Feeling Like an Accident and Other Problems with Inferiority

Being in grad school is really weird.

For one, many of the people I graduated high school and undergrad with are moving on with their lives, getting Real Adult Jobs and starting families, while I’m still in school, running on an academic schedule, and trying to find a job that lets me go sit in the stats lab for hours at a time trying to get a handle on the math class I didn’t actually want to take.

But mostly, it’s because my entire academic career so far has felt like an accident. Like I ended up in this amazing PhD program because someone put my name in the wrong pile and now I’m just muddling along trying to trick people into thinking that I actually am smart. It might be because my cohort is very talented, and of them, I am the only one not funded by the university. I’m isolated from them except for when we’re in class, and I miss out on the collaboration and discussion they have that comes from sitting in the same office all day. So when we do get to class, they’re all on the same page, and I’m a chapter behind. When we discuss things in class I approach it from one angle and that angle is wrong because everyone else has decided on it before they even got to class.

Part of it might be because I took different classes from them last semester. I did my master’s degree at this same university so some of the core classes at the PhD level, I had already finished, and needed to substitute different ones. So they had an entire extra semester to get to know each other. They got an extra five months to discuss ideas and study together, while I was working off campus, a full twenty-five miles away. So even if they tell me about an impromptu study session now (they don’t), I can’t make it because by the time I get there, they’ve moved on. They can spend their entire day on campus focusing on school, while I need to have a job and schedule my day around commuting.

I spend most of my time on campus wandering around looking for a place to study. I don’t have access to the office, so I need to find an abandoned corner somewhere in the library to get my work done, which has left me feeling like I’m not actually part of the program, like I don’t actually belong there. And that’s a terrible feeling, the last time I felt this way I was kicked out of law school and just lost for six months.

I am tired. I’m tired of feeling like I don’t belong, like I have to smile and go along with things because everyone else came to a decision without me, and I’m tired of pretending I’m having fun.

But it’s not going to stop me, because I’m pretty damn smart, so fuck that shit, I have work to do.



Adulting 101: How To Get Into Grad School

I feel like this is the only actual “Adulting 101” topic I’m actually qualified to write about. I’ve gotten into grad school three times so I guess that makes me an expert. But, turns out, the process is different based on what sort of program you’re aiming for. So this is mostly for social sciences or humanities, but in general, it applies to STEM programs as well.

I’m posting this now because the grad school process starts before your last year in undergrad. A lot of the time, you should be prepping your second to last year. The first thing you have to do is research schools and programs, and most importantly, find out their application deadlines. And, application deadlines can vary within a university. While the general university deadline can be sometime in July, the program you’re aiming for can cut off applications in February. So make a note of when everything needs to be completed.

Once you have your deadlines settled, take all the tests you need to take. At the very least, this is the GRE. Some schools, especially if you’re an international student, require english proficiency tests as well. Depending on the program, you might have to do the GMAT as well. It takes about three months to study for the tests, so plan accordingly, and make a note of what your school requires, and what they admit. My university and program officially requires a 300 on the GRE, but almost everyone admitted was closer to 320 and higher. You can find that out by looking at the incoming student profiles somewhere on your university website. Unfortunately, grad schools don’t have a convenient site like LSAC to figure out where you stand like law schools do.

Another reason you should be starting this process early is because most grad programs require at least three letters of recommendation. Figuring out which professors to ask is the tricky part. Ideally, you should have multiple classes with that professor, and have gotten decent grades in them. Depending on the program, pick professors who have read your work, or required a lot of writing. Ideally you should ask in person first, but if you absolutely must, send a polite and professional email. This also depends on the relationship you have with your professor. If it’s someone you’re one of 300 students in a general education class to, go see them in their office at least a few times so they become familiar with who you are beyond your grade. But really, you shouldn’t be asking those professors for recommendations. The perfect professors to ask are the ones whose research interests are similar to your own, whose smaller, upper level classes you’ve taken. They get to know you and are genuinely interested in your success, so they’ll be willing to write a glowing recommendation. Either way, when they say yes, they would be happy to write a letter for you, send them an email that includes your grades in whatever classes you took with them, both your program and overall GPAs (so they can see you’re brilliant within the program even if you suck at math), your academic interests, and your GRE score, broken down into written, verbal, and quantitative.

