Ball State Graduate School Blog

Where will graduate school take you?


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A Day in the Life of Linda White, a master’s student in journalism

Wow, where do I begin. Let me first say I’m not your typical grad student. I spent 25+ years as an anchor reporter in four different states, raised a daughter, taught Sunday School and served on various community boards before chucking it all to return to graduate school. It was exciting and scary all at the same time.

In a matter of two weeks in late April/early May 2016, I sent inquiry emails about grad schools, exchanged emails with my future grad advisor here at Ball State, wrote a 1000-word purpose statement, received acceptance into the program, interviewed and was offered a grad assistantship. I’m a woman of faith, and I believe it was truly God’s plan! Unlike my undergrad years of procrastination, attending campus organization meetings and well, doing the bar crawl (did I say that aloud?), I keep a pretty mundane and structured graduate schedule. Here it is!

Grad Assistantship days – Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays

My day starts around 6:30 a.m. as I sleepily listen/watch local news and play Candy Crush. (don’t hate—lol) Shortly thereafter, I’m getting out of bed to make my breakfast and lunch to take to work. Yes, eating out is expensive on a grad school budget. Making and cooking your own meals is THE best way to save money! I have two chihuahuas. So once the meals are prepared, backpack packed and I’m dressed, I take them for a walk before getting on the Muncie city bus to campus. It’s free, sort of—we pay for it in our semester fee.

I have to be at work at 9 a.m. I work at Sponsored Projects Administration (SPA). This office helps Ball State researchers and students find and apply for grant money. In my assistantship, I’m the editor of Research magazine. I write about how researchers use grant dollars. I’ve learned there are a lot of amazing people who do extraordinary research here on campus. Fortunately, since we have about a half dozen grad students in the office, I’m able to set my own hours. I work, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, two seven-hour days and one six-hour day. If I’m not working on the magazine, I’m working on course assignments: watching lecture videos, reading chapters, doing homework.

Classroom days – Tuesday, Thursday

Pictured are Linda White’s chihuahuas asleep next to her while she tries to study.

I have a Methods class that meets on campus Tuesday and Thursday this semester from 5-6:15 p.m. Tuesday is one of my days to sleep in, but typically after walking the girls, (Gabby and Giovanna) I come to campus to work in the library to do more course work/reading and preparing for Tuesday night’s class. I have a study carrel in the library. It’s like your own private office, with a coat rack, desk, chair and computers. Why don’t I just stay at home until class begins? Well, my four-legged daughters are spoiled and like to cuddle and be held or lavished with attention. If you have a pet, you know exactly what I’m talking about and it’s hard to read that 30-50 page chapter/journal article when you’re constantly being interrupted. So, I come to campus, again packing breakfast and/or lunch.

That brings me to the rest of the week – Friday, Saturday and Sunday

So Friday, I typically take off, go to the grocery store, clean the apartment and of course walk the girls. There are weeks I have an abundance of work and schedule Friday, on my calendar, that this day, 10-4, at the library, is dedicated to such-and-such class. Saturday, I try to get to the library by 9 and repeat the process. Sunday, the library doesn’t open until 10, so this is another day I get to sleep in before… you guessed it… heading to the library. I find I do my best class work, during the day and try to get seven to eight hours of sleep a night.

Pictured is Linda with Raisuddin Bhuiyan, the subject of this year’s Freshmen Common Reader book.

Saturday night I typically make a dinner that can be repeated during the work week. Sunday night I make a different dinner that can be swapped out for the other.

Other notes

At the beginning of each semester I put due dates in my Google calendar with alarms that give me heads up, one day, three days, one week and if it’s a paper, two weeks notice.

Pictured is Linda with author Anand Giridharadas during a campus event.

I’ve subscribed to every campus email (Yes, I actually erase after I read). That’s how I knew as a student I could attend the symphony for free. I also met the author/journalist and the subject of “The True American, Murder and Mercy in Texas.” And there are some awesome free Friday movie nights at Prius Hall (although I’m usually too tired to attend-lol.)

When I’m not worried about the next paper or assignment, I’m worried about paying for grad school and missing my 24-year-old married daughter who lives in Alabama. On some nights, that’s what keeps me up, but I’m usually too tired to do too much worrying due to all of the intellectual stimulation. 😀

I have no regrets about this decision. It can be mind-numbing and overwhelming at times, but I know it’s totally worth it! If I can do it at my age, anyone can!


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5 Strategies to Help Grad Students Get the Most of Online Classes

Here at Ball State University, we’ve seen our graduate student enrollment grow, particularly in our numbers of students seeking an entirely online graduate degree experience. As these numbers increase, we wanted to help students, either returning to school after working in the professional world or those who are accustomed to a face-to-face educational experience, make the most of their online classes.

So we talked to Deborah Davis, associate professor in the master’s of public relations program. The PR program at Ball State is one that can be completed entirely online, on campus or in a blended format.

