Final Farewells: Historic Deerfield Fellowship Pt. 4

It’s hard to believe, but on Monday I finished up my nine-week fellowship with Historic Deerfield, a museum in Massachusetts. The last weeks of the fellowship were particularly intense as the six of us fellows were completing our 25-page research papers. We did have some brief breaks from research with fun workshops learning how to dance in 18th century America, harvest flax, and polish pewter spoons, which we used to eat ice cream!

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Using metal files to smooth out the rough edges of recently-cast pewter spoons…Who said internships were all about making copies and getting coffee! (Photo by Penny Leveritt)

Researching my paper was both fulfilling and exasperating. The late nights made me wonder whether I had graduated, but ultimately I love having the chance to uncover the incredible story of a woman who has gone unrecognized for her prolific career in social work. It was inspiring to see how full of a life Elizabeth Greene, the subject of my paper, led, especially as I start off on my own career. She never stopped working, traveling, or getting involved in her community. And as a fun twist to my research, I found out that Greene was essentially a cat lady!

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The extremely powerful and poignant entrance to Mount Vernon’s exhibit on slavery. The doors list the names of some of the enslaved people owned by George Washington and Washington’s statue can be seen beyond them. (Photo by author)

Once we had finished our papers, we gave each gave a 10-minute presentation about our research findings to the museum staff. I remember sitting down from giving my presentation, breathing a sigh of relief, and suddenly realizing the enormity of what I had accomplished this summer! We heard an incredible talk from an alum of the program, Jessie MacLeod, who curated an exhibition dedicated to talking about the experience of enslaved people at Mount Vernon. She shared some words of wisdom about representing a wider constellation of people when we tell history.

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Celebrating finishing our fellowship and giving incredible presentations! (Photo from Historic Deerfield)

After our presentations, we got to head out on a 9-day trip touring historic sites in Connecticut, New York, Delaware, DC, and Virginia as a reward for finishing our papers and a continued learning experience about how different museums are run.

We started off in Connecticut with a tour of three historic houses in the small town of Weathersfield. This stop was especially memorable because the creative executive director of these houses, the Webb Dean Stevens Museum, likes to use real food coated in hairspray to liven up the houses. Next, we visited the Yale University Art Galleries in New Haven, CT, which have incredible pieces from all different times and continents.

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Getting a behind-the-scenes look at historic photographs in the conservation lab of the art museums at Colonial Williamsburg.

We trekked down to familiar territory for yours truly – Washington, DC – where we toured the Smithsonian Castle, the monuments, the National Museum of American History, and the White House. Even though I’ve lived in the DC area my entire life, I often forget about the museums and monuments right in our backyard. It was interesting to get a behind-the-scenes tour of some of these places and see how the Smithsonian is making an effort to incorporate the stories of more Americans into the museum. It was also extremely powerful to see the lunch counter from Greensboro, NC where student protesters staged sit-ins against segregation during the Civil Rights Movement.

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Learning about Southern furniture, a previously overlooked area of decorative arts, in Colonial Williamsburg’s DeWitt Wallace Art Museum.

Our next stops were Alexandria, VA and George Washington’s Mount Vernon. We toured the powerful exhibit on slavery at Mount Vernon, which I highly recommend visiting before it goes off exhibit later this year. We also toured Colonial Williamsburg, learning about how they are changing their historic spaces to be more interactive and engaging, and Winterthur Museum in Delaware, learning about their graduate program in American material culture studies. Our last stop was at Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow, New York to learn about early Dutch American culture, agricultural practices, and slavery.

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Panoramic of Mount Vernon (photo by author)

Overall, this summer has been full of learning opportunities and an enormous chance for personal growth for me. Stressful situations are difficult but also can change you as you overcome obstacles. I’m indebted to everyone who allowed me to have this opportunity, in particular Historic Deerfield and my professors at the Universities at Shady Grove‘s history program with UMBC. This is also sadly my last post here on Around the Grove, so I want to thank everyone who allowed me the chance to be a student blogger because I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Best of luck to everyone as you start a new school year!