Give professors plenty of time to write your letters. A month at least. If it comes to two weeks before the deadline and you have no idea if they’ve sent in the letter, sent a brief but polite reminder, implying that you’re sure they’ve already done it but the website isn’t showing that they’ve sent in their letter. And once they do, send a thank you.

When I was applying into my master’s program, I first applied as a non-degree seeking student, to get a few good grades to offset my tragic undergrad GPA and that nasty semester in law school. I had luckily maintained relationships with my undergraduate professors, so they were more than willing to send in recommendation letters. Once I did a semester there, I asked some of the professors in the master’s program to write me recommendations to be in the program as a degree seeking student. Somehow I managed to get half the admissions committee to write me letters, so I got in before I completed my application. And when I was applying into the PhD program at the same university, I asked my thesis chair, one of the professors I had asked before, and a professor who had taught three of the classes I took. And just like that, I scooped up the other half of the admissions committee.

What I do want to mention is that letters from tenured professors carry more weight than non-tenured professors, as does the level of research the professor as done. If they’ve edited a journal or two and hold an endowed chair, then their letter is worth its weight in gold. That’s not saying that letters from non-tenured or clinical professors are worthless, they are fantastic in their own right, especially if it’s a really small department and everyone knows and respects each other. But you really have to research your writers.

That’s all I’ve got for now, happy summer, I hope you’re all enjoying it. I’ve been working on my thesis, so once I’m done on that front, I’ll be posting much more regularly. In the meantime, you can find me on Twitter or Instagram, and by email, thisisnotaquickstory@gmail.com.

Adulthood 101

I’m starting a new series, about that weird transition time between graduating university and being a real adult. This is a time where people my age are getting their first real adult jobs, or are in their first grown up relationship, maybe moving in with their significant other. I figured that sharing these experiences would benefit everyone involved, making the process easier for someone just starting out. Now, since I haven’t done most or even half of the things on the list, I’ll be featuring guest writers, and am actively looking for volunteers to guest write posts for me.

Things I’m featuring in Adulthood 101:

How to get into grad school

How to get an adult job

How to rent an apartment/house

How to buy healthy groceries and plan meals

If you want to write a post for Adulthood 101, email me at thisisnotaquickstory@gmail.com, and let me know what you want to write about. And if you can think of something that you’d like featured, please email me or mention it in the comments. I’m always looking for new ideas.

Something exciting.

So as some of you (two of you) knew already, towards the end of last fall semester and beginning of this spring semester I was putting together my application packet for the criminology PhD program at the university I go to. And this morning I got my admission decision.

I’m in! I’m starting in the PhD program this fall, upon completion of my master’s thesis over summer. I’m so excited, and a little scared. But mostly excited.

10 Things I Was Able to Do Because I Got Dismissed from Law School

Not gonna lie, I’m still a little sour about being dismissed from law school. I had wanted to be a lawyer since I was a kid, and let’s be real, I had been in school since I was three so I didn’t know what else to do with myself. But I made myself sit down last night, and think of things that I was able to do since I got dismissed.

1. Go to all of my brother’s events his senior year of high school. 

My brother is painfully smart and talented. To the point where he did jazz band, got his Eagle rank for Boy Scouts, made Phi Beta Kappa, the works. And everything he did had its own little ceremony, which I would have missed if I was still in Baltimore. I don’t get much time to spend with my brother, so it was nice going. I even made it to his high school graduation. Which was kinda weird, I have to admit.