“Online classes are going to continue to be a mode of delivery that’s very important to many of our students,” Davis said. “Learning how to get the most out of them, as you would in a face-to-face class is very important.”

Here’s some advice from Davis to help online grad students manage their time and assignments when taking online classes.

  1. Treat online classes as if they were face-to-face classes

Students should incorporate structure into their routines, similar to what is required in an in-person class. Many online students work full time, in addition to taking online classes, so it’s important to set aside time for coursework and make it a habit. Davis said she had one student who would work on her class work at 5 a.m. every morning, because she had a job and a family and that was the time that worked best for her. If it’s built in, you’re less likely to be scrambling to meet deadlines at the last minute, amid other life and work responsibilities.

  1. Get comfortable with technology and have a backup plan

One mistake that online students make is to wait until the last minute to turn in assignments electronically, then find that their Wi-Fi is down or Blackboard isn’t working correctly.

“You have to take charge of that,” Davis says. “Don’t use it as an excuse to not to the work.”

  1. Break things down into smaller, more manageable pieces

This is a time management strategy that people hear often, but it’s critical as an online grad student. Most grad classes require some kind of final project that students are expected to work on throughout the semester, so giving yourself time leading up to the due date will be important to getting it finished and not stressing yourself out.

  1. Set personal goals

Approach your classes with goals in mind of what you want to accomplish, and think through these goals carefully. At the graduate level, each class is a building block toward the degree. It’s important to go into classes recognizing this and having goals where you want to be as a student to tackle the next class.

  1. Incorporate in-person time with others

Face-to-face contact is still important to maintain, even in online classes. Scheduling time to meet with professors and your fellow students gives you the chance to talk about your ideas and your struggles. As a professor of online classes, Davis makes an effort to help students get to know one another by requiring collaboration on assignments and get-to-know each other posts in discussion boards. Don’t be afraid to reach out to classmates or the professor for help or just to meet to discuss your goals and prospects.

Our award-winning Online and Distance Education programs offer even more resources for online learning. Check them out here.


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A Day in the Life of George Hickman, a master’s student in creative writing

After graduating with my undergrad degree in 2013, I put off applying to grad school for roughly two years. One of the reasons I was hesitant to apply was that I did not have a clear concept of graduate school in my mind. The few people I knew working on their graduate degrees were not in my field, and being unable to conceptualize what a creative writing degree would look like day-by-day was a huge hindrance to my ability to set goals for my future. The aim of this blog post is to pull back the curtain on every day graduate life, so that if you are unsure if grad school is right for you, this will help demystify some of the differences between the graduate and undergraduate experience.

Monday, March 13

8 a.m.

This is my new wake up call, now that I no longer teach 8 a.m. classes. I live in an apartment complex that’s about a 20-minute walk from the English building, the short and cost-effective commute a luxury I could never have in my home city of Philadelphia. Since I always wake up with hair like a god, it doesn’t take long to get ready, and I head out the door to arrive at my first class 10 minutes before it starts.

9 a.m.

As a creative writing student, I teach English Rhetoric & Writing. It’s a required course for all students unless they have passed out of it with a placement exam. My course is themed around the rhetoric of gender, sexuality, family and activism. Unlike some more rigid programs, Ball State gives us English majors a lot of freedom with how we decide to cover our core curriculum. Since I came into grad school with very little experience in English, I was relieved to find that I could channel my experience teaching gender and sexuality into my course curriculum. Being able to talk about subjects on which I had already presented and taught in classrooms really helped boost my confidence. In my class, we use readings about bisexuality, polyamorous families and gender non-conforming people to talk about the strategies behind argument.

Today, we are talking about asexuality. On Mondays, I ask my class if they are involved with or hosting any events this week on campus. It gives them the opportunity to support each other outside of class and, as a bonus, it gives me a sense of campus culture and helps me find fun things to do that weekend. This weekend, one of my students is in a play, another is raising money for a charity through his fraternity, and another is in a symphonic band concert.

Moving forward, we watch a 10 minute video of David Jay, the founder of asexuality.org, give a TED talk. After the video plays, I ask the students if they have any initial reactions to the content. Both of my classes are often talkative, but just in case they aren’t, I always have a few questions prepared to keep the conversation going.

Today’s questions are:

  • What, for you, defines the difference between friendship and romance?
  • Do believe that “checking in” with friends like we do with romantic partners would strengthen friendships? Is it a feasible type of conversation to have?
  • What are some of the struggles that people who identify as asexual or aromantic might face? What does David Jay suggest we do to change the discourse around sexuality?
  • What is David Jay’s intended audience here? Do you think his approach to talking about asexuality was successful?

After filling the remaining 50 minutes with discussion, we close down the classroom for the day. A few students hang back to ask me (already) if I have graded their papers from Friday. No, students, I have not.

10 a.m.

I try to return graded papers about two weeks after they have been turned in, three weeks at most. This is enough time for me, in rare moments of organization, to grade three to five papers a day, or, in a more likely last-minute panic, grade all 50 papers in one weekend. There is a lot of green tea involved in this version of the process.