Trekking Along: Summer Fellowship Pt. 3

This was originally written for the Universities at Shady Grove’s student blog “Around the Grove on July 25, 2017 as an installment of a three-part series about my participation in Historic Deerfield’s Summer Fellowship Program in material culture studies.

If there’s one thing I’ve accomplished this summer during my fellowship at Historic Deerfield, it’s a lot of walking! Between trekking up and down the mile-long Main Street of town and going on trips to local museums and historic sites, I’ve really broken in every pair of shoes I own and toned my calves. But I’ve also been learning a lot about both myself and New England history.

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Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, MA is a fun, interactive historic site recreating where the first Pilgrims who immigrated to the U.S. lived. You can sit on chairs and talk to real-life “Pilgrims.” (Photo by author)

Some of the highlights of the past three weeks since my last post have been visiting the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, Plimoth Plantation (a recreation of the village where the pilgrims settled), and the island of Newport, Rhode Island. These trips have allowed us fellows to see different ways of running a museum and designing exhibits, and have given us the chance to interact with staff members and learn about their jobs.

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The interior of Marble House, one of the mansions owned by the Vanderbilt family in Newport. It was jaw-dropping to see the wealth of families who summered on the island. (Photo by author)

I’ve also given tours of two historic houses owned by Historic Deerfield, which was quite a challenge! We only had three days of shadowing current tour guides and then had to give tours to the public. This was a great lesson in the idea that “you know more than you think.” I was not very confident about my ability to give a tour so soon, but I was surprised by how well things went. Even when you’re not confident in your abilities, it’s always worth giving something a try.

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Looking at an eighteenth-century silk gown with one of the museum’s curators during a seminar on historic clothing.

Currently, our last major project of the summer before we go on our week-and-a-half long road trip is finishing writing our research papers. Each of us have chosen a topic related to New England history and are using the museum’s library and archives to do research. I have been looking at a scrapbook created by a woman from Greenfield, Massachusetts, in which she documents her life story as an older woman. I was very excited to find a topic that had a Maryland connection; the woman, Elizabeth Greene, got a Master’s Degree from Johns Hopkins in 1917 and lived and worked in the Baltimore area for parts of her life. She had a pretty incredible two-decade career in social work, amazing for a woman living in the early 1900s!

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One of the pages of the scrapbook I’m basing my paper off of. Greene, who created the scrapbook, is the woman sitting one seat from the left in the large photograph, and she is surrounded by people connected with Johns Hopkins. Sadly, she was a supporter of the eugenics movement, and the paper above the photo describes a class she took in the subject. The other photos on the right page document a vacation she took. My favorite is the one at the bottom of someone trying to stand on their head on the beach! (Photo by author, scrapbook is property of Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association)

Next week we will turn in and present on our papers for the museum staff, so the pressure is on to write! Of course, I’m also starting on the job hunt, so there is a lot to do right now, but I’ve also learned so much…the summer has flown by.

Read my previous posts about my fellowship here and here.

Around Town: Summer Fellowship, Pt. 2

This was originally written for the Universities at Shady Grove’s student blog “Around the Grove on July 3, 2017 as an installment of a three-part series about my participation in Historic Deerfield’s Summer Fellowship Program in material culture studies.

The past three weeks here in Historic Deerfield‘s summer fellowship program have been unbelievably busy, but full of incredible learning opportunities. Every day has been packed full of tours of historic buildings, seminars with museum curators, and talks on the town’s history. We’ve studied ceramics, silver, textiles, architecture, and more. I’ve also had fun taking in the sights periodically as we’ve gone on mini road trips, a trip to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and some of my fellow fellows and I even went swimming in the local creek!

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Handling a drawer from a dining room sideboard once owned by President James Monroe. (#SixDegreesofJamesMonroe, anyone??)

One of the coolest parts of being here has been having the chance to handle historic objects and think about how they would have been used, what they can tell us about the people who owned them, and how they were made. My knowledge of antiques and decorative arts isn’t too extensive, so it’s been tough to put myself out there and guess about what things are, etc. (and be wrong sometimes), but it’s a good lesson in taking chances and being humble about learning.

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Examining a ceramic pitcher from the 1700s with an incredible drawing printed on the sides. It’s amazing to handle objects and think of all the history they’ve seen and the people whose lives they’ve been a part of.