2. Move to Texas and see all my friends.

I moved to Texas to start grad school, and as a result was a drivable distance from most of my friends from OU. I was able to drive up to see them, and they came down to see me, and most importantly, they’re coming down for OU/tx weekend. For the last few years in undergrad and while I was in Baltimore, I was growing apart from my high school friends, because not only was I always hundreds of miles away, but our interests were diverging, and no one was really making an effort to meet up anymore. And that’s okay. People grow up. But for a while, I felt like I had no friends. But now my friends are close, or they get on Skype/Google Hangouts often enough, even though they decided to go to grad school in Germany (*cough*Anna*cough).

3. Meet the cutest toddler ever.

In January I started a nanny job, watching the sweetest little girl. She’s such a happy little person, and I’m so glad she’s a part of my life. With her, I get to go to the playground and library and aquarium and take a break from being an adult and play for a little bit. And now she has the most adorable baby brother, and is so excited to be a big sister.

4. Spend time with my family.

While I was doing my undergrad, I was in Oklahoma, and my family was in Ohio, and I didn’t go home much, because going home for a weekend meant spending most of the time in airports, and was super expensive. But I was able to spend a lot of extra time with both my parents, and while at times it felt like I was a kid again, it was nice being around them.

5. Be happy.

This is important. I was miserable the entire time I was in Baltimore. I felt lost, behind, and unwanted. Not just in the law building, but in the city as a whole. I had zero friends, didn’t get along too great with my roommates, and cried basically all the time. Getting out of that environment was fantastic for me.

6. Started grad school.

When I started my current program, I actually felt like I belonged. I felt smart again, which was great, and the professors and other students are all so supportive of everyone. If someone gets published, the department head sends out an email and while it’s annoying at the time, it’s really sweet how the professors will hit “reply all” and send heartfelt congratulations. And they genuinely care about helping everyone, and take time to sit down and talk to students. When I was transitioning from the non-degree program into the full master’s program, one of my professors was the Associate Dean of grad students, about to move to a position in the Provost’s office, and had just accepted a vice presidency in ACJS, but she took time out to pull me into her office and tell me to quit panicking, write me a rec letter that got me accepted before I even submitted the application, and gave me a hug. If I had asked my torts professor to give me a hug, she’d have rolled her eyes and laughed while plotting to cold call me seventeen times the next class.

7. Cook more.

In Baltimore I was eating either straight up spinach or gluten free spaghetti almost every night. Not only because of the workload, but because I just didn’t want to spend time in the kitchen. Part of this was avoiding my roommates, but also because I just didn’t care. I was miserable, so I honestly could not give a shit about what I put into my body. Now I’m able to plan out healthy meals, and actually cook fun things. Yesterday for dinner I made roasted vegetables, and they turned out amazingly.

8. Create this blog.

The very first post on this blog is about how I got kicked out of law school. This was started as an outlet, as a way for me to vent because I had no one to vent too. That’s changed, and this project has evolved over the past year and a half. Which I’m proud of.

9. Research things I’m actually interested in.

In Baltimore my life revolved around law, and that was pretty boring. That should’ve been my first clue that law school wasn’t for me. I just wasn’t interested in anything. But now I get to spend time reading about narcoterrorism and drug trafficking and it counts as doing work. So the emails full of links to bbc.com with titles involving terrorist is totally legit graduate research, Desiree.

10. Drive on the highway without panicking.

For whatever reason, I used to be awful at driving on the highway. I would avoid it at all costs, and white knuckle it the entire way. I once pulled over on the side of the highway passing through Indianapolis during rush hour to make my dad drive because I just could not handle it. But now I’m totally fine. I take the turnpike to school every week and basically going anywhere in Texas requires you to go on the highway for at least ten miles because nothing is within a reasonable distance around here. So I got used to it, and now I only shriek a little bit when a semi truck gets too close to my lane.

Ultimately, I think I’m a better person now than I would have been if I had been allowed to stay in law school. I’m happier, and that’s what counts.

Eavesdropping in coffee shops.

