularly interested in North American dialects of French, and I’m just starting my dissertation. It’s on the language attitudes of a group of speakers of a dialect of French called Chiac, and it’s spoken in a French-English bilingual region in Southeast of New Brunswick, Canada. (Yes, they do speak French outside of Québec!) I have to go there soon to do my fieldwork, which will involve personally interviewing people there, as well as observing them in everyday life.

What is it like as a graduate student in candidacy?
This is a great question! I’ve just passed my comprehensive exams and so have passed into candidacy, and I’ve recently been thinking about how weird it feels in some ways. I remember when I entered my Master’s program, some people in classes would quote random researchers, and I felt completely lost and sometimes even dumb. Now that I’ve reached the end of my Ph.D. coursework, I have found that I am now that person who quotes random researchers. I feel like, in some ways, I am very close to “becoming one of them” (a professor), but in other ways, it’s scary to think about being recognized as a scholar on my own merit.

Do you work in your department?
I’m an AI; I teach first or second-year French courses. I love teaching; I actually started teaching undergrad French at Arizona State during my M.A. program, and my love for teaching college students is why I’m here doing a Ph.D. It’s fun for me to interact with students who are breaking away from the pressures of the high school social world and beginning to discover themselves as individuals.

I am assigned to teach different courses pretty much every semester. It has a lot to do with how my graduate course schedule coincides with the lower-division course offerings. 2nd year language courses meet 3 days a week, but 1st year courses meet 5 days a week, which is a lot of “face time” with my students. Needless to say, we get to know each other very well. I’m given a departmental syllabus to follow, but preparing to teach every day and all the classroom administrative stuff is my responsibility. I’ll say that your first semester teaching, in addition to balancing a graduate-level course schedule, is very overwhelming and tiring. Then there’s also the fact that you’re now the instructor of record on an undergrad course, which is overwhelming at first.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
It has a lot to do with responsibility. As an undergrad, if you want to skip class or slack off on work every once in a while, it’s no huge deal. Your grade may suffer for it, but you’ll still graduate if you have a few Cs on your transcripts. In grad school, however, the pressure to perform at high levels is intense, and you really shouldn’t even be getting Bs in too many of your classes, or it’s viewed quite badly. Ultimately, with a graduate degree from a department, you are the representative of that department to other academic institutions, and your performance in your coursework is in some ways also measured by this standard. Are you worthy to bear their stamp of approval?

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
Form relationships with professors in your field. Go to office hours even if you don’t need help. Professors have a lot of knowledge, even beyond what they talk about in class, and even if you go to office hours just to chat, you can learn a lot from them. Ask them about their research—they love that! It’s important to see what it’s like to be a scholar before you take the plunge of deciding that you would like to be more deeply involved in that world.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Make sure you take 4 semesters of another foreign language, besides French, as an undergrad. It saves you much time later on. I didn’t know this, and it put me behind when I got here.
  2. Try not to transfer programs in between the M.A. and Ph.D. level. I did it, because ASU didn’t have a Ph.D. program. I’ve learned, though, that pretty much any program is going to require you to make up some sort of pre-reqs at the Ph.D. level if you weren’t in their M.A. program. This is to ensure that everybody in their program has the same basic knowledge of theory. I’m glad I took the courses that I did, but it did take me about a year longer to get through my coursework than it should have.
  3. Talk to the grads currently in the programs where you’re applying, or recent grads. They will be honest with you about their program’s advantages and disadvantages. Also, ask the graduate admissions representative where their program’s recent grads have gotten hired. If they’re not sure, then you need to seriously rethink going there if you’re ultimately interested in a well-placed job.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I was strongly considering going to Louisiana State University, because their French department has a strong emphasis on North American French Linguistics. Indiana University in Bloomington also has a well-respected program in North American French Linguistics, but I didn’t want to live in the snow!

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in French studies to check out?
I gotta give a shout-out to Acadieman! He is le first superhero Acadien. I was able to interview his creator, Dano LeBlanc, when I visited New Brunswick in June 2009, and it is really amazing what a cultural phenomenon Acadieman is becoming, on a local, as well as an international scale. The characters in Acadieman speak Chiac, which has a lot of English influence on vocabulary. This is one of the reasons that the show is controversial for some people, because they think it’s promoting the use of ‘incorrect’ language. As a sociolinguist, of course, I don’t take that position. At any rate, every episode I’ve seen so far makes me laugh out loud at some point, and the show is also a great window into the Acadian culture of the Canadian Maritimes.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
By that time, I hope to be a tenured professor of French, either at a Research I institution, such as UT, or at a smaller Liberal Arts college. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but the job market will ultimately dictate where I end up.

Do you a grad school survival tip to share?
Don’t stop doing what you love, whether sports or music or art—whatever it is, because you don't think you have the time. It’s these extracurricular activities that bring balance and sanity to a busy grad student’s life. I grew up figure skating, and I learned in grad school that if I don’t skate on a regular basis, I get really grouchy! Don’t forget about your friends, either—it happens faster than you’d think when you get busy and stressed. Without a doubt, my family, friends, and faith have kept me grounded through this experience, and I definitely wouldn’t have made it so far without them.


Lynn Abell

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Italian, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Italian Literature

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Italian & Economics, New York University – New York, NY

What is grad school life like?
I enjoy life as a grad student. I have always thought of school as my job, and now that’s really the case. The students all take their studies seriously, but at the same time we have a lot of fun. I haven’t had too much of a problem balancing my workload and my personal life, but at the same time, I’ve never been much of a procrastinator.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
In a given semester, you will normally take 3 classes, or 9 hours. Most graduate classes meet two times a week for 1.5 hours, or once a week for 3 hours. Your schedule each semester may not be as flexible as you would like, because there are fewer course choices given that each program is very specialized. But at the same time, having blocked classes makes it easier for you to study on your own time. Here is a typical class day:

  1. Wake up early to run (see, it is possible to have hobbies outside of grad school!)
  2. Get to campus around 10:30am and review readings for the day, if you have the time
  3. Three classes from 11:00am-6:00pm with a few breaks in between
  4. Come home and have dinner, relax, and do some reading for the next class day

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
I don’t know if I can pick one single thing! I get to combine my love for Italian and my love for the University of Texas. I also get paid to study and make a career out of something I love to do. And of course, I get to learn with professors and students who are just as passionate as I am.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
Because I am still in the first year of the program, I haven’t yet begun any research. However, two term papers I completed this fall for the Italian department were entitled “Infernal Use and Misuse of Color” and “La funzione del lettore interno (narratee) in Quaderni di Serafino Gubbio Operatore e Uno, nessuno e centomila.” The first paper discusses distorted uses of the Christian Theological Virtues in Dante’s Inferno, and the second examines the various roles of the narratee in two of Luigi Pirandello’s novels.

Where are you in the grad school sequence?
I just finished my first semester of the M.A. program. Right now I am just doing coursework, but next year I will begin work on either a thesis or a report. After my second year, I hope to continue work with the department and begin the Ph.D.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
This semester I was lucky enough to be chosen by the Central Graduate Admissions committee as a Preemptive Fellow. This means that for this year I don’t have any teaching role with the department, although I am really looking forward to that. Because I don’t have any teaching obligations, I will be taking a fourth class this spring to get some extra credits out of the way.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
The biggest difference between graduate school and undergrad is the amount of reading. You will be surprised at the number of books you will be checking out from the library and the vast amounts of material you will have read by the end of each semester. Also, I think you take papers and research much more seriously. The attitude from undergrad to graduate school really changes, but in a good way. Everyone really wants to be in every class, because this is going to be your profession.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I wish I would have thought about Italian grad school when I was a senior in college. I think too many students think about choosing a career that will make them money, rather than one that will make them happy. Don’t be afraid to follow your passion in life, no matter how obscure it might seem to others…you will be so much happier in the end!

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. This might seem silly, but be sure you meet all the deadlines and complete all the paperwork. Don’t procrastinate with your applications.
  2. Take as many courses in your subject area and try to pursue an independent research with your department.
  3. Make yourself stand out! What makes you special compared to all the other kids applying for the spot?

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I completed an undergraduate honors thesis at NYU entitled “Cesare Pavese and The Literary Masquerade: Overturning Accepted Notions of Gender in La bella estate and Tra donne sole.” Cesare Pavese was a post-war author who had often been labeled by critics as a misogynist. I looked at two of his works and tried to reexamine that conception. I definitely recommend research. Not only was it one of the single-most fulfilling experiences of my life, but it’s a great way to show graduate programs that you are capable of completing a full-sized research paper. After all, writing articles is a huge part of life both as a graduate student and as a professor.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I actually didn’t apply to other Italian programs because I was already here at UT with the law school. If I decide to finish the J.D. as well, I really need to stay here in Austin. I love Texas though, so it is a great fit for me! Of course, NYU, UCLA, and Berkeley all have great programs just to name a few! You should also look around to see if a professor you would like to work with during your graduate school years is with a particular university.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in Italian to check out?
To keep up with the news, I like to browse through Corriere della Sera. If you’re interested in finding some books for your Italian classes, or just doing a little pleasure reading or buying some original-language DVDs, you have to check out the Internet Bookstore. It’s a life-saver!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Actually, I would love to be an Italian professor! I’m not sure where I would like to be working, but I really enjoy (and always have enjoyed) the academic life. I love learning, researching, and writing, and I’m sure I will be a great teacher.


Matt Rabatin

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Italian, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Role of subaltern, marginalized communities in literature of the Mezzogiorno

Other Degrees: M.A., Italian Language and Literature & B.A., French and Italian Languages and Literature, University of Pittsburgh – Pittsburgh, PA

What is grad school life like?
Life as an Italian Studies grad student is very, very full! I cannot stress enough the fact that you’ll need to organize and prioritize your life in order to be successful (and to keep your head on straight)! Even though I may only take 9 credits a semester, I consider attending class, completing my assignments, and preparing/teaching my lessons my full time job. As a grad student if you return home and think that there is nothing to do that night for your courses or teaching appointments, think again! Getting ahead in assignments/lesson planning can be extremely beneficial to you, especially towards the end of the semester when you are writing research papers. I do think, however, that it is very important to keep a balance between grad school and your personal life. Don’t let the first one take over! If you want to go out with friends on a Friday or Saturday night, then do it! You must enjoy yourself and have fun. Otherwise, you’ll run out of steam before you’ve even begun.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
I usually wake up around 7:30 (sometimes a lot later!) in order to catch the UT shuttle from my apartment to campus. Once I arrive at school, I take time to prepare/finalize my lessons for the day and then teach from one to two hours depending on the day. I usually attend class from as little as two and a half to as much as five hours on any given day. If I have a break between teaching and attending class, I refuel with some coffee and try to complete as many assignments as possible. I usually return home by 4:00pm to finish any readings that I may have for the upcoming days, make dinner, and spend time with friends. However, on nights where there is a concert that I want to attend, I make sure my work is done early so that I can enjoy the music as much as possible! My long days usually end around midnight – sometimes a lot later when there’s work to finish!

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
For me, the coolest think about my graduate program is the fact that we students work with such dynamic, friendly professors and colleagues on a daily basis. It’s so beneficial to be able to have an ongoing and friendly dialogue with them about topics that range from research ideas to professional questions/concerns, even about how to be an accomplished researcher while having a fulfilled personal life.

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
I have just completed my first semester in the Italian Studies Ph.D. sequence and am about to start the second semester of coursework. I don’t know what every program out there is like, but I can say that the amount of coursework that I’ve encountered is comparable to that of my friends and colleagues in other Italian Ph.D. programs around the country. That being said, when you are a Ph.D. student, you have the advantage of drawing upon work and observations completed in your MA program – but this can be a double-edged sword!

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
Since I’m still a “greenhorn” in the Ph.D. program, I haven’t narrowed down my thesis topic just yet; however, I am interested in studying the role of subaltern, marginalized communities in literature of the Mezzogiorno in the first half of the 20th century.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
Since I already have my MA degree, I started the Italian Studies program as an AI (Assistant Instructor) teaching introductory Italian (ITL 506, 507) as well as Italian conversation courses (ITL 118K, ITL 118L). For me, teaching is the most rewarding part of the gig!

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
The hardest part of any graduate program is adapting to the type of work that is expected of you. That is to say, you’re no longer memorizing facts in order to pass a multiple-choice exam. In graduate school, work is about engaging yourself with the texts that are assigned to you, finding aspects that are interesting/of importance, and then developing your ideas beyond a superficial level.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I wish I had known how much time from my personal life would be sacrificed in order to appease the grad school gods.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize!
  2. When applying to schools, find out who teaches there and what their area of specialization is. Not only is it good to have an idea about who you’d want to direct your thesis, but it shows the application committee that you have done your research.
  3. Do not let graduate school take over your life! In my opinion, having a fulfilled personal life is the key to being a successful graduate student.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I never participated in a research project as an undergrad because I was too busy completing two BA degrees; however, I did complete a research project during the summer between my first and second years of my MA program. I worked/researched in the Biblioteca Sormani in Milan and at the Fondazione Leonardo Sciascia in Racalmuto, Sicily compiling research on the life and writings of Leonardo Sciascia, one of Sicily’s most important authors of the 20th century. Being in the archives and learning the in’s and out’s of researching in Italy prepared me for the future when I’ll have to compile information while writing my thesis and/or book.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
My number two choice would have been attending the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

What is an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in Italian to check out?
The two websites that I suggest to my students every semester are WordReference, which is one of the best and most up-to-date online dictionaries out available, and the Radio Arlecchino podcasts that are produced by Antonella Olsen and Eric Edwards in UT's French and Italian department.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years, I see myself teaching modern Italian literature at a research institution in a major city and working on the publication of my first book.

Do you have a ‘grad school survival tip’ you would like to share?
My main “grad school survival tips” would be to prioritize your life, don’t procrastinate, and remember that you need to have fun, too. Don’t let graduate school take over your life


Jennifer Moen

Graduate Program: Ph.D., French, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Historical Linguistics

Other Degrees: B.A., Letters, University of Oklahoma – Norman, OK

What is grad school life like?
I’m going to be completely honest about this: graduate school can be really hard. Don’t do it unless you’re really dedicated to your research. Believe me, finding that balance between study time and social life is harder than it sounds. The thing that makes it so hard is that in theory, your work is never done. There’s always something more to be read, or you can always go over a homework one more time (or two or three…) to check for any errors. But there also comes a time when you have to put the work down, tell yourself you’ve done a good job, and go have a coffee or a pint with a friend. The workload can get really tough, but you just have to focus, use your time wisely, and reward yourself for all your hard work when you’re done. Oh, and one more thing: I think it’s important for grad students to have other activities than studying, and one thing I’m doing is training for a half marathon. Those long runs are really soothing, and help clear my mind of my work. I highly recommend you find clubs/hobbies/sports/whatever to balance with study time.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
For me, the daily routine is simply going to class. I’m not a TA or AI, and I’m not part of any graduate student clubs or associations. When I’m not in class, I either study at the library or at my home; you have to do a lot of prep work for the next class period. Mondays are busy because I have class from 12:30-6:30. Tuesdays, I don’t have class, but I spend the majority of my day reading and preparing for Wednesday, because there are always reading assignments for the Wednesday class sessions.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
I appreciate that we are allowed to nurture our own research paths. The faculty seems to be really supportive, so if you have a good idea, they tell you to go with it. That’s what it’s all about; we’re the ones who have to do the next generation of research. Also, since I’m really into Old French, I was thrilled that we got to handle old manuscripts, and after that, we learned how to actually read the script (which was really tough). But when you realize that you’re able to read a 14th century manuscript and translate it into either French or English, that is so rewarding.

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
I’m still in my first year of the MA program, so I’m just taking courses. Next semester, I plan on starting my Master’s Report, so I’ll probably take fewer courses in order to have plenty of writing time. I’m a little apprehensive about it, but as long as I have a solid grip on my research topic it should go fine. I should finish my MA next December, and from there I can begin my PhD work.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
I am interested in historical linguistics; I think it’s fascinating to read a text in Old French and then think about how much the language has changed over time into Modern French. Within historical studies, I actually stumbled across some medieval cookbooks written in Old French that I did a short paper on; with a little luck, I’d like to revisit those texts and do further research on them, partly because I’m a hobby chef and wine lover so that area is of particular interest to me! Also, food and cooking play such a large part of culture that I think those medieval cookbooks have a lot to say about medieval society.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I am not yet in a TA or AI role; I was lucky enough to get a great fellowship for this first year, so I’m really focusing on my studies and taking a slightly heavier course load; that way, when I become a TA or AI, I will have an extra class or two out of the way, and I won’t be as over-worked.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
Some people tell me “Oh man, being a grad student must be great; it’s like an extended version of undergrad! You can sleep in late, go out on weeknights if you feel like it, get all these great spring and summer breaks…” NOT the case! Grad school is an intensified version of undergrad; think heavier workloads, mandatory class presence, far tougher grading, and much higher expectations. After all, you chose to be there; there’s the understanding that you’re there of your own free will, and that you’re interested in knowing everything there is to know about your field, and that you want to do quality research. Breaks are nice, of course, but as a grad student, you often find yourself using breaks to catch up on research papers, read supplementary material, or gather ideas for upcoming research. Sometimes you need breaks to read ahead, too, so that you don’t get too bogged down once classes get back in session.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I didn’t know a lot about the details of graduate school as an undergrad; I figured it would be harder, but beyond that, I just had a semi-romanticized notion of it: learning all these new things and then making profound discoveries in my field, and then gliding effortlessly into a tenure-track position. My undergrad professors looked like they had leisurely lives (flexible hours, relaxing in their offices); and they made being a professor look easy, with all that ample knowledge just spilling out their mouths! It’s not that easy, I know that now for sure. You have to work long and hard, and you still might not discover anything shockingly new, and the job market is getting a lot tougher as well. You really have to perform at your very best if you want to get a tenure-track position in the future; you’re competing with other people that are just as smart or smarter than you are. Once you do get that position, you have to keep publishing and accomplishing, too, so it’s a lot harder than it looks on the surface. Doing good research takes a lot of time and effort, more than you might imagine.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Make sure you are passionate about your field to the point of pouring at least the amount of time into it that most working people pour into a job.
  2. Be prepared to encounter rough patches of stress, especially towards the end of the semester when you have 3+ major final projects due. It’s difficult, but if you anticipate those busy times and even try to work ahead, you can do it.
  3. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but do make sure that your research interests at least somehow match up with those of one of the faculty members. It makes it nice to have an older, wiser helping hand when you have research issues and questions.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
Yes, my senior year I did a study of epic poetry and the virtues of the hero. Looking back on it now, I just have to smile at how “immature” my paper sounds! But I don’t care; it was worth it, and you have to start somewhere. I would definitely recommend research for undergrads. You might as well get a small taste of what your everyday reality as a grad student will be.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I was geographically limited when applying to grad school; my husband’s job basically forced us to move to Houston, so my main school choices for French were U.T. and Rice. I actually got accepted to Rice as well, and that’s where I went my first year. It’s a superb program, but I left simply because it’s a strictly literary program, and I had decided that French linguistics was what I truly wanted. So here I am, living in Houston half the time and Austin the other half. It works though, and you have to make sure you’re in a program you really like.

What is an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in French to check out?
Lexilogos is a fabulous site with all the dictionaries you could wish for. They have Old French, Middle French, slang French, etymology, etc. I’ve used the Old and Middle French dictionaries for research projects. It’s basically a central site where you can find all the best word reference sources.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully in a good job position! Honestly, if for some reason the job market prompts me to look outside academia for work, I’d be okay with that. I mean, sure, you spend all this time educating yourself, but you have to deal with the circumstances given, and all your knowledge is never wasted. I had this Classics professor as an undergrad who was a PhD from Columbia. He was so brilliant, and I was shocked to learn that he had taught high school for ten years or more because he had sought a professor position during a tough period and couldn’t get hired. This was a Columbia graduate who had published a book. Some of us wondered if he might not be a little bitter over being an accomplished PhD having to teach high school rather than college, but he wasn’t. He just treated it as part of his life experience.

Do you have a ‘grad school survival tip’ you would like to share?
Accept the fact that being a grad student can be really hard and really stressful. But also remember that you are an intelligent and dedicated individual if this is the path you choose for yourself, and you can do it!


Michael Gott

Graduate Program: Ph.D., French & Doctoral Portfolio in European Studies, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation Topic: An analysis of travel narratives in a variety of genres within the context of French and European identity in the post-Berlin Wall era

Other Degrees: M.A., French and Francophone Studies, University of California at Los Angeles – Los Angeles, CA; B.A., International Relations and French, Ohio State University – Columbus, OH

What is grad school life like?
Life in graduate school takes some getting used to. I thought the pace was more intense than at the undergrad level, and there are a lot of things to juggle: research, courses, qualifying exams, improving your language if necessary and learning a second language (most grad programs like mine have this requirement). I learned a lot about striking the right balance from older, more experienced students and from some very helpful professors. I think the best advice I could offer would be to keep work and life separate. Grad school isn't like a job where you work a fixed number of hours then go home for the night. There is always something to do, so making a plan to set aside work and fun time is important (though not always easy).

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
This depends on the stage in the program. The common day for an M.A. student involves reading and preparing for classes and going to class ready to participate. When I am teaching as an AI I would also have a daily lesson to prepare for before class and then grading to do after class. Many schools have language classes 5 days a week, so an AI is busy with class prep every weekday.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
Teaching is a great experience, and very rewarding. I wouldn't suggest going into this type of program if you don't think you want to teach. Besides that, I love being able to travel and live abroad as part of my research.

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
I am researching and beginning to write my dissertation. Last Fall I defended my prospectus and advanced to candidacy. This step is very different from taking coursework. On one hand it is great to focus on my own work, but on the other hand it requires a lot of discipline. In dissertation mode I don't have weekly deadlines and it is up to me (with some help from advisors) to plan my course of action. Usually I would be in Austin teaching French at UT while I write, but this year I am in Paris on an exchange the Department of French and Italian has with the University of Paris 13. So I am teaching English and phonetics to French university students for the year while doing research in Paris.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
I work on cinema, literature and culture from France but also from the Francophone world, in particular Africa. My dissertation deals mainly with cinema but I also work in some other media. My project is to look at French and European Identity in Road Movies (and books, and music) that have been made since the fall of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the expansion of the European Union.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
Right now I teach in Paris, so that routine is a bit different. I have been a TA and AI both in French and in other departments and can just say that teaching is fun but really hard at first. Once you get a routine down life becomes easier.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
I think there is more work in general as well as the constant need to be researching and writing. The work is less passive than undergrad work; many professors expect every student to be able to participate and have something new and interesting to say about the week's assignment(s). My ego definitely took some bruising when I first arrived at grad school. In undergrad I was used to being one of the best students in any given class, while in grad school everyone else also used to be one of those "best" students. It can make you feel pretty stupid sometimes.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I think it is a good idea to take a break from academic life and spend some time in the workforce (or volunteering, traveling, whatever...). I have known many people who went straight to grad school after their B.A. and regretted it. I think this is especially important for Ph.D. programs, because they last 5-6 years.

What are your top tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Talk to as many people already in graduate school as you can and try to get advice from professors who, after all, have all been to grad school.
  2. Try to meet as many of the students and professors in the prospective program as possible. You will be working closely with many of them for a long time, so it is nice to fit in not just academically but personally and culturally as well. Students may be more honest in their assessment of their own program than professors are.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I did an undergrad research paper on Albert Camus. It was good preparation for graduate work and I think it makes a good impression on admissions committees.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I don't think I had a clear #2 choice, and I would encourage students to think about the people they will be working with as much as the program itself. Also, different programs have different strong suits, so that would depend on a student's area of interest. Personally, I also considered UCLA, University of Wisconsin, Ohio State, NYU and Northwestern. I made that list by consulting my undergrad professors, who knew what I liked to work on.

What is an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in French to check out?
Le Canard enchaîné

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Teaching French at a university.

Return to the top of this page

Geography

Faculty

Dr. Gregory Knapp

Academic Background: Ph.D. & M.S., Geography, University of Wisconsin at Madison; B.A., Mathematics & Economics, University of California at Berkeley

Areas of Specialization: Cultural and Political Ecology, Historical Geography, Latin America (especially Andes)

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I realized, after several years working (in canneries, as a librarian, and various other odd jobs) that I was addicted to reading and thinking about cultural and environmental issues, and wanted to be involved in research. At first I did not think of a teaching career, but was open to a variety of trajectories working for government agencies or nongovernmental organizations.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in graduate school?
I worked on the history of agricultural adaptive strategies in highland Ecuador. This research involved spending more than a year doing field and archival research in the Andes.

What topics do you teach at UT?
This year I am teaching a large freshman course on Latin America, a signature course on environmental history and sustainability in Latin America, and our department's entry-level seminar for graduate students, Issues in Geography. From time to time I also teach Cultural Ecology and Culture, Environment, and Development.

Can you tell us a bit about your areas of specialization?
I am interested in human-environment relationships, a topic which is also sometimes called ecological anthropology, cultural ecology, political ecology, human ecology, environmental history, or sustainability studies. By its very nature this research is interdisciplinary and synthetic. I have also spent a lot of time studying the regional geography of Latin America; many processes operate differently in Latin America than in other parts of the world due to Latin America's unique environments, cultural history, and political trajectories.

Are you currently conducting research? What is your research focus?
There are a number of topics on which I am currently working. I have a forthcoming article on early efforts to map indigenous groups in Ecuador. These mapping projects have involved conflicting agendas having to do both with nation building and with indigenous movements.

A longer-term project is to track the local impacts of trade liberalization on local agricultural modernization in the Andes. This involves interviewing managers of irrigation systems and such modern agricultural enterprises as flower plantations.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by geography scholars in the U.S. or around the world?
Many geographers are currently concerned with sustainability, either in terms of immediate challenges of global change or in terms of long-term environmental and social processes.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate? Would you recommend research to undergraduates?
As an undergraduate I researched the role of American banks in Latin American development under the direction of economic historian Rosemary Thorpe. At the time there was concern that the benefits of international capital investment were unevenly distributed. Of course, by the 1980s Latin America entered its debt crisis and many banks took a drubbing.

What are your top tips for students interested in applying to a geography graduate program?

  1. Make sure you are ready for graduate school;
  2. Make sure our program is right for you, by researching programs around the world; and
  3. Make sure you have identified a faculty member that is appropriate as a mentor, and that you have gotten in touch with her or him.

What are the top five geography programs in the US?
In terms of studying human-environment interactions in Latin America, I believe we are the best. Other excellent programs with somewhat different foci are at Berkeley, University of California at Los Angeles, University of Washington at Seattle, University of Colorado at Bolder, University of Wisconsin at Madison, Pennsylvania State University, Louisiana State University Syracuse University, and Clark University, among others.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Most of our PhD students become tenure-track faculty members at colleges or universities. Students with master's degrees pursue a wide range of careers in education, government, non-governmental organizations, and business.


Dr. Kenneth Young

Academic Background: Ph.D., Geography, University of Colorado at Boulder – CO; M.A., Botany, University of Florida – Gainesville, FL; B.S., Ecology, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign – IL

Areas of Specialization: Biogeography, Landscape Ecology, Climate Change, Sustainability, and Tropical Environments

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I wanted to be a scientist, and do research.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in graduate school?
My doctoral dissertation was on the ecology, biogeography, and conservation of tropical forests in the highlands of northern Peru. Previously I studied the recovery of cut tropical forest in Costa Rica for my master’s thesis.

Can you tell us a bit about your areas of specialization?
I combine studies of the ecology of landscapes and vegetation with methods that will give me insights on the rates and types of change, and on the source of those changes, whether from human influence, natural disturbance, or climate change.

Are you currently conducting research? What is your research focus?
I have long-term research ongoing in Peru on the conservation of tropical landscapes, particularly as they are changing with human influences and climate change. In addition, I am involved in other research projects through students and colleagues on biodiversity and biogeography in the western Amazon, the highest elevations of the Andes Mountains, and the Okavango Delta in southern Africa.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by geography scholars in the U.S. or around the world?
Many scholars are working on research related to climate change, whether that be studying past change or trying to understand likely future changes.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate? Would you recommend research to undergraduates?
I worked on a pollination ecology project for a professor at the University of Illinois. It was a wonderful experience to see what research looked like, and I would recommend that kind of experience to any interested undergraduate. I also wanted to do my own research, and so did an independent project in my senior year.

What are your top tips for students interested in applying to a geography graduate program?

  1. Communicate early with professors and graduate students already in the program to see if your goals match the possibilities.
  2. Come visit also, if at all possible.
  3. Have a backup plan as admission is selective.

What makes a good graduate student?
Dedication to hard work and self-improvement. Interest in learning new things.

What are the top five geography programs in the US?
Maybe Clark University, University of Minnesota, University of Colorado, Arizona State University, Ohio State University, and others depending on the specific part of geography

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
They work in academia, in government positions, and for nongovernmental organizations.

Graduate Students

lafevor
Matthew C. Lafevor

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Geography and the Environment, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation Topic: Conservation Engineering and Cross-slope Earthworks in Mexico

Other Degrees: M.A., Universidad de las Américas – Puebla, Mexico; B.A., International Studies/Latin American Studies, Rhodes College – Memphis, TN

What is grad school life like?
Life as a graduate student in our department requires maturity and focus. You simply cannot follow every shiny object of interest that flashes before you – you must pick and choose and make strategic decisions. Well-developed time management skills are essential in this regard. For me, the rewards of being a graduate student far outweigh the time and effort spent with the less-enjoyable organizational tasks and occasional lack of free time. Being a graduate student here has been the most intellectually satisfying experience of my life.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
I am in the third year of my doctoral degree so for me a typical day involves fieldwork. I rent a small apartment in Tlaxcala, Mexico, near my field sites in the mountains. Most days I visit these fields and talk with farmers about their techniques. Sometimes I stop to take soil samples and then return to my apartment to do analysis. I also have a cabin in a national park that I rent and use when conducting fieldwork there. I grew up traveling in Mexico with my dad and his graduate advisor, so I often take short trips to visit with those old friends or to explore some other area of interest.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
For me, the coolest thing about our program is the freedom to conduct independent, international fieldwork. Inevitably, I am surprised by much of what I find while exploring cultural or biophysical characteristics of landscapes. Some of these findings are only fleeting interests, but other topics provide avenues for additional investigation. Independent fieldwork allows me to follow these interests as they pertain to a general research trajectory. This is very cool, but it requires discipline and preparation, understanding of field techniques and a clear methodology.

Can you tell us a bit more about your dissertation?
My dissertation is entitled, Conservation Engineering and Cross-slope Earthworks in Mexico. I examine the biophysical and cultural characteristics of certain forms of terrace building. Since Pre-Hispanic times, farmers have used earthen terraces to conserve soil and water on mountain slopes. Recently, Mexican government agencies have employed the descendants of these farmers to build similar terrace forms in national parks to combat environmental degradation or transformation from both human and natural causes (e.g., deforestation or climate change). My research examines the adaptation of these ancient agricultural terracing techniques into modern conservation practices. I incorporate theory from cultural and political ecology studies and take a mixed methods approach. These range from semi-structured interviews and statistical analysis to mapping, use of geographic information systems (GIS), and soil sampling. I spend about equal time in front of the computer and crawling around in the dirt.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
When I was an undergrad I often read the assigned materials so that I could score well on a test or be prepared for a class discussion. As a doctoral student, however, most of what I read is important for my career. In other words, graduate school requires that I read with a different focus. This means that I must not only understand the readings, but also must analyze them, critique them, and even memorize certain elements. Since I enjoy what I study, this is less difficult that it may sound.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
Having had more guidance as an undergrad would have made some things easier. However, the process of searching for and discovering my own interests was an invaluable experience. This is the best preparation for graduate school – learning how to think and work independently, and in the process, discovering your own research interests.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Go to a program where the faculty members conduct research generally aligned with your own interests. However, do not shoehorn your research objectives to fit with their own.
  2. Place matters. Go to a university located in a city with at atmosphere conducive to both work and play. Prioritize the former.
  3. Do your homework on being a graduate student (i.e., study the course offerings, contact current graduate students, prepare for the GRE, contact a few faculty members, work on your application materials until they are perfect, and save your money while you can).

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad?
I worked on many research projects as an undergrad. Most of them, however, were not related to school in a formal sense. For example, I was very involved with Civil War archaeology in the mid-South. Another project looked at the cultural adaptation of nineteenth-century Italian immigrants to Mexico. I recommend undergrads work on research projects, but again, follow your own interests. Focus less on resume “fluff” and more on substantive work that segues well with your graduate work. Demonstrate that you can develop your own initiative. This is imperative for graduate research on any level since graduate studies require that you think independently.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I was also interested in Louisiana State University.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I will be a tenured professor, conducting fieldwork in Latin America and writing books and articles. My wife will be exploring the world with me during the summertime and our daughter will be working hard in her international school and will be a good big sister to her little brother.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in geography to check out?
I recommend taking a look at The American Geographical Society site. This page gives a good summary of the geography I enjoy and a couple of my favorite publications.

Do you have a last story or bit of advice you would like to share?
It is OK if you have had other career paths mapped out before you in the past. For me, sampling life’s variety before academia was necessary. But make sure you do everything as well as possible. I never really “took a year off.” Before doctoral studies I worked in Latin American embassies in DC; played with symphony orchestras for a living; played college basketball and tennis; played in a traveling band for a few years; cleaned fish on boats in Alaska for a couple of years. While this sounds like a lot of “playing,” I did it as well as I could. Meanwhile, I was reading about geographical topics and saving money for graduate school. In the long run there is no substitute for hard work. Study what genuinely interests you and work hard at it. Here, you will have your best chance for “success.”


Lemon
Robert Lemon

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Geography, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Contested Landscapes in Hispanic Communities

Other Degrees: M.L.A., Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning – University of California at Berkley; M.C.R.P., City and Regional Planning, The Ohio State University – Columbus, OH; B.A., History and Geography, The University of Texas at Austin

What is life like for a geography graduate student?
Typically as a graduate student you are balancing a life of teacher, researcher, and student. You have to not only stay on top of your own course work but the course material you’re teaching. As a graduate student you also have to push yourself beyond typical undergrad passive life of studying for tests and writing papers to a forward active school life of writing for funding, working on papers to publish, reading as much as you can outside of class, working closely with professors, preparing to teach classes, etc. Thus your responsibilities have increased to that of a full time job, but still as a student or anyone in academia, your work becomes part of your life.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
I am relatively new to the Geography Department and graduate school at The University of Texas. I love geography and the issues that geographers tackle. What I have enjoyed in graduate school is the smaller class sizes, the opportunity to teach, and the ability to narrow your course work to the things you’re interested in. I returned to UT because of the diversity of faculty in this department and the range of topics they work on.

Can you tell us a bit more about your research interest?
I am currently considering contested landscapes in Hispanic communities. I am looking at the manifestation of the mobilized taco truck and how it is becoming a marginalized entity within the urban fabric.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
As an undergraduate one tends to think that the professor’s primary job is to lecture and often forget about their multifaceted life of research, lecturing, and publishing. As an undergraduate student interested in graduate school, I would try to take the time to get to know professors and their research beyond what may be presented in class. Thus learn as much as you can about people and exactly what it is they do if you are interested in their type of work. One should try and work with a professor as an undergrad if they can. This not only gives an undergrad insight to more advanced academic work in the field, but also sets them up for a letter of recommendation and a line on their CV. Also, apply for as many scholarships as you can. There are lots of financial resources available for undergrads, in addition, taking the time to write and get funding demonstrates your ability to do so in graduate school as well as proves your dedication; plus extra cash doesn’t hurt.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Be familiar with the department’s interests, what the faculty is interested in should jive with what you want to do.
  2. Make sure you are in contact with people in the department and they know who you are. If you can, visit the department so they can put a face to the application.
  3. Be persistent and have a well thought out research topic in mind.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad?
I did an undergraduate thesis in geography with Professor Terry G. Jordan titled “The Identities of the Iberian Peninsula.” The thesis was a very broad descriptive work that looked at food preparation and agricultural regions in Spain and Portugal. The work was hardly grad school quality, but it allowed me to work closely with a well-respected professor, travel abroad, and improve my writing skills. More importantly it pushed my thinking in the field to how I could advance my academic abilities to the next tier.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
If I didn’t come to UT, my second choice was to do my PhD in Landscape Architecture at UC Berkeley. Other geography departments I closely considered were the University of California Los Angeles, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the University of British Columbia. It is important to also pick a program in a place you can tolerate living. There are many solid departments across the US, just make sure you are happy living in that place for several years. I was familiar with Austin and was happy to return.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I will either be a professor in a geography or landscape architecture department or a landscape architect doing urban/environmental design and research for my own firm. Possibly both if I could pull it off.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in geography to check out?
These web pages I suggest are more associated with pop culture geography and are by no means critical geography. I sometimes like watching what different people are buying in the world or are talking about. TrendsMaps is a real-time mapping of Twitter trends across the world and Zappos provides a real time map of online purchases. In addition, the Department of Geography at the University of Minnesota has a good webpage that breaks down Geography into research clusters to help people better understand what geographers study. (Scroll to bottom of home page). Also make sure to check out UT's Geography webpage.

Do you have a story, news or achievement you would like to share?
Recently I was feature on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle, which has spun off of a few blogs following a project that I started at Berkeley. Read more at the San Francisco ChronicleCity Homestead blog and SF.Streets blog sites.


carte
Lindsey Carte

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Geography and the Environment, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Topic: International Migration

Other Degrees: M.A., Latin American Studies (LLILAS), The University of Texas at Austin; B.A., Latin American and Caribbean Studies, McGill University – Montreal, Canada

What is grad school life like?
What’s better than having a job that allows you to pursue your passions, commit yourself to being involved in local (and even international!) communities, interact with equally enthusiastic colleagues, and share what you learn as a teacher? During my eighty-hour workweeks, this is my mantra.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
Being successful as a graduate student takes quite a bit of self-motivation and commitment. You are in charge of your program, which is the greatest advantage but at the same time, is overwhelming for those starting out.