We’ve also each chosen an object from the museum collections to research and write a paper about. Each object is a recent acquisition that has very little information about it. I chose an album of photographs taken by a woman visiting Deerfield in the 1920s. It’s interesting to think about how now, almost a hundred years later, we do the exact same thing: take photos of new places we visit and put them into albums to share with friends, though today they might be digital albums on social media.

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A scene from one of our seminars about clothing with one of the museum curators. I’m getting pumped about examining a pair of women’s stays (basically the predecessor to the corset) from the 1700s! On the table are also a pair of women’s shoes and a stays for children.

In addition, we fellows have also chosen our research paper topics. This was a tough task for me; since sixty years worth of fellows have already written papers, I found a lot of topics I was interested in had already been written on. Also, it turns out that people had sucky handwriting even in the 18th and 19th century, which makes some sources, like diaries and letters, hard to read and write about in a limited time frame.

After exploring a lot of options, I ended up deciding to look at a young woman’s scrapbook, made while she was attending high school nearby in the early 1900s. Since I examined scrapbooks made by young women in the same time period for my senior thesis, I think it will be interesting to continue my research, especially since scrapbooks are a fun source of self-expression that often get overlooked by historians.

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We had an awesome workshop where we did open hearth cooking like in the 18th century. Here I am hard at work shoveling hot coals onto a pot to create an oven to cook an apple pie I made…The fire was pretty stifling, I can’t imagine cooking over it every day (#respect to colonial housewives.)

Today was also my first day giving tours in one of the historic houses here, which is designed to have each room look like a different historic era. I had only gotten to shadow other tour guides for three days, so I was pretty nervous about giving my own, but pleasantly surprised at how well my tours went (though doing four in a row was pretty exhausting.)

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Learning about stoneware pottery from a woman who makes and studies ceramics. We each got to try throwing pottery…another humbling but fascinating experience. (It was also my birthday!)

Overall, this experience has been a great lesson in how much we’re all capable of doing when we put our mind to it! If you’re feeling overwhelmed by whatever you’re up to this summer, have faith in your abilities, but also remember to take breaks, be open with your struggles with friends and family, and to go easy on yourself – we all make mistakes and get overwhelmed, but we’re also capable of much more than we think.

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The apple pie I decorated and baked, a true work of art.

And, of course, now I can say I’ve baked an apple pie in a ginormous fire, which is a great skill for my resume!

 

 

Day One: Historic Deerfield Fellowship, Pt. 2

This was originally posted on Around the Grove, the blog of the Universities at Shady Grove.

Today, I started my fellowship at Historic Deerfield in Massachusetts at full speed with a series of tours and talks orientating myself and the five other undergraduate fellows to the museum. I’ve never been to Historic Deerfield before or even this part of Massachusetts, but it’s a huge change of pace from the D.C. suburbs. Things are very quiet and scenic, and we fellows are living in historic houses on the main street that comprises the museum. It’s lined with houses from the 1700s and 1800s and surrounded by small towns and green landscapes.

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For lunch today, we climbed to the top of a local mountain (ironically named Sugarloaf, just like one of our mountains in Maryland) to look out on the landscape below, the Connecticut River Valley. We learned that in Native American folklore, the mountain was made by a beaver deity whose head was decapitated and fell in the middle of a lake. Apparently, from above, the mountain looks like a beaver’s head and body, bordered by the Connecticut River!

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We also had a tour of the museum’s exhibition center and a look behind the scenes at the collection, where we will be doing the bulk of our work during the fellowship, learning how to handle historic objects and learn about the past from them. Then we ended the day with a tour of a tavern from the 1700s, learning about how taverns were one of the important centers of town life and socialization in colonial America.

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We also went on a brief walking tour of the town. As you can imagine, it was pretty hot out, but we learned about the history of the raid of Deerfield in 1704, where French and Native Americans invaded the town and killed and captured people as part of an ongoing war between the French and English settlers and various Native American tribes. This raid is one of the town’s claims to fame, but has been told in a very skewed manner over the years, so we discussed the importance of examining how history is told and representing a variety of points of view.