I packed up all my school stuff this morning because I just could not concentrate at home, being super stir crazy and constantly distracted by every little noise (the neighbors were running what sounded like a massive fart machine in their driveway), and set out in the direction of a coffee shop with very specific criteria as to what sort of coffee shop it was going to be. It had to have a lot of tea on the menu, because milk does bad things to my innards and I haven’t quite acquired a taste for black coffee. They had to have wifi, and it had to be free because I am cheap. And it had to be super sunshiny inside because that’s the sort of mood I’m in. I don’t want to sit in sunshine, but I want to sit near sunshine. The first coffee shop would have been promising, and it even had gluten free pastries, but no tea, and the barista looked at me funny when I asked if they had lactose free milk. Whoops.

So I’m at a Starbucks, guys. That’s basically what this post is boiling down to. I packed up all my shit and drove to a Starbucks to study but instead I’m pretty much doing a running commentary about the people around me. At the next table there’s a guy being interviewed for a job here and that’s reminding me of the three interviews I did for Starbucks (but never got hired) and he seems to be doing a lot better than I ever did so good for you, dude. I hope you get the job. Behind me there’s a small group of maybe college freshmen (they look super young but it’s noon on a Thursday so they can’t be in high school) girls and they’re discussing another girl’s Instagram and apparently she posts too many selfies and now they’re talking about what an appropriate amount of selfies is. Whatever, man. If you think you look good, and you’re feeling about yourself, take that selfie.

I think I’m avoiding my statistics homework.

What I’ve Been Up To.

A week and some ago I started my new semester, my third so far in grad school. If everything goes according to plan (and I am a compulsive planner so it better), I should be done with my master’s degree by May of 2016. Anyone hiring a Criminology major?

This semester, I’m taking two classes on campus, and one online. On campus, I’m taking Survey Research, which is exactly what it sounds like, and Descriptive and Inferential Statistics, which is actually hell. I am not a math-oriented person, I’ve always been better at subjects that were more objective and I could bullshit a twenty page paper and convince a professor I was brilliant. This class is very calculus based, and I haven’t taken a math class for seven years now, save for two stats classes while I was working on my undergrad degree. Which apparently are nothing like this stats class. It’s only been two classes, and I already feel like I’m behind in the class.

I’m also looking for a job, which sucks. For all the jobs I’m applying for that have the least bit to do with my field, they want four or five years of experience. Um, hello, I’ve spent the last twenty years in school, when exactly was I supposed to get this experience? And even for retail jobs while I’m still in school. They want a year or so of retail experience. But no one is willing to hire me to get that experience. It’s a never ending cycle of nobody paying me.

I know I didn’t post much over summer, but I did spend two months with my dad in Ohio. He’s just moved so I was helping him prepare for that move by packing and having a garage sale. I also took a class online, which was about drugs and crime. It was pretty interesting, and now I think I want to write my thesis on narcoterrorism.

I’m also considering going for a PhD, I’m not sure yet though. We’ll see how this semester goes. If I’m not totally burnt out on school then I might just keep going. If for no other reason than so my baby brother can’t get one before I do. I am very competitive like that. It’s probably unhealthy. Whatever.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. I sat down last night and wrote down some topics to actually write about, so hopefully I get on to some regular schedule. Excuse me for now, I need to go tackle a problem set that has more letters in it than numbers. Sigh.

What went through my head as I took the GRE (lots of cussing)

What is that awful beeping? Shit fuck hell damn it’s my alarm. What time is it? 6:00. Who the fuck wakes up at 6:00? Sociopaths, that who. This is the murder hour. 6am is the reason for road rage. Those fuckers are sleep deprived.

……Beeping again. God damn I hit the snooze button. Why did I hit the snooze button? Now I don’t have time to shower. Fuck. Okay I have to wake up and get dressed…

Dammit. Hit the snooze button again. Okay. Up for real this time.