As a graduate student, your typical “day” tends to change from year to year as you advance in your program. As a grad, your life is a mixture of coursework, writing, research, teaching, and more and more trying to publish your work, and network with people outside your discipline. Right now, as I prepare to advance to candidacy (after candidacy I am done with course work, and will be able to start my official research project), my work schedule is more intense than previous years.

carte2

Each Sunday I lay out the week’s main goals, my appointments, assignments, etc. This is necessary to stay on track, even if you don’t complete everything on your list. I start my day as early as possible so I can take advantage of the focus I have in the morning. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of writing, so I like to get this out of the way first. After I meet my writing goals, I move to preparing for my weekly seminars. An average seminar usually takes 7 to 12 hours a week to prepare for in reading, writing and note taking. I take care of any of my TA/RA (20 hours a week) responsibilities as they come up. An average day might also involve meeting with professors and other students about your work. Though work is tough right now, I can look forward to fieldwork in Mexico next year.

Despite all of the work, I do try to have a life! I do yoga, go dancing with friends, cook and garden in a community garden for fun.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
I love walking into our building every morning and knowing that within our department people are researching topics as diverse as fluvial geomorphology, geopolitics, and cinema. This is incredibly inspiring to me. I feel that this keeps me fresh and involved. It often leads me to consider my own work from a different perspective. In the end, all of our work is connected by basic geographical concepts like the importance of place.

Can you tell us a bit more about your dissertation research?
My research focuses on international migration. In short, I study the socio-spatial impacts of migration in the global south, and especially Latin America. My dissertation research deals with Central American immigration to Mexico’s southern border state of Chiapas. I’m particularly interested in social justice and human rights, and use methods that make sure my research includes, and has a positive impact on the local community.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
As an undergrad, I took courses that interested me, grew up, and prepared for an abstract future career. I had a lot of free time to discover and pursue many interests. Grad school feels more like my actual “career.” Like all grad students, I balance courses, research, and teaching. I am focused on a project I’ll spend years on, and feel more like an apprentice for the career that I will have when I’m done with my Ph.D. This is what makes grad school equally challenging and rewarding.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
As I mentioned above, I had a vague understanding of how academia worked as an undergrad. I think this prevented me from pursuing interesting undergraduate research opportunities and forming closer relationships with faculty members. Though I wrote two undergraduate theses, I never sought out more hands-on research projects. Furthermore, I did not seek out faculty members as mentors. At UT, undergrads have many opportunities to do international and local fieldwork. From what I’ve observed in the last several years as a grad student, undergraduate research experience and relationships with professors are very helpful in preparing students for and getting them into grad school. This doesn’t mean you should jump on every project that comes by, but do focus on something that will be enriching to you, personally.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Choose an area(s) that energizes you and pursue all opportunities related to that area as an undergrad. Do meaningful projects about your interests.
  2. Find a department that has faculty working on topics that align with your interests. Write to professors you might want to work with before and after you apply.
  3. Remember that sometimes the journey is more important than the destination; stay positive, curious, and true to yourself.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in geography to check out?
A great friend of mine co-founded a non-profit called Open Sound New Orleans. Open Sound gives training and distributes recording equipment to adults and youth to record sounds throughout the city. The sounds are then mapped and placed on an interactive website. The product is a collaborative sound map of the city. To me, this is geography at its best!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In ten years I see myself in a tenure-track position, continuing to do engaged research, and teaching. I’ll be committed to being a supportive mentor, and a positive example for other women in my discipline, since there are relatively few of us.

Return to the top of this page

Germanic Studies

Faculty

Dr. Hans Boas

Academic Background: Ph.D. & M.A., Linguistics, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill; Undergraduate degrees in English Linguistics and Law, Georg-August-Universitaet Goettingen, Germany

Areas of Specialization: They include syntax, lexical semantics, language documentation, multilingualism, language contact and language death, computational lexicography, pragmatics, phonology, intercultural communication, and history and philosophy of linguistics.

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I wanted to learn more about how languages work.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
A pretty abstract topic: Resultative Constructions in English and German. It's on sentences like "John pounded the metal flat," "I laughed myself silly," or "She ran her shoes threadbare." The dissertation looked at the underlying mechanisms that determine what types of verbs can combine with different types of postverbal elements (objects, resultative phrases).

What topics do you teach at UT?
German Syntax, Lexical Semantics, Construction Grammar, Language contact and death in Texas, The Texas-German Experience, Frame Semantics, Language and Politics, etc. etc. etc.

What is your current research focus at UT?
I'm currently interested in learning how speakers of English and German know how to put sentences together (grammar). Closely related to that is the question of what words mean (think of German "Schadenfreude", for example), and why. How do speakers of different languages view the world differently/similarly? How can we model this knowledge efficiently across different languages? I'm also interested in constructing multilingual lexical databases that can be used for machine translation and foreign language instruction. Finally, I founded the Texas German Dialect Project, which is documenting the unique dialect of Texas German. This dialect was spoken in Texas for more than 150 years and is going extinct. I'm looking at the structural changes in this dialect and am trying to explain why it is dying.

Explore the UT Feature Story of research on dying languages which highlights Dr. Boas' Texas German Dialect Project: "Vanishing Voices," published in January 2010.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by Germanic studies scholars in the U.S. or around the world?
German nationalism comes to mind; the status of Germany in the world; and others. Germanic Studies is a wide field, comprising the study of language, literature, and culture (in a very broad sense), and covering a great deal of languages, such as German, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Icelandic, Yiddish, and Afrikaans. I'm a linguist working primarily on English, German, and Yiddish.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
I participated in a research project investigating English dialects of North Carolina. That's what gave me the idea to start the Texas German Dialect Project. Any undergraduate should be exposed to research, if at all possible.

What makes a good grad student?
One who knows what they want. Don't go to graduate school if you're not sure that you ** REALLY ** want to go. Also, one should have a solid academic foundation from the undergraduate degree, good analytical skills, patience, persistence, writing skills, ability to interact with others, and also the ability to laugh about oneself and their research area(s).

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to a Germanic studies graduate program?

  1. Talk to other students who are in the program.
  2. Talk to the faculty.
  3. Come visit our department and the UT campus.

What are the top five Germanic studies graduate programs in the US?
UT, Indiana, Berkeley, Wisconsin, Michigan (in no particular order)

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
They work at colleges, universities, high schools, or go into related fields such as publishing, law, foreign service, etc.


Dr. Katherine Arens

Academic Background: Ph.D., Germanic Studies and Humanities and M.A., German Studies, Stanford University – Stanford, CA; B.A., Physics and German, Northwestern University – Evanston, IL

Areas of Specialization: Germanophone intellectual and cultural history since 1740; Austrian and Habsburg cultural and intellectual history; and language teaching and the teaching of "content-based" and "student-centered" courses.

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
Love of reading. It was one of the few things I was good at.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
My dissertation was on a Prague German author and language theorist, Fritz Mauthner, who worked for a while with Martin Buber and who is castigated by Wittgenstein in the Tractatus. He exemplifies the "language crisis" familiar from studies of Vienna in 1900 – a paradigm for language study much more like deconstruction than today's linguistics.

Can you tell us a bit about your areas of specialization?
My work falls into three areas:

  1. Germanophone intellectual and cultural history since 1740 – a specialization which requires me to be able to recreate what texts means in their historical contexts, why they were significant then and remain significant now, and the issues that determine national and cultural identities.
  2. Austrian and Habsburg cultural and intellectual history – a focus not just on today's Austria, but also on the 1000-year old Habsburg and Austro-Hungarian Empire that was the original empire on which the Sun Never Set (in the 1600s and 1700s, Spain, its territories in the New World, the Netherlands, and Central Europe were all under Habsburg control). This specialization brings up questions of coloniality and post-coloniality, of the religious divide between Protestant, Catholic, Islamic, and Jewish European territories, and of Enlightenments other than the familiar French and British ones.
  3. Language teaching and the teaching of "content-based" and '"student-centered" courses == what differences there are in how to teach various content areas, media, and historical epochs.

What is your current research focus at UT?
I have several things going. My just-finished manuscripts looking for publishers are described at my website. Other than that, I am working on a study of science in Vienna at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries -- a science that works quite differently in its use of theory and experimentation than most of the western science we study today.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by Germanic studies scholars in the U.S. or around the world?
Identity politics ("living on the hyphen" which in Germany most often means being German-Turkish or German-Jewish). Systems theory (Niklaus Luhmann) is getting very important as a corrective to identity politics.

What topics do you teach at UT?
Cultural studies (film and history, texts and ideas in historical context) in various permutations == texts in philosophy and literature from about 1740 through today, mostly from germanophone contexts, but also including French and English intellectual and cultural history. German intellectual history; cultural theory (feminism, psychoanalysis, linguistics, systems theory, post-structuralism; Frankfurt School; various schools of textual analysis and hermeneutics).

What makes a good grad student?
Someone who realizes that the opportunity to study requires the kind of commitment that we encounter in any white-collar profession: the willingness to work smart, to work long hours where necessary, to work within established traditions as well as being innovative, and to respect the intellectual integrity and norms of the professions, one's peers, and one's students.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to a Germanic studies graduate program?

  1. Tell us what projects you are interested in working on.
  2. Show us that you understand the profession.
  3. Read as much as you can as often as you can.

What are the top five Germanic studies graduate programs in the US?

In no particular order: The University of Texas at Austin, University of California - Berkeley, University of Wisconsin, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Cornell University.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Teaching, publishing industry, and international business.

Graduate Students

Jan Uelzmann

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Germanic Studies, The University of Texas at Austin;Dissertation: “Heimat Bonn: The Provisional West German Capital as Social and Spatial Imaginary, 1949-63”

Other Degrees: M.A., German Literature, Texas Tech University – Lubbock, TX; Staatsexamen (M.A. equivalent), German and English, Christian Albrechts Universität - Kiel, Germany

What is grad school life like?
Well, you will have to like to study! The program is demanding and intellectually challenging. You will spend a considerable part of your day preparing for your graduate classes, may it be reading texts or writing papers. If you have an AI or TA position, there will be grading, preparing your class, communicating with your students, and such. This is definitely not an eight to five kind of life, where you can close the book in the evening, go home, and do something else. For this program, you need intellectual curiosity, the willingness to fully dedicate yourself to your studies, and discipline. That said, we also have time to go out in the evenings, and we can take advantage of Austin’s cultural offerings. Being a graduate student is a busy life, but it is definitely a lot of fun as well.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
A typical day in our department would look as follows: You get to the department early, you prepare materials for the class you are teaching (most of our grad students are either assisting or are teaching their own language class), then you go teach. In the afternoon, you typically will have your own graduate courses. You normally will take three courses per semester, and they meet either twice a week (1 ½ hour classes) or once a week (3 hour classes). After class, you prepare your teaching for the next day, grade your students’ homework, and complete assignments for your graduate courses, such as readings, essays, or term papers. In between: breakfast, lunch, coffee with your colleagues, a lecture series, the Germanic Film Series, guest speakers, workshops, and office hours (for your students). It’s a full day, and every grad student will have to find his or her own routine.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
This department is one of the largest in the country and has many distinguished scholars with different fields of specialization. Consequently, graduate students can choose from a vast amount of possible specializations in Germanic languages and literatures, cultural studies, film studies, linguistics, applied linguistics, or intellectual history. A huge benefit of learning from such a large and diverse faculty is the possibility to pursue interdisciplinary approaches, something from which my current dissertation research benefits a lot. We also have a large and diverse graduate student body. Consequently, we all learn from one another. There is always the possibility for intellectual exchange and discussion.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
My dissertation “Heimat Bonn: The Provisional West German Capital as Social and Spatial Imaginary, 1949-63” investigates Bonn’s symbolical function during the Adenauer era. I argue that Bonn at that time served as local metaphor for the Federal Republic, as it was still taking shape. I am reading Bonn as projection screen and laboratory for challenges that the Federal Republic was facing during its founding years. I am drawing on several cultural domains (city planning, architecture, newsreels, fiction, and others) to examine how the provisional West German capital city was instrumental in implementing a complex strategy for a new beginning in a post-fascist, war-torn country that found itself divided and located on the fault line of the emerging Cold War.

My second area of specialization is the literature and culture of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933).

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
I am a Ph.D. candidate, which means that I have passed the candidacy exam and have completed my Ph.D. coursework. I am currently in my fourth year and working on my dissertation. Last summer, I received a Continuing University Fellowship. This is a great luxury, since it allows me to work on my dissertation fulltime (I usually teach first and second year language classes). On the other hand, this demands discipline: you have to set up a strict writing schedule in order to make the most out of the time free of obligations.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
Most of our grad students work as instructors in our lower division language classes, either as TAs or AIs. While AIs have their own classes, TAs typically assist either a professor or an AI in a class. Once my Fellowship is over, I will return to teaching as an AI, and I really love it. Of course, it is extra work on top of your own studies, but in my opinion, it is definitely worth it. Especially as Ph.D. students, we are trained to become professionals in the field, which usually requires both research and teaching. If you want to continue working in academia, your time as an AI will provide you with invaluable experience in teaching. Besides, interacting with our undergraduate students is a lot of fun and a truly rewarding experience, and you will be proud to be a part of your students’ university education. You will typically take a pedagogy class as part of your studies, and our AIs and TAs have regular meetings with our coordinators to discuss pedagogical questions, assessment and grading, or other concerns related to teaching.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
The main difference in my eyes is that as a graduate student, you have to “live the program.” There will be a lot less time for other activities, such as hobbies, although you can, and you should, still carve out time to do something totally unrelated to school. To succeed in graduate school, you will have to fully identify with what you are doing and why you are doing it. For this, it helps to have a clear career goal in mind.

Based on my experience, classes usually are a lot smaller in graduate school, and there will be much more one-to-one interaction with the professor than as an undergrad. Every class is an intellectual challenge, and it will be expected of you to contribute to each and every class session. Graduate classes are usually less rigid in structure and allow for more dynamic interaction with the professor and your peers. A lot of a good graduate class depends on you taking an active part in it.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
It is important to work on your foreign languages as early as possible. In my program, you will need reading proficiency in one foreign language for the M.A. degree, and in two foreign languages for the Ph.D. degree.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Take the time to do thorough research on the different universities you are considering and compare them with regard to which departmental profile fits you best. Most importantly, pay attention to: the profile of the faculty and funding opportunities (AI/TA jobs, fellowships and scholarships awarded by the department). Carefully study the departmental website. Among the faculty, find at least two professors with research interests related to yours. Could you see yourself working with them on your M.A. thesis or dissertation? If so, get in touch with them and express your interest in the program, even before you actually apply.
  2. Spend a lot of time and care on the application materials. Be sure to submit a strong statement of purpose (why you want to come to this department specifically) and writing sample. Have someone from the field read your application materials and give you feedback.
  3. After you have looked at the faculty, check out the “graduate students” section of the website! I would recommend getting in touch with graduate students from the departments you are interested in. After all, these would be the people you will be working closely together with for the next few years. Their profiles already can tell you a lot about the intellectual life in the department. Also, it is often helpful to have colleagues or potential future friends with similar or related interests to study together. The graduate students often have invaluable “insider information” on how the department is run and can help you identify positive factors or potential problems.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
As an undergrad in Germany, I wrote a Staatsexamen thesis of about 100 pages on narratological features in the early novels of Arno Schmidt (My particular Staatsexamen degree in Germany is considered an M.A. equivalent, therefore you have to write a thesis). Having already completed a longer research project as an undergrad was an excellent preparation for my M.A. thesis in the US and my work here at UT. In my area of study, I therefore would definitely recommend doing a research project (an honors thesis or the like) as an undergrad. This would help you hone your academic writing. A good command of academic writing is crucial in order to succeed in grad school, so start working on it as early as you can. A research project would also provide a good writing sample to submit along with your application for grad school.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
My #2 choice was the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, VA.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in Germanic studies to check out?
H-Net German and H-Net Germanistik are two websites which contain resources on current topics in German studies. Among other things, they offer discussion forums, calls for papers, and academic book reviews.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In ten years, I see myself working as a professor of German literature and culture in the United States. I would like to find a good working balance between research and teaching, since both are equally important to me.

Do you have an achievement or “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
An achievement: I just recently published my first academic essay! When my copy finally arrived in the mail, and I held the book in my hand and read my name in the table of contents, I have to say that was a great feeling…

A grad school survival tip: In order to be productive, try to counterbalance your grad student life with another interest outside of school. To varying degrees, grad school will consume between 70 and 90% of your time awake. In order to stay sane, your precious free time needs to be spent with something totally unrelated to school. A hobby or sports definitely will help clear your mind for the next day. I found that my overall sense of wellbeing was vastly improved when I picked up playing the guitar again, which I neglected during my first years in grad school. There is always time during the day, if only a few minutes, to do something fun that will help balance your life as a grad student.


Bradley Boovy

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Germanic Studies, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation Topic: “Gay Men and the Culture of the Closet in West Germany, 1949-1969”

Other Degrees: M.A., Spanish, Tulane University – New Orleans, LA; B.A., Spanish & German, Loyola University – New Orleans, LA

What is grad school life like?
I can’t imagine things being much better, to be honest. I spend most of my time reading, watching movies, working on languages, thinking and writing. And I’m surrounded by interesting people who do the same thing and who enjoy talking about it.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
My daily routine is pretty flexible. Aside from teaching (usually one to two hours a day), grading and planning, I try to dedicate three to four hours each day to research and work on my dissertation. There’s always a bit of professional development and logistical stuff to take care of, too, like writing up abstracts for conferences, going to meetings and presentations, bringing back library books, filling out forms, etc. Whatever time’s leftover I like to spend reading, seeing movies, hanging out with friends, cooking, going out. Typical stuff.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The department really offers a lot of opportunities for professional growth and development, such as teaching your own course. I also think it’s cool that there are people in the department who speak Icelandic and Yiddish.

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
I’m in candidacy now and am done with coursework.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
I just defended my prospectus in November 2009, and got the go-ahead from my committee to continue my research and write. The title of my dissertation at this point is “Gay Men and the Culture of the Closet in West Germany, 1949-1969.” I’m looking at several gay cultural magazines from the postwar years in West Germany, and examining how they fit into the larger contexts of postwar reconstruction, the Cold War, and debates over the criminalization of homosexuality.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I’ve worked as an AI since I came to UT. I teach German and Dutch language courses, and have also taught a content course on Grimms’ fairy tales. Grading and planning do get exhausting sometimes, but it’s worth it since engaging with students really is the best thing about working at a university. Teaching provides a good balance to research, which I often find very solitary, and also gives my research on German culture a greater purpose beyond publication.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
Something I’ve struggled with is adhering to a more flexible schedule. Undergrad (and even the first years of course work in a grad program) are easier in the sense that you’re on the university’s schedule, and professors assign the tasks and deadlines. It’s been a challenge for me to come up with my own tasks and deadlines and then to stick to them. I’ve got a good routine down now, though...for the most part.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I sometimes wish I would have been a little more creative in thinking about career paths. I’ve always been very interested in languages, and suppose I knew early on that I wanted to do something with them. Sometimes I think I might have gone into translation (which I do on the side now), or into cultural administration instead of academia. Degrees in language and culture—although they may not seem as “practical” or profitable as other degrees—can still open a lot of doors, and they provide a good foundation for work in several fields. Think creatively and look past the raised eyebrows when you tell people you’re getting a graduate degree in language and cultural studies.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. If you’re not a native speaker of the language you’re studying, practice the language as much as possible, both before you enter and while you’re in the program. Find native speakers who aren’t annoyed by questions about your accent, usage, idiom, etc. If you are a native speaker (of German, etc.), be nice and help the rest of us out.
  2. Read a lot and in all kinds of genres. See movies, watch TV, go to concerts and plays. In short, get as much exposure to culture and cultural production as you can. (It doesn’t matter so much if it’s not the culture you’re focusing on.)
  3. Find people you feel comfortable exchanging ideas with, and meet with them to discuss. Start a reading and discussion group. Or, just go have coffee or a beer, and talk about your progress, what you’re reading and writing, what movies you’ve seen. Discussion and exchange drive cultural studies, so get as much practice as you can.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I worked with ESL students and teachers to develop a kind of guide to common ESL errors. It was intended to give ESL teachers and tutors an idea of the types of mistakes speakers of particular languages might make in English (e.g., what kinds of mistakes a Japanese speaker might make because of her/his first language), and suggest ways to work on correcting those mistakes. I would absolutely recommend research, even if it has little to do with what you see yourself doing long-term. It’s important to start developing good research skills early since there’s not much time to concentrate on that when you’re writing your dissertation.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I considered UC Berkeley and KU.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in Germanic studies to check out?
I keep up with news on sueddeutsche.deSpiegel and Deutsche Welle. Wikipedia has pages in a lot of less common Germanic languages and dialects (e.g., Frisian, Kölsch, etc.) that are fun to read, and there’s plenty of stuff on YouTube for people interested in Germanic Studies. There’s also a bunch of sites where you can watch German TV shows.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
To be honest, I hope my life is similar to what it is now: teaching, research, having discussions with friends and colleagues. I’d like to be at a small to mid-size university or college at this point, but have also started to consider working at large state universities since I’ve been at UT. I’m sure I’ll be busier in ten years, and I expect to have a heavier workload and more commitments. I’d like to imagine that my life won’t have changed that much in terms of what I do, though. (I do hope I’m making a little more money, too.)

Do you have a ‘grad school survival tip’ you would like to share?
Work hard but be sure to get enough sleep, exercise, good food and drink, and time with friends.


Judith K. Atzler

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Germanic Studies, The University of Texas at Austin;Dissertation Topic: Utilizing a combination of the field of applied and theoretical linguistics to develop new approaches to teaching and learning

Other Degrees: M.A., German Language and Literature, University of Kentucky – Lexington, KY; B.S., Mechanical Engineering, Clemson University – Clemson, SC

What is grad school life like?
You need to be organized and plan your days. It can be stressful and it is important to find something outside of graduate student life to balance it out (hobby, sport, etc.). If you love teaching being an AI/TA is a very rewarding experience - the undergraduate students you will meet in the courses you teach are great.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
Well that depends on what kind of person you are. Everyone is different. But having a routine might be a good idea to help you stay on track and to be organized. Certain things have to be included such as preparing for the class you are teaching and of course the classes you are taking (which are usually in the afternoon). You will also spend time in the library (which is very well stacked and getting books from other libraries via interlibrary loan works very well), and find yourself writing abstracts for conferences on some days. Coffee might become a big part of your graduate student life. Being a graduate student and an AI counts as two jobs. They take a lot of time, thus it is essential that you have non-school related interests so you can balance it out.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
Having the opportunity to work with people with diverse interests.

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
I just had my candidacy exam in May 2010. It was stressful, but now I am one step closer to starting with my dissertation research. The spring semester 2010 was my last semester of course coursework and I plan to conduct the study for my dissertation in the coming fall semester (2010).

The courses I took during my M.A. and my PH.D. helped me to figure out what I wanted to do. If you are not sure what your main research interest is, I encourage you to take different courses and see what sparks your interest. This will also prepare you for the job market. Having a well-rounded education and being versatile will make you more marketable.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
It took me awhile to figure it out. I got my undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering but I realized that I do not want to work as an engineer for the rest of my life. I was always interest in literature and culture so I decided to change course and study language and literature. During my masters I was intrigued by turn of the century literature from around 1900 and 2000. I wrote my M.A. thesis on this topic comparing those times. But my interest in applied linguistics and pedagogy was already sparked during my master studies. I wanted to continue with literature at UT but then I decided to dive into applied linguistics. I am also still interested in literature, but I moved a few centuries into the past - now it is Early Modern Literature and it is fascinating.

My dissertation investigates a new approach to vocabulary teaching and learning. Instead of using traditional approaches to teaching vocabulary in the classroom and using vocabulary lists I am combining aspects of the field of applied and theoretical linguistics (Frame Semantics). Having had the opportunity to take courses in different areas helped me to figure out my research interest.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I would definitely recommend research for undergrads. During my last semester in my undergraduate studies we worked on a research project. The mechanical engineering department in Clemson brings in companies and students are assigned different real-world projects for those companies. Having had that experience doing research gave me a first glimpse at the process.

If you are in the field of German language and literature (or other language programs for that matter) I would recommend it as well, because it helps you to get familiar with different research tools and how to approach a topic.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
In the fall 2009 and spring 2010 semesters I worked as a GRA for our department head. This gave me a great opportunity to experience research on a different level than as a graduate student writing term papers. The two semesters prior to that I had a position as an AI which I will have again in the coming fall (2010). I enjoyed the GRA position; however, I missed the classroom. I love teaching and being an AI gives me the opportunity to do just that. If you are interested in teaching, being a TA or AI is a fantastic opportunity to get your feet wet and a great start on your journey of teaching.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
You have to learn to work independently and it is your responsibility to do the work. Also, as an undergrad I had a lot of time for myself. Teaching and writing on the dissertation has greatly diminished that ‘me’ time.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
Professors are a great resource and not scary. You can come to them and discuss your research with them, but they also have great advice for your student life - they’ve been there.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Check out and compare different programs. Look at the research interests of professors in the department you are interested in and look at other things that are important to you (e.g. program structure, course offerings, study abroad opportunities). Contact professors if you are interested in what they do and want to work with them and ask if they are open on taking on more advisees.
  2. Contact the graduate students that are currently in the department and ask them for their opinion.
  3. It will be stressful at times, BUT: it is all worthwhile - it is what you love to do! Remember: this is NOT undergraduate work. At times, undergraduate work you have done will seem like Kindergarten.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
My second choice was Georgetown University.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in Germanic studies to check out?
Spiegel Online - Kultur: This website might come in handy because it contains a lot of German literary works.
Deutsche Welle DW is not only a good source for news but also useful for teaching purposes.
The Linguist List: This website provides information and resources for linguists. You can find information about conferences (call for papers), publications, jobs, etc.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself teaching and doing research as a professor at a university in the United States. Both teaching and research are important to me and I hope to find a position that allows me to balance both.

Do you have a ‘grad school survival tip’ you would like to share?

  1. Prioritize! A wise person once told me: “You are a human being first, then a graduate student.”
  2. Follow your heart; take the time to figure out what you are interested in and work on that.
  3. Not everything needs to be perfect.
  4. Ask (professors, other grad students, admin staff).

Return to the top of this page

Government

Faculty

Dr. Daron Shaw

Academic Background: Ph.D.& B.A., University of California, Los Angeles

Area of Specialization: Political Campaigns

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
The thought of learning all I could about the things that really fascinate me, and then teaching in a university setting, made getting the degree extremely attractive to me.

What makes a good grad student?
Intelligence matters, but is over-rated (sorry!). It’s a long slog, and dedication and diligence are perhaps more important than native intellect.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to your program?

  1. Do your homework. Make sure the program has faculty in your area who are willing and available to work with you.
  2. Come out and see us. Visit the department to get a feel for the faculty and the grad students.
  3. Work on that application! GRE scores do matter, but the entire portfolio gets a thorough vetting. You never know what might attract our (favorable) attention.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate? If so, what was it? Would you recommend undergrads to participate in research?
Yes, I analyzed survey data during my undergraduate days. I would highly recommend this to undergrads (although only those who are truly interested in politics).

What is your current research focus?
My focus is on campaigns and campaign effects. I also do a lot of work on swing voters, issue voting, racial and ethnic voting, and electoral strategy.

What is the latest national or international research project/topic in your area which you are currently following?
Field experiments conducted within the setting of major statewide campaigns.

What are the top five government graduate programs in the US?
Off the top of my head, Stanford, Michigan, Princeton, Harvard, UC-Berkeley (in no particular order).

Could you please provide a snapshot description of the UT government graduate program?
The program is designed to train and develop scholars in the study of politics and governance. Students specialize in one of a number of fields—American politics, Comparative politics, International Relations, Public Law, Political Theory, or Formal Theory/Methodology—taking courses and learning how to identify interesting questions and how to design and execute appropriate analyses. Our ultimate goal is to produce students who can advance the discipline’s understanding of politics and who can compete for tenure-track positions at tier-one research universities.

What is one thing this department does particularly well that makes it better than other similar programs?
We have a core of young, active, newly-minted Ph.D.s. They bring vitality and energy to the department and to graduate education. Having several people working in your area who are at the cutting edge—writing papers, getting grants, developing innovative approaches to studying politics—is a major asset (and a real kick!).

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Tenure-track jobs at research universities.

Graduate Students

Yuval Weber

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Government - International Political Economy and Foreign Policy, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Topic: The role of natural resources in the formulation of foreign policy

Other Degrees: M.A., International Relations, University of Chicago - Chicago, IL & B.A., Plan II; Government; Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies; Russian Language and Literature; and Czech Language and Literature, The University of Texas at Austin

What is grad school life like?
The coolest thing about being a graduate student is that you finish every day smarter than when you started. When I lived in New York, I worked a corporate job that was fine in and of itself, but I was working 8-10 hours a day for somebody else, only to have enough energy to work out, have dinner and be completely zonked until I had to do it again the next day.

In graduate study, a student will read an article or book every day, follow the news of an area or topic, and in general find out something that he or she didn’t know before, or come across a new way of thinking about an old problem. To me, at least, that feeling of intellectual excitement and satisfaction is irreplaceable.

Honestly, the nonstop partying, champagne and having to fend off runway models can be a bit tiresome. Ha, ha sigh. Life as a graduate student is necessarily a driven and focused one, because you’ll absolutely need to stay on top of your schoolwork and research interests, but it need not be excessively solitary. It’s helpful to form study groups to go over material and have someone else around who’s going through the same thing to gripe and commiserate with to remain sane.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
Being a graduate student is comparable to being a stage actor or trial attorney in that so much hard work goes into being able to perform competently in public. For every 3-hour seminar class, I probably spend at least 10 hours preparing for it in terms of doing the reading, taking notes, thinking about connections to other material I’ve previously encountered, and completing written assignments.

So a typical day is getting to school at 9:00 in the morning and being in class, meeting with fellow students and professors, attending talks and workshops and studying until 5:00 or 6:00 in the afternoon. But wait, there’s more! After getting home and working out and having dinner, I study the rest of the night. But that’s not all! I still put in 7-9 hours of study on Saturdays and Sundays to be able to sleep normally and avoid cramming during the week.

If that sounds like a job, that’s because being a graduate student is your job, and that’s the greatest difference between life as an undergrad versus life as a grad student. As an undergrad you’re kind of preparing for a career but mainly you’re learning how to read, write and think critically. But in graduate school you’re already assumed to know how to do that – you’re paid through a fellowship or teaching assistantship to put it all together and produce original scholarship (meaning uncovering new knowledge or looking at an old problem in a new way), so in essence you are always on call, which is largely why grad school is so much harder.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Know what you want to do in grad school so that you can get in, and that you don’t waste your time or that of faculty members when you’re there.
  2. Read the journals of the field you’re interested in so that you know what’s expected of you.
  3. Get relevant training in your field as an undergraduate or in the gap between studies. If that’s language training, taking mathematics/economics/statistics classes, or working in your chosen field, do it and don’t think twice. These things will sharpen your focus, make you better prepared for your studies and already knowing x-y-z about will free up your time and energy for other new and exciting activities.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad?
I wholeheartedly recommend doing an undergraduate research project if you are even remotely interested in graduate study. I was a Plan II student, which required an undergraduate thesis. I wrote about the history of the Jewish community in the Czech Republic through a detailed focus on the history of the Jewish community of a town called Telč. The Jewish community in Prague is more famous and its history well known, so I thought it would be interesting to see how Jews existed in small towns since the 14th century onward. My basic finding was that Czech anti-Semitism was less virulent than that in neighboring countries because the Czechs for almost all of their history did not rule themselves, so their rancor was aimed at foreign kings and rulers, rather than at internal minorities.

Undergraduate research is important for at least two reasons. The first is that you will learn how to develop a working relationship with a professor, which is indispensable as a grad student because the faculty in grad school are training you to join the profession as well as helping you find a job later. A working relationship with a professor means figuring out a research topic that’s not just interesting to you but would also be relevant to the professor, so that supervising you is not a burden to him or her. Then the mechanics of a research project: defining the scope, setting goals, doing the research, taking criticism (not every word you write is destined for glory unfortunately) and then relentlessly revising until there’s finally something for others to read. It’s hard work with absolutely no guarantee of success, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

The second reason to do an undergraduate research project is that it’s like a mini-tryout for grad school. Not only does it look good on an application, but if you can eat, drink and breathe a single topic for six months or a year and not run screaming for the hills, then perhaps you can hack it when your dissertation takes 3-4 years.

What is an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in government to check out?
I would recommend ForeignPolicy.com as a good website for general international political news, commentary and blogging.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years I hope to be sailing through tenure review at a research university. Famous last words indeed.

Can you say a bit more about your dissertation plans?
My dissertation hasn’t been nailed down as of yet but the general topic will be the role of natural resources in the formulation of foreign policy and the subsequent effect on international security.

For instance, if a country has plenty of oil, gas, diamonds and/or other high-value commodities, it is more likely to have an authoritarian form of government than a democratic, representative one. As such a government needs only to tax highly or sell itself those commodities to fund itself it requires less labor input from its population and consequently concedes fewer rights and privileges to the population. As this government doesn’t really need the people to maintain itself this gives the government greater incentive to repress the citizens.

While there has been a lot of research on this internal formulation of political economy (which the fancy-pants political science way of saying how individuals form a government to rule over a territory and then organize the economy in that territory to remain in power and provide for the needs of the people in that territory), my research will focus on what happens next – in the international sphere. My research will try to answer the question of how does a country with plenty of high-value commodities conduct its international relations, and how does a country without many natural resources do the same thing.

The main empirical focus will be on Russia and how it uses its abundant natural resources to conduct its foreign policy. How I came onto this topic was that I was interested in doing a dissertation on Russia and I felt that oil and energy are topics that will not decrease in importance. So I began thinking of Russian foreign policy since the end of the Cold War: the nuclear rivalry with the United States became far less important, and Russia’s conventional military strength also declined dramatically, yet Russia remained a very large country with a clear foreign policy goal of maintaining primacy along its borders. Russia then had to cast about for a new way to project its old might. In the past decade or so, it hit upon the formula of using its oil and gas exports as the conduits for foreign policy, which includes cutting off natural gas supplies to Ukraine partially to warn against that country joining NATO, fighting (and winning) a war with Georgia to warn that country and its neighbors off too close a relationship with the United States, and so on.

The empirical portions of my dissertation will break down the formulation and execution of Russian foreign policy along its three geopolitical zones (Western Europe, the Caucasus/ Middle East and China/East Asia) through the exploitation of its natural resource assets. In doing so, I hope to show that the practice of international relations played a highly significant role in the internal formulation of its political economy, given that Russia as an exporter of high value commodities had to balance internal control of its resources with being open enough to engage in the international economy.

Would you like to share any other stories?
Under the advisement of Peter Trubowitz, I was able to receive a generous grant from Gary Freeman and the Government Department to go on a research trip to Beijing, China in May/June 2009.

My general dissertation will be about how the presence or absence of abundant natural resources effects the formation of foreign policy and the subsequent effect on international security. My main focus for the project will be to examine how Russia uses its natural resources (oil, gas, diamonds, etc.) as a foreign policy lever to re-extend its influence in its traditional sphere of influence after the end of the Cold War. The purpose in going to China was to investigate the energy relationship between the two countries: Russia has plenty to export while China doesn’t have nearly enough on its own to maintain its expanding industrial production, so I was trying to gauge whether they could overcome security concerns for mutual benefit.

Professor Trubowitz arranged for Professor Sun Zhe to invite me as a Visiting Research Fellow at the Center for US-China Relations at Tsinghua University. I organized my trip by arranging for interviews with Chinese political scientists, sociologists and UT’s own visiting professor, Liu Xuecheng, whose primary affiliation is as Senior Fellow of the China Institute of International Studies, the think tank of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was about two interviews a day, which sounds light but between preparation, doing the interviews and then getting around Beijing, those were very full days. In formal shoes and clothing with unrestrained humidity.

Besides for the interviews I only had two free days that I had set aside for tourist activities. The first was for going to Tiananmen Square because I have a personal project of visiting the graves and mausoleums of dictators and other political figures across the world. In Moscow I visited Lenin and Stalin, and I hope visiting Generalissimo Francisco Franco of Spain and Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam is not too far off. So I took a cab to Tiananmen Square, which at 100 acres is the largest public square in the world. For comparison, the entire UT campus, from the Drag to I-35 and Dean Keeton to MLK, is 350 acres.

I went through the metal detectors and for all the world I looked like a total narc Western journalist given my camera and notepads. It was two days before the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square “Incident” so the amount of angry, hateful looks directed at me was fully palpable. There might have been more plainclothes police (young, angry muscular guys with earpieces in cargo pants and collared shirts), city police, army soldiers and other uniformed personnel whose organizational affiliations I couldn’t divine, than in the entire Austin Police Department.

I went straight to the Mao Mausoleum. Perhaps for occasion of the anniversary or perhaps he wasn’t feeling his freshest, but the Chairman wasn’t taking visitors – the Mao Mausoleum was closed. The consolation prize was the rest of the attractions: Tiananmen Square is just part of a larger complex that includes the Forbidden City, the National Museum of China, the Great Hall of the People and other government buildings. So for Chinese people from elsewhere visiting Beijing, it is essentially having all of the Washington, D.C. historical and civic tourist attractions all in a single area. Which is handy.

My other free day was spent fulfilling a childhood dream: visiting the Great Wall of China. The closest portion of the Wall to visit from Beijing is called Badaling, and it was far more impressive in person than I had ever imagined. Designed to protect Beijing from northern invasion, this section of the Wall was restored in the 1950s, and it is an engineering marvel. High up in the mountains, Badaling is so large and tall and steep that many people there had trouble in modern shoes to go up and down the passes between guard towers. Making it up more than a kilometer above sea level, the warm day was left behind for some of the coolest and most refreshing breezes I have ever experienced. Looking out on the endless Wall stretching into the distance over the hills, it was one of those rare moments when a dream came true and expectations were fulfilled.

I returned from China with a better understanding of the China-Russian security and energy relationship and the international relations of East Asia. It was an invaluable trip for dissertation research and I will hopefully return for a longer visit after advancing to Ph.D. candidacy. The rest of my summer was spent studying Russian in an intensive immersion program at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN to revive the Russian I learned as an undergrad.


