Ball State Graduate School Blog

Where will graduate school take you?


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A Day in the Life of Chelce Carter, a graduate student in anthropology

Chelce Carter, graduate student and mother of cats.

My name is Chelce Carter, and I am a graduate student in anthropology, among other things—including intern/advocate, graduate assistant, graduate school ambassador, wife and mother of cats.

MORNING

My day normally starts around 7 a.m., but more often than not it starts a little later. After I get up and get ready for my day, my husband (also a graduate student) and I take off for campus. We live out in the country, so driving in takes about 20 or 25 minutes depending on traffic. This isn’t the worst drive, but fog, rain, snow or other bad road conditions can make the trek longer.

TREAT YO’ SELF

After we get to campus, he gets out at Robert Bell to start his day, and I go on to my internship. Most days, I go straight to the shelter where I’m an intern, but on Wednesdays, I treat myself. The closest I get to breakfast on any other day is a banana in the car on the way in, but today I stop at the Caffienery, a downtown Muncie coffee shop, for a bagel and tea.

WORK, PART 1

Sometimes I can enjoy these before my work at shelter starts, but more often I have to wait until I am done with my first task—client area. This is where I spend an hour with any residents or children who might be awake. Today is pretty quiet, but still poses challenges as I am not very good at interacting with children at times, especially ones who are less inclined to listen. Another staff member has made playdough for the children to play with later, and I mess around with it a bit. After more volunteers and staff arrive in the back, I head up front to start taking calls.

In addition to being a shelter, we also have a designated suicide hotline as part of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. This means that we can get calls from all over the nation, and sometimes even international calls. Calls range from very serious issues, such as emotional crises or suicide in-progress, to lighter topics, including lonely people wanting to talk or requests for resources relating to mental health, homelessness, etc. Today the calls were pretty light for most of the day, but there was a moment where the phones were ringing one right after another.

I was more than happy to take over the front desk, which requires watching the cameras, controlling the doors and fielding basic calls regarding business operations. At the desk, I was able to do a little bit of work for the Ball State Student Symposium, where I will be presenting a paper that is still in progress. I also chatted with some staff members about upcoming events that I’m helping with. Before I knew it, it was 2 p.m., and I was ready to leave.

FOOD, PART 1

I’ve been trying to eat healthier, but on busy days like this, I’m happy just to get something to eat. Today, I stop at a fast food place, get some food to go and eat in my office while watching some Netflix to unwind after my time at shelter. This is an important part of my self-care regimen that I try to practice to avoid burnout, a frequent occurrence in the non-profit world.

WORK, PART 2

After lunch, I head over to the Graduate School Office to call some prospective students to offer a meeting with our director of enrollment and recruitment. This task is part of my job as a Graduate School Recruiting Ambassador. In total, I call 15 people and talk to three, leaving messages on the others’ machines. Two of the callers set up a meeting, and I follow up with them via email.

WORK, PART 3

I do many types of work in graduate school, including work for my assistantship. This involves helping professors with a wide range of tasks. In the past, I have graded papers, organized study sessions and edited chapters of books. Right now, my main task is to get an article ready to go for submission and go over book chapters to make sure they make sense. I’m also reaching out to the local community to find out what opportunities exist for graduate students to get involved.

FOOD, PART 2

Tonight, I’m going to a poetry/essay reading with my husband. We meet at one of the food courts and get some food before heading to his office to eat and relax with dinner. After finishing off my pizza, I do a little more work before the reading.

EVENING

The poetry reading is pretty full, but we find a seat and settle in. Before the reading starts, I go over my calendar to make sure that I’m keeping up with everything that I need to. I’m using a Passion Planner this year, and it’s been immensely helpful in keeping my life on track. The readers begin, and in order to reduce my anxiety, I work on the task I was doing before while they read. At the end of the reading, I feel a little better, but still a little worried about everything that I have to do.

Some of the early reading that I did that made me feel really great about graduate school.

ADVICE

Grad school is not necessarily hard—but it is difficult at times. It will challenge you and invite you to learn more about your field of interest and the topics you’re passionate about. It will go from 0 to 60 in no time at all. One day, you could be sitting in a poetry reading looking forward to the weekend, and the next, you could be worrying about all of the things that you have to do before the weekend. However, I would rather have that worry than not, since I know that each thing I do is pushing me to a better place of knowledge and exploration.