George’s office

At 10, I hold an office hour between my two classes. My office is only one floor above my first class, so the walk barely makes a dent in my Fitbit goal. I share an office with four other creative writers, though there are rarely more than two of us actually holding office hours at the same time. Coming from a job where I worked in a sea of cubicles, this crammed office is actually an improvement for me. I also really enjoy my office mates, so it’s great to socialize while I work.

I often use my office hour to grade, lesson plan or work on my own homework, even though it is technically an open hour for students to visit. Sometimes students will drop by asking for advice on their papers or looking for me to read over a draft.

11 a.m.

This is my second time teaching the same lesson plan that I detailed earlier. It’s great teaching two of the same classes back to back, and our English department does an excellent job making sure that the graduate students are always teaching the same class (i.e., I teach two sections of 103).

My second class of the day goes similarly to the first one, only after this class I was pleased to have one of my students stick behind to mention how glad they were that we talked about asexuality as part of my class. They explained that they really related to the video and that this was the first time that their identity has been talked about in class. I remember having this same moment as a student, but I had to wait until senior year until the first time I saw the word “transgender” on a syllabus. This quick chat between me and my student is, in all honesty, the reason I am thrilled to be doing what I do. My college professors had such an impact on me—they gave me courage and the power to view my world critically. If I can provide even a small amount of this to even just one of my students, then I have done my job.

12 p.m.

Lunch hour. The lunch facility closest to my office, has options like a Mexican grill, Chik-fil-a, and the bane of my existence, Papa Johns. But at least I can earn that personal pizza with a 15-minute walk, gaining a few ticks on my Fitbit.

1 p.m.

On Mondays, I actually have the rest of my afternoon free, again, another luxury my 9-5 never afforded me. Getting work done on my own time has its privileges, but more often it has its procrastinations. I usually get work done at my apartment since it is nearby, but sometimes I meet a friend at a local coffee shop so that we can commiserate together about the upcoming stresses of the week.

In the middle of the week, I use my afternoons to work private tutoring sessions to earn some extra income. With the graduate assistantship, I don’t have enough time to work a part time job (I tried working at a cafe for about a month, and very quickly realized the poor effects on my schoolwork), but working an extra three to four hours per week on private study sessions is the perfect balance for me.

5 p.m.

Because we are secretly waiting for Ball State to roll out an early bird discount, my friends and I get dinner on Mondays at 5 p.m. We have night class together, so eating a little bit earlier is convenient. We often go to one of the dining halls and try desperately to avoid any students asking us when we will have their papers graded (or maybe that’s just me). Here, huddled around one of the four-person wooden tables, there is gossip, there are sweet potato fries, and there is some last-minute finishing of the reading.

6:30 p.m.

Our graduate night class is called “Victorian Appetites,” and it is a literature course. Even though I am a creative writing major, taking two literature classes is a requirement. This class couldn’t be a better opportunity for me, as I am currently working on what I’m calling a “woke Victorian novel,” and studying the stylistic approach of Victorian writers has been incredibly inspiring. For this week, we have been assigned 300 pages of a fiction book and a critical reading of about 12 pages. The three-hour class is broken up into discussion, lecture and a second discussion lead by one of the graduate students in the class. We have also all uploaded 300 word responses to Blackboard that we can incorporate into discussion as well. It may sound like a lot of work, but since it is a once-a-week class, I’m able to split it up by doing a little bit each day.

9:30 p.m.

George enjoys grad school because he has more time to do what he loves, like writing.

Free at last! Monday is one of my later schedules and my only night class. Usually I am able to be off campus by mid-afternoon, but that doesn’t mean that my work is done. A lot of my time is spent working from home, but a large part of this may be because I live so close to campus. In the summer before graduate school, I remember talking to a current graduate student and saying, “I can’t wait to start school so that I can have more free time.” He laughed at me and then told me the details of his own schedule.

If I could go back in time, I would tell him that by “free time” I didn’t mean sitting around watching Netflix. To me, any time spent reading Victorian novels or editing a poem for Tues/Thurs poetry workshop is free time. It’s time to do what I enjoy most, and advance my career as a writer. Being a graduate student means putting in several hours of work per day; in fact, at times it may seem like all your “free time” is being eaten up by reading books, submitting stories and writing up critiques for your fellow students. I work long days, sometimes going 12 hours without a break, but sometimes my workdays end before 2 p.m. Coming from a job where my eight hours a day were spent doing things for someone else (running reports, taking phone calls and filing papers), I am so thankful to finally be doing work for myself again. During my work days, I am bettering my writing, I am understanding the nuances of critique, and I am honing my teaching skills.

That all being said, Monday nights are strictly reserved for some last minute edits to my poetry, and then tuning into the Real Housewives of Atlanta, a show among the highest art of our era. It’s been a long day; I think I deserve it!