Ernest McGowen

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Government - Political Science, The University of Texas at Austin; Resesarch Topic: Voting Behavior and Race and Ethnicity

Other Degrees: B.A., Honors Government and Honors Liberal Arts, The University of Texas at Austin

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The coolest thing about the graduate program is the people. I am fortunate enough to have personal contacts in the Austin area, but many of my colleagues come from all over the world. As such, we have formed a tight-knit community where not only do we help each other out academically, but we also hang out on a social level. The pinnacle of our social calendar is the tailgate parties we have before every UT football game.

What is graduate student life like?
Life as a first or second year graduate student is much like undergraduate studies with a pretty strict class schedule, homework, etc. As you get older, it becomes exciting because you are working on your own research and can concentrate on those topics in which you are independently interested. Just be ready to live poor.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
A typical day involves classes, either 1.5 hour seminars twice a week or 3 hour seminars once a week. Once class is over you will have some departmental obligation, usually a teaching assistant class and office hours, or a research assistantship. Once you have finished that you begin to study, either doing the homework in your statistics class, working on a research project for a class or conference, and reading – lots and lots and lots of reading. A typical week of reading will usually involve 200 pages (maybe a whole book) per class and will consume about five hours of your day, seven days a week.

What is the greatest difference between undergrad and grad school?
The biggest difference is self-motivation. Undergrad is a big change from high school because you are used to your teachers ‘holding your hand’ as far as assignments and studying goes. In undergrad you get more freedom, but classes are very structured with explicit deadlines and provisions like rough drafts. In grad school there is even less instruction, you are given your expectations the first day of class and are expected to fulfill those expectations. No one will even ask how you are progressing, the expectation is that you are mature enough to handle things yourselves. Also you must realize that grad school is not for everyone, nor is independent research.

What do you know now, and wish you knew then?
I wish I had known how much mathematics is involved in political science. I would have taken a higher-level math course (instead of just math for non-science majors) like calculus and/or a statistics course, and taken them seriously.

What are 3 tips for students applying to your program?

  1. Work hard on your math GRE score.
  2. Think seriously about giving 5-7 years of your young life doing the same thing everyday.
  3. Make friends in your cohort and with your professors so they can help down the line and co-author research.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad?
I worked on an honors thesis for my government major. The project was about majority-minority congressional districts and their effects on voter turnout. I strongly recommend doing research in undergrad. I was headed to law school until I started working on my honor thesis, got hooked on the research, and decided to go get a PhD solely because of that experience.

If you wouldn't have accepted the UT Austin offer, which schools would have been your next top choices?
Cornell, Brown

What are a few interesting websites you would tell a friend interested in government to check out?
RealClearPolitics.comPollster.comJibJab.com

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Tenured, starting on my second book, and running a campaign institute.

Would you like to share a story about your graduate life?
It is just difficult getting through the daily minutia of grad school when you are one of the few students of color. No matter what your minority status it is always difficult to be the ‘first’ or ‘only’ person like yourself in the program. Instead of dwelling on it, appreciate your status, make sure you help out those that come behind you, and most importantly let your work be validation of your belonging.

Return to the top of this page

History

Faculty

Dr. Toyin Falola

Academic Background: Ph.D. & B.A., History, University of Ife, Nigeria

Field of History: African History

Areas of Specialization: African history since the 19th century with regional focus on Nigeria, and thematic foci in Diasporas and migration, nation building and development, nationalism and intellectual history, empire and globalization, and religion and culture.

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
First, to teach, a great passion of mine. Second, to discover new ideas. Third, to popularize those ideas.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
"The Political Economy of A Precolonial African State: Ibadan, 1830-1893"

What topics do you teach at UT?
I currently teach a course on the modern history of Africa, beginning from the nineteenth century to the present. The course starts with an overview analysis of the great changes of the nineteenth century, including the partition of the continent. The twentieth century forms the major concern, divided into two phases: the colonial and post-colonial. In the first phase, the imposition of colonial rule, the changes of colonial rule, and decolonization are the three principal themes. The second phase examines a variety of issues dealing with independence, the management of modern states, and the international environment.

What is your current research focus at UT?
I am working on a long history book on Southwestern Nigeria since 1800.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by history scholars in the U.S. or around the world?
The African continent is comprised of 53 independent nations, and hundreds of different ethnicities, cultures, and languages. Research is usually focused within a single nation or geographic region and its corresponding literature. Therefore, possibilities are vast and include: studies of globalization and economic development, violence and warfare, health and human welfare, post-colonial political development, and Diasporas in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
Yes, I did an honor's thesis on chieftaincy and the palace. It was actually published by the university's undergraduate journal. Research is an integral component of graduate study. Furthermore, graduate committees encourage students to have clearly defined research goals when applying. Participation in research projects as an undergraduate allows students to determine whether or not they want to continue their present studies at an advanced level as well as narrow possible topics.

What makes a good grad student?
A good graduate student is a self-motivated individual who takes initiative in his/her own academic and professional development. They must possess an unyielding curiosity, analytical mind, and independent spirit.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to a history graduate program?

  1. Do your homework about the graduate programs you are applying to. Find out what funding they provide for graduate students and the resources they have available. Most important, know what faculty members are there and who you want to work with before applying.
  2. Contact those faculty members you want to work with ahead of time and get departmental support from your present academic institution. Be visible because graduate schools are becoming increasingly competitive for financial resources.
  3. Prepare well for the GRE. As competition increases, your score gains increasing weight in the decision process. Often it is the first thing graduate committees look at.

What are the top five history graduate programs in the US?

  1. Northwestern University
  2. University of Wisconsin-Madison
  3. Michigan State University
  4. University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
  5. University of Texas at Austin

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Graduates primarily remain in academia, teaching African and world history at the university level.


Dr. Benjamin C Brower

Academic Background: Ph.D., History, Cornell University – Ithaca, NY; M.A., History, University of Colorado –Boulder, CO; B.A., French and History, University of Idaho – Moscow, ID

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
My grad school interests initially focused on social history, “French theory,” and psychoanalysis. I came to my current specialization in Algeria’s colonial history from my concerns about violence and memory.

What is your area of specialization?
I teach and conduct research in the fields of European and Middle Eastern history. My main interest is Algeria in the colonial period.

What topics do you teach at UT?
I teach an undergraduate writing seminar on the study of violence and undergraduate courses on Algerian history and a course about imperial categories grouped about the terms “France” and “Islam.” My graduate courses deal broadly with the study of French colonialism.

What is your current research focus?
I’m currently at work on a project about French colonial regulation of Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca and the Holy Places (hajj).

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by history scholars in the U.S. or around the world?
Generally it has “trans-“ in the title. For undergraduates this translates into the importance of language study. Everybody training in history should seek proficiency in one European language (besides English of course) and one non-European language.

What makes a good grad student?
The person who works tenaciously and with grim persistence is generally the one who can see a great dissertation through to its end.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to graduate programs?
1. Read well the work of people who do work that engages you.
2. Contact them and courteously ask advice (“courteously” also means a “thank you” to those who help).
3. Contact people who have studied with these people and courteously ask their advice.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
I did an undergraduate research project in my senior year. It focused on the fall of the political left in France prior to WWII. I strongly encourage my undergraduate students to throw themselves passionately into a research project.

What are the top five U.S. graduate programs in your area?
UT obviously! At the same time, it makes sense for our undergraduates to broaden their horizons and embark upon “travel in search of knowledge” (al-rihla fi talab al-‘ilm). A place like Algeria and North Africa, with a history that interests so many other places, doesn’t easily fit into a single existing field of research. There are programs focused on Middle East studies, African studies, and French studies all doing wonderful work. The main thing would be to select a program with advisors with wide-ranging interests who are committed to graduate education. Also important are well-developed institutions that can fund and support graduate activities. Particularly important in this regard are universities that are “patient” with students doing ambitious archival work.


Dr. Gail Minault

Academic Background: Ph.D., South Asian History & M.A., South Asian Regional Studies, University of Pennsylvania – Philadelphia, PA; B.A., History, Smith College – Northampton, MA

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I served in the US Foreign Service between 1961 and 1964, and was assigned to Lebanon and Pakistan; at the latter post, I became fascinated with Indian and Pakistani history and culture, started studying the language, and decided to apply for graduate school to learn more.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
My dissertation topic was the Khilafat movement that took place during the Indian nationalist movement in 1919-24. This was the topic of my first book: The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilization in India (Columbia University Press, 1982).

What is your area of specialization?
I specialize in the history of modern India, especially the 19th and 20th centuries, the period of British colonial rule and the nationalist movement. In particular, I have written about Islam and politics in South Asia, women’s education and rights in South Asia, and Muslim society and culture in India and Pakistan.

What topics do you teach at UT?
I teach a two-semester sequence on the history of India: Muslim India before 1750, and Indian History and Culture since 1750; and a two-semester sequence on comparative European empires: European Expansion in Asia 1500-1800, and European Empires in Asia in the 19th and 20th centuries. I also teach undergraduate seminars on Gandhi and Gandhism, Women in South Asian Societies, and the Partition of India. My graduate seminar topics include Communalism in Colonial India, Religious and Social Reform in Modern India, and the Transmission of Knowledge in Modern India.

What is your current research focus?
I am currently working on an intellectual history of the city of Delhi in the first half of the 19th century. This was a period when the Mughal emperors were still on the throne, but when the British were establishing their dominance, so it was a fascinating period of transition from native to colonial rule. I am using both British and Urdu-language sources for this, and have spent time doing research in archives in both Great Britain and India. I am also working on a new topic having to do with the writings of women in Urdu, especially poetry than gives expression to women’s individuality.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by South Asian history scholars in the U.S. or around the world?
In my field, the topic of Islamic fundamentalism and its political repercussions in South Asia is a topic of current relevance, as is Hindu resurgence in the politics of India. Some of my work has looked at the origins of some of these trends. Women’s rights in India and Pakistan are also an ongoing area of interest.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
I wrote several research papers in the context of courses and seminars as an under-graduate. I did not, however, write an honors thesis. I would definitely recommend that undergraduates participate in research, either for an honors thesis, or in the context of undergraduate seminars such as History 350Ls.

What makes a good grad student?
A fascination with a question about history (or any other discipline) that they absolutely have to answer.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to a history graduate program?

  1. For students applying to do South Asian history, I would say that a knowledge of your research language is essential, so it helps to have a couple of years of an Indian language under your belt before applying to graduate school.
  2. Some field experience in South Asia is also important: a summer exchange program, a Jr. year program, an internship with an NGO, or something like that.
  3. Finally, I would recommend corresponding with the professors with whom you want to study, both at UT and at other programs, outlining your research interests and background.

What are the top five South Asian history graduate programs in the US?
For South Asian history, UT is definitely among the top five. The others, in no particular order, are Chicago, Columbia, California, and Michigan.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
PhDs usually pursue college or university teaching. MAs may go into government or international service, journalism, law, or secondary school teaching.

Graduate Students

James Jenkins

Graduate Program: Ph.D., History, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation Topic: North American Indian Radicalism and the Rise of the Global Indigenous Movement

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., History, Northern Arizona University - Flagstaff, AZ

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The coolest thing is the UT history department’s large and talented faculty. In addition, there are literally hundreds of opportunities every year to hear distinguished historians from our department and elsewhere give talks on campus.

What is grad school life like?
Many people imagine grad school life as endless hours of solitary reading and writing. This is not really true, however, because much of grad school involves interacting with other people. Seminars, workshops, conferences and other forums help stimulate the mind in a way that complements work done alone. Beyond that, grad school life is what you make of it. Although I worked for a year before coming to graduate school, my lifestyle has not changed in any dramatic way since I came to UT. School work can take up quite a bit of time. But most people figure out how to prioritize so that they can get everything done and still have a life outside of academia.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
I am finishing my coursework, so I spend much of my time reading for seminars, doing archival research, and writing papers. Many students like to do their work at the library so that they are free from distractions. Some students are surprised when they hear that I do most of my work at home, but I have managed to make a fairly comfortable workspace there. There is a workshop, guest speaker, or academic conference practically every day at UT, so I attend these events when the topics seem interesting or relevant to my own research. In graduate school, there is a tendency to let school take over your life, so most people play some kind of sport or have another release from academics. There is a basketball team, a soccer team, and a softball team in the department. I play saxophone in some local bands, and music is my primary pursuit outside of college.

What are the differences between undergrad and grad school?
The greatest differences are the smaller classes and knowing that in these classes (usually 10 students or fewer) you have to be prepared to be a part of the dialogue that occurs with faculty and classmates.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then?
One thing that I did not know as an undergrad was how important it is to apply for grants. Sometimes universities will offer entering graduate students a funding package, and grant applications do not seem urgent. However, I wish that I had spent time applying for grants before I came to grad school. The grants that you receive become the yardstick by which your progress is measured, and they have value beyond mere finances. If you already have some grants entering grad school, you will find it easier to obtain funding further down the road. Besides, applying for grants is a major part of grad school and an important part of any academic’s career. It never hurts to get a head start.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. The most important tip that I could give to somebody applying to a program like mine is to contact scholars that you want to work with. Get in touch with them by e-mail or phone. Talk to them about your research interests and ask them about how they train their graduate students. This way, you can get a much clearer idea about what schools would be good for you. If you are not sure who you would want to work with, read some articles on topics that interest you to find out who the leading scholars are in those fields.
  2. Once you have contacted some historians, you may also want ask to see if you can talk to any of their graduate students. They can give you more information about the department and their advisor.
  3. Finally, when looking at potential schools, I think that finding the best fit is more important than being accepted into a highly prestigious program. Ultimately, you should look for a school that has one or two faculty members with similar interests to your own. This ends up being far more important than other considerations such as library collections or name recognition.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad?
When I was an undergrad, I did an original research project on the Navajo-Hopi land dispute. I found original documents in Northern Arizona University’s library to write a twenty five page essay. The paper dealt with perceptions of traditional vs. progressive American Indians, which was something of a hot topic within Native American history. I used the essay as my writing sample when I applied to graduate schools, and it definitely gave me an advantage. If possible, I recommend using a paper with archival sources and a strong central argument for your writing sample.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
My second choice of graduate schools was the University of Minnesota.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In ten years, I expect to be teaching history at a university and to be playing music gigs on weekends.

Do you have a story, news or achievement you would like to share?
Last semester, I took a research course with Dr. Jonathan Brown on Latin American revolutions. The history department gave me funded a trip to the Center for Southwest Research in Albuquerque, NM. The Center housed Native American activist collections that I used to research the 1980s Miskitu Indian insurgency against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. I will present some of my findings at the American Society for Ethnohistory conference this fall.

Would you like to share any other stories?
I started college fairly early, at the age of sixteen after my sophomore year in high school. I graduated with a B.A. in history at the age of twenty, and I had vague plans to apply to law school. Instead, I took a teaching job in Bariloche, Argentina, where I taught high school students history, English literature, and music. It was there that I decided to apply to graduate school for history. I felt that teaching would be a suitable career for me, but I wanted to teach older students. Applying from Argentina was somewhat difficult. My biggest obstacle was taking the GRE because I had to travel to Santiago de Chile to find a test center, some 1,000 miles away. The next fall, I began graduate school, and I have just completed my first year. I found that taking a year off from college gave me much more confidence about the direction of my career once I returned to school. It also strengthened my applications because I was spending my year off working in education and learning a foreign language.

Return to the top of this page

Latin American Studies

Faculty

Dr. Henry Dietz

Academic Background: Ph.D. Political Science, Stanford University – Stanford, CA; M.A. Political Science, Indiana University – Bloomington, IN; B.A. English & American Literature, Miami University – Oxford, OH

Area of Specialization: Latin American Politics

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I was always quite sure from the time I entered undergraduate work that I wanted to go to graduate school and become an academic; my father was a professor and I was brought up in it, so perhaps that had something to do with it as well.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
My dissertation topic dealt with the political adjustment of low-income migrants from the Peruvian countryside who make their way into the capital city of Lima.

What topics do you teach at UT?
I teach Poverty and Politics; Intro to Latin American Politics; Democracy and Democratization in Latin America; and Latin American Urban Politics.

Can you tell us a bit about your areas of specialization?
Regionally, Latin America; discipline, LA politics, especially, poverty and urban politics in the region; governance of the major cities; poverty and political participation (voting, etc.).

What is your current research focus at UT?
A comparative study with a colleague at Penn State on the urban roots of populism in LA, using Hugo Chavez and Caracas in Venezuela and Alberto Fujimori and Lima in Peru.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by scholars of Latin American studies in the U.S. or around the world?
Many, of course – US/LA relations dealing with immigration, drugs and violence, etc.; the sustainability of democracy in LA; poverty and inequality in the region; the growing importance of Brazil and Mexico in the region and the world.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
A bit, but not much; I would have liked to have done more, but the opportunities weren’t available. I would recommend it strongly for undergraduates who are considering an academic career and/or graduate school.

What makes a good grad student?
A lot of factors: willingness to work hard for a long time; being absolutely sure that graduate school is what you want to do; having a research question or focus in mind from the very beginning; having prior experience in LA and a good grasp of at least Spanish and preferably Portuguese as well.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to a Latin American studies graduate program?

  1. Have a research topic (however tentative) in mind when you apply;
  2. Spend as much time in the area as possible; and
  3. Determine what you want the MA degree to do for you – i.e., is it a stepping stone toward the PhD, or a terminal MA?

What are the top five Latin American studies programs in the US?
There are several: University of California - San Diego, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, University of Notre Dame, University of California - Berkeley, University of Pittsburg, University of Wisconsin - Madison; Tulane University; University of Florida.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
For the MA students, about half of every graduating class goes on to a PhD. The others head to Washington DC to look for work with an NGO or with the federal government; others go to or go back to Latin America.

Graduate Students

Kelly Usher

Graduate Program: M.A., Latin American Studies & M.G.P.S. in Global Policy Studies, The University of Texas at Austin; Focus: Social Policy in Brazil

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Spanish & International Studies, University of Mississippi

What can you tell me about life as a LLILAS graduate student?
As a graduate student, the biggest challenge has been learning to balance my time. I've always been the kind of individual who couldn't say no to an opportunity, and I've had to learn that skill. I choose my activities wisely and restrain my extracurriculars to the things that really matter to me. I work 20 hours a week and take 12 hours of classes. On top of that, I'm the managing editor of the online student journal for the LBJ School which takes about 10 hours a week. I will also be one of the conference coordinators for the Latin American student conference next year, another major time commitment. Making time for these activities outside of work and school means that I have to be really committed to staying up late to do my homework. LLILAS coursework requires a lot of reading and a lot of research, so after class I tend to spend my time in the Benson Collection research or studying. I do more studying at home after the Benson closes. So far, I've never felt too tired though! I love the work that I'm doing in LLILAS and outside of school, and the effort it takes to accomplish all of these things is well worth it.

To recharge from all of this work, I try to set aside time to do interesting things with friends. During the week, I generally attend one evening event. This event might have a purpose to it, it might not - the main thing that I look for in deciding what to attend is whether it is something that I will find relaxing and whether it is something with people whose company I enjoy. Then, during the weekend I set Friday night and Saturday night aside to spend with friends and relax. The morning and afternoon of Friday and Saturday are intense times for study, and Sunday is also a day for writing and researching. It's really key to make sure you get this time to yourself so you don't burn out - pacing is important when it comes to completing research and homework.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
My typical routine starts at 8 AM, when I go to work. I generally work mornings and go to class in the afternoons, although it may be reversed. After class, I may attend a talk or LLILAS event if there is something related to my interests and research. I may also have a meeting or two related to the LBJ online journal or the ILASSA conference after class. Last year, I was an IE mentor for a UT undergrad, so once a week I met with my intern for a meeting after class. If there are no events or meetings, I generally go to the library to begin research. I work there until around 9 PM, then head home for dinner and to finish up any homework that I have left.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
For me, the main attraction of LLILAS is the community. LLILAS is a tight-knit group of students who love to share their experiences and talents with one another. There are plenty of events to attend, both for fun and for volunteer purposes, and at every single one there is bound to be at least two languages flying around the room and most likely a lot of dancing going on, with or without music. The energy level of the students in this school, even in the hardest part of the semester, is exhilarating to be around.

LLILAS also gives its students plenty of opportunities to do things they would not normally do, like organize and lead a student conference, join a protest, organize conversation groups, translate for people around Austin, and volunteer around the community in many capacities. LLILAS is about more than just the class work, and that is something that I think is so important about this graduate school.

Where are you in the MA sequence?
I have just finished my first year of my program, and have been doing exclusively coursework for both of my degrees as well as gaining the professional experience required by the LBJ School of Public Affairs. I'll be continuing coursework in both degrees next year. I'm also beginning the thesis process in August 2010 to complete it by May 2012.

Can you tell us about your research?
Since I've just finished the first of three years, the specific topic of my research is still a little fuzzy. I can, however, say that I will be focusing on social policy in Brazil. I plan to do research on the role of civil society and NGOs in the implementation of Brazil's extensive social policy entitled Fome Zero, or Zero Hunger. This policy intends to combat not only hunger but also the roots of poverty to eradicate it; it's been highly successful, although with its flaws, and has attracted a lot of international attention for its unique approach to common problems. One of its successes is its inclusion of civil society and NGOs in the implementation of aid and relief projects, and I wish to study both how much of voice these organizations have and what they have accomplished as well as how that role could be expanded.

I also hope to do research in a comparative study of the social policies of the "new left" in Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil. The "new left" in Uruguay was the topic of my bachelor's thesis, and I want to continue in this trajectory along with my thesis work.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad?
I wrote a 95-page thesis entitled Capturing the banner of batllismo: The Frente Amplio and the end of the Uruguayan two-party system. It was a historical approach to understanding the sudden 2005 victory of the young leftist coalition Frente Amplio in Uruguay - I studied how this victory occurred and what it meant for the Uruguayan system.

I would definitely recommend research for undergrads. It gives you plenty of experience in what you would be doing extensively in graduate school, and helps you improve your performance in all your coursework. It also "de-mystifies" graduate school in that you've already attacked a major research project, which is one of the scarier parts of graduate school. Finally, having research allows potential graduate schools to evaluate more in depth whether you are a good candidate to attend their school and/or to receive financial aid.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
This past year, I held a University Recruiting Fellowship, a full merit fellowship. Next year, I am the proud recipient of the Debra J. Herring Fellowship, which will largely cover tuition, so I will still not be taking an assistantship.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
The greatest difference is perhaps the reading load. Although I was assigned a good deal of reading for my classes in undergrad, graduate classes have far more readings assigned, and these readings may be more technical, more detailed, or require more background knowledge than readings assigned in undergrad. Also, to participate in discussions and be able to contribute to the class, it's best to do these readings in full! There may also be recommended readings, and although these aren't required, they are extremely helpful for your personal research or simply to inform you more on a topic you find interesting. In addition to the reading for coursework, there is also reading for research. Without employing smart techniques for reading, all of this can be overwhelming.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I wish that I had known then what I know now about research. I have gotten so much more adept at finding articles and primary sources as well as skimming books for appropriate information, and this is largely because I consulted many professors and library staff for tips. Although you may already know some of what they tell you, it's worth listening to anything they have to say. Searches in online databases can be so much more fruitful with the right approach. Professors may have connections you need to get primary sources or research from a graduate student at another school working on a similar topic. There are many other things they can tell you to speed up and deepen your research process.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a Latin American studies program?

  1. Contact the graduate coordinator of the program that interests you and see if he or she can put you in touch with a current student in that program.
  2. Research the faculty involved in that program: Do they research what interests you? What have they been writing? Could you see yourself benefitting from the classes they teach? Is their experience in the areas that you wish to research or work in? You may even wish to contact a professor.
  3. Do some reading or research in your own time to hone in on what you wish to specialize in - Latin American studies is an extremely broad discipline and it's important to know what you wish to do within LAS as well as what discipline (e.g. political science, sociology, etc) you wish to employ in your research. This helps you determine if the program you're considering will be the appropriate one for what you want to do.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your next choice?
I was also seriously considering both Tulane University and the University of Florida, although I had not narrowed it down between the two.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in Latin American studies to check out?
I love El Chiguire Bipolar. It's a satirical website in Venezuela that exposes what the government there is doing and holds them accountable for it. They do it in a hilarious way too - they've been described as the Stephen Colbert of Venezuela. Very funny videos and posts, and extremely informative too!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope to work in Latin America in development immediately after graduating from UT, but for the long term I intend to get my Ph.D and become a professor at the university level in Latin American studies - maybe even at UT!

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
Be selective about what you get involved in, especially at first! Early on in the semester there are tons of clubs, programs, and organizations to become a part of, and it's easy to get swept up in the excitement and join them all. Wait for a little while - choose only what really interests you and what is really worth your time. When classes begin to heat up, you'll be glad you've been selective, and you'll be able to really invest in what you did join rather than being over-stressed and spread too thin.

Return to the top of this page

Linguistics

Faculty

Dr. Katrin Erk

Academic Background: Ph.D., Engineering, Computer Science Department & Postdoctoral Studies at the Computational Linguistics Institute, Saarland University – Saarbrücken, Germany; Diploma in Computer Science, Koblenz University – Koblenz, Germany

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I somehow always wanted to. Learning things was fun, and doing research sounded cool. And it could not possibly be difficult to get a faculty position at a university, now could it? Astonishingly enough, this non-plan worked out for me. But I would not recommend doing things this way. If you are thinking about going to graduate school, better plan ahead and research your options.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
I was working with a formalism that allowed for a partial description of logic formulas, leaving some parts of the formulas free-floating. You could also specify, for pairs of pieces of a formula, that they should have the same structure. The question was: How can we automatically compute the list of formulas (if any) that are covered by such a partial description? This formalism can be used to describe what are called ellipses in natural language. For example, in "Susan has read all books by her aunt, and Mary has, too", whose books has Mary read?

What is your area of specialization?
My current main research area is computational lexical semantics: building computational models for what words mean, and how they combine. Words are strange and slippery things. Their meaning is hard to pin down, and often they can have multiple meanings that are difficult to differentiate. For example, you can see a bird in the sky, or see that I am right, or see a doctor, or see a new boyfriend, or see to it that the grass gets mowed. All these uses of "see" are somehow related, but also different. I am working on computational models that would describe this vagueness as exactly as possible. So, the questions are: How can we describe how similar or different those uses of the word "see" are, and how can we infer the clouds of associations that comes with each of those uses?

Another research area of mine is the creation of language resources for lexical semantics: Computational linguistics today crucially relies on machine learning. For that, we need large amounts of natural language text that has been manually labeled with linguistic information as a basis for learning. But what should those labels look like to describe the phenomena best, and to best facilitate learning?

In my earlier research, I worked with logic-based representations of meaning. They are great in that they can represent complex statements with all their structure, and because they serve as a basis for automatic reasoning. But they are tough to derive because of that same complexity that makes them so powerful.

What topics do you teach at UT?
I teach undergraduate and graduate classes on computational linguistics (both introductory and advanced), and graduate courses on programming and statistics for linguists and students from related areas. I also teach a graduate seminar that takes an interdisciplinary look at word meaning and mental concepts.

What is your current research focus?
In the Isogram project, we are using what are called semantic space models to describe the meaning of words in context. These models represent a word as a point in a semantic space with thousands of dimensions, which stand for (possibly related) meanings or associations. One big advantage of these models is that they can be learned automatically from data, so word meaning does not have to be specified by hand. Another main advantage is their flexibility: They can represent similarity and association between words in a graded and flexible manner. We are also looking at linking these semantic space models to logic-based representations of meaning, which are great at representing complex, structured arguments, but do not deal well with similarity.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by computational linguistics scholars in the U.S. or around the world?
In computational linguistics, one current hot topic is how to automatically extract knowledge from the incredible resources created by social media, especially Wikipedia. Another is what is called Textual Entailment: Given two sentences, would a human say that the first implies the second? This is an exciting topic because it underlies a wide variety of language technology applications, and because it requires handling so many different linguistic phenomena at the same time. Then, grounding is an up-and-coming topic: In computational linguistics, we often describe a word through other words. But humans "ground" meaning through their perceptions and memories. So how can we link words to non-linguistic things, and what can we do with those links when we have them? In terms of applications, sentiment analysis is currently getting a lot of attention: Can we automatically determine whether people on the web are saying positive or negative things about a given product? And an application that has been and continues to be highly important and challenging is machine translation.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate? And would you recommend research for undergrads
I actually participated in multiple research projects. One was about theorem proving -- formalizing a line of reasoning, then automatically testing it for validity. Another was on DNA computing. Imagine a "computer" that is just a test tube full of goo. You encode data into strands of DNA, and perform computations by slicing, recombining and sorting those strands. I also helped a professor write a textbook on theoretical computer science, which was a great experience for me because it let me practice describing the ideas behind definitions and proofs in an intuitive way.

Should undergrads participate in research? Yes, absolutely! Participating in research will help you see what research is like, and if it is what you want to do. You learn useful skills for your later research career. And you gain valuable bullet points for your graduate school application.

What makes a good grad student?
The most important thing, I think, is to be curious and to love to learn new things. A graduate student also needs tenacity, and a lot of it, because most experiments don't work out the first time around, and maybe not the second time either.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to a linguistics graduate program?

  1. Find out whether the department is a good fit for you. Think about what your core research interests are, and who in the department you might want to work with. And tell us about all this in your application. It helps when we see that you have given serious thought to your plans for your graduate studies.
  2. When reading your application, we will be trying to find out whether you will make a good graduate student -- that is, whether you have both the curiosity and the tenacity that it takes. Undergraduate research helps. So do great recommendation letters. So does a great application essay.
  3. If your core interest is in computational linguistics, it will be extremely useful to have some background in computer science or mathematics.

What are the top five computational linguistics graduate programs?
Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Southern California Information Sciences Institute, and Brown University are very strong in computational linguistics. Internationally, Saarbruecken University and University of Edinburgh are also very strong.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Among our linguistics students in general, the majority go on to pursue research careers, typically as faculty in Linguistics departments. In computational linguistics, students have a choice between academia and industry, as there are currently many positions in industry for computational linguists.


Dr. Stephen Wechsler

Academic Background: Ph.D., Linguistics, Stanford University – Stanford, CA; B.A., English, University of California at Berkeley – Berkeley, CA

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
A practical reason is that I wanted to pursue an academic career in linguistics. A personal reason is that I wanted to achieve as much as possible in my chosen area; I did not want to compromise. So that meant getting the highest degree available.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
My dissertation deals with the relation between word meaning and syntax. Specifically it concerns the way the meaning of a verb influences how it can be combined with other words to form a sentence.

What is your area of specialization?
My work focuses on three research areas: the semantics of first- and second-person indexical pronouns like ‘you’ and ‘I’; systems of grammatical agreement in different languages; and the interface between word meaning and syntax.

What topics do you teach at UT?
I teach courses in two areas: syntax; and lexical semantics (word meaning).

What is your current research focus?
Currently (Fall 2010) I am engaged in research projects in two areas. First, I am investigating the origin and grammatical properties of an unusual verb conjugation phenomenon in Hungarian: in that language a special form of the verb is used if the verb has a direct object that is definite (‘the bird’, as opposed to ‘a bird’). Second, I am working on a typological study-- that is, a study comparing a lot of different languages-- on the question of why verbs often agree with their subjects in person, while adjectives usually do not agree in person, even when they agree in number and gender.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by linguistics scholars in the U.S. or around the world?
One big question being discussed these days is whether and to what extent the mental representation of language involves a discrete combinatorial system in which symbols combine according to rules. Basically this question concerns the ‘squishiness’ and variability of language.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate? And would you recommend research for undergrads
I wrote an undergraduate thesis on the poetry of William Carlos Williams. I recommend that any undergrads who hope to continue to graduate school should try to do some original research. One reason is that you can use the product of that research as a writing sample when you apply to graduate schools. Also it may help you decide whether in fact you want to continue in a field.

What makes a good grad student?
Patience, hard work, and a taste for Top Ramen.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to a linguistics graduate program?

  1. Your Statement of Purpose should show that you know what linguistics is.
  2. Do some research while still an undergraduate (see above); if possible include a writing sample that illustrates your research experience.
  3. Look at your application file from the perspective of someone who must read many, many such files: make it clear and readable, and don’t clutter it with irrelevant information.

What are the top five linguistics graduate programs?

  1. University of Texas at Austin (of course)
  2. Stanford University
  3. Ohio State University
  4. University of California at Santa Cruz
  5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?

  1. Academic careers: research and teaching in linguistics.
  2. Computational linguistics careers.
  3. Careers related to foreign language teaching.

Graduate Students

Niamh Kelly

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Linguistics, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Amazonian Languages

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Honors International in Spanish & Psychological Studies, National University of Ireland – Galway, Ireland

What is life like for a linguistics graduate student?
Life is busy! I find it inspiring and challenging. Classes and assignments are priority, and definitely keep me occupied all the time. On top of that, there are talks and conferences to attend. I am sure I will start presenting at conferences soon, so that’s another thing to work on. A lot of graduate students also work as teaching or research assistants. So it’s a packed schedule, but one I find exhilarating.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
Fulltime students take three classes so that’s nine hours a week, and as a TA I sit in on three more hours of class. I also have three office hours a week. The “free” time is spent working on assignments and reading. There are often talks, or depending on the class, some of us meet to discuss homework.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
Simply that I get to study a topic that I adore! Another aspect that I love about the linguistics department is the atmosphere: there is a lot of camaraderie among the students, who are of various ages, nationalities and levels in the course. We have students from many different parts of the world, and it’s always fascinating to learn about different places and languages. There is also a really nice relationship between the professors and the students.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
In summer 2010 I began a pilot project on the documentation of Nomatsiguenga, a native language of Peru. The purpose of the project is to record and analyse this language, since it has not been studied in great detail since the 1960s. Data on it is scarce so a colleague and I went to the Peruvian Amazon to live with a Nomatsiguenga community for 6 weeks to record and learn some of the language. I hope to focus on a phonological analysis, that is, a study of the sound system, and eventually I would like to compare the language to other closely related languages in order to do a reconstruction of the mother language.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I worked on a short project for my psychology class. It was a survey on sexist attitudes among men and women in Ireland. I think experience on a research project is definitely valuable: you learn research methods and you get an opportunity to work with others in your class. Having said that, don’t be intimidated or feel unqualified if you didn’t have a chance to do research before; in grad school, you take classes in what you need to learn as you go along.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I am just starting my second year in the PhD programme, but before I do my PhD I will be getting the MA, so I will soon start working on my thesis/qualifying paper. In the linguistics department there are six obligatory courses, four of which I did in first year. So I have two of those left to do, and my other courses will be my choice. The courses I have done so far have kept me extremely busy, but I have really enjoyed and been inspired by all of them. I am excited to start new ones.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I work as a TA for a Syntax and Semantics course this semester. Working as a TA differs depending on what class and what professor it is. The main tasks are grading every week, and you also attend the classes. You have office hours, which is when you are available to meet with the students to help with their homework or help them with topics they have questions about. I really enjoy being a TA because it lets you see how different professors set up their class schedules and how they like to grade, and it lets you get experience grading and sometimes presenting a class.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
My undergrad course was in Ireland so there are a lot of differences! The campus here is huge, but generally classes in the linguistics department are fairly close together. Graduate classes are usually smaller than undergrad classes. You get to know the professors well, especially those you work with. There’s a very informal atmosphere in the classroom, which I like a lot. Students are encouraged to really participate and ask questions and challenge the professors. That means you have to have done the required reading. The workload is definitely greater. Another difference for me is having a choice in what classes I take. In my undergrad course, once you chose a subject you were given your schedule. Here, I get to pick classes that are in my area of interest.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
Graduate students are expected to use initiative and to be productive, so you need to motivate yourself. You need to keep on top of the work throughout the semester, partly because that’s the way to learn about your subjects and partly just because homework grades make up a large portion of your final grade. When you begin, and for some time after that, you’re going to be around people who know more about linguistics than you do – people who have taken the classes you’re taking, people who have advanced to candidacy, and of course professors. Ask questions, get involved in discussions and get to know people!

Another thing that’s important to remember is that there’s no rush. If you’re not sure what you want to study, you don’t have to go to grad school right away. I took two years out to travel and live in different countries, and that experience has served me well. You’ll know when you’re ready to re-enter the world of academics.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Read up on the different areas of linguistics so that you have an idea of what you want to focus on. This will help to narrow down what universities to apply to. Look at a variety of universities to find the one that fits you: your interests, your career plans (even if they’re just ideas at this stage) and funding opportunities. Contact professors and graduate students with questions about the department.
  2. If at all possible, visit the department. There’s a lot to be said for the feeling you get in a place. I went to the open events of a couple of universities and after that there was no doubt in my mind; I just knew I had to be here. It suited who I am and I knew I would get along with the people here.
  3. If your undergrad isn’t in linguistics, read some introductory books, so you’re not starting from scratch with your classes. The classes cater to students who have no background in linguistics, but it definitely gives you a boost to know that you are familiar with some of the basics of the field.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
My other option was the University of Southern California. I chose UT because the department’s focus is more in line with my chosen area of linguistics, and also because I simply felt “at home” in this department.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in linguistics to check out?
I love reading Language Log.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope to be working in a university, teaching linguistics and doing research, probably on an under-documented language. I have no idea what part of the world that will be in, which I find exciting!

Do you have a grad school story you would like to share?
This past summer I spent 6 weeks in the Peruvian Amazon, working on a language there. Working in descriptive linguistics opens you up to a world of experiences far beyond what you would probably find yourself in otherwise. I was living in the jungle with a colleague, adapting to having only the basics, and figuring out how to document a language. It was a hugely challenging experience that forced me to overcome fears and learn new customs. So working in this area of linguistics is not your average job!


