Post-Graduate Survival

What are you doing next?

Do you have any plans?

So what’s next for you?

The signs that you’ve graduated. And if you’ve graduated from a post-bacclureate program you’re especially expected to have an answer –– usually to conform to the logic of academia in the form of a PhD program, or some continuation of the arduous work at an entry-level job or fellowship. I made a decision to wait to apply to PhD programs until  after I graduated. That was a personal decision, an act of self-care. I wanted to be sure that it was a commitment I truly wanted, and not because it was expected of me or for fear of not having a job.

I made this decision in the midst of the academic whirlwind of grad school. Master’s programs are a hustle –– reading, mounting debt, part-time and full-time work, teaching, interning, fellowships, more reading, and grading (this is not a comprehensive list). It was a two-year shuffle. So when people ask what I am doing next –– having several seats.

It has now been 2 months since graduation with time to examine my value and goals. And I advise all of the recent graduates to take the time after decompressing to determine those for yourself, particular those coming out of second-degree programs. An interview I did for Nylon (here) got me thinking on the lack of attention given to this “mid-level” of academia. There was this hovering feeling of “oh, nice, so what’s next?,” as though a Master’s couldn’t be all that I aspired. And when you graduate you must have it all figured out because you made a decision to pursue a second degree.

I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but here are a few things that have kept me inspired through my journey of adulting:

1. Avoid Comparison

It’s human and we do it in every capacity. However, be particularly mindful as you consider (honestly) what will make you happy.

I’m the oldest sibling, and the oldest among first-cousins. I’ve had the privilege of setting the example, so as long as I made it out okay it was all good. Anything else was a plus. Creating this blog with Amanda has become a sisterhood of sorts, and people often think of us as a set (don’t worry we get it). So, when she could casually tell people she was going to Harvard, I suddenly felt the need to measure up in some way; explain more than I care to to strangers.

The bubble of academia had me feeling inadequate, without enough fellowships and honor awards, or never thinking deep enough. I had collapsed myself into an expectation, and for that I had lost sight of what my interests were and what I have to offer. Which leads to my next point…

2. Road-Map

Take the time to assess what you’ve learned, accomplished and survived from your program. With what skills do you feel equipped? What do you want to learn more about? How have your goals evolved or changed since you began your program? If you still have the same goals, what steps do you need to get there? If your goals have changed, what tools or skills do you need to gain to get there?

These questions seem basic but it is easy upon graduating to think of yourself in the technical terms of the institution. But you now have transferrable skills, figure out how you want to use them.

It was my experience, that since museums were always at the forefront of where I wanted to be, while studying in a degree program outside of Museum Studies, my definition of success looked a bit differently. And even if you are in a program in which everyone is pursuing a similar track, determine your skills in your own terms. I am learning the language of what I wanted to accomplish, and part of that task is to not worry myself over whether it gets the attention of others.

3. Slow Down

All of these moments are part of our growth, the joy and the tears (and you will cry), and contribute beautifully to the work we aspire toward. Paint your toe nails, all of them. Cook a meal, and eat.

No plan is airtight or without bumps in the road.

4. Practice Self-Care

This could not be more important. Finding yourself is confusing enough without humanity being shi**y.

I recently joined kickboxing! Punching a bag for a few hours a week has already been such a great way to pour my mind into something outside of the internets, relieve stress, and be healthy.

Self-care, is just that, for the self and contribute to your ability to grow.

5. Establish Your Value

Lastly, value your time. Know your value for yourself, but also be sure others are clear on how you value your work and time. As an independent, or freelancer, that means being clear in the work you do, and the amount you will accept. Not everyone will agree.

As a job applicant, this means valuing your time with each job application. Quality over quantity. Job applications take a really long time. Like a really long time. Sure you want to cast a wide net but also be particular in your choosing. Find a passion in the workplace setting or job position description that you can latch yourself.

As I prepared to graduate, I was nervous that I wasn’t applying to enough jobs. But I learned my lesson when I spent so much energy trying to complete applications for things I didn’t have a passion for, but for the sake of applying did, and then when I looked up something that did interest me had passed. Sometimes the reward is in the waiting.

This process also made me very aware of the folks on the other side, human resources, curators, and people  I know. I began to think of every application like a hard or soft inquiry into my credit. This encouraged me to find the zeal in completing the application, and to not get discouraged by the search. Also, it helped me to better evaluate whether an application was worth my time.


Like I said, I certainly don’t have all the answers, and this is definitely not an exhaustive list. What tips do you have for post-graduate survival and adulting? #BGMBfindyourspace on Twitter @2brwngirls and Instagram @brwngirlsmuseblog

Making Bodies Legible

Last week I visited the Facing History exhibit of Shirin Neshat’s work at the Hirshhorn Museum (which I’m excited to share with you in an upcoming exhibit review) and was struck by the attention to physical bodies in her work. It’s no secret that attention to bodies as sites of violence is a key component of my academic work, but after seeing Neshat’s photography and short films, I spend the next few days thinking about the ways we can keep the role of the physical body legible in critiques of war and colonialism. My research (and some great tweets from my followers!) led me to Bodies of Violence: Theorizing Embodied Subjects in International Relations, by Lauren Wilcox, a book which cuts right to the heart of what I found most fascinating about Neshat’s art.

A recent symposium on this book was held at The Disorder of Things, but beneath the jump is a quick rundown of my own as well!


Making the Most of Conference Attendance

It might seem easy to present at a conference — after all, it’s more or less just cashing in on the earlier work you did to apply to the conference and write your paper — but if you want to make the most out of your presence at the event, you have to be ready to do so much more than get up and speak. I’m freshly back from my trip to Europe, which included a presentation at the Practices of (In)Visibility conference held at the University of Brighton. I had an amazing time speaking about neoliberal and patriarchal violence in the Juarez femicide trend (a topic you’ve heard a lot about if you’ve been following me on twitter) at such a well-organized event, put on by the Critical Studies Research Group at the University of Brighton, but whether you’re speaking at your own institution or traveling abroad for the event, there are a few universal tips for the best possible conference experience, which I’ve shared after the cut. Continue…

Write What Serves You

It’s not always an easy position, being a MA candidate. The program is short, and a lot of department attention and resources are centered on the PhD candidates by default. You really have to learn to be your own advocate, setting your own goals and making your own plans. Luckily for me, I’ve always been overambitious and a little bulldoggish — I’m not really the type of person who is comfortable fading into the background. But even I started my program feeling overwhelmed and a little unsupported until I found my balance, and part of that balance means only doing work that serves me.

I believe in this mantra, “write what serves you” so deeply, to the point where I’m chanting it in the meditative, devotional part of my yoga classes. Write what serves you. This is the idea that makes me feel like I have a plan, like I’m getting my money’s worth for this very pricey education. People of color are pretty used to being their own advocates, I know I am, so going into grad school with this mindset has really helped me not only select the right projects and focus on my long-term goals, but also to trust in my own power and agency. It reminds me that I don’t need to wait around for other people to tell me what to do, that I am capable and people will recognize this, and that I am the one in charge of my career.

With (almost) one year of grad school done, and seemingly no extraneous filler classes or work I’m not totally passionate about under my belt, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to keep this up throughout the rest of my program. This is my very informal list of tips for making your grad school experiences serve you. Continue…