God damn why did I turn on the light it is so fucking bright in here is that an extra lightbulb?! No, wait, normal amount of lightbulbs. I have to pee. Bathroom bathroom bathroom. Dammit, cat, why are you sleeping in the tub? Turning the shower on just to spite you…hehehe. No, get out. Out, out, out, I will let you drink from the faucet later, let me brush my teeth, wait no I have to pee. Okay. Teeth. Where the fuck is my toothbrush? Did mom get a new cleaning lady? Did she hide it? Why would she hide my toothbrush? Oh wait. I left it in the shower next to my toothpaste. Fancy ass toothpaste. Better whiten my fucking teeth…

Okay clothes. Dammit I left the pants I wanted to wear at dad’s house. Wear are my legging? Oh. Laundry. Should have done that three days ago. Oops. Do these leggings smell weird? *sniff* Nope, we’re good. Leggings it is. Sweater…where are you sweater? Dammit cat, your fur is all over my sweater. Big shirt…let’s go big shirt…covers my ass,good enough.

Hair. Shit ow ow ow ow why am I brushing this?! Detangler where are you?! Ugh. Mom took it. Not going in there. Um…it looks okay right? Right. I’m hungry.

Breakfast. Ugh I hate breakfast. Who drank half my smoothie? Motherfucker’s gonna get a beat down with my tiny fists of fury! Hahaha Nick Fury. Avengers. Jeremy Renner…wait. Breakfast. Half a smoothie. Let me stick an applesauce pouch in my bag for later.

Fuck it’s cold out. But I’m not going back in for a sweater, mom will just say told you so. In the car. Wake up, GPS, time to go. Come onnnn. Fine. I’m starting without you. Dammit, I forgot my water bottle. Not going back. Radio. Talk show. Talk show. Talk show. WHY do we need to hear your opinions on tattoos? No one cares. Wear sleeves. Done. Where am I? Oh. Wait. When did the ramp get to the other side of the highway. Fuck you, road construction. HOLY SHIT WHERE DID THAT SEMI COME FROM?! Okay I’m still alive. Let’s make it there in once piece, okay? I can’t get into grad school if I’m dead. Okay. Off the highway. Why is my GPS telling me I’m here when I’m clearly in front of a Walmart? Oh. There it is. 7:30, right on time, let’s go.

WAIT. WHY ARE THEY CLOSED?!? Is it the right day? What time is it? What’s going on?!?!?! Okay. Just gonna sit in my car and wait. I’m watching you, Prometric Testing Center….why are these radio hosts still talking oh my god. Oh look, they turned on a light. I’m going in. Okay. Forms to fill. What, I have to write in cursive?! Who writes in cursive? I haven’t done this since the third grade. “You’ll use this all the time in high school” my ass. I barely handwrite anything any more. Forget cursive…

Okay. Starting the GRE. The hell sort of writing prompt is this? Wouldn’t a better way to judge my writing be by asking for a writing sample on something I have more than thirty minutes to write? I have a twenty five page paper about legalizing prostitution to lower the overall crime rate I could submit. Or fifteen pages on how Sadaam Hussein was a megalomaniac. But this? This I can do nothing with. Good thing it’s only three points. Bullshit cannon, go! Okay. Next prompt. This is slightly more manageable. Slightly. Still, that prostitution paper got me an A in capstone, you should really read it…

Alright. Verbal. I’m good at this. Shit. What does that word even mean? It’s got way too many letter. Damn damn damn damn damn. Okay. No. Reading comprehension. Shit fuck hell damn I hate this it’s so boring whyyyyy…. I’m so tired. Why am I so tired? Did I even sleep? Ugh. I hate taking tests. I’m a bad test taker. Can I write these guys a note saying I’m brilliant in real life but suck at taking tests? Probably wouldn’t fly. Okay. Done. Math. I fucking hate math. Hey, this isn’t so awful. SHIT. What the fuck? Are these numbers even real? How? I- I’m just gonna cry for a sec, okay? I know you can see me, test proctor, but just ignore me for a sec.

Okay. Let’s finish the test. Verbal. Math. Verbal. Math. Verbal. Okay. One of those was experimental, right? Let’s hope it was the math because man I fucked that shit up. What time is it? Holy hell, 10:20? I finished the GRE in just two hours and twenty minutes? Am I super human? No. Damn. Okay. Let’s go home without getting squashed by a semi.

Nap time.