Eric Campbell

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Linguistics, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation Topic: A grammar of Zenzontepec Chatino, an Otomanguean language of southern Oaxaca, Mexico

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Linguistics & Spanish, University of Michigan Ann Arbor – MI

What is life like for a linguistics graduate student?
Graduate student life is very exciting. Coursework is pretty intensive and is the focus for the first three years. Research becomes more central as one goes along and is the main focus by the fourth year. As one moves on, there is more travel for doing fieldwork and/or attending and presenting at academic conferences.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
A typical day involves several of the following activities: attend class, read articles, work with data, attend a colloquium, meet with a professor, study some more, meet with colleagues.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
In addition to being a great program all around, there are several faculty members and many students specializing in indigenous languages of Latin America, so there is a strong community of people that share my interests. This allows a mix of individual and collaborative work.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
My dissertation will be a grammar of Zenzontepec Chatino, an Otomanguean language of southern Oaxaca, Mexico. It will be a description of the structure of this language, investigated through the collection and analysis of recorded speech and the creation of a trilingual Chatino-Spanish-English dictionary. I also study related languages: other varieties of Chatino, Zapotec, and more distantly related Otomanguean languages in order to reconstruct earlier stages of the language(s) and learn about prehistory in that part of the world.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I've completed my M.A. and advanced to doctoral candidacy. I am no longer taking courses but I am still gathering data, so I have not yet begun writing my dissertation. Right now I am working on several articles, attending conferences, and doing fieldwork in the community where Chatino is spoken.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I currently have support from a research grant, so I work more on my own schedule right now. I was a TA for one semester and an AI for two semesters previously. Being a TA is a great way to begin the transition from student to teacher. Usually, you get to give a couple of lectures, hold office hours, and grade assignments and exams. It is fun working with students, and you learn a lot by putting together and conveying the knowledge you have gathered. Life as an AI is very busy and a lot of fun. Having to plan and prepare everything from schedules and lectures to assignments and exams is time consuming and challenging. It can be difficult balancing teaching with research, but it gets easier as you move on and it is rewarding.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
The greatest difference is the amount of time I devote to study. As an undergrad, I did all of my required schoolwork, which was more or less finite. As a graduate student, there really is no limit. You just prioritize and focus on the most important or immediate tasks. The best part is that you get to choose what those tasks are more and more as you progress.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I have no regrets, but had I known what I know now, I would have done an undergraduate thesis with only one major, instead of a double major. The research would have better prepared me for research as a grad student.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Choose the program with faculty whose work interests you most. If you are not sure where to go, start by asking your favorite professors for suggestions, and then read the CVs and some of the work by the faculty at those institutions.
  2. Take as many linguistics courses as possible as an undergraduate, or at least get some background in the field, even if it is not required.
  3. Start on your applications early and ask people to check them out and suggest ways to improve them.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in linguistics to check out?
The World Atlas of Language Structures Online

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope to be on the faculty at a university, conducting research and fieldwork, and teaching linguistics classes.

Do you have a grad school story you would like to share?
A great way to get started in linguistic research is to get involved with a project that is already underway or just beginning. I knew I wanted to work in Mesoamerica, but I hadn't decided on a language to focus on. By making connections and being open to opportunities as they came my way, I was invited to join two projects, The Chatino Language Documentation Project at UT and the Project for the Documentation of the Languages of Mesoamerica. Because I was able to join these projects, I was able to begin original research in my second year of grad school, I got extra training, and I never felt lost or without direction.

Return to the top of this page

Mexican American and Latina/o Studies

Faculty

Dr. Jason Casellas

Academic Background: Ph.D. & M.A., Politics, Princeton University – Princeton, NJ; B.A. Political Science, Loyola University – New Orleans, LA

Area of Specialization: Latino Politics

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I was inspired to become a professor because of my late grandfather who taught Spanish Literature at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio for many years. I chose political science because I was always interested in public policy debates and the legislative process.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
Since my first day of graduate school, I knew that I wanted to write a dissertation on Latino representation in Congress. I kept that interest and expanded my study to include Latino representation in state legislatures.

What topics do you teach at UT?
I teach American Government, US Congress, Latino Politics, and race/ethnicity in American politics.

Can you tell us a bit about your areas of specialization?
I have research interests in Latino politics, legislative politics, state politics, and public policy (immigration and education).

What is your current research focus at UT?
I have just completed a book based on my dissertation which examines Latino representation in State Houses and Congress. My current book project examines Latino education policies since the Bilingual Education Act of 1968. In addition to these, I am collaborating with other researchers on topics ranging from immigration policy votes in Congress to experimental research on the consequences of Latino candidates in campaigns.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by scholars of Mexican American studies in the U.S. or around the world?
Because Latinos are the largest minority group in the country and growing, researchers are beginning to explore the cultural, social, and political impact of this new demographic reality. Immigration policy and the extent to which Latinos are politically distinctive continue to occupy scholars of Mexican American studies.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
In my senior year of college, I wrote a thesis on Latino political participation. This sparked my interest in pursuing advanced research in this area because I was struck by how undeveloped the literature was on this topic. Undergraduates should most definitely pursue an independent research project if they are thinking about graduate school. It will be a foretaste of what graduate school will be like, but most importantly it will give a sense of what faculty do most of the time.

What makes a good grad student?
A good grad student is someone who works hard, takes criticism well, and perseveres despite setbacks

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to a Mexican American studies graduate program?

  1. Cultivate good relationships with a few professors who will write letters of recommendation for you.
  2. Be sure your scores on the GRE are as strong as possible. If necessary, invest in a prep course.
  3. Ask questions, ask questions, ask questions. To whom? Faculty and current graduate students. Find out what it is you want to research, what life is like as a graduate student, and that you REALLY want to invest a good deal of time on this career.

What are the top five Mexican American studies programs in the US?
These are for political science, in no particular order: Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley and Michigan.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
As an MA, you can continue your studies and pursue a Ph.D. in a more specialized field, such as political science, history, or sociology. You can also work in public policy for a think tank or governmental entity.


cja
Dr. C.J. Alvarez

Academic Background: Ph.D., History, The University of Chicago - Chicago, IL; B.A., Art History, Stanford University – Stanford, CA

Area of Specialization: 20th century U.S. and 20th century Mexican history

What made you want to get an advanced degree?
An advanced degree was appealing to me because I always valued the life of the mind. Reading and writing, ideas for their own sake, that sort of thing. In many ways that was a naïve and uninformed vision of academia, but it nonetheless propelled me into graduate school.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
My dissertation was an attempt to understand the history of policing on the U.S.-Mexico border. I focused a lot on the Border Patrol and worked in archives in both United States and Mexico.

What topics do you currently teach?
I teach about the history of the U.S.-Mexico borderland. More specifically, I emphasize Mexican American history, environmental studies, and the built environment.

Can you tell me a bit about your area(s) of specialization?
In the most general sense I’m interested in the historical links between the United States and Mexico. Very public controversies about the security of the border, Spanish language use in the United States, assimilation, and drug traffic have warped most people’s understanding of the U.S.-Mexico relationship. My work focuses on trying to understand the intricacies, complexities, and hidden aspects of Mexican and American interdependence.

Are you currently conducting research?
Right now I am at the very beginning of a new research project. It’s still very undefined and certainly in its infancy, but I am interested in the connections between the history of radical political thought in the United States and Mexican American history.

What makes a good grad student?
A good historian of any age must love to write. To me that’s the most basic prerequisite. Beyond that, life experience—that is, having taken several years after college to work, travel, volunteer, or really anything—tends to make the graduate school experience more efficient and useful.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to your program?

  1. Make sure you are well acquainted with the research profiles of the faculty in the department. Graduate school is only as good as the fit between a student and their adviser.
  2. Make sure you have a relatively well defined sense of what you would like to research in graduate school. Of course this will certainly evolve over time, and might eventually change completely, but the more specific you are in your application the easier it will be for the admissions committee to assess whether or not you would be a good fit.
  3. Make sure you have a sense of what kind of career you’d like to pursue with your graduate degree. Again, this might change significantly over time, but far too many grad students don’t even begin to think about the medium and long-term until it’s too late.


What are the top five programs in your area in the US?
A caveat: my area is history. Many people think the best programs are Yale, Harvard, Princeton, the University of Chicago, and Stanford. That is not to say, however, that brilliant faculty do not work in a much wider range of institutions, including of course the stellar history department here at UT. Much of what makes the top programs the “best” is that those schools tend to have the most generous funding packages for graduate students.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Another caveat: our PhD program will not launch until the fall of 2018, so we have a few more years yet before we can begin tracking doctoral graduates. Many graduates from our MA program, however, have ended up pursuing a PhDs. In general, however, most history PhDs around the country who hope to secure a tenure track job will in fact never get one. The academic job market appears to be irreversibly distorted by defunding in humanities, the casualization of academic labor, and, arguably, an overproduction of PhDs. This is one reason why my colleagues and I in Mexican American and Latina/o Studies are determined to provide our doctoral students with not only the fundamentals of academic training in core disciplines, but also with the broadly applicable research and writing skills that can make our graduates successful in non-academic careers as well.

Graduate Students

Sierra Lopez

Graduate Program: M.A., Mexican American Studies, Center for Mexican American Studies, The University of Texas at Austin; Focus: Mexican American Youth & Children and Chicana & Chicano Art

Undergraduate Degree: B.S., Family and Community Services with a Youth Emphasis, Diversity Focus, Michigan State University – East Lansing, MI

What is grad school life like?
Well, I work two part time jobs and go to school full time, and I have a small family at home… so it has not been an easy change. I also moved here from Michigan, so my experience as a Chicana in Michigan is different than some people’s experience here in Texas. So there were many adjustments going on- but all in all, I definitely found a balance and was able to come out of my first semester with really good grades. So it is not impossible, you just need to prioritize your homework and classes… attendance is important! Taking notes is important!

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
It is so much easier to be a graduate student than undergraduate when it comes to being interested in classes. Classes are mostly reading (a lot) at home, and then coming to class and discussing what you read. Only, what we read is actually interesting, because we choose our coursework, and those who are in graduate school usually really want to be there studying whatever it is they are studying. So for me, it’s great to learn so much Mexican American culture, history, literature, and more.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The coolest thing is by far the fact that the professors I have worked with are all great, all around. They have been kind, supportive, and look at us students as equals. Furthermore, they are brilliant! I have so much to learn from them, and they are great teachers. I think that if I learned anything from my first semester at UT, it is that there is a place for everyone in graduate school- and the professors here are open and encouraging.

Where are you in the MA sequence?
I just finished my first semester of a four-semester program. I think that I will be writing two reports, which will have a combined length near that of a thesis.

Can you tell us about your research?
Well, I would say that any opportunity to mix youth and art interests me. I am particularly interested in studying the art forms of urban youth, like lowriders and graffiti art. Usually, those are not considered “art forms,” at least not by dominant society- but my research is concerned with proving that they are indeed art forms, and that they empower youth. Graffiti and lowriders are not unfortunate scabs or scars of the ghetto, or eye sores… there is much more to learn from/about them…. Which is what I am trying to do.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I do not yet, but I am applying to TA position next year. I am excited to work one on one with a professor, and connect with undergraduate students.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
Well, I wouldn’t say it is more difficult. I would say it is different. Here, you don’t mess around. You don’t skip class, and you don’t skip readings. Your job is to be a student- not to party all the time, blow off classes, and come unprepared. But I think that a lot of students get that out of their system as undergraduates, and I also think that as a graduate student, you are there because you want to study something really badly… which motivates you and makes it easier to do well. You just have to focus on school- really really focus! And as a graduate student you are seen as an adult. The relationships you make with other students and with professors, plus everything you learn, makes the hard work worth it. There are no more little busywork assignments (thank God!). It’s mostly long, well-written papers and a lot of reading. I think students just need to prepare themselves for focus, less of a party/social life, and the amount of reading and researching/writing that is involved. If you think you can adjust to that, you will do fine! It will be hard, but you can do it.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I wish I had talked to professors I knew well much, much sooner about graduate school, and I wish I would have been urged to go to graduate school much sooner as well. I didn’t even consider the idea until the summer before my senior year. And as a woman of color, I feel that we should be told more than anyone to apply!!! And we can, and women like us make it! There are plenty of brilliant Chicana/Mexicana/Latina/Native/Black/Asian sisters (and brothers) who are now professors doing amazing work for our people.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a Mexican American Studies program?

  1. Get started early, turn it in before the due date. Don’t procrastinate because you will stress yourself out.
  2. Make sure you give your letter of intent/academic statement to a couple of friends you trust and a couple of professors you trust for suggestions and comments (beyond just grammar and moving into content as well).
  3. YOU BELONG IN GRADUATE SCHOOL AND YOU CAN AND SHOULD BE THERE. More people should be told that, and many more students should be applying, so BE BRAVE AND DO IT! Don’t let any excuse hold you back.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your next choice?
I would have attended the University of Washington’s program in Multicultural Education.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in Mexican American studies to check out?

I would definitely start at the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) site and of course the CMAS website!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself with my family, working directly with youth and families in the community. I am also thinking about continuing graduate studies, although I will most likely be a teacher at a public school or a community college or working in the nonprofit sector.

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
When you get to grad school, you will have days where you cry. You will have days where you think that EVERYONE is smarter than you, better than you, and you don’t belong there. That being said, you will also have days where you feel ON FIRE, inspired, excited, and like you can and will make a contribution to the program and to your classes. You will have some in-between days, some sleepless nights, and some boring articles that you have to read. But just remember that the good times will outweigh the bad, and you will feel so proud of yourself once you finish that first semester. Drink lots of coffee, try your best, and no matter what- remember that you are not alone!


Gabriel Solis

American Studies, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Latino and African American Politics and Political Organizing

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Philosophy, The University of Texas at Austin

What is grad school life like?
Life as Mexican American Studies graduate student is good. Since Mexican American Studies is an interdisciplinary program, we are encouraged to take a range of diverse courses from several different departments in order to satisfy our research interests. The graduate program coordinator for CMAS, Luis Guevara, is always willing to answer our questions and help us out. It is also nice that CMAS hosts several social and academic events throughout the year, like the CMAS Thesis and Portfolio Platicas and cultural and policy research clusters.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
A typical day in the life of a graduate student involves a lot of reading, thinking, and writing. While the workload may be overwhelming at times, students should never forget or minimize one’s privilege of having the opportunity to be in school. Where else would you have so many opportunities to read relevant, interesting, and important literature and develop your ideas and writing? But life should never be all about graduate school. My work in the community and almost daily trips to Pease Park keep me balanced.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The coolest thing about Mexican American Studies is that it is a small program. It is nice to have the opportunity to get to know all of the students and faculty in the program.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
In general, I am interested in the social, political, and economic relations and tensions between Latino immigrants, Latino Americans, and African Americans. I am interested in the historical causes and effects of these relations and tensions, as well as the opportunities and potentials of social, political, and economic cooperation, understanding, and coalition. I am also interested in critical historical analysis of the role of capitalism and the police-judicial system on Latino immigrants, Latino Americans, and African Americans, and the relations between them.

Where are you in the MA sequence?
I am currently doing coursework, but I have started some preliminary fieldwork for my thesis.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I am currently the Graduate Research Assistant at the UT Community Engagement Center, part of the Division for Diversity and Community Engagement.

It is a privilege to work with university faculty that recognize the responsibility and importance of making university research and resources available to the social, political, and economic struggles of non-academic communities in Austin and around the world.

At the Community Engagement Center, I am currently helping—in anyway I can—to assist and sustain developing local social and economic justice organizations in Austin. We are also working on a series of community discussions on different issues. For example, in Fall 2009, the Community Engagement Center hosted—along with several local organizations—a four-part series, “Rejecting Violence, Imagining Alternatives,” on the multiple forms of violence affecting our diverse communities in Austin. And we are hoping to host a community dialogue on black-brown relations in the spring. I am also currently helping to plan and organize Abriendo Brecha VII, an annual conference at UT Austin on activist scholarship.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
In graduate school the classes are much smaller and emphasize class discussion and the open sharing of thoughts and ideas. This is a welcome alternative to vast lecture halls and multiple-choice exams.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
There is nothing wrong with reading and writing all day. In fact, it is a privilege. Think about all of those people out there who are working on roofs, on the side of the highway, or in the fields. It is important to always put things into perspective.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Do all the necessary research to find the program and faculty that best fits not only your research interests, but also one that fits you as a person.
  2. Think about ways that your research can be effective not only within the university, but also be useful to non-academic individuals and communities who might need it and learn from it.
  3. Make sure you can survive in the city or town where your graduate program is located. Austin, Texas is good for me.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
As an undergraduate, I did research as an intern at Texas After Violence Project. At the time, our research focused on documenting and disseminating the experiential testimonies of those individuals directly affected by criminal and state violence, especially the Texas death penalty. We were also interested in understanding the widespread effects of the capital punishment procedure on individuals, communities, and cultures, rarely reflected in the mass media or official public record.
I would recommend that all undergraduate students try to join a research project. Research outside of the classroom will allow you to explore and understand topics and issues that you are specifically interested in. And local research projects can always use dedicated undergraduate volunteers.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I only applied to Mexican American Studies at UT Austin. I had some community projects, friends, and family in Austin that I was not quite ready to leave, so attending Mexican American Studies at UT Austin worked out perfectly for me.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in Mexican American studies to check out?
Of course, check out Mexican American Studies at UT Austin web site.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years, I hope to be teaching and writing. While I am interested in teaching and writing for a college or university, it is important to me that I am also active in teaching and writing for community campaigns and organizations.

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
One graduate school is survival tip is balance. School is important, but it should never take up your entire day and night. Balance your coursework with volunteering at a community organization, with friends and family, or with daily walks or jogs. I work hard throughout the day and most of the night, but there comes a time at the end of the night where I put down the books, shut the laptop, and try to relax or hang with friends.

Return to the top of this page

Middle Eastern Studies

Faculty

Dr. Mohammad Ghanoonparvar

Academic Background: Ph.D., Comparative Literature, The University of Texas at Austin; M.A., English Literature, Eastern Michigan University - Ypsilanti, MI; B.A., English Language and Literature, The University of Isfahan – Isfahan, Iran

Additional graduate studies include Sociology and English Literature at Heidelberg University, Foreign Language Education at St. Michael’s College in Vermont and English Literature and Linguistics at the University of North Texas.

Area of Specialization: Modern Persian and Comparative Literature

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I was born into a working-class family in Iran, and at the time, the best avenue for most young people of my generation to change their socio-economic situation was through higher education, especially engineering and medicine. Initially, I planned to major in either mathematics or architecture, but ended up in literature, for which I am grateful.

What topics do you teach at UT?
In addition to Persian language, I teach courses on Persian literature, particularly Persian fiction and drama, and also Iranian cinema. I also teach translation theory and practice. Occasionally, I also teach courses on Persian cuisine.

What was your dissertation topic as a Ph.D. student?
I translated an important novel by the Iranian writer Sadeq Chubak entitled The Patient Stone and wrote about the author, analyzing and discussing this work in particular as a stream of consciousness novel.

What is your current research focus at UT?
I am concurrently working on a book on "Iranian Films and Persian Fiction" and another book on "Literary Diseases in Persian Literature." I am also working on the translation of several books, including a 15th century Persian cookbook.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by scholars of Persian studies in the U.S. or around the world?
Because of the political and social developments and events in Iran and Iran's internal and international conflicts, socio-political issues and themes have been for some time and continue to be the hot topic in the field.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
The educational system in Iran, where I did my undergraduate work, was not receptive to student participation in faculty research projects. Like some others of my generation, however, I tried my hand at writing poetry and essays, which I would submit to various magazines. I think that participation in research as an undergraduate can help refine the student's interests and lead to further study and future directions.

What makes a good grad student?
Enthusiasm for what he or she is studying, hard work, and constant interaction with other students and scholars in the field.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to your program?

  1. Make sure you have high GRE scores, because they follow you to the end of your studies every time you apply for a scholarship or grant.
  2. Prepare yourself to think not only as a graduate student, but as an intellectual in another culture.
  3. Make sure that you have at least a rudimentary understanding and knowledge of the field.

What are the top five programs in Middle Eastern Studies in the US?

  1. The University of Texas at Austin (we are considered to be the top program in the country)
  2. University of Chicago
  3. New York University
  4. Ohio State University
  5. University of California at Berkeley

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the Persian program?
Many of our PhD graduates pursue academic careers in other major universities that have Persian language and literature programs. Some PhD and many MA graduates seek employment in the government or private corporations.


Dr. Na'Ama Pat-El

Academic Background: Ph.D., Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University - Cambridge, MA; M.A., Semitic Linguistics and B.A., Germanic and Indo-European Linguistics, Hebrew University - Jerusalem, Israel

Area of Specialization: Languages and Linguistics

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I always wanted to be a linguist, or at least since high school, after I read a Sci Fi book ("Babel 17," by Samuel R. Delany) featuring a linguist who decodes alien languages. During my undergrad years, I learnt a bunch of languages, mostly Indo-European, but eventually fell in love with the Semitic family, specifically with Aramaic.

What was your dissertation topic as a Ph.D. student?
My dissertation title is “Studies in the Historical Syntax of Aramaic." It basically covers the entire known history of Aramaic (3,000 years!) and studies a number of syntactic patterns, how and why they changed over time.

What topics do you teach at UT?
I teach languages (Aramaic, Biblical Hebrew etc.) and linguistics (like “Intro to the Structure of the Semitic languages”), but also the Bible (“Intro to the Old Testament”) and Ancient Near Eastern Literature. For me, the Bible is a part of the Ancient Near East and cannot be understood without a background in the languages and cultures of its region and time.

What is your current research focus at UT?
I’m currently finishing a book based on my dissertation. My next big project is the reconstruction of subordination in the Semitic languages, i.e., I ask whether sentences such as the man who lives in the house can be assumed to have existed in the mother language of all the Semitic languages, or whether they are a secondary development. The question of proto-Syntax is interesting not only to Semitists but to anyone interested in the origins of human language.

What makes a good grad student?
As a grad student I was very active in student organizations and served as the representative of the humanities, as well as the student body of my department and got to sit in a number of committees and meet the deans and chairs on a regular basis. A good grad student, in my opinion, is a curious one, one that utilizes everything a university setting has to offer: talks, workshops, scholars, projects etc. Take advantage of every opportunity to learn, not only in your direct field, but primarily in adjacent ones. It will make you a more rounded scholar and will provide you with contacts to people who may help you in the future. Don’t hesitate to take part in student activities: sit on committees, participate in workshops. It will prepare you to life as an academic.

What advice do you have for students interested in applying to your program?
When applying to my program you need to emphasize your experience with languages (studying and using them as a primary resource), critical thinking and a general interest in the field as a whole, not just to your particular interest. Most graduates of Ancient Near Eastern languages teach Bible, Semitic languages or Near Eastern history. You should be able to excel in all in order to land a good job, so show us that you are interested in topics other than your intended PhD topic.

What are the top Semitic linguistics programs in the U.S.?
The top programs in Semitic linguistics in the country are The University of Texas at Austin and The University of Chicago.


Dr. Tarek El-Ariss

Academic Background: Ph.D., Comparative Literature, Cornell University – Ithaca, NY; M.A., French and Film Studies, The University of Rochester – Rochester, NY; B.A., Philosophy, The American University of Beirut – Beirut, Lebanon

Area of Specialization: Arabic Literature, Film, and Media

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
Pursuing my intellectual inquiries, the love for teaching at the university level, and the desire to be in an academic setting.

What was your dissertation topic as a Ph.D. student?
I worked on French and Arabic Travel Narratives from the 18th and 19th Centuries.

What topics do you teach at UT?
I teach and publish on contemporary Arabic literature, film, and media; Arabic popular culture and new literary genres; and Arabic travel writing.

What is your current research focus at UT?
Currently I’m writing a book on literary representations of the Arab encounter with European modernity from the 19th century onward. I’m also conducting research on the effects of technological development in media and communication on contemporary Arabic literature.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by scholars of Arabic studies in the U.S. or around the world?
New writings, from experimental novels to blogs, are the buzz in the field of Arabic literary studies.

What makes a good grad student?
A graduate student has to strike the right balance between curiosity and the desire to learn and the ability to identify a specific project to complete at the end. Someone who is mature, responsible, works under pressure and believes in the worth of his/her research throughout. He/she has to be open to criticism and seek advice and consistently incorporate it.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to your program?

  1. Develop the ability to articulate clear research interests consistent with your training and language skills.
  2. Come ready to engage Middle Eastern Studies within your area of interest and expertise, but also across languages, disciplines, and time periods.
  3. Make sure you contact faculty with whom you might want to work in order to inquire about their research interests and courses.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
I didn’t participate in a research project as an undergraduate, but I highly encourage students to engage in such projects.

What are the top five programs in Arabic Studies in the US?

  1. The University of Texas at Austin
  2. New York University
  3. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  4. Columbia University
  5. Georgetown University

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the Arabic studies program?
They work in government agencies and NGOs, and get academic jobs in their respective fields.


Dr. Faegheh Shirazi

Academic Background: Ph.D., Textiles and Clothing, Ohio State University – Columbus, OH; M.S., Textile Science, Kansas State University – Manhattan, KS; B.A., Interior Design, University of Houston – Houston, TX

Area of Specialization: Popular religious practices; rituals and their influence on gender identity and discourse in Muslim societies.

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I come from an educated family background in Iran- for me to go to school and continue to a graduate program was a natural decision- I think I must have been very lucky to grow up in that environment. All my elder cousins and friends are educated in medical, architectural, and academic fields. I believe they set a good role model for me.

What was your dissertation topic as a graduate student?
In my PhD program, my dissertation was titled: “Costumes and Textile Designs of the Il-Khanid, Timurid and Safavid Dynasties in Iran, from the Thirteenth to the Seventeenth Century.” In my MS program, my thesis was titled: “ The Development of Visual Aids for a Unit in Screen Printing and Heat Transfer Printing.”

What topics do you teach at UT?
I teach both graduate and undergraduate courses in the areas of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. My area of specialization is popular religious practices: rituals and their influence on gender identity and discourse in Muslim societies, with a primary focus on Iran Islamic veiling material culture, textile and clothing.

What is your current research focus at UT?
I am active in research and publications. Although, I may seem to have departed from textiles and clothing research and moved in to the area of Islam and Middle East but in reality I have merged these areas together. In my research on the Middle East I am dealing with gender issues in relation to clothes, textiles (and other material cultures), ritual practices and of popular religious practices (Islam).

I am the author of two published books and one forthcoming (edited) book: “The Veil Unveiled: Hijab in Modern Culture,” University Press of Florida, 2001, & 2003 and “Velvet Jihad Muslim Women's Quiet Resistance to Islamic Fundamentalism,” University Press of Florida, 2009 and Editor - “Muslim Women in War and Crisis: From Reality to Representation,” Austin: The University of Texas Press (Forthcoming, 2010). My published journal articles are in the areas of culture, popular religious practices and gender discourse which is directly related to Islam, ritual and material culture.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by scholars of Islamic studies in the U.S. or around the world?
There is nothing “hotter” than Islam and Muslims particularly the Muslim woman. Every day’s news is devoted partially to this topic.

What makes a good grad student?
A patient, and serious person who cares about learning for the sake of learning, not just to go to school since they did not know what else to do. There must be a goal set before going to graduate school. One must be very honest with her/himself to analyze what they want to get out of a graduate degree before even considering to apply.

What advice do you have for students interested in applying to your program?

  1. Learn one of the languages of the Middle East (Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish or Persian) in at least two years in a formal classroom setting (4 semesters) before turning in an application.
  2. Learn more about the cultural diversity of the so called Middle East, since they are not from the same tribe, race, and nation nor do they look alike or speak the same languages or practice only Islam.
  3. Read and learn about the Middle East more from academic journals than just following the trendy on line personal web logs, or just the news.

What are the top Islamic studies programs in the U.S.?
I like to say UT is among the very best schools but we do not have an Islamic Studies Graduate Program yet. Other schools to consider are:

  1. University of Chicago
  2. Harvard University
  3. Princeton University
  4. Columbia University
  5. Duke University

John Huehnergard

Academic Background: Ph.D., Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University – Cambridge, MA; B.A., Religion and Culture, Wilfred Laurier University – Ontario, Canada

Area of Specialization: Semitic Languages and Linguistics

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
In high school and college I fell in love with the study of ancient languages and wanted to continue to study them in more depth, and study other languages that were not available to me as an undergraduate. I was also excited about the possibility of contributing something to what is known about those languages, and the cultures that produced the literatures that have survived until today in those languages.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
A comparison of the grammatical feature of texts written at a particular city in ancient Syria, called Ugarit. The texts were written in Akkadian, the language of ancient Babylonian and Assyria, but it was possible to find differences in the grammatical features of some of the texts that showed where they were written, which, in turn, gave us more information about international relations between major and minor powers in what has been called the world’s first international period.

What topics do you teach at UT?
I teach graduate courses on individual Semitic languages, mostly ancient languages such as Akkadian and Biblical Hebrew, and also, linguistically-oriented courses on the Semitic language family as a whole. My undergraduate courses also involve my interest in ancient languages and ancient cultures, such as “The World’s Writing Systems,” “Lost Languages and Decipherment,” “Gilgamesh: The First Story.”

What is your current research focus at UT?
My main research project, in collaboration with my wife and colleague Prof. Jo Ann Hackett, is a thorough revision of the standard dictionary of Biblical Hebrew; this is a multi-year project. I am also at various stages of completion of books on the Semitic language family on the Ugaritic language, and on the historical grammar of biblical Hebrew.

What makes a good grad student?
Someone with a lot of questions about the received wisdom in a field of study. In my field, it is also someone who is able to work well alone on both short and long-term projects, and who loves to read, both ancient texts and modern scholarship, so that (s)he knows where the field has been and is now, where it has been, and, then, where it might go in the future.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to your program?

  1. Study as much about language and languages as possible.
  2. Get involved in a research project.
  3. Get as broad a background in ancient studies as possible.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
Because I went to a small college, the only research project I had the opportunity to participate in was helping to analyze the pottery found in the archaeological excavations of one of my professors. I enjoyed it even though it was quite removed from my own interests in language, because it provided a first-hand look at how scholars do research, and that helped to convince me that I would like a career as a scholar or researcher. I would strongly encourage undergrads to participate in any research they can get involved in.

What are the top five Semitic Language programs in the US?
For Semitic language study, UT and Chicago; for the study of the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East, also Emory, Harvard, Penn, and Yale.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Academic careers, seminary, museum work.

Graduate Students

Behrang Vessali

Graduate Program: M.A., Middle Eastern Studies, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Iranian-Israeli Relations in Regards to the Persian Jewish Community

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Geography with a minor in Geology, University of California at Berkley - Berkley, CA

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The coolest thing about the Middle Eastern Studies program is the opportunity to spend a summer or more in the Middle East learning a language. We are also lucky to work with some highly qualified and knowledgeable professors.

What is grad school life like?
Life as a grad student is busy! We are very fortunate to have access to such a quality education, but we are also expected to read, write and research extensively. As opposed to undergrad, a lot of our learning is active. Instead of listening to lectures and taking exams, as grad students we focus more on participation; discussion, presentations , and in general, a deeper analysis of our subject matter. And compared to undergrad, much more of our learning is outside of the classroom.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
A typical day involves a few hours of class and many hours of reading and studying. Weekends tend to be very busy as well. A lot of dedication and hard work is expected of grad students. And unlike undergrad, grad students are expected to have clearer academic and career goals, a high level of focus and seriousness about their studies, and a solid basis of the relevant subject matter.

What is your main area of study within Middle Eastern Studies?
I am a grad student in the Center of Middle Eastern Studies working towards an M.A. My program is interdisciplinary, with an emphasis on language, in my case Persian, Arabic and Hebrew. Students in the Center take classes about Middle Eastern history, politics, religion and culture; anything from media to sexuality. My main area of interest is the relationship between Iran and Israel, specifically in regards to the Persian Jewish community, which acts as an important link between the two nations.

What is your topic for the master's thesis?
I have not begun working on my thesis yet, but I have read quite a bit about the history of Jews in Iran, immigration to Israel (and the U.S.), the community’s perceptions of self-identity in both Iran and Israel, and their role in the political crisis between Iran and Israel, and by extension, the US. I have also spent the last several summers in both Iran and Israel, speaking with people and learning an incredible amount about their lives, perceptions of one another, and their hopes for the future, both politically and culturally.

Do you currently work in your department or work with a faculty member?
At some point in their academic career, most grad students will work as a T.A. in exchange for funding. This semester, I am assisting a Persian lecturer write a new Persian language book. It is a great experience, and I am learning a lot!

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Don’t rush into grad school! Real world experience is very important and highly valued when applying to grad school, and during your studies.
  2. Don’t go to grad school just for the hell of it. Have a plan! Make sure grad school, and of course your particular field, are part of your greater goals and will assist you in reaching your goals.
  3. Do not try to relive your undergrad experience in grad school. My social life and learning to be an adult were just as important as my studies as an undergrad. Grad school is much more study-focused. Be warned ☺

If you wouldn't have accepted the UT Austin offer, which schools would have been your next top choices?
UT has easily one of the best Middle Eastern Studies programs in the nation, but there are many other quality programs. I was rejected from NYU (a blessing in disguise) and was in the process of applying to Tel Aviv University when I received a fellowship offer from UT. Studying Middle Eastern Studies in the Middle East, in theory at least, makes a lot more sense than studying in, of all places, Texas.(sort of the opposite of the Middle East) But don’t underestimate the far superior quality of education in the United States and that you will almost certainly have the opportunity to spend a summer, semester or full year in the Middle East. Also consider the American Universities in Cairo and Beirut, where you can receive an American quality education in arguably the two most important centers of Arab culture. Our Middle Eastern Studies Departement receives a substantial amount of government and private funding, as this is a highly relevant field of study in today’s world.

Know yourself. My personal belief is that each school’s program and professors are obviously primary factors for considering which schools to apply to, but don’t forget that you be living in whichever city that school is located. If the thought of a long, bitterly cold Chicago or Michigan winter is depressing and repulsive (as it is for me) then you probably won’t be happy going to the University of Chicago or University of Michigan, both of which have great programs. Then again some people are happy anywhere.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I plan to work for the State Department, so I see myself in 10 years as an experienced diplomat who has many life-enhancing experiences living and working around the world.


Joanna Schenke

Graduate Program: M.A., Middle Eastern Studies with a dual degree in Public Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: U.S. Foreign Policy towards the Middle East and Immigration and Refugee Policy

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., German and International Relations, Pomona College - Claremont, CA

What is grad school life like?
It's lots of reading and writing - most classes require hundreds of pages of reading per week and a semester-long research paper. That being said, I really love the people in my department - the Arabic language program in particular is a really tight-knit and supportive group of people. The Master's program is a mix of humanities, social sciences, and history, so it's very interdisciplinary and every semester takes on a different character.
I also get to have educational and interesting summers - between my 1st and 2nd years, I went to Damascus to study Arabic. This next summer I'll be doing an internship for the LBJ School, hopefully with the State Department.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
Typical day in the life - well, most of our classes only meet once a week for 3 hours, so you have lots of time when you're not in class. I usually get to school early and do reading for a bit (it's also a nice social time, because all the MES students tend to congregate between the FAC and the Union), go to class, go home, repeat. But I also make time to exercise, go to on campus events (speakers, film nights), and usually meet with a professor maybe once a week or two about an assignment or project.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
In the dual degree program, I learn about the area I'm interested in working - the history, the language, and political systems of countries in the Middle East, as well as the professional tools I'll need to work in that region, such as economics, statistical analysis, policy writing, and management skills.

As an MA student in an early stage of the program, are you required to conduct research?
Currently, I'm not doing any research - I'm taking classes. I have a one semester professional report in place of a thesis and that will be in Spring 2011 (3 semesters from now). I am generally interested in U.S. Foreign Policy towards the Middle East and in immigration and refugee policy. I imagine my research will be in that vein.

Do you work for the department?
I am currently not working, but I will be a TA for the LBJ school next spring and then most likely a TA for Arabic during my 3rd and final year. TAs attend class, help the teacher with small group activities, help grade papers, and can hold weekly office hours for homework assignments or conversation classes, depending on which class you're TA-ing for.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
The greatest difference academically is that you do more outside of class on your own than in undergrad - you may only have one grade the entire semester based off of your term paper. The teachers also have higher expectations of you - in terms of writing, being able to lead class discussions, absorb a lot of material. And your peers can be naer-experts in the field (the degree program requirements often place you in a class with Phd students who may be writing their doctorate dissertation on the subject!).

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Make sure you can prove your interest in Middle Eastern Studies if that's not your background- a lot of people may be interested, but you need to have something concrete you can talk about in your application. Enroll in language classes, volunteer with a local agency, spend some time abroad.
  2. Don't go to graduate school unless that's the field you want to work in afterwards - grad school isn't the place where you go to see if you like it. If you're not sure, try working in the field for a year or two. You'll get to see if you want to stay in the field long term or not.
  3. Go to the school, attend a class, meet current students and administrators. Try to imagine your life there - could you afford it? Do they offer merit-based scholarships? Does it offer classes you want? Does it require classes you don't? Get a list of classes and requirements. Think about the details as much as possible to decide whether or not you want to attend.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad?
Yes, I was a research assistant for two of my undergraduate professors and also wrote a thesis. I worked with one professor compiling a timeline of the role of 3rd parties in brokering peace process negotiations in South Africa. I worked with another professor on Sub-Saharan African politics, doing literature research for a textbook project. My senior thesis was a 90-page exploration of immigration to West Germany since the 2nd world war. I was interested in finding out whether anti-immigrant sentiment was because of ethno-nationalism or economic concerns.

I highly recommend research for undergrads - it takes learning into your own hands and you can engage more closely with the material - you learn how to navigate academic resources in the library and on the web, and you can often see the end result of your struggles in a publication (rather than just a grade).

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
If I didn't get into UT Austin, I would have hopefully joined the Foreign Service. I applied to SIPA at Columbia and SAIS at Johns Hopkins, but neither option was affordable.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in Middle Eastern Studies to check out?
I usually read the Middle East sections of BBC World News, the Economist magazine, the New York Times, and al-Jazeera English. Lots of foreign newspapers have English versions too.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Working for the State Department abroad or in D.C. or in D.C. for an advocacy group that deals with U.S.foreign policy.

Read more about Joanna's graduate programs and career plans in her Make Mama Proud feature.