While it can be challenging, and at times, anxiety-provoking, it’s worth it. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t ready to be done in a few months and graduate, but I would also be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy my experience. It has helped me in so many ways—academically, professionally and personally. Reading and exploring texts about my subject area has had a huge impact on my desire to continue on this path, one that is often not easy or filled with happy endings. Through this journey, I have gotten a better sense of who I am, what I want to do and what drives me, something that would have been much harder to do without the guidance and structure of graduate school.


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What Socrates Taught Me

Transitioning to a New Field of Study in Grad School

I have identified with the term “writer” all my life, but I haven’t always had the credentials to prove it. Though I was at first a physics major, then a philosophy major and classics minor, then a customer retention representative, one thing has remained constant throughout my various daily routines:  I always left time for writing. When, at 24, I decided to attend graduate school, I knew it had to be in fiction writing.

As much as I loved Socrates, Wittgenstein and Schopenhauer, I didn’t think I had as much to contribute to the philosophical community as I did the literary world. My passion lies in advocating for diversity. And as a writer, the most effective way I could advocate for diversity was through storytelling. So I began the daunting process of applying to creative writing graduate programs.

The process was daunting because I had very little formal background in creative writing. I remember people telling me along the way, “Oh, don’t worry, you don’t need to go to grad school for the same major that you got your degree in.” No matter how many times I heard this, I didn’t believe it. I was sure that maybe this was true for rare exceptions, but that I would have to put in a ton of work to prove my worth in an entirely new field.

Once I was accepted to Ball State and began my master’s degree in creative writing, I began to see a very different side of the story I had been telling myself. Here’s what I’ve learned

  1. You will need to do some catch-up work, but so will everyone else.

There is no “traditional” graduate student. People find their way to graduate school through many different paths. Some come straight from their undergraduate institution, but many people may be coming from a long-term job, an experience abroad or previous graduate study in a different field.

What this means is that when you’re sitting in class debating whether or not to ask a question, someone else is likely wondering the same thing. Whether it’s been a few years since you’ve cracked open a textbook, or you never had time to fit a particular class in your schedule, there is no shame in asking what may feel like a foundational question. Especially at the beginning of a new program, many people may be glad someone else asked for a refresher.

  1. You can learn a lot from socializing with your peers.

Everyone likes to feel smart, and the easiest way to make someone else feel smart is by asking for advice. If you are a student who switched fields when coming to grad school, you are in a perfect position to make friends by asking for help from those around you.

Within the first two weeks of my program, I heard people mention they were submitting their poetry and fiction to literary journals. I had barely heard the phrase “literary journal” before, let alone submitted to one. One day at the library, I asked a friend in my program if he could walk me through the process of submitting to magazines. He showed me everything: how to write a cover letter, find magazines I liked and submit to contests. Though artists have a reputation for being competitive, I think most of us realize that we are not competing for America’s Next Top Fiction Writer, and that there is room for all of us at the top. In my experience, the joy of seeing a friend published is just as gratifying as being published myself. While I can’t speak for the atmosphere of every academic field, I have always found people supportive and happy to lend a hand.

  1. Your previous degree may actually make you a more valuable applicant.

If I could go back in time, I would never choose to do my undergraduate in the same field as my graduate study. Coming from a different field of study has helped me in ways I never could have imagined. Especially in the arts, I sometimes wonder what people write about if they have only ever studied writing. My philosophical background appears in my fiction all the time; in fact, I am rarely thinking about writing without thinking about philosophy.

A professor once told me that she loved how I could make connections between any two subjects. It took me a while to understand why she thought that was an important skill, rather than just a reflection of my jumbled brain. But eventually I realized she was talking about audience. Having a deep connection to more than one field of study (whether through a major, minor or hobby), meant I could connect to more people when I explained my thoughts. With my classics minor, I can make metaphors that make sense to archaeologists, but also linguists and historians. I can draw connections between Wittgenstein and Hemingway, or between Dungeons & Dragons and composition pedagogy. This has shown up most in my teaching, where I feel it helps my students better understand the material in my classroom.

In short, if you’re like me and are hesitant about switching majors from undergraduate to graduate school, know that it is far more common than most people think. Sure, it may take a little extra effort once you arrive in your new program, but in my experience switching my field of study has been an incredibly affirming, positive experience.

This post was written by Graduate School Recruiting Ambassador George Hickman. George is a graduate student in English with a creative writing focus.