Melanie Clouser

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Arabic Studies, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation: Moroccan Malhoun Poetry

Other Degrees: M.A., Near Eastern Studies, New York University - NY; B.A., Middle Eastern Studies, Emory University - Atlanta, GA

What is grad school life like?
The best part about Arabic Studies for me is sensing that I'm developing expertise. I'm constantly working on how to best transfer that information to others (through writing, speaking, and teaching). It also helps that the Arabic Studies program at UT is the best program of its kind in the world right now.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
A typical day involves a lot of reading and writing in both Arabic and English. The schedule varies from semester to semester. Vacations generally include degree-related work as well.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
I chose my program first and foremost because of the people. I figure that grad school can be really tough and stressful, and it can only help if I surround myself with people who I know and respect and who are sincerely interested in their work and in their students.

Can you tell us a bit more about your dissertation?
I hope to write the first book in English about Moroccan Malhoun poetry, which is performed to music. It's a Moroccan Arabic tradition that has been around for more than 500 years. I read the poetry in manuscripts and talk to various people involved in Malhoun today, including poets, musicians, singers, politicians, scholars, and fans.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
Grad school requires more commitment to studies, and allows less free time for other activities. That's why it's so important to know what you want to study and why--you'll be committed to it fully, so you better be sure that that is what you want.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
No, actually I developed a couple of coping mechanisms as an undergrad that I still rely on. For example, I knew then and still learn that time rushes. It's best to be prepared for the next step--I'm always looking a little ahead, thinking about the paper at the end of the semester, or other future goals. That prevents feeling out of control. Also, another related thing is the need to always be applying for funding. I was always a student on scholarship, who couldn't attend college without financial aid, and so I got used to juggling my coursework with time for filling out applications. That is a skill that I continue to draw on just as much, if not more, throughout grad school.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Learn about the program, especially the professors. Grad students' lives are, in some ways, in the hands of their professors. Surround yourself with people you like, respect, and want to be around.
  2. Focus on yourself and your interests. Give yourself time to take care of yourself and to explore those interests so you will be better prepared to talk and write about them.
  3. If you're interesting in a foreign language program, then I highly recommend spending time immersed in that language whenever you have the chance (before and during the program).

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad?
Yes, I researched Juha jokes in Morocco, and learned a lot in the process. I would recommend it to anyone, especially if it involves fieldwork and language immersion.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
My #2 choice was UCLA. I recommend that students focus on professors first, and programs second. My choice was based on particular individuals with whom I would like to work, and not based primarily on the strength of a program in my area. Of course, coming to UT, I ended up getting both!

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in Middle Eastern Studies to check out?
I guess I'll have to say Aljazeera. They have great videos available on Youtube, both for language and content.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully, I'll be teaching Arabic Language & Literature to college students somewhere in the U.S.

Do you have a last story or bit of advice you would like to share?
One of my favorite achievements was winning an Arabic short story writing contest in Cairo in 2004. The prize was a multi-volume set of Alf Layla wa-Layla (1001 Nights).


Nastaran Kherad

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Persian Studies, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation: Ahmad Mahmoud and Socialist Realism: The 20th Century Iranian Writer and Literary Commitment/Engagé

Other Degrees: M.A., Comparative Literature and B.A., Economics & Business German, California State University - Long Beach, CA

What is grad school life like?
I think like in any other discipline and programs, living as a graduate student could get tough and even a bit hectic sometimes. I think for me the issue always rises if I have made the right choice, how life after graduation will be, and all that uncertainty which goes along. At the same time, the learning process is what keeps me going.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
Unfortunately, I’m not as involved as I want be in school activities. I came to Austin from California, and the first year was a lot of adjustment for me. In order to support myself and get my tuition waived, I have to work as a teaching assistant in addition to the required seminar courses. So, it doesn’t leave me much time for other school activities. I have tried, however, to set up poetry or reading nights at home with some of the students so we would benefit from a social and literary circle, so to say.

Can you tell us a bit more about your TA role?
I have a TA position this semester as well as the last four semesters in my home department as well as in the Department of German Studies. Most of all, I like the interaction with students, especially when you see them progress in learning a foreign language. It’s very rewarding. And I also like the hands on classroom and teaching experience. On the other hand, the amount of work, correcting homework, class participation, and all that takes so much time away from my own studies and research, especially now that I have to work on my dissertation.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
I think for me the coolest thing is to get to know the modern Persian literature and poetry. In one way, it feels that I am getting to know my own culture, my own people, and my own history. It’s very gratifying.

Can you tell us a bit more about your research?
My work will examine the major works of Ahmad Mahmoud (1931-2002), one of the prolific and controversial Iranian short story writers and novelists, as part of the generation of writers who dominated the Iranian literary productions in the second half of the 20th century. He is best known for his masterpieceThe Neighbors, which I have translated from Persian into English and hope to see it published in the near future.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
I don’t think I took my undergrad studies as seriously as my grad studies. Maybe it was the fact that I was not in a field that I really cared for, or maybe I didn’t have much sense of direction. I chose Persian Studies, because it was my passion. I gave up a lot and compromised a lot too since I am older and at a different point of my life. I could have taught at high school, say, and made money, but getting an advance degree was very much more important to me. I think the most significt difference for being in a grad program is the fact that you are here because you choose to be here and you're doing something that you really have a passion for.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I don’t think I regret my past studies. Each major taught me a lot, but I wish I had a better advisor or someone who could have guided me through my undergraduate studies.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Have passion and understanding for your choice of study program.
  2. Do your research - know what school to apply to and get academic support as much as possible.
  3. Make sure you have financial support in place, since without sufficient funding a graduate program could be daunting.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad?
I didn’t do a research project so to say, but we had to do statistic and marketing projects which is completely different than the academic research projects. But I would highly recommend it, not like a mandatory task, but more of an exploration, especially in the related fields in the planned graduate studies.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
Honestly, I did not apply to any other MES program except here at UT. But my other choice was to apply to Comparative Literature at Berkeley. UT offers one of the leading programs in Arabic and Persian Studies. For Persian Studies, if you have interest in contemporary Persian literature, UT is one of the best schools. For classic Persian, Columbia, UCLA and Berkeley are excellent choices.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in Middle Eastern Studies to check out?
The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) site is interesting.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope to teach as an associate professor in Persian literature, culture and languages. I also hope that by then I will have hadthe opportunity to publish my second book as well as many translation projects.

Do you have a last story or bit of advice you would like to share?
My memoir, "In the House of My Bibi," of growing up in revolutionary Iran was published in October 2009 by the Academy Chicago Publishers.


Alexander Magidow

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Middle Eastern Studies, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Arabic Linguistics - Dialects and Sociolinguistics

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Linguistics, University of Wisconsin at Madison – Madison, WI

What is grad school life like?
Like any graduate student, Arabic Studies students spend a great deal of time working on class work, but also on writing applications for grants, abstracts for conferences, or polishing papers for publication. More than this, we have to work to maintain our language skills, as this is vital for our work and for our future employment opportunities.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
A typical day consists of preparation for class, attending class, and working on whatever statements of purpose, abstracts or projects whose deadlines are coming up. Typically every week or two I will meet with my advisor to discuss papers I’m writing or to develop ideas that I’ve had.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
One of the best things about the program here is that you are immersed in Arabic constantly. Most of the classes in the department are offered in Arabic when possible, and often include readings, writing, and classroom discussion in Arabic. It’s as close to immersion as you can get without leaving the country.

Do you work in your department?
I worked as TA for the past two summers and all of last year. TAs in our department help support the teacher in the classroom by facilitating group work between students in class, and grading homework out of class. TAs also write lesson plans and conduct hour long “dardasha” discussion sections with an emphasis on speaking casually in colloquial Arabic. Being a TA can be a lot of work, but it’s rewarding to help students along the road to learning Arabic.

Can you tell us a bit more about your research interest?
I focus primarily on dialects and sociolinguistics. I’m currently looking into the social, linguistic, and historical background of pre-Islamic and early Islamic Arabia in the hopes of seeing how the Arabic language developed.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
I think the greatest difference between a graduate program and an undergraduate program is that in a graduate program, there is no such thing as “done.” In undergrad, you do your homework and you’re finished. In graduate school, while you do have homework, when you’ve finished with that you still have to work on writing abstracts for papers, writing applications and statements of purpose for fellowships or working to maintain and improve your language skills. You don’t (and shouldn’t!) restrict your reading to the class requirements, but you should be constantly reading papers within and outside of your field. The idea of “free time” sort of disappears to a large degree in a grad program as there’s always SOMETHING you could be doing. It’s harder to maintain a good balance with one’s non-academic life, and I recommend that beginning graduate students try very hard to do so, setting concrete boundaries around exercise and relaxation times.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I wish I had had a better view of the options that were open to me after graduating from college. A lot of undergrads look at their qualifications (and often, their loan balances!) and think that graduate school is the only option, especially for students who are afraid of losing their language skills. However, there are many opportunities in the Middle East and worldwide to teach English, earn a good amount of money, and practice one’s language, as well as other jobs. Graduate school is not right for everyone (I personally enjoy it), and it can be good to see the world a bit first and make sure this is what you want to do.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. I’m going to steal a tip I’ve seen from other profiles: Apply for funding separately from graduate school. A lot of funding sources (NSF being the most prominent) focus on beginning graduate students, and by applying to these early you can have a somewhat better chance of getting them and you can apply to them multiple times. Also, undergraduates don’t realize how important funding is to their prestige – getting a big scholarship makes you look like someone worth funding, which leads to a cycle of getting more and more funding.
  2. Try to contact not only professors, but also students (especially those who just recently started) to have an idea of what kind of life to expect in your program. Every program is different, and relying on the advice of friends in different graduate programs won’t necessarily prepare you for what you’ll encounter when you get here. Learn about the ecology of academia – what it means to be accepted to a conference, how to get papers published, how to apply for funding, and the road that awaits you after graduation, such as the process of obtaining tenure.
  3. Your language skills are one of your most important assets. In an Arabic studies program, they are what enable you to conduct research, teach, and eventually get a job. Don’t ever neglect them.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad?
I did a senior thesis at UW-Madison, and while it was an interesting experience, my project was far wide-ranging. I would recommend choosing something more self contained, preferably something that could potentially be publishable or presentable at a conference. However, it did teach me how to write something large and complex, use a number of different sources, and negotiate the differences between readers, skills that will definitely be valuable later on.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
My second choice was Georgetown, but their program has changed focus somewhat since I applied.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in Middle Eastern Studies to check out?
The University of Heidelberg’s Semitic Soundarchives is an awesome collection of recordings of Arabic dialects across the Arab world, from Morocco to Eritrea and Iran. It’s in German – something you need to get used to if you’re planning on studying Arabic linguistics!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope to be teaching Arabic and Arabic culture and linguistics to students at a U.S. university, while working on some amazing new research.

Return to the top of this page

Philosophy

Faculty

Dr. Mark Sainsbury

Thinking of Going to Graduate School in Philosophy?
You need to have a genuine passion for the subject to make this worthwhile. You might want to work for a Master’s, or even a PhD, just for the pleasure of it, without thinking of Philosophy as a career. But be warned: most people who start out that way end up applying for posts in Philosophy. Peer pressure and addiction to the subject combine to bring this about. In good departments, most graduate students expect to end up teaching the subject at University level.

Competition for University level philosophy jobs is tough. Even if you get one, you then have to satisfy the requirements of tenure. These are difficult years: you are new to carrying a full teaching load, and yet have to write research papers to satisfy the tenure committee. When you get tenure, you’ll be at least in your mid-thirties. What do you have? A relatively modestly paid job, but with substantial satisfaction in your work (teaching and research), and a considerable amount of freedom in setting schedules, not to mention those glorious entirely free months in the summer. I love it and would not exchange it for anything; but it’s not for everyone.

How to Choose a School
The first step is simple: go to The Philosophical Gourmet Report. There’s lots of advice on everything, from how to select a school to how to prepare your application. The rankings are not infallible, as the site stresses, but it’s the best guide there is. After that, talk to your professors locally and see what they think.

Graduate Philosophy at UT
We have a thriving and very well regarded graduate program. The atmosphere is friendly and lively – there are always graduate students around the department to talk to and they will be happy to talk to you. We’ve been fairly successful with placement, and the students I know personally seem entirely satisfied. But don’t take my word for it: they are listed on our website so email one or two working in areas that might interest you and ask how they are finding it.

My Own Story
I’m not sure if I should tell you this because someone with the attitude I had when young would never get a job today. I was indolent and arrogant and drifted into philosophy because it seemed easy. You can tell right there that something was seriously wrong – philosophy is very far from easy, and I’ve been struggling with its problems ever since. I was an undergraduate at Oxford (UK) and went on to do a doctorate (called a DPhil there, equivalent to a PhD elsewhere). I subsisted on temporary teaching jobs in Oxford before getting a tenured post at the University of Essex, and then at the University of London, and I came to UT in 2002. In Oxford’s College system, one perk given to people teaching was free meals in College. My great good fortune was to meet two excellent philosophers at Brasenose College (Michael Woods and John Foster), who took me in hand, and quizzed me mercilessly on philosophical topics every lunchtime and over many dinners. This education was a turning point. I realized I needed to devote myself fully to the subject if I was going to have a worthwhile life, so I gave up many other things – gardening, chess, carpentry, home brewing, playing the violin, reading fiction – in order to focus on philosophy. You will likely have to do likewise! I’m immensely glad I did. I love the subject and love teaching it. Especially here at UT, my contacts with graduate students have been pure joy. They are so bright, and work so hard, and teach me things I didn’t know. Aristotle said that your life is happy if, when asked what you want, the answer is “More of the same”. That’s all I want!

Graduate Students

Malte Willer

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Philosophy, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation: “Modality in Flux”; Fall 2010 Update: Dr. Willer is currently an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago (tenure-track)

Other Degree: M.Phil., Philosophy, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München – Munich, Germany

What is grad school life like?
As a UT philosophy graduate student, you have a relatively light teaching load: three hours of weekly teaching and some grading. The rest of the time you’re spending taking classes or trying to write something incredibly brilliant. The latter is especially important since you want to publish as much as possible in top journals while in graduate school, since that is a necessary requirement for a successful career in philosophy. In my personal experience, to be minimally successful in philosophy, one has to be really good. To become really good, one has to work really, really hard (in addition to being smart). There is no “work-life balance” since your work just is your life.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
This depends on the stage in which you are in your training. In the first years, you usually take classes (9/week). Most of your off-class time is devoted to doing the relevant readings and writing the required term-papers. Some minor teaching load rounds off the day. During your third year you should become serious about a specific research topic. You start working on a prospectus that, ideally, should become a substantial chapter of your later dissertation. In the following years you get involved 100% in research and your days (and nights) are spent preparing dissertation chapters, journal articles, conference presentations, etc. If by that time you have become an Assistant Instructor, you also have a more substantial teaching load and need to prepare lectures at least every other day. It is a very, very intense life---challenging, but also rewarding.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
I especially value the very supportive atmosphere. Faculty spend a lot of time giving students detailed feedback on their work and trying to make them better philosophers. Graduate students support each other in preparing papers, presentations, etc. Philosophy is hard, and it is impossible to become a good philosopher without having a bunch of smart people around who help you in your endeavors.

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
I am currently a Ph.D. candidate. It is very nice to be able to focus on your own research, though, of course, also a bit daunting.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
My research is quite interdisciplinary, incorporating insights and techniques from linguistics and computer science. The title of my dissertation is “Modality in Flux”. I study the meaning and logic of modal expressions like “might”, “must”, “ought”, etc., and why they matter for philosophy. Virtually everyone believes that modals are used to describe facts. For example, when I say that the keys might be in the car, I am saying that it is compatible with what I know that the keys are in the car. I show that this view is mistaken and advocate a new way of interpreting the language of modality, which takes its starting point from observations about what we do when we speak. The formal details of the resulting view are then elaborated using techniques from computer science.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I am currently an Assistant Instructor in philosophy. The teaching load is higher than the one of a TA since one is responsible for all course content. On the plus side, one can design one’s own course and avoids the grading (provided one has a TA). Plus, it is very rewarding, and one learns a lot trying to understand the material in such a way that one can teach it. I have been a TA before that. As a TA, you hold weekly discussion sections; grading work depends on the individual class, so that is hard to generalize.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
Getting a PhD is like going to work: you now have a job, though it is not really well paid. As an undergraduate, someone always takes you by the hand and tells you what to do next. This is not what you will experience in graduate school. It is your responsibility to find out what is required to be successful, and to act accordingly. The most difficult thing is to develop your own research program: you have to find a topic that is established enough so that people will find it easy to appreciate its importance, but it has to be fresh enough so that you can come up with ideas no one else has had before. As an undergraduate, you can get away without developing something ground breaking---this will not be good enough once you are in graduate school, at least if you want a job in academia.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
Two things. First, I wish I had a better understanding of what it means to devote at least 5 years of your life to a PhD. Don’t get me wrong: I do not regret the decision. But I think it is important to fully appreciate in advance that one will spend at least half a decade in school, while most of your friends start earning real money, buy a house, have kids, and so on. Second, I wish I had known how much work it takes to be successful in graduate school. You can work all day and night, and there is still something that you should know but don’t.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Know exactly what you want to do with your PhD in philosophy and keep the goal in focus while in grad school. If you’re looking for a career outside in academia, make sure you know what you have to do besides your PhD to realize your goal (internships, etc). If you’re looking for a career in academia, never enter a program that does not have an excellent and detailed placement record. Also, look at the program’s ranking at the philosophical gourmet report. Though these rankings have to be taken with care, they are important to keep in mind when deciding which program to join. At a minimum, your program’s ranking is going to substantiallyaffect your chances of getting a job in academia, so you cannot ignore it.
  2. From the first day on, be a professional. College is over once you enter grad school. The impression you make in the first months will heavily affect your future life at the department, including who you will work with and your chances at scholarships, etc. A right start will make all of theses aspects much more pleasant. Being a professional includes that all of your term-papers (and future dissertation chapters) are of publishable quality, that you present and defend your work at professional conferences and try to publish it in professional journals, that you participate in the professional activities of the department, etc.
  3. A rather obvious but very important point: only work with the best professors in your field. When you decide what area you want to work on, take the strengths of the department into account. It is OK to work on what you like, but it will be very tough if the best professors in the department are not really working in your research area. Who you work with will not only affect your experience and performance while being in grad school, but also substantially affect your career chances in academia.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
Until recently, students always had to write a substantial senior thesis to get an undergraduate degree in philosophy at all in Germany. Mine was on negative existentials like “Sherlock Holmes does not (really) exist.” I think it was just like writing my dissertation now, which involves working day and night trying to come up with a brilliant idea. Every undergrad should have done some independent research---the skills provided are priceless regardless of one’s future career goals. Don’t apply to grad school if you have no research experience: you don’t really know what you’re applying for.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I would have stayed in Germany if UT had not made me the offer. If students need help considering other philosophy programs, they should check out the philosophical gourmet report.

What is one fun or interesting website you would tell a friend interested in philosophy to check out?
I would refer the friend to Brian Leiter’s blog and let him/her take it from there. Again, do not apply to any school without having looked at the philosophical gourmet report.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Doing what I am doing now, just in a different city and with a better pay + a little family. I think that living in a different city will be a negative feature of my future life, since Austin is just great. Having more money and a family will be a positive development, I think.

Do you have a ‘grad school survival tip’ you would like to share?
Doing a PhD in philosophy is an important career decision, so it is crucial to keep this in mind while in grad school. Everybody I know will sooner or later get worried by the grim job prospects. To survive in graduate school, it is important to keep one’s goal always in focus. If you want to become a professor, do as much as you can to build up an impressive vita, and never give up trying to publish, even in the face of disappointment. Academic life is not always fair, but quality and persistence will ultimately lead to success. I think it also helps to have a nice “plan B” in case academia does not work out for you. Having an attractive exit strategy makes life as a grad student in philosophy much easier.


Guha Krishnamurthi

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Philosophy & J.D. (Law), The University of Texas at Austin

Other Degrees: M.A. & B.S., Mathematics, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

What is grad school life like?
The Philosophy Department is not that demanding in terms of requirements. This gives the student a lot of free time. As a result the balance of personal life and study can be quite great. But I think that to stay productive and to learn philosophy, I had to treat graduate study like a 40-hour/week job. With TAing duties and class, this left me about 5 hours a day to read and study on my own.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
My typical day at the philosophy department involved class, teaching assistant duties, self-study, and short meetings with professors. About 2 times a week, there is a student presentation or lecture by a professor. When professors from other universities come to give a lecture, there will generally be a luncheon where students can visit with the professor. Apart from these lectures and presentations, there are reading groups on varied philosophical topics.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The best thing about my program is that it is self-paced and flexible. The Philosophy Department has few course requirements and no qualifying examinations. Further, beyond the 6-year limit of funding, the Philosophy Department has a flexible time-table for finishing up coursework and the prospectus defense. This allows you to study what you want and at your own pace. But at the same time, it places a large onus on the student to stay on top of things.

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
I have finished my philosophy coursework, receiving my MA in Philosophy, and I am currently finishing up law school. Next year, I am planning on clerking on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals for Judge Diane Wood. After that, I would like to try and finish up my Philosophy PhD. For this, I will need to present and defend a prospectus, and complete my dissertation.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
My research interests are varied. In logic, I was studying non-first order logics and multi-valued logics. In Indian philosophy, I studied inference patterns. Apart from that, I also studied epistemology and theories of truth. Finally, in legal philosophy, I have studied philosophy of criminal law and legal positivism.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I have served as a TA and a Reader. The Reader role is really more of a grader, though students may ask you substantive questions about the class. The TA role is more significant. You often teach a weekly session in which you answer questions and go over material that was not covered in class. You are the mediator between the professor and student. Furthermore, in both roles, you play a big part in determining your students’ grades.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
I am not so sure graduate school is more difficult than undergrad. But I do think that the focus is different—it is not just about doing well in classes. Success in graduate school requires a lot more, including keeping up with the literature, expanding your knowledge-base, and working on your own research ideas.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I wish I had learned earlier on that graduate school is about more than doing well in classes. Success in graduate school is often dependent on pushing and pacing yourself properly—the classes are not the sole focus as they were in undergraduate study.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. First and foremost, get in touch with professors that you think you’d like to work with. They can help you on admission, but it is also a good way to find out if you want to work with them and be at that department.
  2. Next, get in touch with graduate students. They can give you the real deal on the department.
  3. Finally, don’t forget to consider the economy and how a philosophy degree will fit in to your career goals.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I did not do much research as an undergrad. I did research as a Mathematics graduate student. I was working on a problem in non-first order logic. I would recommend research as an undergrad, because I think exposure to research can inform students as to whether graduate school is right for them. Furthermore, it is a good start in understanding how you can be most effective in research. Graduate school may seem like a long time, but the 6 years of funding runs by quickly. The more efficient you can be in that time, the better your prospects of becoming a successful philosopher.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I would have studied at University of Michigan. I was familiar with that department and it also was quite strong in logic and Eastern Philosophy—although their focus was Chinese philosophy. I might have also liked to have studied at University of Hawaii. Apart from the location, Hawaii has a lot of great faulty working in Indian Philosophy.

What is one fun or interesting website you would tell a friend interested in philosophy to check out?
The Philosophers’ Carnival is an interesting read for those who have a budding interest in philosophy. This blog compiles interesting philosophical blog posts every three weeks, and can give you a sense of what issues are of current interest in philosophy.


Malcolm Keating

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Philosophy, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Connections between Indian philosophy of language and Western, analytic philosophy of language

Other Degrees: M.A., Philosophy, University of Missouri – St. Louis, MO; B.A., English & Spanish, Grove City College – Grove City, PA

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
You could divide being a grad student into pre-prospectus and post-prospectus. Those of us who haven't yet written and defended a prospectus are occupied with taking classes. The first two years, we take required classes and (many of us) teach as TAs. In the third year, we're probably spending less time in class, unless we're sitting in on a course or two that particularly relate to our prospectus. So a "typical" day the first couple of years involves a few hours of time in class and the rest of the time spent grading, reading articles, or writing. Quite a few of us do that in coffee shops around campus, but not everyone. As for dissertation work, I don't know that there is a "typical" day -- that really depends on how people structure their time to research and write.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
We get to read, think and write about problems that preoccupy us. Not everyone gets the chance to have a job that is their passion.

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
Since I'm in my second year, I'm still doing coursework. We have certain requirements we need to fulfill (courses in history of philosophy, language, metaphysics, ethics, etc.) and we do that for the first two years. In the third year we work on writing a prospectus, which is a first chapter and outline of our dissertation. Since I came into the program with a master's degree and am transferring in a number of credits, I have some extra space in my schedule. That's allowed me to do a conference course focusing on Indian philosophy of language and start thinking a bit about what I want to do in my third year.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
I'm exploring connections between Indian philosophy of language and Western, analytic philosophy of language.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I'm currently a TA for a Plan II course called "Knowledge and Valuation."

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
The main difference between graduate studies and undergraduate work, in my opinion, is that as a graduate student you're working towards a contribution to your field. Certainly we take classes in order to get a handle on the major contours of the literature, the varying positions, etc. But the end result is that your work carves out its own niche. This is much more challenging than simply demonstrating you have a grasp of the material.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. For potential philosophy applicants, I'd suggest that they do a lot of research about what philosophy is as a career, to begin with. There are quite a few resources online like the Philosophical Gourmet Rankings, as an example.
  2. Second, you need to have not only good grades but excellent writing samples. You want to write and re-write them, with an eye towards demonstrating philosophical acuity.
  3. Finally, do your research about the school where you're applying. Are they suited to the interests you have? Are they hiring new and upcoming faculty?

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I was an English major and did a senior thesis on Octavio Paz's poetry. It's nothing very relevant to my research now, but it did give me some practice writing a lengthier paper than the ten-to-twelve pagers most of my classes required. If you want to be a philosophy graduate student, getting good at writing is crucial. That doesn't require a "research project," per se, but learning how to write clearly is a part of learning how to think clearly. Chances are, if you can't articulate your argument in sentences which a general reader could get a grip on, you don't understand it well enough. Trying to write like Kant or Husserl is not what I'd recommend for undergrads.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in philosophy to check out?
Well, I enjoy the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, myself. It has excellent articles and many of them include links to online resources. You can also go to David Chalmer's website to get a list of students and philosophers who maintain blogs.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully I'll be employed in a tenure-track position!

Return to the top of this page

Psychology

Faculty

Dr. Christopher Beevers

Academic Background: Ph.D., University of Miami; Post-Doctoral Fellowship in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University; B.A., Psychology, University of Texas at San Antonio

Area of Specialization: Cognitive etiology and treatment of major unipolar depression

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
When I started my undergraduate studies I knew that I wanted to major in Psychology but I did not think I would pursue an advanced degree. However, taking a course in abnormal psychology sparked my interest in clinical psychology and I realized that becoming a psychologist would require an advanced degree. I also learned that in order to get into graduate school, I needed to have some research experience. So, I became involved in a research lab and soon found that I really enjoyed research. At that point I decided to pursue a career involving research in clinical psychology, which meant that I would need to pursue doctoral studies.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
For my dissertation I studied vulnerability to depression. Specifically, I induced people into a sad mood, measured how much time they spent viewing emotional information, and re-assessed depression seven weeks later. I found that people who paid the most attention to negative information after the mood induction were also most likely to be depressed seven weeks later.

What topics do you teach at UT?
Currently I teach Abnormal Psychology to undergraduates and Research Methods to doctoral students in clinical psychology. I also supervise clinical practicum experiences of doctoral students.

Can you tell us a bit about your areas of specialization?
My primary research interest focuses on the cognitive etiology and treatment of major unipolar depression. I believe that understanding normal cognitive processes provides an important foundation for identifying how these processes go awry in clinical depression. My research has examined whether depression vulnerability is associated with negatively biased attention, thought suppression, and poor cognitive change during treatment. I am particularly interested in the interplay between biology (e.g., variants of the serotonin transporter gene), cognitive risk factors for depression, and reactivity to transient mood states. Finally, I am interested in whether treatments modify putative risk factors for depression.

Are you currently conducting research? What is your research focus?
I am currently conducting a number of research projects. The largest project is funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health. The goal is to examine genetic associations with cognitive vulnerability to depression. That is, we know that depression is highly heritable, but we do not fully understand the pathways that connect genetic vulnerability to the onset of depression. My project examines whether specific genetic variants (e.g., a polymorphism that influences the transport of serotonin in the brain) are associated with how people orient, attend, and remember emotional information.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by scholars of psychology in the U.S. or around the world?
One hot topic is whether genetic variants combine with environmental adversity to predict the onset of psychopathology, such as drug abuse and depression. There is plenty of evidence that the environment and genetics both influence the onset of mental disorders. However, the idea that some people are particularly vulnerable to psychiatric disorders in certain environments (e.g., following stressful life experiences) is much more controversial because the research findings to date have been quite inconsistent.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate? Would you recommend research to undergraduates?
As an undergraduate I studied whether depressed people experienced more negative thinking in part because they try to suppress negative thoughts. This was a very influential experience for me; it basically started me on the path to becoming a faculty member. So yes, I would definitely recommend that undergraduates get involved in all aspects of research. There is a lot of excellent research in the Department of Psychology, so there are plenty of opportunities to get involved.

What makes a good grad student?
First and foremost, good graduate students are passionate about their work. This is important because the research process can take a long time from start to finish, there is often not much positive reinforcement along the way, and it can be easy to get distracted. Passion for what they do helps sustain students through this process. Good students are also highly motivated to succeed and willing to work very hard. Being smart, curious, a good writer (maybe even enjoying writing!), and having good quantitative skills also helps.

What are your top tips for students interested in applying to a psychology graduate program?

  1. Fit between your research interests and those of the advisor you are applying to work with is probably the most important aspect of your application. Not just in terms of your stated interests, but also in terms of your experiences. For instance, if someone is interested in studying alcohol disorders in graduate school, the most competitive students often have worked in an alcohol research laboratory as an undergraduate.
  2. I would also recommend doing well on the GREs, particularly the verbal section. This is one of the few ways faculty can compare students across a level playing field.
  3. Finally, know that most people do not get into graduate school the first time they apply. Our doctoral program in clinical psychology only accepts 3-5 students from approximately 350 applications every year.
  4. I would also recommend verifying that the faculty member you would like to work with plans to accept a graduate student that year.

What are the top five cognitive psychology programs in the US?
The top programs in clinical psychology include University of California – Los Angeles, University of Washington, University of California-Berkeley, Yale University and Duke University.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
The majority of our students go on to pursue research careers, typically as faculty in Psychology departments or research faculty in medical schools. Some students (from the clinical area) go on to have clinical practices.


Dr. Art Markman

Academic Background: M.A. & Ph.D., Psychology, University of Illinois; B.A., Cognitive Science, Brown University

Area of Specialization: Cognitive Science – Similarity and Analogy; Categorization, Decision Making and Consumer Behavior; and Knowledge Representation

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
After my freshman year in college, my mother and I got in a heated discussion (or perhaps an argument) about whether I would go to graduate school after finishing college. She wanted me to go on to grad school, but I wasn’t so sure. I hadn’t found anything my first year in school that really sparked my interest.

At the end of my sophomore year, I realized that there was a stream of classes I really enjoyed, but that they did not come from the same department. I liked my computer programming classes, and my intro psych. I enjoyed a linguistics class and an anthropology class. After talking to an advisor, I found out that all of these topics could be combined through a Cognitive Science major. After that I was hooked. I loved the topic, and wanted to get involved in research in Cognitive Science. A PhD program was the obvious choice after that. So in the end, my mother was happy too.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
My dissertation research focused on how people make comparisons in order to see things as similar. It might seem strange to focus on comparisons, but actually they are quite fundamental to people’s everyday psychology. You are able to recognize some new object based on how similar it is to things you have seen before. You often make decisions by choosing something that is similar to what you selected in a similar situation in the past. You make guesses about how new people are going to act based on how similar they are to people you have encountered before. So, understanding something about similarity actually has far-reaching implications for our understanding of psychology in general.

What topics do you teach at UT?
I currently teach a range of graduate and undergraduate classes. For undergraduates, I teach an introductory class in Cognitive Psychology as well as a more advance class in Reasoning and Decision Making. I am also fortunate to be able to supervise our department’s honors students. At the graduate level, I teach classes in Motivation; Reasoning and Decision Making; and Knowledge Representation.

Can you tell us a bit about your areas of specialization?
While I started out focusing my research on the way that people see things to be similar, my research has broadened over the years to encompass a variety of aspects of thinking. First, I felt I had to pay off the promise that if I learned something about similarity, it would affect other areas of thinking. So, I began to do research on how people form and use categories and how people make decisions. Each of these topics led to other questions that I elected to pursue. For example, after studying decision making for a while, it became clear that you cannot understand people’s choices without also understanding their goals and motivations. So I began to do research on goals and motivations.

I have had a few graduate students from overseas, and they felt that the research literature did not always address aspects of thought that rang true with them. So, I also got involved in research on cultural differences in thinking. Finally, because of my background in cognitive science, I have always been interested in the philosophical basis of the field, and so I have collaborated with philosophers to explore basic questions about the way research on thinking ought to be carried out.

Are you currently conducting research? What is your research focus?
One area of research of interest to me right now focuses on the influence of motivation on thinking. A key question for psychologists is to understand the conditions that make someone think flexibly. We are examining ways that incentives (like the possibility of getting a bonus at work or the possibility of losing a job) can influence flexibility in thinking. We are also interested in understanding the circumstances in which flexibility is useful for thinking. You might think that people should always be flexible, but sometimes people are better off sticking to a single strategy and persevering with it rather than flexibly trying different strategies.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by scholars of psychology in the U.S. or around the world?
Psychology is a huge growth area. There are lots of hot topics including: the relationship between body and mind; the influence of our evolutionary history on the way we think today; the role of cultural differences in thinking; and the use of our understanding of psychology to make machines and products smarter and more user-friendly. In addition, the broader community has begun to appreciate the value of understanding psychology. Companies are beginning to use psychological insights and psychology research techniques to understand their customers and to improve the way they do business.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate? Would you recommend research to undergraduates?
As an undergraduate, I participated in an honors program. In our honors program, I did a project supervised by a member of the faculty. As a cognitive science major, my project was focused on building a computer model. I used emerging techniques in neural networks to try to understand why thinking about one concept makes you better able to think about related concepts (e.g., thinking about doctors makes it easier to think about nurses and hospitals).

What makes a good grad student?
There are two features of a good graduate student in Psychology. The first is some basic mathematical and computational competence. We use a lot of statistics and computer models in our work. In addition, we often find it useful to program computers to run experiments. So, these skills are crucial.

More importantly, though, a good grad student is one who loves the work. In order to be competitive for jobs when you get out of graduate school, you have to put in long days. And you have to put in a lot of long days. And you have to put in those long days for the entire length of a PhD program (usually 5 years). You can’t do that unless you really love the work. If you love it, then it isn’t work.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to a psychology graduate program?

  1. Students who want to apply to our program should start by getting some experience with computer programming and statistics. These skills are hard to learn without a class and they are hard to pick up from scratch once you’re in graduate school.
  2. Second, students should do some kind of research project. This one is important. Research may look like fun, but until you really get involved, you have no idea whether you love it. As a supervisor in the honors program, I have met a lot of students who discovered over the course of the program that they don’t really love the research process.
  3. Third, when you apply to our program (or any program) get to know the research interests of the faculty. The research of the faculty will have a huge influence on your career prospects after graduate school. Make sure you find a program where the faculty have interests similar to your own.

What are the top five cognitive psychology programs in the US?
UT has one of the best cognitive psychology programs in the country. We don’t generally admit our own undergraduates into our graduate program, though. Once you have been through the department as an undergraduate, it is important to go somewhere else so that you can figure out which things you learned here are part of the particular research culture at the University of Texas and which things are generally accepted. This is similar to the way that a visit to another country can help you to better understand your own cultural biases.

So if you aren’t going to be staying here at UT, there are great programs in cognition at the University of Illinois, Northwestern University, Indiana University, University of California at San Diego, University of California at Los Angeles, and Carnegie Mellon University.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Most of our graduate students get a PhD. There are a few significant career paths for those students. Obviously, many of our students ultimately end up in faculty positions at other universities. Some do a post-doc along the way where they work for a few years at another university to get additional research experience before becoming a faculty member. Of those students who do become faculty, some work at research universities where they are expected to teach classes and maintain an active research career. Others go to teaching universities where they may do some research, but a lot of the job involves teaching classes.

Other students go to work in industry. There are a number of jobs available in the cognitive sciences. Internet companies hire PhD psychologists to help design user interfaces and to think about new ways to search for information. Media companies hire psychologists to do research on the way that people react to programs, advertisements, and other media. Consumer products companies hire psychologists to help them understand their consumers and to help them develop processes to make their businesses more efficient. There are also a number of independent research labs that work with companies defense agencies, and other government agencies (like the TSA) to do research projects. So, the PhD in cognitive psychology turns out to be a versatile degree.


Dr. Bradley Love

Academic Background: Ph.D., Cognitive Psychology, Northwestern University – Evanston, IL; B.S., Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences, Brown University – Providence, RI

Area of Specialization: Learning and Decision Making

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I wanted to make new discoveries in cognitive science and the only way to master the necessary skills was to go to graduate school.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
My research examined how people learn categories from examples. Methods used including behavioral experiments in the lab and computational modeling.

What topics do you teach at UT?
I teach courses in cognitive modeling and a seminar named Psychology of Design that focuses on how lessons from cognitive psychology can inform product design.

Are you currently conducting research? What is your research focus?
Some projects harken back to topics of interest since graduate school. These problems are difficult and are never really solved, but progress is constantly made. Currently, I am interested in using cognitive models to understand fMRI brain imaging data. Also, my lab has a number of projects underway predicting people's eye movements (i.e., the information that interests them) during learning. We are also doing work in reinforcement learning examining how people deal with conflicts between short- and long-term rewards.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by scholars of psychology in the U.S. or around the world?
In general, the field is moving toward harnessing a variety of measures, including brain imaging and genetic markers, to understand behavior. Another trend is formulating theories in terms of mathematical models. One overarching trend is increased emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate? Would you recommend research to undergraduates?
I participated on a research project examining why certain properties of human concepts are more central in our thoughts than others, and developed an accompanying computational model. The model ended up being identical to Google's subsequent PageRank algorithm.

What makes a good grad student?
It's hard to say, but certainly determination, willingness to work long hours, intensity, passion, good undergraduate preparation, and the ability to simultaneously listen to advice and work independently are critical.

What are your top tips for students interested in applying to a psychology graduate program?
Get involved in research, read journal articles in the areas that interest you, go to research talks, take as many courses in computer science and math as you can. You will use everything you learn and always wish you took more such courses.

What are the top five cognitive psychology programs in the US?
Unlike past decades, the best program really depends on exactly what one's research interests are. Defining my area as the kind of research that I do and follow, here are some very strong programs:

• University of Texas at Austin
• NYU
• Vanderbilt University
• University of Indiana at Bloomington
• University of California at Irvine

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
We are exclusively a Ph.D. program. Almost all Ph.D. students take positions in which they direct behavioral research programs, whether the setting be academic, corporate, or governmental.

Graduate Students

Dr. Julio C. Rojas

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Neuroscience, The University of Texas at Austin (May 2009); Dissertation: “Strategies of neuroprotection in an in vivo model of retinal degeneration induced by mitochondrial dysfunction”

Undergraduate Degree: Medicine, Tecnologico de Monterrey - Monterrey, Mexico

When did you graduate and what are you doing now?
I graduated from the Ph.D. program in neuroscience in May 2009, after 5 years of work at Prof. Gonzalez-Lima’s lab. I am currently a postdoctoral research fellow in the Psychology Department at UT Austin.

What was life like as a graduate student?
When you went to Disneyland, you got a ticket for the day that you could use to ride any rollercoaster that you wanted as many times as you wanted. But by the end of the day, you had to say goodbye and exit the park. Grad school is the same. You will have a number of years to get involved in as many activities as you want. By the end of it, it will depend on you whether you will take advantage of all the opportunities that you will have in front of you. The life of a graduate student in general is really privileged. You’re duties are to learn and generate knowledge in the context of the mission of your academic institution. Your schedule is pretty flexible so you have time to accommodate extra-academic activities if you want (e.g., student organizations, sports, informal classes, hobbies, parties). Working in neuroscience labs is fun. It is a very dynamic environment. You get to interact with a lot of people and faculty and sometimes get to know prominent scientists. You read a lot of science, you attend lectures and conferences, you get to teach in the classroom or demonstrated procedures in the lab, you get to write papers, and, if you want, you also get to write research proposals and learn the administrative nuts and bolts of how to run a lab. It all depends on your own drive.

What was a typical day as a grad student?
Your schedule is significantly affected by the stage in which you are in your training. In the first years, you usually take classes (9/week). Most of your off-class time is devoted to preparing presentations, tests and homework. You rotate through different labs each semester to get a sense of what people do and how they do it. By your second year you settle in a lab of your interest and start thinking about your own projects. At this stage you also worry about preparing a mock-research proposal and reviewing your lecture material of the last two years to present at your qualifying examination, which is designed to test whether you are capable of understanding general neuroscience concepts and design a project. In the following years you get involved 100% in research and your days (some times nights even on weekends and holydays) are spent running experiments, analyzing data and preparing your reports and manuscripts. In the last months you prepare your dissertation (i.e., a lot of writing) and your defense presentation. Writing a dissertation is something that should be taken very seriously, but by no means should intimidate you. The process of writing it is gradual and a trend towards short straightforward scholar texts is now in vogue.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The faculty at the Institute for Neuroscience at UT Austin INS is really good. They’re not only world-class experts in their fields, but the quality of mentoring that they provide ensures the best possible formative experience in neuroscience. The INS also guarantees full stipend for all their students for 5 years, and off course, it is located in Austin, TX, a great place to live!

Can you tell us a bit more about your research?
I want to find ways to prevent or treat neurodegenerative diseases. The title of my dissertation is “Strategies of neuroprotection in an in vivo model of retinal degeneration induced by mitochondrial dysfunction.” I contributed to the development of a model of retinal damage by treating rats with rotenone, a chemical that impairs mitochondrial function and that seems to have a role as an environmental neurotoxin. This model resembles toe mechanism and features of a rare disease that produces blindness in humans called Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy. The model provides a great context to test the principle that manipulations that act on the mitochondria, specifically on the respiratory chain, are effective at preventing neurodegeneration. We discovered that methylene blue and near-infrared light therapy, two interventions that boost the electron transport in mitochondria and also have antioxidant effects, are very effective at preventing blindness and retinal damage induced by rotenone in the rat. We believe these findings can be used as a basis to design effective treatments not only for Leber’s disease, but also for other neurodegenerative conditions characterized by mitochondrial failure such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I wish I had the chance to get involved in basic research as an undergrad. That’s an opportunity that I didn’t have, unfortunately. I would encourage undergraduate students interested in pursuing graduate studies to volunteer at research labs as undergrads. Being in a lab at an early stage would have definitely increased my arsenal of research techniques and the length of my contacts list.

While a student, did you have TA, AI, GRA or GA responsibilities in your department?
I did do teaching and research assistantships. This is not a requirement for most INS students, but sometimes it is needed or encourage as a formative experience. As a TA, your role is to facilitate the teaching activities of the professor. You will attend all lectures, take notes and assist students during office hours. Besides that, the activities that you do depend on the teaching style of the professor and your own initiative. It can be as easy as taking scantron sheets to the evaluation center or as elaborate as lecturing and designing and grading tests. At INS, research assistants usually work in their own lab and most of the times in their own dissertation projects or help labmates running theirs. Being a TA or a GA can become complicated if you have not learned to prioritize your duties. It is really easy to get excited preparing a review session that is not really necessary. I strongly recommend that you get teaching experience through a TA position.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
To successfully complete graduate school you should be or learn to be a goal-oriented person. This is not a feature that is indispensable for an undergraduate student. In graduate school you are expected to perform with a certain degree of productivity, so it’s somewhat similar to having a job on top of school, but if you are happy and you enjoy what you do, you can be successful.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then?
I wish I had the chance to do more research back then. If I could go back, I’d probably try to enroll in summer research programs or get a scholarship to visit NIH. Networking is crucial and it can lead you to incredible opportunities.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Find a good mentor. Mentor-student relationships are key for your successful graduate education. Not all students will do great with any advisor or vice versa. Talk to a lot of people and learn about their philosophy of work, their commitment to education, their style, and their character. Are they approachable? Do they have an ego? Are they reliable? Are they sane? Think if you see yourself working with that person for several years.
  2. Choose the right lab. The right lab is probably the one that pursues the same questions you are interested in, implementing excellent science in a formative and inclusive way. Are they asking the right questions? Are the techniques adequate? Do they have enough resources? How many grad students does the lab have? How many undergrads? How many postdocs? Are they independent or hand-tight for pursuing new ideas? What are the social dynamics within lab members? Is it hierarchically organized or is laid back? How many publications do they put out per year? In what type of journals do they publish? How many authors are there per publication? Are people happy? The more, the better, and more people involved and a sense of a humble approach to science are ideal for a training scientist.
  3. Plan to have a life outside school. Plan to go to the gym, paint or play your video games whenever you can. Plan to go to a lot of parties and social events within your academic community. Keep in touch with your family. You’ll need balance and it will be very easy to be absorbed by work. Don’t let it happen.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
Hispanics and African Americans make up nearly 25 percent of the U.S. population. Yet, in 2005, they comprised only 3.2 percent of funded principal investigators on NIH research project grants and 5.5 percent of research trainees supported by NIH training grants. This showed when I applied to grad school. I came with partial funding from Mexico and only UT offered me a spot in their neuroscience program. I feel lucky and grateful that it happened.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in neuroscience to check out?
Visit the INS at UT Austin website.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself consolidating a career as a physician-scientist, making breakthrough contributions to the healthcare of patients with neurodegenerative disorders through excellent clinical care and research.

Do you have a “grad school survival tip" you would like to share?
After completing your graduate training, you have a wide range of working opportunities. You can work in academia, industry, consulting firms or healthcare institutions. Most people complete at least 1 year of post-doctoral training. This period helps you to learn new techniques within your area of interest; you implement collaborations, and network for job opportunities. The post-doc experience has become almost mandatory to anyone interested in becoming a faculty in an academic institution. If you chose a career in academia, you need to become an expert at presenting your ideas in the form of research grant proposals. In academia, one way to measure your productivity is by the number of publications that you have per year, so the only way to keep publishing is by securing funding to keep on with your projects. Grant writing is a great part of what a senior scientist does. This is an extremely challenging and competitive activity. Anyhow, these are exciting times for research on the brain and behavior. There’s a bloom of technical development and more compelling questions will likely get answered in the near future. More government funding is being devoted to these areas of research and more enthusiastic and capable people will be needed. These are definitely good times for neuroscientists!


Connor P. Principe

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Developmental Psychology, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Emotional Correlates and Consequences of Appearance-Based Stereotypes

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Psychology/Honors, Seattle University – Seattle, WA

What is life like for a graduate student?
This varies on the person. Because there are no hard deadlines in developmental, you can work as much or as little as you choose. Personally, I chose to be employable and that means getting as much done as I possibly can (i.e., publish) while I met the requirements of my degree program. I have a wife and a 12 month old, but do not have a life outside of that.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
No two days are the same. Some days I can spend the whole day writing or doing statistical analyses on studies that I designed, other days I may not have to the time to do anything other than respond to week-old "urgent" emails from colleagues. In other words, it can go from intellectually invigorating to stroke-inducingly stressful.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
UT is a top program, so I am surrounded by and learn from the best scientists in their field.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
I study the emotional correlates and consequences of appearance-based stereotypes. I use a cognitive theory and physiological methods to investigate a social developmental issue.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
Yes and yes. If you've never done research, how do you know if you'll like it? Also, with competition for top schools at an all time high, you probably won't get in to your top choice without that experience. Be prepared to volunteer somewhere. Paid internships in psychology are practically non-existent. I worked for a foster care agency in Seattle, helping to design and analyze the effectiveness of foster care services on teenagers across the United States.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I will be admitted to candidacy in Spring 2010. It is very nice to be able to focus on research and be done with classes and teaching.

Have you had TA, AI, GRA or GA responsibilities in your department?
I've held all of the above positions. The best is GRA because you should be researching anyway, so you may as well get paid for it. Teaching your own course (AIing) is exciting and rewarding, but takes a tremendous amount of preparation if you don't want to embarrass yourself. TAing should be avoided at all costs. Generally you are assigned to attend a class that you have taken before or don't care about and have to spend 10-15 hours a week grading papers. It's mind-numbingly awful.

Do you work in a lab? What is that like?
I work in Judith Langlois's social development lab at the Children's Research Laboratory. What is it like? Busy. I supervise several undergraduate volunteers and oversee between 3-6 studies at a given time.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
There are more similarities between high school and undergrad than undergrad and a PhD program. Getting a PhD is not like going to school, it's like going to work. Instead of making actual friends, you have work friends. It is far more personally engaging--you'll never take a course you don't care about again--but it's rarely "fun". Being an undergrad is fun.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. In science PhD programs the most important thing is your adviser. You are stuck with this person for 4-7 years, so if they are not helpful, not available, or just plain a jerk (and there are many jerks in top academic programs) you will hate your life. Meet your adviser before you accept a position in school. If you get the sense that you are not a good fit, run away. Sadly, I have friends who deeply regret their choice of grad school because of this. On the flip side, I would take a bullet for my adviser. Well, maybe a beanbag bullet.
  2. Do not go to grad school for the sake of going to grad school or to figure out what you want to be when you grow up. If you need extra time, join the work force and come back to grad school when you are sure (like I did). Go to grad school because you need a PhD to get a job as a research director, or assistant professor. If you get into grad school because you couldn't think of anything else to do and/or because you are smart enough to get in to a good program without much effort, you will hate your life for the next 4-7 years.
  3. Apply to at least 10 schools. Yes, this is expensive. But the economy collapsing means fewer open positions and much more competition. You should have at least 2 safety schools, but do not apply anywhere that you don't want to go. That's a waste of money. Also, do some research about your top choices' current students. What is the average GRE score and GPA of the students at your first choice? If you have a 550 verbal and a 3.2 GPA, you are not going to get into a top 25 program unless you have a personal connection with your adviser (like, she's your mom). Grad schools do not have geographic quotas like undergrad colleges. You aren't more likely to get into Harvard because you are from Hawai'i.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
Boston College

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in developmental psychology to check out?
The American Psychological Association should publish lists of graduate programs and the academic requirements for admission. Don't apply anywhere without knowing this.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Doing exactly what I'm doing now, only in a different city and getting paid better for it.

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
Read "Getting What You Came For" by Robert L. Peters. If you still want to go to grad school after reading that, you will do fine. This book is available at the LACS Career Resource Library, FAC 18.


Patrick Quinn

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Clinical Psychology, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Alcohol use and other risky behaviors primarily among college students

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Psychology, Swarthmore College – Swarthmore, PA

What is grad school life like?
Work-life balance is a term you hear pretty often early in graduate school, and learning how to balance school work and research with time with friends (both of which are important!) is definitely a key to success. One thing I’m learning, though, is that clinical psychology students also need to learn how to distribute their time among courses, research, and clinical work. In a typical day, I will do some homework (usually reading or statistics problem sets), spend some time on my research (supervising undergraduate assistants, analyzing data, or writing up results), and prepare for my next session with a therapy client. All of these things are important, so learning how to manage your time is essential. I usually spend between 9 and 11 hours a day in the psychology building during the week, but I almost always bring some reading home with me at night as well.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The UT clinical psychology program has a lot of strengths—excellent, well-respected research mentors, diverse clinical training opportunities, brilliant fellow students—but my favorite aspect is that I get to study alcohol use every day.

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
I’m in my second year in graduate school. That means that, in addition to my research, I’m taking a full load of classes and beginning to see therapy clients. At UT, most students take classes for the first three or four years and then begin focusing more on research and clinical work. Right now, there’s a lot to do; second year can be tough! Even when school feels overwhelming (and it can sometimes), we students know that our current sacrifices will pay off in the long-run as we become better researchers and therapists. We can also look to more immediate goals, like finishing our first major research project at the end of our second year.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
My research examines alcohol use and other risky behaviors (e.g., illicit drug use, driving after drinking, unprotected sex), primarily among college students. I’m particularly interested in the ways that individual differences like personality traits interact with social influences to shape how these behaviors develop. For example, I’m currently working on a paper testing whether protective parental influences can delay alcohol use among adolescents who have traits that would otherwise put them at risk for heavy drinking.

Do you work in a lab? What is that like?
I work with Dr. Kim Fromme in the Studies on Alcohol, Health, and Risky Activities (SAHARA) lab. It’s a great place to work because we use a variety of different approaches to learning about drinking and related behaviors. As part of the lab, Dr. Fromme has a simulated bar, in which we can study drinkers in a naturalistic environment. We also have been following a cohort of UT undergraduates since they arrived in 2004, which has allowed us to examine how these behaviors change across college and into young adulthood.

Aside from the opportunity to be involved in diverse research methods, being in a lab also allows you to work together with other people who are interested in the same sorts of research questions.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
Right now I’m funded through a NIAAA training grant, so I don’t work as a TA or GRA (the usual sources of funding for clinical psychology students). One of the advantages of studying alcohol and addiction at UT is that there are great opportunities for research support. Being on the training grant means that I’m expected to produce more research, but it also gives me more time to do so.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
Learning to work independently is probably the biggest adjustment for most new graduate students. In a research-focused program like UT, graduate students are expected to develop and execute independent research projects, which means that some of the most important work you do as a graduate student is done on your own. There are some advantages to that independence, like not having to work on projects that don’t interest you. It does mean, though, that you will have to learn to be your own motivator and manager.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
Yes and yes! I worked as an undergraduate in HIV prevention research at the University of Pennsylvania, and then after I graduated I worked for the same project full-time for a year before moving to a different lab for two more years. Research experience is the most important thing you can do in preparing for graduate school, for two reasons. First, graduate school is long, and it is undeniably challenging. That means it’s extremely important for you to make sure you enjoy conducting research. Getting experience in research will help you determine whether it is something you’d want to do as a career, and it will also help refine your specific research interests. Second, from a pragmatic perspective, research experience is a great way to make your graduate school application more attractive. Acceptance into an elite clinical psychology program like UT is extremely competitive, so you will want to do everything you can to improve your chances.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I also considered working with Michael Sayette at the University of Pittsburgh and Carl Lejuez at the University of Maryland.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
My goal is to find a position in academia where I can continue to research alcohol use and other risky behaviors.


pl
Jamil Palacios Bhanji

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Social Psychology, The University of Texas at Austin;Research Interest: Influence of emotions in decision-making and the brain systems that are involved in regulating that influence

Undergraduate Degree: M.A., Psychology, University of California at Davis; B.S., Symbolic Systems, Stanford University – Stanford, CA

What is grad school life like?
Running a research study requires a lot of time, so it feels like a very demanding job sometimes -- but it's the kind of job where I'm constantly learning new things that I'm genuinely excited about. Outside of the graduate program I have a wife and a 16-month old baby boy, so I've definitely honed my time management skills to get the most out of every minute I have.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
Most days I am analyzing data or writing, so I like to get to the Psychology Department in the morning around 9am. I work in an office that I share with another student from a different lab. Some days I'll have a lab meeting, or TA responsibilities, or there will be a research talk that I'll want to hear -- it varies day to day.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The access to technology really drew me into the program. I just get really enthusiastic about tools that help you look inside the mind. In my studies I'm basically recording people's brains at work while they make the decisions I put in front of them.

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
I am at the point where I am planning my dissertation and writing up results of the studies that I have run up to this point. I've completed the required coursework so I'm totally focused on research now, which is great because I have so much to do.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
I research the influence of emotions in decision-making and the brain systems that are involved in regulating that influence. For example, in a decision between eating a carrot or a cupcake, I study brain systems that calculate the expected pleasure of the cupcake versus the carrot, systems that calculate how each choice will impact long-term goals like fitness, and systems that weigh this information in a final decision. I use the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) facilities at the UT Imaging Research Center to look into people's brains while they make decisions.

Do you work in a lab? What is that like?
I work in the Self Regulation Lab directed by Dr. Jennifer Beer. I spend my time planning studies, collecting data at the Imaging Research Center, analyzing data, and finally writing papers about my research for publication in research journals. Most of the time I'm in front of a computer in the Psychology Department looking at data from a fMRI scan or writing up results so I really love it when I am able to go out the Imaging Research Center to collect data. The technology there is incredible.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I currently have a TA and a GRA role. My GRA role is conducting my research and writing up each study. In my TA role I hold weekly office hours and manage class assignments and grading.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
The greatest difference for me is the total focus in one area of study. As an undergrad I took classes in several very different departments. Now, I'm completely focused not just in a single department, but on a single research area within psychology. The demand for original ideas is also much greater in a grad program. As a grad student, you have to come up with your own original ideas and research questions. It's challenging but it also makes the work more enjoyable because you feel like you own it more.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
As an undergrad I didn't realize how willing most professors are to talk to students -- not just about class topics, but about research as well as science in general. If I had known this I would definitely gone to more office hours as an undergrad.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Get as much research experience as you can by working as research assistant in a lab.
  2. Learn about new research in the field you are interested in and think about what kind of research you would like to do.
  3. Talk to graduate students in a department that you're interested in.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I first got involved in psychology research as an RA in a language production lab. Although I ended up in a different research area, I learned how psychology studies are run and it helped me find my research interests. I absolutely recommend research for undergrads who want to go to graduate school.

If you wouldn't have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
If not for UT Austin, I would have continued studying at the University of California at Davis, which has an excellent program.

What is one fun or interesting website you would tell a friend interested in social psychology to check out?
Society for Personality and Social Psychology

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully, as a professor, running studies and teaching students.

Do you have a "grad school survival tip" you would like to share?
I can just say that although there's a lot of pressure to focus your research on a specific question while in grad school, there are still opportunities to get involved in related research. For example, my research on the control of emotion in decision-making has led me into research on drug addiction. I hope to expand on this research in the future.

Return to the top of this page

Religious Studies

Faculty

js
Dr. Jonathan Schofer

Academic Background: M.A & Ph.D., History of Religions, The University of Chicago Divinity School - Chicago, IL; M.A., Social Sciences in Education & B.A., Philosophy and Religious Studies, Stanford University – Stanford, CA

Area of Specialization: Classical Jewish writings with comparative religions and ethics

What made you want to get an advanced degree?
I did make the explicit decision to work to become a faculty member at a college and university, and I did approach my doctorate as professional training for that goal.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
My dissertation topic was the study of rabbinic ethics, with a focus on the character, virtue, and teachings of sagely leaders.  I drew together intensive study of a classical rabbinic commentary to proverbial statements of wisdom, and theories of ethics and power, to renew the scholarly consideration of canonical Jewish ethics.

What topics do you currently teach?
I currently teach at the undergraduate level a survey of Jewish civilization from beginnings to the end of the fifteenth century, and also courses in religion and ethics.  At the graduate level, I have been regularly teaching my department’s advanced doctoral seminar in methods for the study of religion as well as a graduate introduction to rabbinic texts of the ancient Mediterranean world.  

Can you tell me a bit about your area(s) of specialization?
My position at UT-Austin is in Classical and Medieval Rabbinic Judaism.  I cover history from roughly 0-1600 C.E. and writings, especially canonical writings, from 200-1600 C.E.  These are the writings, and the communities that created the writings, that successfully adapted the laws and other teachings of the Jewish Bible to face changing circumstances over the centuries and leading to the modern world.  

Are you currently conducting research?
I have published two works on rabbinic ethics: The Making of a Sage: A Study in Rabbinic Ethics (Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2005), and Confronting Vulnerability: The Body and the Divine in Rabbinic Ethics (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2010).  Since then, I have started to publish on law, including an essay on law and theology in rabbinic Judaism, and another on law and ethics in rabbinic Judaism.  I currently have two book projects.  The first examines the great canonical anthology of rabbinic law, the Mishnah, with a focus on religious purity, the body, and everyday spaces such as the house and the fields surrounding houses.  The second focuses on a style of rabbinic writing called “homiletic midrash,” which I believe contains the most sophisticated and polished treatments of rabbinic theology, ethics, and understandings of Jewish identity.  

What makes a good grad student?
I think a key goal is to maintain the intrinsic interests and curiosity that leads a person to start graduate school in the first place, along with maintaining a practical picture of the degree requirements and preparation for employment based on the degree.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to your program?

  1. I do recommend that interested students read through the degree requirements and options on our departmental webpage, and perhaps inquire further with faculty and staff in the department, to learn the specific components of what the degree entails.
  2. It is important to remember that completing a doctoral degree is not only envisioning a dissertation, but beforehand gaining expertise for teaching and research in a field of study—attaining a clear picture of that expertise and its role within a college or university is important.
  3. One of the strengths of Religious Studies within the Liberal Arts is that, when approaching religion within society, this field aims to avoid the dangers of being either overly sentimental or overly dismissive.  If you think that religion is an important and distinctively interesting component of societies, then Religious Studies may be the right program for you.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Alumni have been working toward careers in college and university settings.

Graduate Students

ak
G. Anthony Keddie

Graduate Program: M.A.R., Second Temple Judaism, Yale Divinity School – New Haven, CT; M.A. and Ph.D., Religous Studies, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Literary texts and material culture of ancient Jews and Christians in the Graeco-Roman world

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Religion, Temple University – Philadelphia, PA

What is the topic of your research (or title of your dissertation if you are at that stage)? Can you tell us a bit about your research?
My dissertation, Revelations of Ideology: Apocalyptic Class Politics in Early Roman Palestine, investigates the relationship between apocalypticism, class, and economic inequality in Early Roman Palestine (63 BCE-70 CE, and thus including the age of Jesus of Nazareth). The topic represents a combination of interests in the sociology of religion and the apocalyptic imagination that I have developed since my undergraduate years. What really galvanized the topic, however, was taking a graduate seminar on the social settings of apocalyptic literature right before going to an archaeological research institute in Jerusalem for a couple months. It quickly became clear to me in Israel that the way that archaeologists think about economy, society, and culture in Early Roman Palestine is very, very different than the way that scholars of Jewish (and proto-Christian) literature do. The latter tend to accept the apocalyptic rhetoric of persecution and exploitation in the texts as reality, while archaeology proves that this was not the case. The purpose of my dissertation was to uncover the biases in scholarship on apocalypticism and develop a theoretical framework that situates the texts within processes of cultural, social, and economic change without privileging their rhetoric over archaeological and other types of historical evidence.

Since defending my dissertation in March, 2017, I have been busy reconceptualizing my work as two separate books—one on the role of local Jewish elites in social and cultural change in Early Roman Palestine and the other on the social functions of apocalyptic texts from this same context.

Where are you in your program sequence and what is that like?
Since I just submitted my dissertation, the only word to describe this stage is relief. The dissertation stage of a Ph.D. program brings a number of challenges, even for those of us who like to write long papers! This is the first time that a graduate student has to create a book-length research project with only limited guidance from an advisor and other committee members. I found that I enjoyed this sense of independence, but also struggled at times with motivation and interest in the project. Don’t get me wrong. I loved my project and the work, but it is hard to work almost exclusively on one project for two or three years in a row. Eventually, I realized that outside hobbies and strong relationships with faculty, colleagues, friends, and family served as a huge source of support for me.

What is the most interesting thing about your graduate program?
The most interesting thing about my particular graduate program is how interdisciplinary it is. The field of Religious Studies is notoroiously interdisciplinary, but this is especially true at UT. In the course of my program, I have often had fruitful interchanges with colleagues working on Japanese and Latin American religions, and have had courses where I studied cross-cultural methods and theories for the study of religion with students working on a number of different ancient and modern religions. Additionally, the Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean track at UT deliberately breaks down boundaries between literary texts and archaeological evidence and between different textual corpora (Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Pseudepigrapha, Apocrypha, etc.). This subfield at UT also encourages students to do coursework and language study in the Middle Eastern Studies and Classics departments. All of these interdisciplinary opportunities really distinguish UT’s program in Religious Studies from others in the country and assures that faculty and students are asking fresh questions about the religious practitioners they study.  

What can you tell me about life as a graduate student?
The answer to both of these questions is that flexibility is a blessing and a curse! Because courses and teaching are often the only fixed items on a graduate student’s schedule, and mainly in the first half of their graduate training, this results in a relatively flexible schedule. For someone who detests the 9 to 5 grind, this is fantastic. I can go on a run, schedule a doctor’s appointment, or catch an afternoon movie during the day when most of my non-grad student friends are stuck in their cubicles. The down side of this, however, is that the work of a graduate student is not restricted to the office. It is very difficult to establish boundaries between work life and home life, especially during certain times in one’s graduate career (e.g., the end of each semester or before Qualifying Exams). This always involves some sort of compromise. In my case, I have tried to keep my research from impinging on my time with my partner and son. Therefore, I have a strict rule about not working evenings (5-10 PM) or weekends. To honor this self-imposed rule, however, I will often work after my family goes to bed and well into the morning. Frankly, I get my best work done after midnight, but late nights are not sustainable. Sleep and health are important. So are families, relationships, and personal time. Graduate life is a constant, dynamic struggle to find the right balance for you at a given stage in your career and life. I found that translating the inherent flexibility of my schedule into an opportunity to keep changing my routine helpful for keeping things interesting. I like routines, but I also get bored easily.

Do you currently have a TA, GA, GRA or AI role? What is that like? What do you do?
It has been a few years since I have been a TA or GRA because I received external fellowships during the dissertation phase of my program. However, I have fond memories of both positions. I was a GRA for my advisor for a year. It was a very flexible position, which was great. Moreover, because I have so many of the same research interests as my advisor, much of the work that I did for him (creating annotated bibliographies, editorial assistance, etc.) was quite beneficial to me as well.

I also enjoyed being a TA. For someone who wants to be a teacher, there is nothing more exciting than entering the classroom as an educator for the first time. Leading supplemental instruction sections, giving occasional lectures, and meeting with students during office hours can be very rewarding. It is also a lot of work when you do it for the first time. Especially if you are a TA for a large class, grading seems to take an eternity. Also, grades for your students tend to be due around the same time that you have to write research papers for your courses or meet other deadlines in your graduate career. This can feel overwhelming at times, but it is worth it in my opinion. Especially if you are paired with a professor who is concerned about your experience and workload, being a TA can provide an excellent pedagogical foundation that you will continue to develop in your subsequent experiences as an educator.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then (as an undergrad)?
If I could go back in time to my undergraduate years, I would have studied abroad for a semester. I came to love travel and continue to view it as a major aspect of my personal and professional development, but the first time I left the country was after I received my B.A. Almost every summer since I have been a graduate student, I have participated in archaeological excavations or research trips in Italy or Israel. I have never received course credit for these experiences, although I have received encouragement and financial support for them from my graduate programs. Although technically extracurricular, these experiences have been integral to my intellectual and personal growth. They have also enhanced my resume and expanded my network. I would encourage all undergraduate students to consider studying abroad as soon as they are able to.

If I could go back in time, I also would have gotten more involved in groups and events on campus. I passed up a lot of opportunities because I had my nose in the books so often, but I hadn’t realized then how intellectually formative these relationships and opportunities could be.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. First, for all prospective graduate students, I strongly suggest that you do as much research as you can into the different types of programs that you could apply to. People often talk about “fit” as a strategy—i.e., you should demonstrate that you fit a program in your Statement of Purpose. This is important, but a good fit should be as important to you as it is to your potential departments. Being a graduate student brings numerous challenges that will only be more difficult if you are in an environment that does not suit you. Unfortunately, this happens to many graduate students. I loved my program at UT, however, because of its interdisciplinary emphases, the research interests and personalities of the faculty that I work with, the types of graduate students it attracts, and the city that it is in (among other things). While applying to graduate programs (and especially Ph.D. programs), I suggest making contact with professors that you would work closely with as well as current graduate students in the program. Ask them questions that will help you to gauge whether their department is the right fit for you.
  2. Second, for prospective graduate students in Religious Studies, I encourage you to consider applying to terminal Master’s degree programs at major Divinity Schools and similar programs (e.g., at Harvard, Yale, U. Chicago, Notre Dame, Emory) before applying to Ph.D. programs. Many of the best Ph.D. programs in the country will expect you to have a terminal Master’s degree before applying to a Ph.D. in Religious Studies. This is especially true for those working in Biblical Studies fields because it allows more time to study the relevant ancient languages before beginning a Ph.D. program. In addition to helping students prepare academically for a Ph.D. program, the other upshot to terminal Master’s degree programs is that it gives students a sense of graduate life and research with only a two- to three-year commitment. Particularly for students who are undecided about applying to Ph.D. programs, these terminal degree programs can provide a significant opportunity to discern whether one wishes to pursue the Ph.D. Moreover, many of the best terminal Master’s programs at Divinity Schools provide scholarships for partial or full tuition.
  3. Third, for students interested in working on ancient religions, it is important that you begin studying the relevant languages as soon as possible (e.g., Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, etc.). Most Ph.D. programs will expect that you have some background in one or more languages prior to beginning your Ph.D. work, which is another reason to consider doing a terminal Master’s degree. While this is especially important for students of ancient religions, it is also important for students in certain other subfields of Religious Studies to start studying any languages relevant to their area as soon as possible. I recommend that prospective graduate students ask current faculty or Ph.D. candidates at UT about language preparation for their particular subfields.    


Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it?  Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I wrote an undergraduate thesis on an extracanonical Christian text called the Gospel of Judas, which had been made public for the first time the year before I wrote the thesis. There was very little scholarship available on the text at that point, which was very exciting to me. I wanted to contextualize the text within the history and theologies of second century Christian groups. I focused specifically on the text’s critique of orthodox Eucharistic rituals and what it means for understanding the historical development of the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist.

I definitely recommend research for undergrads, but not—or at least, not just—for the usual reasons of getting into graduate programs or trying to secure an early publication. In fact, I would encourage undergrads to diasbuse themselves of the tenacious idea that they need to publish their undergraduate research in peer-reviewed professional journals. In most cases, it is better to return to the project in graduate school if you remain interested in it. Instead of these strategic reasons, I think it is best to write a thesis because it helps you to figure out whether you are truly passionate enough about the area of your research to commit to a graduate program in which you will be doing a great deal of similar work. It also helps to build your confidence as a budding specialist in a particular topic.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I just accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Early Christian History and Literature (tenure-track) at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. I hope very much that I will still be there in ten years, that I will have tenure by then, that I will have published at least two books by then, and that I will continue to be enthusiastic about each opportunity that I have to teach undergraduate and graduate students about ancient Judaism and Christianity.


ml
Michel Lee

Graduate Program: M.A., History, Stanford University – Stanford, CA; Ph.D., Religous Studies, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Religion in the Americas

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., History and East Asian Studies, Stanford University – Stanford, CA

Can you tell us a bit about your research?
My research interest is in the cultural history of Saturday Sabbath-keeping in the late 19th- and early 20th-century United States.  I’m particularly fascinated by how Sabbatarian groups like Seventh-day Adventists, Seventh Day Baptists, and various Jewish congregations thought and talked about what has become an increasingly minority religious practice in America.

Where are you in your program sequence and what is that like?
I just passed my qualifying exams and am preparing my dissertation prospectus.  Studying for exams was an incredibly edifying experience that gave me a firmer grasp of the historiography and better questions to ask in my research.  Exam preparation also compelled me to consider ideas and topics outside my primary area of study. 

What is the most interesting thing about your graduate program?
The unique thing about the program in Religious Studies at UT Austin is that scholars of religion in the Americas like myself are trained hemispherically.  In other words, if a student focuses primarily on the United States she also takes a class and a qualifying exam on Latin America, and vice-versa.  It’s a way for us to think about patterns and flows in religion beyond national borders and also to take advantage of the vast resources and faculty expertise that UT has to offer.

What can you tell me about life as a graduate student?
Being in a doctoral program requires you to be self-motivated. Graduate school is very rewarding, but sometimes you face challenges and have to consciously resolve in those moments that you’re going to keep going.  Two of the best decisions I ever made were to complete an MA and spend one year teaching college history before enrolling in the PhD program at UT Austin.  My MA program gave me a taste of graduate student life and my year of teaching gave me a sense of what I’d potentially do after my PhD.  Both experiences cemented my desire to pursue doctoral studies—so here I am now!

How about graduate school activities, what is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
I’ve come to think of my studies as a job.  I set regular hours for myself to work every day, with a short lunch break.  I start working sometime in the morning, typically from home since I’m done with coursework now.  While preparing for qualifying exams, I spent most of my time reading or skimming (an art you pick up very quickly in graduate school!) books, taking notes on them, and trying to figure out where they fit in the historiography of a field.

Once a month, I attend a Religion in the Americas colloquium.  Colloquia are an opportunity for faculty and graduate students to discuss and provide feedback on a colleague’s work in a supportive environment.  At UT, I’ve also been involved the Graduate Committee for the Study of Religion, which organizes an annual graduate student conference at UT, and the Graduate Student Assembly.  I’m a volunteer for a couple different denominationally-affiliated organizations as well.  My involvement in these groups keep me thinking about the world beyond the fifth floor of Burdine Hall.

It’s all about balance.  When the clock hits 6 or 7 p.m., I try to stop working for the day.  I also keep the Sabbath every week from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown—it’s a time when I’m reminded that I’m not defined by my work.  You don’t need to have a faith commitment to study religion.  But I find that my religious perspective keeps me oriented to what is most important and informs my research in interesting ways.

Do you currently have a TA, GA, GRA or AI role? What is that like? What do you do? 
I served as a TA for the first two semesters of my time at UT Austin, which exposed me to two different pedagogical styles.  Both have shaped my own teaching philosophy.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then (as an undergrad)?
I wish I’d gone to office hours a lot more.  Now that I’ve taught, I know that faculty and TAs have a lot more knowledge and wisdom to share than what they can fit into one class.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Email faculty ahead of time. Sometimes you won’t know who’s retiring, not accepting students, or moving to a new institution unless you reach out.  Plus, you will have made a valuable personal contact.
  2. Stay abreast of scholarly discussions through books, book reviews, blogs, journals, and conversations with faculty and graduate students.  It’ll help you write a more concise and interesting statement of purpose if you know how you will potentially contribute to your field.
  3. Start writing early.  Application materials take a lot of thought and reflection.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad?
One research project that stands out in my mind from my undergraduate days is when my advisor at Stanford set me loose on a set of newly acquired historical newspapers at the library and told me to just let the sources speak for themselves.  Theory is incredibly important in my work now, but I never want to lose sight of the thrill of sitting in the archives and thinking about how I’ll piece together decades- or centuries-old historical sources to tell a story.  I think every undergraduate should have that experience.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I’d love to be pursuing my research interests and teaching in some capacity.

Return to the top of this page

Rhetoric & Writing

Faculty

charney
Dr. Davida Charney

Academic Background: Ph.D., Carnegie Mellon University, M.A., Linguistics, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, B.A., Linguistics, Brandeis University

What made you want to get an advanced degree?
I fell into linguistics as my college major by accident. During orientation, I went to several sample first-day classes by Brandeis professors.  The linguistics class absolutely captivated me. It was like solving a series of puzzles but with real language. When I was in my senior year, I fell into graduate school by accident too.  I wanted to support myself for a few years but didn't have any clear ideas about what kind of job to go after. My parents wanted me to go to law school but also encouraged me to apply to graduate school as a back up plan. I applied to the two best graduate schools in linguistics in the country and was accepted to UMass Amherst off the waiting list. They couldn't support all their grad students with teaching assignments in linguistics so I was farmed out to teach first-year writing.  I was captivated again.  It was like solving puzzles again but with large units of language, like paragraphs, instead of words and phrases. At that point, it was very obvious that the job opportunities in writing and rhetoric would be far greater than in linguistics. So I took several rhetoric courses at UMass, finished my MA, and transferred to a brand new doctoral program in rhetoric at Carnegie Mellon.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
I've always been interested in how texts of all kinds work—why some texts achieve their goals with their readers and others don't. I wanted to study how literature works but that seemed too daunting. So in the early part of my career, I worked with practical texts like computer manuals, job résumés, and work order forms because it's easy to tell when they fail.  My dissertation focused on the choice of examples in self-paced computer tutorials.  

What topics do you currently teach?
Over the years, I've taught just about every kind of writing that there is from technical and business writing to prose style. The biggest change in my teaching came when we established our own major in Rhetoric and Writing. That opened the door to teaching the principles of rhetoric and courses focusing on aspects of rhetorical theory, like kairos and style. Right now I'm excited about developing a new course on the rhetoric of data visualization.

Can you tell me a bit about your area(s) of specialization?
I've been lucky enough to be able to satisfy my curiosity about how a wide array of texts work. After working on practical texts like computer manuals, job résumés, and work order forms, I moved to looking at scholarly journal articles in the sciences and social sciences.  All this research used a combination of rhetorical analysis of the parts of the texts themselves and observational studies of people reading or working with them. I've been able to support some guidelines about what texts should look like and undermine others.  For example, when I was working on computer manuals, there was a strong push in the industry to cut manuals down to the most minimal prose.  But we showed that certain kinds of examples are really important for people to figure out how to use an app in the situations they cared about.

Are you currently conducting research? Can you tell me a bit about your research?
My current research satisfies my curiosity in a very different subject area, the Hebrew Bible. I grew up with a strong religious education but never had a chance to tap it in my professional life. Then about eight years ago, I started looking at the Biblical Book of Psalms from a rhetorical point of view.  It came to me that the speakers of the psalms were arguing with God.  So I set about to analyze what kinds of persuasive tactics they were using. The question is a bit mind blowing because you'd think that an omniscient being like God would already know all the moves.  But it turned out that the speakers of the psalms were very sophisticated in reminding God of Biblical values and even challenging God to be just. I published a book on the psalms in 2015 called Persuading God.  Now I've been awarded a Fulbright to work on a second book about arguments about the psalms among rabbis and other religious leaders across history who had conflicting perspectives on how ordinary people should interact with God.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate? If so, what was it? Would you recommend undergrads to participate in research?
Linguistics itself lends itself to students acting like researchers discovering or rediscovering how language works.  But I also took on an honors thesis that involved more independent research.  I would strongly urge all undergraduates to get involved in research if they possibly can, whether or not they are interested in graduate school.  It's the absolute best way to become a resilient critical thinker and to dispose of all kinds of myths about knowledge is built and debated.

What makes a good grad student?
A successful undergraduate is not necessarily a good grad student. Some successful undergrads have figured out how to please their teachers and write papers that are polished but safe. But a good grad student has to have an independent streak, a willingness to take some risks, as well as an open mind.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to your program?

  1. Read the websites of a lot of graduate programs, especially to see what kinds of research the faculty does.  Programs have different personalities—the key is finding the right fit.
  2. Start early.  Get to know the faculty who do related research at your own institution. Take classes with them, talk to them about different graduate programs, and write ambitious papers for them.
  3. Start late. These days, it's not enough just to enjoy the subject matter and can picture yourself in front of a classroom. Spend a few years working in a place where communication matters—education, publishing, marketing, politics, social service, the military. Apply to grad school because you can see how deeper understanding of rhetoric can apply in the real world, whether now or in the past.

What are the top five programs in your area in the US?
The University of Texas at Austin, Carnegie Mellon, Penn State, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the University of Louisville.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
In the Rhetoric concentration (part of the English PhD), we tend to place people in writing programs in the US. Sometimes those are part of English Departments, but they're sometimes free-standing.


trm
Dr. Patricia Roberts-Miller

Academic Background: Ph.D., M.A. and B.A., Rhetoric - The University of California, Berkeley

What made you want to get an advanced degree?
I was fascinated by the problem of how people can argue together productively if they disagree on major assumptions. If, for instance, some people think that our major responsibility is to use nature to generate profit and others think our major responsibility is to act as stewards of the earth for future generations, how can they have a useful disagreement about wilderness protection? I thought I could figure it out in six years.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
John Muir's attempt to stop the damming and flooding of the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park.

What topics do you currently teach?
I teach about propaganda, demagoguery, racism, and how countries decide to go to war.

Can you tell me a bit about your area(s) of specialization?
I generally tell people that my area of specialization is train wrecks in public deliberation--times that communities decided, after a lot of talk and with all the information necessary, to do something they later regretted.

Are you currently conducting research? Can you tell me a bit about your research?
I have two areas right now. I'm writing about demagoguery--that is, rhetoric that avoids all policy discussion by reframing those arguments as arguments about us v. them. I have a short, relatively popular, version of that argument that will be coming out with The Experiment in fall, and a longer, academic, one that is under consideration at Southern Illinois University Press. The second area concerns lay notions of public discourse and argumentation--I'm trying to write a book for a general audience about public deliberation, both helpful and unhelpful ways we can imagine what it means to be a citizen.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate? If so, what was it? Would you recommend undergrads to participate in research?
I was a research assistant for a professor, and it was very, very helpful for understanding what is involved in scholarly writing.

What makes a good grad student?
Resilience.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to your program?

  1. Make sure that you want a career as a scholar, not just a teacher--that means you should enjoy reading scholarly journals and books;
  2. Make sure that you are a good fit for this program--we look for students who will thrive in our program because they fit the resources we can provide;
  3. Apply to a small number of places so that you have the time to write personal statements appropriate to each program, and make sure to talk about your scholarly goals.

What are the top five programs in your area in the US?
It depends on what kind of work someone wants to do--you'd get a different list for someone who wanted to do history of rhetoric from someone who wanted to do qualitative work in writing studies, for instance. But I think the five that people tend to mention are, in alphabetical order: University of Illinois, Penn State, Syracuse University, our program, and University of Wisconsin.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program? (MA & PhD)
In the Rhetoric concentration (part of the English PhD), we tend to place people in writing programs in the US. Sometimes those are part of English Departments, but they're sometimes free-standing.

Graduate Students

pl
Josefrayn Sanchez-Perry

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Religious Studies, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Topic: Latin American Religions
Other Graduate Study: M.Div., Southern Methodist University

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Religious Studies, Northwestern College

Can you tell us a bit about your research?
In my research, I concentrate on the interpretation of Mesoamerican symbols and rituals in mendicant literature from the colonial period. This means that I partly study Mesoamerican culture before the arrival of Europeans, and how it changed when Spaniards introduced Christianity.

Where are you in your program sequence and what is that like?
I am about the finish the first year of the Ph.D. program. The coursework is going faster than I expected. But at the same time, I can tell how much I learned about my research this year.

What is the most interesting thing about your graduate program?
Because of my focus is in Latin America, I interact with a number of disciplines, from history, anthropology, economics, and education, among others. This interdisciplinary landscape helped me better understand my own discipline, which is party based on social-scientific theory. In religious studies, then, I have the liberty to explore historical periods through a theoretical lens.

What can you tell me about life as a graduate student?
Graduate school is a lot of work. But if you can find a topic that you enjoy, the work is very fun. In spite of all the grant applications, paper presentations, and articles to write, graduate studies is a space to learn. I do not think that I will have this experience again.

How about graduate school activities, what is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
I begin my day by brewing a cup of coffee in the religious studies lounge area. We have a Keurig. I answer a few emails, and then I go to class at 9am sharp. In between classes, I spend a lot of time in the graduate student office area. This is where I get most of my work done. It is hard for me to work at home, so I make sure that I take as little as possible when I leave the University. It does not happen often, however.

Do you currently have a TA, GA, GRA or AI role? What is that like? What do you do?
Yes. I currently TA for a religious studies class by the name, "Magic, Science, and Religion." Depending on the faculty who teaches each course, the responsibilities change. For this class, my primary task is to grade reading journals and quizzes. There is a lot of learning that happens as a TA, as well. Especially for graduate students who are interested in teaching, a TAship is a great opportunity to explore what it may be like to teach your own classroom.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then (as an undergrad)?
I wish I knew how to get involved academically. My undergraduate school is not a big university like UT, so there were less opportunities to be involved in research based projects.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?
Tip one: be sure to revise your essay multiple times (avoid passive voice). Tip two: be sure that the people you picked for your recommendations know you well enough to write a substantial essay about you. Tip three: if you are able, make in-person appointments with the faculty you plan to work with during your program.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it?  Would you recommend research for undergrads?
No

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In ten years, I want to continue to be in an academic setting, if not as a faculty, then as a staff person.


pl
Laura Thain

Graduate Program: M.A., English Literature, Tulane University – New Orleans, LA; Ph.D., English with Rhetoric and Writing Specialization, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Topic: Posthuman rhetorics and mass media

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., English Literature, Classical Studies, and History, Tulane University – New Orleans, LA

Can you tell us a bit about your research?
I am interested both in how societies experience collective anxiety about new media forms and how those anxieties get resolved or deferred in mediated spaces. Specifically, I suggest rhetorical studies might revisit the media event as a fruitful object of study in light of the ontological turn. My dissertation analyzes three media events, each situated within an early system of mass media.  Ultimately, I aim to outline a method for reading historical artifacts through a posthuman rhetorical lens and suggest that anxious commonplaces are built into present-day mediated rhetorical practices.

Where are you in your program sequence and what is that like?
I am in candidacy and my work is mostly centered on my dissertation, which I will defend this year.  That means most days I am either writing or revising based on feedback from my dissertation committee.  I also work as the graduate writing coordinator for the School of Social Work, where I help graduate students with their writing and research.  Connecting with other graduate students and providing supportive, constructive feedback on work in a different field often gives me a new perspective on my own project.  

People often expect writing the dissertation to be a lonely or isolating process, and it can be.  That's why I highly recommend finding other graduate students to connect with.

What is the most interesting thing about your graduate program?
Teaching!  Several organizations shaped my writing pedagogy: the University Writing Center, which trained me as a non-directive, non-evaluative writing consultant; the Digital Writing and Research Lab, which sparked my interested in digital and posthuman rhetorics and their classroom applications; and the Center for Faculty Innovation, which trained me in evidence-based, interdisciplinary approaches to post-secondary education.  I recommend my program to students who are interested teaching writing while researching.  

What can you tell me about life as a graduate student?
While research is at the center of my responsibilities, it’s easy for many other tasks, such as coursework, teaching, staffing, and service, to fill the day if I don’t actively carve out space for research.  So while I think it’s important to point out that doctoral programs are mainly about research and learning to produce research, they also require you to manage your resources and balance multiple professional responsibilities.  

How about graduate school activities, what is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
As a scholar in the field of rhetoric and composition, my research has relevant insights for my daily life as a writer and academic.  One of my advisors usefully compared writing to riding a bike: the challenge lies not in keeping your momentum, but in stopping and starting. Part of good self-care is figuring out your workflow and moving intentionally in and out of tasks.

I’ve found I stay productive for about 60-90 minutes at a time, so I arrange my days around 60-90 minute blocks.  For instance, I may wake up and compose an outline for a new writing project, grade a few student papers, and work on a research initiative before lunch and then move toward revising an older project in the afternoon.  Figuring out when you’re most sharp and scheduling your most complex mental tasks for that time of day can be very helpful.  I also like managing my workflow in a prioritized to-do list to minimize decision fatigue and using a timer technique like Pomodoro to visually track my goals.

Do you currently have a TA, GA, GRA or AI role?
I am currently a research assistant for the National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes.  I provide front-end web development and systems support for the NDC's web-based initiatives. I have also served as a TA, AI, GA, and GRA in the past. Being a TA is a great chance to support a class led by an experienced faculty member in your field.  Being a GA can give you insight into university administration, especially if you seek employment in a school or center related to your research goals.  GRAships are a great opportunities to plan and execute research initiatives with a team of specialists.  But I always found being an AI the most rewarding job of all because I enjoy working with students.  The classroom is exciting and dynamic.  Working with students helps graduate students acknowledge and unpack “expert blind spots”—the component skills or foundational knowledge we take for granted and therefore may fail to interrogate or integrate into our research.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then?
Scholarship is a community, not just an activity.  Support others, and reach out to others for support.  If you’re stuck, don’t wait—see your advisor.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Check the placement history for your department and compare it with typical enrollment.  Are the majority of graduates landing positions you would be interested in?
  2. Check the course catalogue for past course offerings and compare between programs.  Are courses related to your research interests being taught regularly by faculty you would like to work with?
  3. Finally, talk to as many current graduate students as you can, especially at different stages of the program.  Do they seem supported and excited about their prospects?

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it?  Would you recommend research for undergrads?
Yes, I wrote an undergraduate honors thesis that compared the Gothic remediations of Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty, which required learning and practicing the steps of humanities research: formulating a research question, showing how the methods and theories of your discipline can help you answer the research question, engaging those methods and theories to conduct your analysis, and connecting your findings to the larger conversations in your discipline. I highly recommend research experiences—individual and group—to undergraduates interested in graduate school, as it hones key skills that make up the bulk of your labor in any graduate curriculum.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Researching and teaching!  I hope to be a faculty member at a university with a commitment to digital composition and scholarship.

Return to the top of this page

Sociology

Faculty

Dr. Robert Hummer

Academic Background: Ph.D. & M.A., Sociology - Florida Sate University; B.A., Sociology & Business, Adrian College

Area of Specialization: Demography, Health, and Race and Ethnic Relations

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
While I earned reasonably good grades as an undergraduate, I was not a good student and did not at all take adavantage of the undergraduate opportunities offered to me. After working for several years after undergraduate school in "dead-end" jobs, I grew up a lot and thought through what I most wanted to do career-wise...which was to teach at a university. I realized that I very much enjoyed being on a college campus and had a strong desire to better understand the social world. I also realized that I had few other talents in life other than being good in academia, so earning an advanced degree seemed like a very logical thing for me to do. It's been a great choice.

What makes a good grad student?
My sense is that characteristics like curiosity, desire, and excellent organizational and time management skills are what makes the best graduate students. Students need to be relatively smart, but there are a lot of smart people out there. I'm convinced that the graduate students who perform the best and then go on to great careers have an intellectual curiosity and a "fire" that helps them succeed. And, as mentioned above, organizational and time management skills are critical; great students cannot succeed if they don't "get things done"; on the contrary, I've seen a lot of very smart graduate students (and faculty members) not do as well as they should because they simply do not get things done...or done on time.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to your program?

  1. Start early. Take the GRE early, and then take it again if necessary. Write a thoughtful statement of purpose and ask a faculty member or two for feedback.
  2. Email a couple of faculty members that you might be interested in working with and ask to meet with them. When you do, be prepared--know what the faculty member does so that you can ask intelligent questions about the program and the possibility of working with her/him. Such personal contacts and expressions of interest can be very important.
  3. Take advantage of undergraduate opportunities. Very few undergraduate students work on research or write honor's theses...but those are the kinds of experiences that are especially useful in preparing for graduate school.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate? If so, what was it? Would you recommend undergrads to participate in research?
I did not participate in a research project as an undergraduate student; I was too busy doing social things at the time. I thought if I simply got decent grades and got a degree, I'd have it made... As I mentioned above, it took awhile for me to realize that I largely wasted a great opportunity during my undergraduate career.

I absolutely would recommend that undergraduate students become involved in research. Learning the research process and conducting research transforms a person from being a consumer of information to a producer of information. This is a very powerful transformation. Moreover, the skills one learns in conducting research are fantastic for future graduate school and employment opportunities. For example, learning how to conduct a survey, analyze census data, or use statistical programming skills are tools that many, many employers and graduate schools are looking for.

What is your current research focus?
I study health and mortality (death rate) patterns among the U.S. population. At first glance, this may seem really dry and boring. But what I have come to realize--and what I teach my students--is that understanding how health and how mortality varies across groups--by age, gender, race/ethnicity, education, etc...--can tell us a GREAT DEAL about social advantages and disadvantages among groups of people. Moreover, working in this area allows me to have some impact on U.S. health policy, which I find to be very fascinating.

What is the latest national or international research project/topic in your area which you are currently following?
I am currently leading a large study that is funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) that is documenting differences in U.S. mortality rates by educational attainment. While we have known for a long time that more highly educated people live longer than less educated people, work on this project is showing that this gap may even be increasing in recent years. That is, the most highly educated individuals in the United States are living longer and healthier lives than ever before, while the lowest educated individuals in our society are living much shorter and less healthier lives on average. There are huge social and health policy implications of such research. This work is in collaboration with several of my colleagues here on the UT faculty as well as eight graduate students who are participating in various aspects of this project.

What are the top five programs in this area in the US?
I'm going to be biased here and say that UT-Austin is the best program in my specific area of population studies in the country. We know we're close...and have added a number of great faculty in recent years. Other extremely strong programs in population studies include the University of Michigan, Princeton University, Pennsylvania State University, UNC Chapel-Hill, University of Pennsylvania, and UCLA.

More generally in Sociology, there are many great programs around the country, including UT-Austin, University of Chicago, UNC Chapel Hill, University of Michigan, Princeton, Harvard, UC-Berkeley, UCLA, Columbia, University of Indiana, University of Washington, University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State University, Johns Hopkins University, and more. Choosing one of these programs for graduate study is largely based upon the fit between student research interests and the strength of the faculty in that student's particular area of study.

Could you please provide a snapshot description of the UT sociology graduate program?
The Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin is one of the largest and most highly ranked sociology departments in the country. Our group of 45 tenured or tenure-track faculty members allows us to offer an excellent range of opportunities--both inside and outside the classroom--for graduate students. Our faculty members are extremely research-active, placing great value in not only disseminating social scientific knowledge but also on producing such knowledge--often working alongside our own students. Our faculty members regularly publish articles in the leading general and specialty journals of our discipline, and books in leading scholarly presses; many of our faculty also have their work funded by grants from the federal government and private foundations. Our faculty and graduate students also regularly present research at conferences throughout the country and in international settings, and are actively sought out by policymakers for advice and by the press for the public's better understanding of social trends and issues. The UT Department of Sociology currently serves as the academic home for about 110 graduate students. We place tremendous value on our core training in sociological theory, research methods, and statistics at the graduate level. We build on that core with a myriad of course offerings in areas such as criminology and deviance, demography, development, education, family, gender, health, political sociology, race and ethnicity, religion, and social stratification.

What is one thing this department does particularly well that makes it better than other similar programs?
Our faculty members pride themselves on working very closely with graduate students in the research arena. As a result, our faculty members and graduate students produce many co-authored publications and presentations resulting from these faculty/student collaborations. Our graduate students are considered to be junior colleagues in this sense: they work alongside the faculty on projects! This is a win-win situation for everyone: both graduate students and faculty members learn a great deal by working together.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Our M.A. graduates almost always continue on to pursue the Ph.D. degree. In fact, we do not recruit students into our program unless they express a strong interest in pursuing the Ph.D. There are many other programs around the country that have terminal M.A. programs that I would recommend if a student wanted to earn an M.A. in Sociology and stop at that point.

Our Ph.D. graduates most often desire to work in academic positions as professors, and many of them accomplish that goal. In recent years, for example, Ph.D. graduates from our program have won postdoctoral fellowships at Brown University, the University of Chicago, Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, Rice University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of North Carolina at Chapel-Hill, Harvard University, Princeton University, and more. Our PhD graduates also now serve on the faculty at many prestigious universities around the country, including Princeton University, Duke University, UCLA, Penn State University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ohio State University, Florida State University, University of Florida, University of Georgia, University of Illinois, University of Colorado, Rice University, Bucknell University, Michigan State University, University of California at Davis, North Carolina State University, University of Kansas, Kansas State University, and many more. Many others hold important research positions in federal government, state government, and private settings,such as the United Nations, the US Bureau of the Census, the Urban Institute, and the Alan Guttmacher Institute.

Graduate Students

Michelle Robinson

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Sociology and Rural Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Research Topic: Sociology of Education, Race & Ethnicity and Social Stratification

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Sociology, Minor in Government with BDP Certification in Population and Public Policy, The University of Texas at Austin

What is the coolest thing about the sociology graduate program at UW-Madison?
I would say how well established, respected and connected it is. Because of this every semester we receive many visits from some of the most renowned and respected academics in the world. Not only do we get to sit in talks or discussions that they may give, but we get to meet with them one on one, have lunch with them, or dinner and even get feedback on work that we may be doing that they have an expertise in.

What is your current research topic at UW-Madison?
The project I am working on currently is my master’s thesis. I am unpacking the tracking/ability group debate by looking at how instructional choices have differential impacts on populations. I am using a large-scale, nationally representative dataset, called the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort to explore one instance of this, particularly whole language and phonics instruction in K through 1st grade. I examine these instructional strategies within the context of ability grouped and non-ability grouped classrooms to explore whether children’s reading achievement varies given these conditions.

What can you tell me about life as a graduate student?
It can be very isolating mostly due to the amount of work that is required of you. This also varies by program, some being more demanding than others. Most of your learning occurs outside of the classroom and is self motivated and much of the knowledge isn’t explicit or readily available. You may not know you need to know something until you need to know it. You also have to make more of a deliberate effort to be involved in non-school related things because it can consume so much of your time.

What is a day in the life of a grad student like?
There is definitely a difference between the life of someone who is pursuing a M.A and one who is pursuing a Ph.D. As a Ph.D student, summers no longer feel like breaks, but more so an opportunity to get personal projects started or finished without the distractions of classes. The actual Fall/Spring school year will differ based on your funding. As a fellow, I don’t have a “job” so I spend my free time volunteering with research projects and gaining real experience. Typically grad school courses are later in the day, so I generally spend the day doing work, reading for class, or working on my master’s thesis or another project. I have to plan out my days carefully and be very efficient with my time. I try to make time everyday to workout, to eat nutritious meals and to just relax and watch a bit of TV or hang out with friends.

What is the greatest difference between undergrad and grad school?
I have much less of it. Depending on what projects, papers, assignments I have during a week I can sometimes work 100+ hours. Though it is suggested in undergrad that a student studies 3 hrs for every hour they are in class, most don’t and often not to their detriment. This is not the case for grad school. My first semester in grad school I took a theory class that met only once a week for 3 hrs, but I spent 40+ hrs a week preparing for it. The reading load is higher, and you HAVE TO READ. The assignments are also a lot more complicated, mostly consisting of lengthy papers that should be publishable quality. At least for Ph.D students, work and school are intertwined.

What do you know now, and wish you knew then?
There are graduate fellowships that you can apply for in your last year of undergraduate that are really generous. Along with applying for graduate programs, they should make an earnest effort to apply for these also. It will look good on your applications and if you actually win one, it will only help your odds of getting into top programs.

What are 3 tips for students applying to your program?
Research, Research, Research: Get as much and any kind that you can before applying. What they are seeking are students who have the potential to produce interesting and unique scholarly work. Having research experience will only make the transition into a program like this easier and will give you a huge leg up. Take classes in statistics and methods, anything that will help you articulate that skill set and your potential.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it?
I worked with the AHAA project in Population Research Center under Dr. Kelly Raley and Dr. Chandra Mueller. This was with the NSF Demography Summer program. I coauthored a paper which looked how school and community contexts contributed to academic achievement. I also complete an Honor’s thesis in Sociology which looked at the relationships between homes, schools and classrooms on children’s achievement. I received applied experience through my internship with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the National Center for Education Statistics through the UT in DC program.

If you wouldn't have accepted the UW Madison offer, which school was your #2 choice?
Staying at UT-Austin was my second choice. The reason why I choose UW was because when choosing a Ph.D program there are few things that are important to consider, especially if you are hoping to go into the professoriate.

  1. Ranking of department- Schools look at this when making hiring decisions. You want to go to the best, as reflected in ranking, program that you can get into.
  2. The faculty and the reputation specifically of the faculty that work in your field- you want to be mentored by people who are doing work in the area that you are interested in and you want them to be respected in the field. Your adviser is your number one spokesperson; you can see them as equivalent to an agent in the entertainment business. You want someone who when they say you are good, smart, a star, that it means something to others in the field even though they may not have read your work or know you personally.
  3. Getting all three of your degrees, BA, MA and Ph.D, from the same university or college is generally dissuaded.

What is an interesting website you would recommend a friend interested in sociology to check out?
The national organization of sociologists’ website.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Teaching and producing some interesting and policy relevant research at a Research I university.


Mieke Beth Thomeer

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Sociology, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: How social relationships impact health

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Sociology, Minor in Biology, University of Virginia

What is life like for a sociology graduate student?
The beauty of grad school is that you have a lot of control over your schedule, but the trouble is that this requires a lot of self-drive and motivation. There is not a lot of structure, and so it is easy to get lost. During my first year of grad school, I swung between working all the time and being exhausted and not working enough. I think I’ve finally struck a balance. Now that I’ve found research projects I’m really interested in (as well as classes that I enjoy), I have motivation to work every day, and I don’t run into the problem of not working enough. And living in Austin makes it easy to not be a workaholic, since there are always so many fun things to do (instead of spending my life in my office). Grad school can be isolating, so it’s important to surround yourself with other grad students (who can make your work more enjoyable and commiserate with you) and some non-grad student friends as well (who can help you remember that there’s more to life than just school.) My church, Bible study group on campus, and other graduate students in the department have been incredibly helpful in keeping me grounded and not overwhelmed with school.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
It is difficult to describe a typical day for a sociology grad student, because it is so variable from person to person. I have classmates who come to campus everyday from 9-6, work hard during those hours, but don’t touch any schoolwork on nights or weekends. I also know people who like to work at night and sleep in during the day. Rather than thinking of how much time I should be working every day, I like to think in terms of how many tasks I want to accomplish. In a typical week, I have tasks associated with classes (attending classes, writing papers, reading), research (collect and analyze data, meet with my advisor, write sections of my working papers, prepare presentations), and my work with the journal (answer emails from authors and reviewers, read new papers, assign reviewers). I then break up the tasks over the days, so that on one day I may tackle a particularly difficult task and end up working for ten hours, whereas another day I may assign a simpler task and have a bit more free time. I try to stagger everything, so that I don’t get burnt out.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
I love being around other people who share a lot of the same interests as I do. This doesn’t mean we all agree on the same thing but it is always easy to find a good conversation with fellow graduate students and professors, be it in class, in the office, by the pool, or at a nearby bar or coffee shop. I had trouble settling on my thesis topic at first, but I was able to find many people in the department who were happy to bat around ideas with me and give helpful critiques and advice.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
I am broadly interested in studying how social relationships impact health, particularly at later ages. I just finished my master’s thesis, which looked at how married couples who have been together for many years care for each other during periods of physical illness and injury. I am finding that it is not just the healthy spouse who looks after the ill spouse. The ill spouse often cares for the healthy spouse as well, such as through encouraging caregiving breaks and masking their own symptoms and anxiety. The performance of this care is largely patterned through gender. My next step is to expand this same research by looking at long-term gay and lesbian couples and at how couples care for each other during periods of mental illness, specifically depression.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I am beginning my third year of the M.A./Ph.D. program. I turned in my thesis this month to earn my masters. I have been working on my thesis for the last year. This year I will complete my last year of coursework and take my comprehensive exams in the Fall of my fourth year.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I currently work as managing editor of reviews for the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, so my funding is supplied through the American Sociological Association and the department of sociology. I assist the editor (who is a professor) in processing all the articles from the time they are submitted to when they are either accepted or rejected. My main responsibilities are to read and process every article we receive, suggest reviewers to the editor, contact the reviewers, and then process the reviews. I enjoy it, because I am learning a lot about the process of publishing articles, what articles have the best chance of being published, who’s who in the field, and what topics people are currently researching. Before I started working for the journal, I was a TA for three semesters and then a GRA for one. Doing all three of these positions has helped me to get a good perspective on several different aspects of academic life.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
In graduate school, your grades in a class are unimportant. And if that was the case in undergraduate, then I imagine that most of the students in class would check out, stop coming to class, and never participate. But in graduate school, particularly in a doctoral program, people seem to be motivated by much more than grades. There is a real interest in engaging with the material, both because it’s interesting and because we want to be able to apply it to our research, and this leads to a much different atmosphere than in undergrad. In undergrad, I wouldn’t think twice about solving a crossword puzzle under my notebook while the professor lectured, but in graduate school, the classes tend to be much more engaging and dozing off just isn’t an option.

Also, in undergrad, classes felt like the most important part of my education, but in graduate school, they often feel like an afterthought. I spend more of my day thinking of the research I am doing then the classes I am attending, and I look at my classes as helping me reach my research goals and sharpen my abilities as a sociologist, rather than just degree requirements. The difficulty in this, though, is that being successful in graduate school is not as straight forward as being successful in undergraduate. It requires a lot more self-direction and motivation.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I wish I had known that my professors and TAs would be future colleagues and that I had actually taken time to get to know them. I didn’t think I wanted to enter a doctoral program until the very end of college, and so I didn’t spend any time getting to know my professors and TAs and talking to them about what they were researching and what life was like in academia. This definitely feels like a wasted opportunity and is something I definitely regret.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Carefully consider who you will ask to write your letters of recommendation. The three professors who know you best may not be the best three people. Also, you may not want to use the same three professors for all the schools you apply to. Research whether any professors who know you went to the schools where you are applying. Ask around to see if any of your professors are prominent in the field. You should start this process early.
  2. Contact professors at the schools where you are applying who share your same interests. Some may even be willing to talk to you on the phone before you submit your application. (At the very least, most will email with you.) If they know your name, they may fight for you as an applicant. You should also be sure to mention these professors in your application, such as in your personal statement.
  3. Talk to graduate students at your school and at the schools where you are applying. They have successfully been through the process and probably have helpful ideas of what works and what doesn’t. They can also help you decide if you really want to go straight to graduate school from undergrad, or if it makes sense to take some time off. And they can point you towards professors with your same interests who you should probably get to know.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
Yes, I assisted a sociology professor with research for three years and then did my own research as part of my honor’s thesis in my final year. For my honor’s thesis, I was interested in how transitioning from one stage of life to another impacted the decision to volunteer, so I interviewed ten students who had recently started college and ten recent retirees, all who volunteered at the hospital. After working with a professor for so long on studies he designed, it was great to be able to design one of my own, with a research question I found interesting and using theories, like life course, which intrigued me.

I recommend research for undergrads who want to go to grad school, because research is essentially what graduate school is all about, so you probably want to make sure it’s something you like before you start applying to schools. Also, doing research as an undergraduate helped me to get to know more professors and think seriously about what sort of research I wanted to do in the future. I ended up using my honor’s thesis as my writing sample for my graduate student applications.

Also during undergraduate and afterwards, I worked at a nursing home as a nursing assistant. This experience is actually how I decided I wanted to go back to school and study the sociology of health and aging. I would recommend thinking of research as more than just gathering data and writing a paper, but as going into the field and interacting with what interests you, even if it’s not through your university or officially “research”.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
The Pennsylvania State University.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in sociology to check out?
Contexts.org: This is a blog by the people who edit Contexts, a sociology journal published by the American Sociological Association. They also produce a great podcast you should check out. Each post has brief sociological discussions of current issues in the media, consumerism, pop-culture, etc. Recent posts have ranged from a discussion of a Marxist analysis of the global recession to a sociological discussion of a recent controversy when a designer used plus-sized (size 8-10) models on the runway. There is literally something for everyone interested in sociology!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully teaching and researching in a tenure-track position as a professor in a warm city (maybe near the beach!)

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
Don’t ever let yourself get too isolated. It’s incredibly easy to do in graduate school, but you should prioritize doing things with others, beyond just studying, if you want to keep your sanity.


Megan Reid

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Sociology, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation Research: How race, class, and gender shaped the housing experiences of Katrina survivors.

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Sociology & English, Rutgers University – New Jersey

What is life like for a sociology graduate student?
I have found it relatively easy to balance my personal and professional lives. I feel like I have enough time to get work done and also do fun things with friends on some nights and weekends. I try to visit my family regularly and I have time for that as well. I am not partnered and I do not have children, and I think it would be harder to do this if I had a family. However I do have friends who do have partners and families and they seem to make it all work.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
Finding a supportive group of fellow graduate students. Our department is collegial and I have made many great friendships with other grad students. This has been invaluable to me as I have gone through this program. It is great to have other people around you who are going through the same thing and can support you. In fact, one of my fellow grad students has now been my closest friend and roommate for over four years! These friendships have also been valuable to my professional development, not only because of how supportive they are but also because it has given me opportunities to co-author articles with friends/colleagues and give and get feedback on papers and projects.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
In my dissertation research, I examine the experiences of people who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Specifically, I look at how race, class, and gender shaped the housing experiences of Katrina survivors. My preliminary findings suggest that the policies that the government put in place to help displaced survivors secure housing made it difficult for those who were not in "traditional" nuclear family arrangements. Black survivors ended up in more remote areas of the city than White survivors did, which caused these survivors further difficulties in trying to recover from the disaster and re-establish themselves. I have also found that displaced people turned to family members when they could not obtain adequate assistance from the government, and that this strategy both provided support and contributed to strain among survivors. Women were more commonly involved in both providing and receiving family support than men were, which indicates an interesting gendered component to family and disaster recovery.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I have finished all of my classes and defended my dissertation proposal, so now I am working on writing and revising my dissertation.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I have been a research assistant, teaching assistant, and instructor in my time as a graduate student. I found the research assistance-ship through a professor in the department, but it was in another department. I strongly encourage students who are looking for funding and/or research experience to ask around about other departments. Mine was in the School of Social Work and I learned a lot and gained a lot of valuable skills. I worked as an interviewer and a data manager for a project. I ended up using the data gathered for that project for my dissertation, so it was extremely useful!

I was a TA for my department for a semester and it really helped me learn how to teach and how to interact with students. Then I began teaching my own course, which I have now taught three times. This has also been great and enjoyable experience. I have had students tell me that my class inspired them to have a talk with their family members about sociological perspectives on inequality, and that they have switched their majors to sociology after taking my class. This is always very rewarding.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
I think that you are doing more of one's own independent work and thinking and setting your own schedule can make grad school somewhat more difficult than undergrad. While of course I have great advisors and professors who guide me through the program, it is still up to me to decide where I want my career to go, how hard I am going to work on various aspects of my career, and when I am going to work. In a grad program, it takes a lot of work and willingness to try out new ideas and the ability to accept criticism in order to succeed.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Try to get some experience teaching or researching before you apply to graduate school if at all possible. I was able to be a peer mentor in undergrad, as well as conduct research for my senior honors thesis, both of which gave me a glimpse into life as an academic and as a sociologist. These experiences can help you know if you like a particular topic or aspect of the field you are planning to go into. (They also will look good on your applications!)
  2. If you are strongly interested in studying a particular topic or method, research departments to see if people there work on these areas. Contact some of the professors or graduate students who do work in your areas of interest and ask them about their experiences.
  3. Do some research about funding options. When planning to enter a long academic program (I have been in mine for 6 years now!), you might want to consider the long term cost and whether specific programs offer funding for their students. This is something that I wish I had more foresight about when I was deciding on when and where to go to graduate school. Funding should not be the only consideration at all, but practically I think it is important (especially if you have or plan to have a family and/or if you will end up in a job that is not very high paying).

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I did an undergraduate sociology honors thesis at Rutgers. I conducted a content analysis of women's magazines from the 1950's to the present to get an understanding of how topical coverage changed over that time period. I remember driving to this library that I had never been to in northern New Jersey during a serious snowstorm to do this research (because this is where the magazine archives were), but I was determined to get it done! I try to remember this moment of determination and inspiration if I ever get discouraged in my current research.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in sociology to check out?
I always recommend the site "Sociological Images" to people interested in sociology.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I plan to be a tenured professor at a school where I can continue to do research as well as teach.

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
Try to make a work schedule for yourself, even if it changes by the day or week. Because most grad students do not go into an office 8 - 5, sometimes it is hard to know when to start working and when to stop! I try to set a schedule for myself each week that includes a starting time and end ending time for each day, and which of my several projects I will work on when. It is important to designate some time that you will not be working or you will feel like you should always be working, which will really wear you out!


Molly Dondero

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Sociology, The University of Texas at Austin;Research Interest: Immigrant Integration, International Migration, and Development

Other Degrees: M.A., Latin American Studies, University of Florida – Gainesville, FL; B.A., Spanish & English, Pennsylvania State University – University Park, PA

What is life like for a graduate student?
Overall, life as a graduate student is a lot of fun. It is intellectually stimulating and provides you with an opportunity to meet people from around the world who are working on interesting research projects. In addition, graduate school fosters a strong sense of camaraderie among students, and I feel like I have made many really good friends in graduate school as a result of that.

I will say that the workload in graduate school is very heavy (though not unmanageable). I have made a strong effort to strike a better work/life balance. This is something that I struggled to achieve during my first few semesters. However, it has become easier now that I have a better idea of what I need to do in graduate school and what I can realistically accomplish in a day. One thing that has helped me to achieve a better work-life balance is to do most of my work on campus. During my first year of graduate school, I worked mostly from home. I have since switched to working almost entirely from school. This really helps me to be able to better relax when I go home each day. I also make sure to make some time each week to hang out with friends, exercise, and pursue other hobbies.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
I typically work on campus each day from about 9-5. When school is in session, I usually have class 4 days a week (most graduate classes meet once a week for 3 hours, but it can vary). I spend my time before and after class working on my RA responsibilities (such as data analysis and writing papers).

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The thing I like best about UT’s graduate sociology program is that it is highly collaborative. Students and faculty frequently work together on research projects. The department really encourages this type of collaboration. For example, there are working groups in which students and faculty interested in a similar subfield of sociology present their work to other members of the group in order to get constructive comments about the paper before sending it out for publication or presenting it at a conference. It is an excellent way to gain research skills, learn how to constructively critique others’ work and revise your own work, and to make your work the best it can be.

Another cool thing about the department is that there is a strong emphasis on mentoring. Upon entering the program, all graduate students are assigned a faculty mentor and a graduate student mentor. Strong mentors are extremely important in graduate school. Academia can sometimes be a confusing world to navigate, so guidance from faculty and more senior graduate students is an invaluable resource.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
My broad research interests include immigrant integration, international migration, and development. I am currently working on a project that looks at characteristics of schools in new immigrant-receiving areas in the U.S. I am also working on a second project that examines the impact of migration on households in rural communities in Guatemala and Peru.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I did not work on a research project as an undergrad because at the time, I did not intend to pursue a career in research. However, I would highly recommend that undergraduate students take advantage of any research opportunities they can—whether it is working on a project with a professor, interning at a research institution, or participating in a summer research program.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I will begin my third year of the Ph.D program in the Fall. I completed my coursework requirements last semester and am preparing to take my comprehensive exams in Demography in the Fall.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I have worked as a TA for one semester and an RA for three semesters and found both types of work to be valuable experiences. Working as a TA is a great way to interact with students and hone your teaching skills. Working as an RA provides excellent hands-on research training.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
There are many differences. One main difference is that graduate students are expected to take more initiative and be more self-motivated. Graduate students are expected to make the transition from being consumers of knowledge to producers of knowledge. This can be a tough transition, but taking initiative is a great first step.

Time management becomes even more important in graduate school, especially after you complete your coursework. As an undergrad, you have clear deadlines for handing in papers and completing other class assignments. After you finish your coursework in graduate school, most of your time is largely unstructured expect for office hours, TA classes, and meetings. Knowing how to structure your time and stick to some sort of schedule is very important for being productive in graduate school.

Another main difference is that graduate students work much more closely with their professors. Most professors treat their graduate students as colleagues, so graduate students are expected to voice their ideas and make contributions to the research projects on which they are working.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Identify at least two faculty members whose research interests are similar to yours. Check out their CVs to find out about their current research. Read a couple of their recently published articles. Contact them to let them know that you are applying and that you are interested in working with them.
  2. If possible, visit the departments at your “top choice” schools. Departmental culture can vary, so it is important to get a feel for the department to see if you think it will be a good fit for you. While there, make sure you set up some time to talk to your potential faculty advisors, the graduate advisor, and current graduate students. Current graduate students will really be able to give you the inside scoop on what life is like as a graduate student in that department.
  3. Consider what types of resources (such as funding, computing services, etc.) the program offers. For example, for me, it was very important that I went to a school with a Population Research Center so that I could gain strong training in Demography.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
City University of New York

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in sociology to check out?
I enjoy reading reports from the Population Reference Bureau and the Urban Institute.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope to be in a tenure-track faculty position.

Return to the top of this page

Slavic & Eurasian Studies

Faculty

Dr. Thomas Garza

Academic Background: Ed.D., Teaching, Curriculum and Learning, Specialization: Foreign Language Education and M.A., Russian Linguistics, Harvard University – Cambridge, MA; M.A., Russian, Bryn Mawr College – Bryn Mawr, PA; B.A., Russian Language and Literature, Haverford College – Haverford, PA

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
By the time I was finishing my undergraduate degree, I knew that teaching was in my future, and that my subject was turning out to be Russian language. I had an amazing mentor/role model professor at Bryn Mawr College, who showed me how much really excellent teaching could have an impact on a student. We’re still good friends and colleagues even today. His example was key to my decision to continue my education – especially because I would be the first person in my family to pursue a doctorate, so I really didn’t want it to be the wrong decision.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
The title of my dissertation was “Russian Learning English: An Analysis of Foreign Language Instruction in Soviet Specialized Schools.” This project involved my teaching in four different “special schools,” in which students began languages in the second grade, as a Fulbright Scholar in 1985-86. It was right at the beginnings of Gorbachev’s “glasnost” period, so I had unprecedented access to classrooms, students, and teachers – as well as being permitted to videotape a number of classes. A good dissertation topic can make all the difference in how the actual writing will go in producing the finished document.

What are your areas of specialization?
My primary area of specialization is language teaching pedagogy, which is concerned with the methods, materials, and techniques used in effective language teaching. This area couldn’t be more important now, as more and more academic institutions face tighter and tighter budgets that demand that we all look seriously at how we “deliver” our subjects to students. So pedagogy is proving to be a very useful and practical area. I also do a great deal of work in contemporary Russian culture, and actually, this area is very closely connected to my teaching of Russian language. I firmly believe that language cannot be effectively taught without cultural content, and our students are naturally particularly interested in the culture of their peers in Russia.

What is your current research focus?
At the moment I’m working on two projects. The first involves looking at ways and means of doing intensive language training to bring students to higher levels of functional ability in the language as efficiently as possible. This kind of course involves extensive outside work on the part of the student, using web-based materials, much more interactive activities in class, and a great deal of self-study. My other project is a comparative study of contemporary popular “portraits” of masculinity in Russian and Mexican film. I’m interested on how these cultural products portray images of machismo in the language and culture of modern Russian and Mexican men.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by Russian studies scholars in the U.S. or around the world?
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, much scholarship has focused on the Post Soviet experience, everything from literary works previously repressed, to migration of populations, to the effects of diaspora in the emerging states. But much of the scholarly conversations today are being eclipsed by the immediate topic of educational budgets damaged by the economic crisis and what effect these cuts will have on programs in the humanities – especially foreign languages.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
Yes, I was fortunate to get a National Endowment for the Humanities “Youth Grant” in my senior year and used it to support a research project on the Russian verbal system. I worked with my faculty mentor, used resources in outside libraries (This was in 1979 – way before the internet would have made this work much easier and cheaper!), and actually compiled a small handbook of Russian verbs that got used in a number of colleges. Undergraduate research is crucial for students even thinking about graduate school. It allows then to try their hand at taking on a project, developing it, and bring it to completion – a kind of practice run for a master’s thesis. It helps them understand how to use a faculty adviser, work with original documents, and bring a project to fruition. It’s a great experience all around.

What topics do you teach at UT?
I teach Russian at all levels – from first year to fourth, and a graduate course on language teaching pedagogy, as well as undergraduate courses in Russian culture and literature, including Russian Youth Culture, Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita (a source study of what I consider to be one of the best novels of the 20th century!), the Russian Fairy Tale, Russian Cinema, The Chechen Wars, and – my favorite – The Vampire in Slavic Cultures.

What makes a good grad student?
A good grad student really needs to want to pursue an advanced degree. It should never be a solution to figuring out what you might want do later, or a stop-gap to a bad economy, or an alternative to “getting a real job!” Graduate school is a very serious and demanding enterprise, and a good grad student enters it with such an understanding. That said, when the good grad student finds a good program match, one’s graduate years can be the most enjoyable and fulfilling of a lifetime. So a good grad student understands what s/he is getting in to, has a serious commitment to the area of study and scholarship, and demonstrates a desire for a lifelong commitment to the academy.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to your program?

  1. Talk to several students currently in programs that you might be interested in. Don’t be shy about asking them the tough questions about studies, lifestyle, and money.
  2. Talk to your adviser and favorite teachers about your interest in pursing a graduate career. Again, be candid with your questions, and be sure that they talk to you candidly about their personal experiences during graduate school, as well as whatever they can tell you about other current graduate programs.
  3. Have a serious conversation with yourself about your interest. Be certain that this enterprise is really what you want to pursue at this point in your life. If your family and friends are very honest with you, talk to them as well. Encourage them to try to talk you out of your decision, so that you’re very sure that you want it!

What are the top five Russian studies graduate programs in the US?
If I’m advising a student to pursue the pedagogical side of Russian study, then I recommend schools – besides UT – that include Bryn Mawr College, University of Pittsburgh, Indiana University, and University of Wisconsin. For Russian literary and cultural studies, my list would include Columbia University, University of California at Berkeley, UCLA, Indiana University, and University of Wisconsin.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Most Ph.D. students pursue careers in university teaching and research, with some going into private sector jobs, or government service. But our MA students are actually much more diverse in their employment record, landing jobs in the military, government think tanks, in-country businesses and government agencies, teaching in schools, and public service.

Graduate Students

Karen Chilstrom

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Slavic and Eurasian Studies – Applied Linguistics/Pedagogy, Minor: Slavic Literatures and Cultures, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Second-Language Acquisition Among Adults

Other Degrees: M.A., Spanish, Middlebury College – Middlebury, VT; B.A., French & Spanish, Ripon College – Ripon, WI

What is life like for a Slavic and Eurasian Studies graduate student?
Like a lot of graduate students, I find it challenging to balance my personal life and study/work responsibilities. In addition to full-time studies and teaching five days a week, I have responsibilities to my family at home. Unfortunately, I don’t get to see my family and friends as much as I’d like. I often get home just in time to make dinner, and as soon as dinner is over, I retreat to my home office to read, work on assignments, answer e-mail, and prepare lesson plans for the following day. During my first master’s program, I was responsible for no one other than myself. This makes my current studies particularly challenging. On the other hand, being responsible for a home and family keeps me from becoming obsessive about my courses and research and forces me to spend time away from the University.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
A typical day for Slavic & Eurasian Studies grad students depends a lot on where those students are in the program, how many credits they’re taking, whether they are working at the same time, and their family circumstances. Students who are working on their dissertations may spend the day writing. Those who are taking courses spend most of their time reading. And those who have teaching duties have to prepare for the classes they teach in addition to the ones they are taking.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
One of the coolest things about my graduate program is my colleagues. I work and study alongside the most fun, supportive and well-read students and faculty around. We are a small department, which allows us to get to know one other well, and instead of being competitive, we work to help each other in any way possible. In addition, the faculty are very approachable. They always make time to meet with graduate students whenever we need help or advice.

Another cool thing about my graduate program is that it allows for extensive travel. Do you feel like spending a year in Kazakhstan? Apply for a fellowship and study there! Can you spare only a summer? There are lots of great summer language programs throughout Russia. And studying isn’t the only thing you can do. For the past two summers, for example, I’ve worked as the resident director of Moscow Plus, UT’s own summer study-abroad program in Moscow. What could be better than being paid to spend time abroad?

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
I am most interested in researching second-language acquisition among adults. I began studying Russian at the age of twenty-five, and since I’ve been able to achieve proficiency in the language, I’m convinced that young children don’t have a corner on the market when it comes to learning foreign languages. The research I performed during my teacher education program indicated that adults are much more efficient language learners than children, in part because they are able to sit down and learn the language systematically. I’d like to help determine, through my research, how to harness adults’ natural language learning abilities in the college classroom.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I began doctoral work in Spanish several years ago, but I realized that while I very much wanted to earn a Ph.D. in order to teach at the college level, I had lost interest in the language. Indeed, I had found my life’s passion during my Peace Corps service in Russia years earlier, where I had fallen in love with the Russian language, culture and people. Since I wanted nothing more than to spend my life introducing students to the peoples and cultures of the former Soviet Union, the part of the world that houses half of my soul, I applied to the graduate program in Slavic and Eurasian Studies at UT. Because I had not completed formal coursework in Russian, I needed to earn a master’s degree in the language before being admitted to the Ph.D. program. I have completed the coursework for the master’s degree and begun doctoral coursework, and I will officially enter the Ph.D. program after completion of my master’s in December, 2010.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
This is my fourth year working as an assistant instructor (AI) at UT and my third year teaching first-year Russian. I love my work, and many mornings as I walk to class, I think, there is nowhere I would rather be. Teaching Russian to undergraduate students is immensely rewarding. The downside of an assistant instructorship is that you are required to take full-time coursework at the same time. Since writing lesson plans, grading homework, and teaching require so much energy, I often have to sacrifice valuable study time to prepare for class each day.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
As an undergrad, I had more time to devote to my personal life. I lived in a dorm and ate at the cafeteria, so I did not spend time maintaining a home or cooking meals. I was also responsible only for myself. Graduate students generally live in apartments or student housing, and they are responsible for their own grocery shopping and meal preparation. These added responsibilities do take up study time.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I wish I’d known that there would be so much reading and more assignments and research to perform than there are hours in a day. As an undergrad, I was generally able to keep up with my studies and assignments, but I find that as a graduate student, there is always more to do. You’re never “finished” at the end of the day, so you don’t feel the same sense of accomplishment. The long hours spent in isolation and without much feedback occasionally lead to feelings of discouragement and loneliness. Nevertheless, the rewards of graduate school far outweigh the sacrifices.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a Slavic & Eurasian graduate program?

  1. Demonstrate your enthusiasm for the language. It doesn’t matter if you’re not yet as fluent as you’d like to be. Determination and love for the language, not your speaking abilities, are what will carry you through the graduate program.
  2. Start searching now for outside sources of funding. Look at the requirements and determine how to work toward meeting them.
  3. Write your CV now and keep it current. Think about how you’d like it to look when you’re finished with your program, and seek out ways to fill in the gaps during your graduate studies. Present at conferences and participate in outreach activities as early in your program as possible. Join professional organizations to learn about the latest research and to demonstrate commitment to your field of study.

Had you not accepted the UT Austin offer, which school would have been your #2 choice?
I only applied to UT-Austin, because I knew that I wanted to work with this particular set of faculty. From the standpoint of their reputation, however, I’d have considered applying to the University of Illinois, University of Kansas, and Middlebury College.

What is an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in Slavic & Eurasian Studies to check out?
I am a fan of EnglishRussia.com, because I love to look at photos from Russia and other Russian-speaking countries. I also enjoy listening to RusRadio.ru.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In ten years, I would like to be teaching at a medium-sized university or liberal-arts college and performing research in second-language acquisition. I would like to have published my dream textbook: an English-language phonetics resource for students and teachers of Russian.

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
I suggest you not compare yourself to others in your program. There will always be people who are more accomplished or less accomplished than you. Also, make an effort to maintain your personal and social life. Your outside interests and activities will nourish you and help you feel balanced.

Return to the top of this page

Spanish & Portuguese

Faculty

Dr. Arturo Arias

Academic Background: Ph.D., Cultural Studies (Latin American Literature and Culture), University of Paris-Sorbonne – Paris, France; M.A. & B.A., English Literature, Boston University – Boston, MA

Area of Specialization: Central American Literature

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I am also a fiction writer. But, as a scholar, I wanted to know if literature itself was useful or not, from a social perspective. It was my inquiry into the role that literature, and culture in general, played in society, and helped shape political thinking, that led me to an advanced degree. I did not want to write novels if they were useless to society.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
“Ideologies, Literature and Society during the Guatemalan Revolution 1944-1954.” It showed how literature of that period responded to radical social transformations in my home country.

What is your current research focus at UT?
I live for writing, my own fiction in the summer and winter breaks, and research the rest of the year. My present research is a book-length study of emerging Maya Literature in Guatemala. Its study will enable me to further theorize the nature of identity politics, the concept of narrative textuality, and bring closure to the debate on testimonio, a concept that I had already problematized in my latest book, Taking Their Word: Cultural Dialogues, Central American Signs. For further clarification of the application of my theorization, I will compare emerging Maya literature to other indigenous literatures in Chiapas, Ecuador, and Bolivia.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by scholars of Latin American literature in the U.S. or around the world?
Yes. After peaking in the first half on the 1990s with subaltern studies and its debates on testimonio, Latin American cultural studies seemed to enter an epistemological and institutional crisis by the end of the century. Some critics believed that a hyper-deconstructive dynamic and a theoretical saturation, led scholars to lose sight of the object of study. A will on the part of critics to identify with the subject also contributed to a reification of abstract categories. Nonetheless, Walter Mignolo and Aníbal Quijano’s concept of the “coloniality of power,” conjoined with their corollaries, colonial semiosis, border gnosis, geopolitics of knowledge, and post-Occidentalism, operating sometimes as epistemic metaphors deployed to move thinking beyond Western and Eurocentric conceptualizations, provided a new way of framing the issues of cultural production and agency. Mignolo framed these issues, while recognizing Quijano’s contribution, in his book Local Histories/Global Designs (2000). The popularity of those concepts can be attributed in part to the re-emergence of indigenous issues in the Americas, as exemplified by the Nobel peace prize awarded to Menchú in 1992, the emergence of the Zapatista movement in 1994, and the election of Evo Morales as Bolivia’s president in 2004 after years of grassroots agitation in the Andes.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
Yes. I did. I helped collect Latino student memories of growing up in the U.S. and record their personal histories, differences with their parents and grandparents, and public school experiences. I would certainly recommend undergrads to participate in research. It gives them for the first time a taste of what being a professional in a field they like is about, and breaks them away from an interiorized sense of being a “student,” that is, someone conceived as a minor, as immature, simply accumulating knowledge without a clear sense or purpose. Research offers a glance of what the other side looks like, and helps students focus on whether they want to pursue graduate work in their chosen field, or a field they like, or not. It also helps students understand what fields other than the traditionally professional ones which their parents usually push (law, medicine) look like, how they operate, and why.

What topics do you currently teach at UT?
I am in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, so I teach Latin American literature and culture at both the graduate and undergraduate level. These courses go from surveys of 20th century Latin American literature to specialized graduate seminars. However, I am a well-known expert on Central American literature, with a special emphasis on indigenous literature, as well as critical theory, race, gender and sexuality in postcolonial studies.

What makes a good grad student?
There is, of course, no clear-cut answer. Generally speaking, graduate school involves four components: coursework, research, qualifying exams and a dissertation. Coursework develops expertise across a wide spectrum. Specialization is obtained via research into some specific question or issue that a given student favors or chooses depending on their interests and idiosyncrasies. These studies are meant to be individualistic. The students are mentored, but they learn to do research by themselves on a topic that is unique to them, and on which they are making a contribution that is new — though with the close guidance of their adviser. Therefore, communication with their professors and other graduate students is an integral part of the process of graduate school. Intellectual ability is certainly necessary. So is writing ability (in both Spanish and English), speaking ability (in both languages as well, and also in Portuguese), a solid academic preparation overall in both the humanities and social sciences to be able to not only read high volumes of literature, understand it and critique it, but also to be able to read a high amount of theory and social sciences, and make relational conclusions as to how they all deal with each other and inform each other, understanding all knowledge as holistic and an integral part of all communities in the world. Therefore, motivation and maturity are also a must.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to you program?

  1. Display your ability to communicate in Spanish and/or Portuguese.
  2. Evidence knowledge of cultural theory and/or culture at large.
  3. Show your good disposition, intelligence, maturity, and individuality in both your written application and when visiting the program.

What are the top Spanish & Portuguese graduate programs in the US?
In Spanish and Portuguese, I would say that No. 1 is NYU. No. 2 is Pittsburgh. No. 3 is Duke. Afterwards I would say it is between UT Austin and Michigan, though Minnesota and Yale are also contenders. It should be noted that the top three are all private universities. UT Austin is at the top of the public universities along with Michigan and Minnesota, and above UC Berkeley, which used to be No. 1. Of the ivies, only Yale would be in our category, with all others, Harvard included, below UT Austin. Stanford has also gone down, and Miami is going up.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the Spanish & Portuguese graduate program?
From a PhD, most of them choose to become academic scholars as well. But some prefer diplomatic work, administration, usually related to cultural matters, educational institutions, museums or foundations, and, needless to say, working in the many ways that one can in all areas related to language teaching and its many variants, whether at the university level, or at other levels such as a district’s school system, anywhere in the world for that matter. Many go to Latin America, but we have alumni in Australia, China, Europe, and even Africa, and, as far as we know, they have all been successful. From an M.A., many who prefer not to teach in high school or a community college, often combine it with either another program (MBA, MA in Latin American Studies or in some other area or field), to become administrators, journalists, TV workers, film directors, join the legal field in all its variants, diplomacy, etc., with strong roots in the art of dissecting language and texts of any kind, something they find extremely useful in just about any field one can imagine. Because of the nature of our program (Spanish and Portuguese), most of these alumni work of course in institutions linked or requiring the usage of these languages, and often become important bridges between the US and Latin America.

Graduate Students

Mike Acuña

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Spanish Literature, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation: Queering Convivencia: Political Defamation, Individual Freedom and “Lascivas Complacencias” in the Literatures of Medieval Spain

Undergraduate Degree: B.F.A., Art History, The University of Texas at Austin and M.A., Spanish Language & Culture, UC Santa Barbara

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The UT Spanish & Portuguese faculty are engaging and motivating which creates an excitement about the texts. Working with these professors has created opportunities to discuss multiple perspectives of the same works which helps keep interests in the subject fresh and unique.

What is grad school life like?
Graduate student life is difficult. I work full time and maintain my status as a full time student. Splitting my time between work and school has created times where one area or another has not received full attention. I often felt that if I didn’t have to work, I could have written a better paper or taken more time to research prior to writing an assignment.

What activities do you do on a typical day?
My days are filled going back and forth between work and classes with my evenings devoted to studying. Spanish literature requires reading many novels from different genres and periods. Studying is a major time commitment that keeps my evenings occupied.

What are the differences between undergrad and grad school?
The greatest differences are the smaller classes and knowing that in these classes (usually 10 students or fewer) you have to be prepared to be a part of the dialogue that occurs with faculty and classmates.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then?
I wish I knew that graduate courses have a great focus on writing. My undergraduate courses did not prepare me for the amount of reading or the amount of writing that is produced as a graduate student. And although I wrote a senior project as a part of my undergraduate degree, the level and style of writing was not enough preparation.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?
1. Apply early to various funding options so that you are not required to maintain a fulltime job to pay for graduate studies: utilize AI, TA, or part time positions on campus.
2. Increase your reading comprehension and know how long it takes to accomplish reading assignments: it always takes longer to read a book than anticipated.
3. Get help with writing: use the services on campus that assist with graduate writing.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad?
As an undergraduate in Art History, I produced a senior project and I also produced a Master’s project. Both experiences were research oriented. I would definitely recommend that undergraduates take opportunities for research, especially in the arts and humanities.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I really enjoyed my Master’s program at UCSB and had the opportunity been available, I would have continued there.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Teaching at a small liberal arts college.

Do you have a story, news or achievement you would like to share?
As a student, I have taken advantage of programs abroad. Studying in Spain and Brasil have been opportunities that have enhanced my educational experience and allowed me to experience the cultural richness of the literatures I study.


Verónica Ríos

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Hispanic Literature, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Central American Literature

Other Degrees: Undergraduate Degree in Spanish Philology & Master’s Degree in Latin American Literature, Universidad de Costa Rica – San José, Costa Rica

What is grad school life like?
Graduate student life is challenging and exciting, you must like classroom interaction! It is true that teaching and studying is hard work, but I get so much from my classmates, professors and students! Most of the time I feel a little bit tired, but I am trying to get as much as I can from my experience at UT. In my department, being a graduate student also means working for the department. Being a TA or an AI is part of our training. We usually teach four or three times a week and we take three seminars per semester. As an AI, I teach a language undergraduate course. I have to plan carefully my classes, make sure I am monitoring my students’ progress constantly, and try to make them enjoy learning Spanish. I really like teaching, and when a class goes smoothly it makes my day! Nevertheless it is not always easy for me –as a native speaker- to put myself in my students’ shoes.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
A typical day would start early and finish late in the evening. Reading, grading, writing, planning, thinking, and daydreaming fill most of my days. Studying Latin American literature is a full time job.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
Being a part of a department well ranked, full of very promising students is of course very important, but probably the coolest thing in my graduate program is being surrounded by classmates and professors who are always inclined to help you. Working/studying in a collaborative atmosphere makes graduate life easier!

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
I am interested in Central American literature, particularly on identity formation. Archival fashioning, that is to say, how history discourse gets constantly intertwined with literature and critical reception studies are at the core of my research.

Where are you in the PhD program sequence?
This is my third semester at UT, I am about to finish my coursework.

Do graduate students teach in your department?
In my department, being a graduate student also means working for the department. Being a TA or an AI is part of our training. We usually teach four or three times a week and we take three seminars per semester. As an AI, I teach a language undergraduate course. I have to plan carefully my classes, make sure I am monitoring my students’ progress constantly, and try to make them enjoy learning Spanish. I really like teaching, and when a class goes smoothly it makes my day! Nevertheless it is not always easy for me –as a native speaker- to put myself in my students’ shoes.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
The greatest difference is having smaller classes. It implies being always prepared and fully engaged in the class dynamic. I felt for the first time that I could have a dialogue with my classmates and my professors. Having an opinion, proving your point and debating require a higher level of energy and effort.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I wish I knew how important is to keep on reading what you like, and make room to pursue your own academic interests. Sometimes graduate school gets so intense, you tend to forget why you are putting yourself through such a highly time consuming schedule.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Go to the departments’ webpages; they are full of very useful information. The more you know, the more prepared you are.
  2. Write to professors with whom you may share academic interests. Do not be shy, ask questions. That is the easiest way to find out if your expectations are fully attained.
  3. Take advantage of the many workshops and services offered on campus. Graduate writing, library workshops, teaching workshops, for example.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad?
Engaging in research as an undergrad, at least to get familiar with the basics, is very important. Knowing how to make a bibliography, how to cite, where to look for information comes handy in graduate school. Research is at the very core of graduate school. I would definitely recommend that undergraduates take opportunities for research.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
My second choice was Ohio State University. Their program on cultural studies was very attractive to me.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years I would like to be teaching in Costa Rica, doing research and publishing. Hopefully I will also be doing community work related to my academic interests.

Do you a grad school survival tip to share?
My main survival tip for undergrads would be to enjoy the college years, to be open to new experiences and to study abroad if possible. I worked for almost four years before coming to Austin, and I got back to school partly because I missed them!

Return to the top of this page

Women's & Gender Studies

Faculty

Dr. Dana Cloud

Academic Background: Ph.D. & M.A., Communication Studies, University of Iowa – Iowa City, IA; B.A., Telecommunications and English, Pennsylvania State University – University Park, PA

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I never wanted to leave school! As a junior and senior at Penn State, I took graduate classes and worked with faculty in the field of communication studies and discovered that I was passionate about the life of the mind. I did take a year off, and worked as an office manager for an independent feminist filmmaker in Pennsylvania.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
How the language of therapy is used in politics and popular culture to encourage personal responses to political and social problems; for example, support groups for families in wartime, the rhetoric of family values, some versions of feminism (self-help or power feminism), responses to worker dissatisfaction in the workplace by management. This work became a book,Control and Consolation in Politics and Popular Culture: Rhetorics of Therapy(Sage, 1998).

What are your areas of specialization?
Marxist theory, public sphere theory, feminist theory; social movements; the critique of popular culture (emphasis on race, class, and gender); and the US labor movement.

What topics do you teach at UT?

• Undergrad: Gender and Communication (CMS 367)
• Grad: Feminist Theory and Rhetorical Criticism

What is your current research focus?
I am finishing a book on democratic reformers in labor unions, which will come out next year on the University of Illinois Press. I always have a number of projects going.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
I did an undergraduate thesis on the rhetoric of screenwriting, and even wrote a screenplay. It was pretty bad. As noted above, I did start to learn from graduate faculty during my undergraduate career.

What makes a good grad student?

• A thick skin and the ability to take and use constructive criticism.
• Passion for answering pressing questions about the world.
• Community orientation.
• Strong writing and analytical skills.
• Perseverance.

Graduate Students

Tatiana Young

Graduate Program: M.A., Women’s & Gender Studies, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Native Hawaiian and other indigenous transgender or gender transgressive communities.

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Anthropology – Special Honors, The University of Texas at Austin

What is life like as a graduate student?
Time Management is key to success in graduate school. I am not going to lie, there is a lot of work to do in graduate school! Thus, look to balance as a prerequisite for success. Though you may be tempted to think that there is ample time for leisure, it is important to first take care of business before entertaining any such distractions. If you can blend business with pleasure, this will certainly help when writing your thesis and various assignments. Collectivizing your work is a great way to stay on top of assignments. Make friends with nerds and by all means become a nerd by embracing your inner “nerdness”. To succeed in graduate school it is important to balance your home life, work life, school life and social life. All of these elements are critical to success in graduate school.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
My M-F routine usually involves waking up early and making breakfast. Following breakfast, I go for a bike ride to Gregory Gym. I work out for about an hour, take a shower and then head to class or the library. I try to spend 5-8hrs on work. My schooling is a full time job and I take it very seriously. Petty distractions (ex: frenemies, drunken parties, going out all the time) receive little investment from me and I strongly encourage prospective graduate students to view your education as a priority in order to take your educational experiences to the next level.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The coolest thing about my graduate program is the interdisciplinary advantage of WGS which provides me with not only a well-rounded understanding of gender and its attendant interrelation to notions of race, class, national identity, sexuality and ability but perhaps, more importantly, allows me to further understand the process of deconstruction with respect to complex social phenomena by enlisting the help of a variety of disciplines including: history, the humanities, literature, sociology, anthropology, social work, the natural sciences and fine arts, to name a few. Interdisciplinary study, while on one hand, seems disorganized and messy, on the other hand, provides students with a well-rounded education. Moreover, interdisciplinary research encourages students to take on proactive roles on and off campus to effect institutional change for the better. Weekly faculty development colloquiums in the program have been a critical part of my first year experience and have allowed me to hone in on my skills as audience member and presenter.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
My current project is autoethnographic in scope which involves delving deep into my self conscience in order to unravel scripts (mainly through memory work) relative to my own process of understanding notions of gender, sexuality and race and how these scripts then inform my self-making as a self-identified mahuwahine. Through my research, I connect with other mahu/mahuwahine in order to articulate a more nuanced understanding of the particular collective conditions of Native Hawaiian mahuwahine and how language within this particular community informs self and community self-making and more how this process deviates from dominant cultural systems and how understanding these differences can inform a more nuanced understanding of not only differently racialized groups but also universally shared notions on human sexuality, gender and race.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad?
Yes, I did participate in an honor's program as an Undergraduate at UT-Austin. My research revolved around transgender significant others and looking at notions of genderless love. I strongly encourage undergraduates to pursue research endeavors that are in line with what you hope to pursue in graduate school.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
Currently, I am collecting autoethnographic data that will later be transcribed and used to affirm or deny different theoretical frameworks that I have chosen to use to inform my research. During my first year, I enrolled in 3 different required courses on feminist theory which helped me to articulate the various theoretical and methodological frameworks most relevant to my chosen research interests.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
Though there are some overlapping qualities between graduate and undergraduate school, the biggest difference to me is the freedom factor. However, with freedom comes greater responsibility. While in undergraduate school, you are taught to be more descriptive in thought and deed; in graduate school, you are expected to think more analytically and to articulate cogent arguments more succinctly. Also, in graduate school, it is quietly understood that you are competing with other scholars for conference acceptances, grants, post-doctorate positions and other benefits so it is crucial that you remain tuned in with the latest developments in your area of study.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
Apply for as much funding as you possibly can and do so with rigor and punctuality.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a graduate program?

  1. Find a professor/professors interested in your work and develop a professional relationship with them if at all possible. This will help to not only develop the quality of your work but also will aid in your development as a professional scholar and researcher.
  2. Keep leisure activities to a minimum and stay on top of your studies. This will help you to prioritize your work and related professional functions.
  3. Apply for as much funding as possible and invest in becoming a member of professional clubs (ex: Women's Studies Association, Anthropological Association of America, etc.). Build a network of professional contacts. This will help to offset the costs of graduate school and will help you gain respectability in your field.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which programs were top on your list?
Emory University, University of Minnesota, and University of Washington-Seattle

What interesting websites would you recommend a friend interested in WGS check out?
The Point Foundation – the National LGBT Scholarship Fund and the National Women’s Studies Association - Leading the field of women’s studies in educational and social transformation.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Teaching interdisciplinary courses at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.

Do you have an achievement you would like to share?
I am a Point Foundation Scholar 2010.


Rawan Arar

Graduate Program: M.A., Women’s and Gender Studies, The University of Texas at Austin;Research Interests: Economic conditions among Iraqi refugee women living in urban areas of Jordan.

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Sociology, Minors in Legal Studies & Women’s and Gender Studies, The University of Texas at San Antonio

What is life like as a graduate student?
You have so many opportunities to get involved on campus and Austin is filled with so many fun things to do! Unfortunately, your time is limited and you have to prioritize your responsibilities. My best advice is to wake up early, make lists, and don’t get discouraged. You have to actively work to find an optimal schedule that takes into account your graduate responsibilities and takes advantage of what UT and Austin has to offer. It is also important to make time to sleep, eat, rest, exercise, and spend time with friends and family. I multitask—a lot. I workout with friends, study with my brother, and attend on-campus lectures that supplement my academic interests.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
It is hard to describe a daily routine, because everyday is different. I spent my first year of grad school in Austin. I attended class three days a week, which gave me a lot of flexibility to manage my time during the remaining days. My second year of grad school was spent in Jordan.

Throughout my grad school experience, I have always needed to make reading a priority. I also benefited from continuous discussions with friends and peers about relevant WGS topics. Making it a priority to attend supplemental lectures and conferences has been an enriching part of my grad experience. You can learn so much! It’s endless!

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
Support. Women’s and Gender Studies is so supportive. Thanks to WGS, I was able to attend several conferences where I met enthusiastic people and learned about compelling research. I was able to live abroad in the Middle East for a year, researching my graduate thesis and developing a multifaceted understanding of Arab culture. I was able to take a substantial number of RTF (radio/television/film) courses to develop my film work.

What I am trying to say is that WGS let me tailor my education to suit my interests. I did not have to accommodate a bureaucratic program with red tape; they accommodated me. WGS found ways to work within the system to make my graduate experience unique, fulfilling, and always exciting.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
My thesis is entitled, “Olive Oil, Salt and Pepper, Onions, Tea, Bread, and Sometimes Tomatoes: Economic Conditions Among Iraqi Refugee Women Living in Urban Areas of Jordan.” I lived in the Middle East for a year while conducting interviews in Jordan as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. My thesis explores economic conditions among Iraqi refugee women living in urban areas of Jordan through open-ended interviews. The research aims to address coping mechanisms Iraqi refugee women use to adapt to their financial situation. It incorporates three overarching themes: First, the research establishes Iraqi refugee women’s financial status by surveying economic security and employment opportunities. Second, the study investigates how living in urban areas of Jordan affects Iraqi women’s economic status. Thirdly, the study explores how Iraqi refugee women approach their financial situation. How have Iraqi women taken steps to exercise control over their financial lives and improve their economic situation as refugees?

The objective of this project is to promote women’s empowerment by creating an open dialogue about Iraqi women’s struggles. The research highlights steps that women take to improve their situation—viewing women as survivors, not victims. The study suggests steps that can be taken to aid Iraqi refugees.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
As an undergrad, my thesis was entitled “The Westernization of Women in Jordan.” The project was both a written thesis and a documentary film. The research explored the lives of women in Jordan, addressing topics relevant to modern feminist movements. These topics included education and women in the workplace, body image and beauty ideals, dating and marital relationships, and family. Westernization was also explored through topics that are particularly relevant to Jordanians, such as Palestinian immigration and women in Islam. My undergrad research has been instrumental in preparing me for graduate school and for my graduate thesis work.

Where are you in the graduate school sequence?
I am about to graduate, and it is a fulfilling accomplishment. UT’s Women’s and Gender Studies program has given me so many unique opportunities. I am lucky to have met such inspiring peers and studied with such insightful professors. Academically, I was able to explore a broad range of subjects including gender, class, race, power dynamics, international relations, economics, sociology, history, anthropology, politics, literature, and art. But I was also given the opportunity to think about knowledge and knowledge acquisition. I have developed a deeper and more well rounded appreciation for academia, education through the experiences of others, and varying approaches to learning.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
Grad school is a continuous pursuit for knowledge and academic growth. It does not end when you finish reading your assignments or when you’re done writing a paper. You are expected to push yourself and explore your potential. Your classes will guide you, but that is only the beginning. Grad school isn’t about grades or a class paper; it is a holistic educational experience. The possibilities are inspiring.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then?
Study groups are very helpful, especially when it comes to understanding some of the complex reading assignments that you will face in grad school.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Be yourself. Your personal story and the insight that comes with that story is something that only you can offer the program and your future peers. Women’s and Gender Studies incorporates varying approaches to education, one of those being your personal narrative.
  2. Just do it. If you want to apply for something, if you want to say something, if you want to try something new… just do it. WGS is a supportive program. They will help you succeed, but it is your responsibility to take on new challenges and examine new pursuits.
  3. WGS is an interdisciplinary field. As a WGS student, you can benefit from many professors and programs available at UT. Make yourself familiar with faculty members who conduct research in your areas of interest. Learn about the resources available to you through other departments and other faculty members.

What should students consider when researching WGS graduate programs?
When looking for WGS programs, ask about the courses offered at other institutions. Look for schools with strong programs in other fields that you are interested in. For me, I would look for a school with a strong Middle Eastern studies department or a strong sociology department. Others may be interested in literature, natural sciences, or political science.

What websites would you recommend a friend interested in WGS to check out?
Because women, men, gender, race, class, nationality, culture, and so much more, come together to define WGS, there are many different websites that I would share with my friends. After all, so much of our education is an analysis and critique of culture. Popular feminist blogs include Feministing and JezebelFeminism 101 can be a good resource as well.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope to be actively involved in public service! I am not exactly sure where that will take me, but I am confident that I will enjoy the journey. Public service is what gives meaning to my education, and WGS is a perfect balance between activism and academia.

I hope that ten years from now I will be reading, writing, filming, and drawing.

Do you have a grad story you would like to share?
“Our teacher asked us,” she continued visibly disturbed by the question that would follow, “What country do you love more, Jordan or Palestine?”

I spent some time in the Baq’a refugee camp at an all girls’ school in Amman, Jordan. The girls surrounded me like a football huddle, getting closer with each question.

“We have never known Palestine,” she said as her brow wrinkled with emotion.

One young girl interrupted, “We didn’t know what to say. Jordan is the country that fed us, clothed us, and gave us a home.”

“But Palestine is under occupation. It is not Palestine’s fault that we can not live there,” a voice from the crowd retorted.

A few girls broke out into side discussions to further explore the topic among themselves; one girl started to cry. Everywhere I looked the girls were emotionally engaged in this very serious discussion, waiting for me to respond. I knew exactly what to say.

I felt like my entire education was leading up to this one moment. I stood there, about a foot higher that the group of girls surrounding me, most of them looking up waiting to hear my response.

“No one has the right to ask you such a question,” I told the girls.

“It is like asking which arm do you love more: your left or your right. You can love, respect, and appreciate Jordan—the country that has fed, clothed, and educated you. And you can love, respect, and appreciate Palestine—the country where you come from, the country that has given you an identity, and the country that you struggle everyday for. “

I watched their conflicted faces relax. In a few sentences, the conversation turned to pop stars, artwork, and other thirteen/fourteen year old girl topics.

Return to the top of this page


  •   Map
  • Liberal Arts Career Services

    University of Texas at Austin
    FAC 18
    2304 Whitis Ave. Stop G6200
    Austin, Texas 78712-1508
    512-471-7900