DSC01111.JPGThe start of a new job in a new place, with new people is admittedly very overwhelming, especially with such a packed schedule, but my motto has become “one hour at a time.” Just take things as they come, don’t look too far ahead and stress too much about the future, because you never know what is coming up ahead, and you’ll get too overwhelmed.

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A few more things I’ve been learning in these overwhelming beginning days: Trust your skills and capabilities. Be willing to admit when you don’t know something, and approach your work and learning humbly. Don’t stress about trying to impress people or be the one who knows everything. And push yourself out of your comfort zone, but also have compassion on yourself; you’re only human and we each have our own things that are tougher to do.

DSC01104.JPGPat yourself on the back for the things you accomplish, big and little, and don’t get hung up over little mistakes, mix-ups and places where you don’t seem as accomplished as others. Be patient with yourself; learning and developing professional skills is a process!

Summer Kick-Off

This was originally posted on the Universities at Shady Grove’s student blog Around the Grove on May 22, 2017. You can read my other posts here. You can also browse my Public History and Museum internships blog for design, marketing, education, library science, archival, curatorial internship and fellowship opportunities at historic sites and museums. 

It’s a bit weird to write this post because my summer hasn’t officially started yet (us UMBC retrievers are still working away at finals!) But I am very excited to kick off our Around the Grove summer posts by giving you a brief introduction to the fellowship program I’m going to be participating in this June, July, and August!

Starting in mid-June, I will be one of a group of six undergraduate students working in Historic Deerfield’s 61st Summer Fellowship Program in early American material culture studies. During my time as a history major at Shady Grove, I was introduced to the concept of material culture studies, which is basically the process of looking at historic objects to learn about the past that documents might not tell us.

Historic Deerfield is a small town in Massachusetts filled with houses built in the 1700s and 1800s. Some of the houses are now privately owned homes while others are historic house museums open to the public to visit…basically it’s a history nerd’s paradise! I’ve never been to Historic Deerfield, so I’m excited to experience living in a different place for nine weeks. Thankfully, the fellowship program provides me with housing. In fact, I’ll get to live in one of the historic houses with the other fellows, right in the historic district! (Don’t worry – there are bathrooms and A/C units…)

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Dwight House in Historic Deerfield, framed by New England’s famous fall foliage! Courtesy of Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism Flickr 

Taking summer internships and fellowships away from home can be an awesome way to explore a different region to see if it would be a good fit for you to live there after graduating. It’s also nice to just get a change of scenery for a while (especially for those of us commuters living at home…#realtalk.) An awesome thing about museum internships is that they sometimes offer housing for interns because they own multiple properties, which can be a big help for us poor college students who can’t afford to relocate.

And here’s a pro-tip: Museum internships aren’t just for history majors! Museums need graphic design, marketing, business, administration, visitor services, management, retail, writing, social media, gardening, and education interns…and sometimes more! They welcome people with different skill sets from the traditional history major, so if history or art interest you, consider that as another potential area to look for internships (or even careers) in.

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Wells-Thorn House at Historic Deerfield…Aren’t you excited?! No? Okay, maybe it’s just me… Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons – Penny Leveritt for Historic Deerfield

Anyways, I’m psyched for the chance to push myself in terms of building skills and growing as a person, but also to meet new people, explore a new place, and continue to pursue my passion of studying unique historic topics using unorthodox source material. My main tasks this summer will be writing a 25-page paper (ahhh!) about items in the museum’s archives as well as giving tours to visitors. I’ll also get the chance to participate in seminars, workshops, and field trips (whoo-hoo!) with my fellow fellows as we learn more about museum work and material culture.

Ultimately, I’m so grateful that my time at the Universities at Shady Grove allowed me to learn about new developments in my field of study and connect with my passion – material culture. Since then, school has been so much more interesting and I’ve taken ownership of my education.

Stay tuned throughout this summer to hear every Monday from myself and two of our other incredible Around the Grove bloggers – Joel and Christine – as we keep you updated on our summer adventures…Good luck and safe travels on all of your own endeavors!

Making History: UMBC @ USG’s Public History Minor

This was originally posted on the Universities at Shady Grove’s student blog Around the Grove on April 28, 2017. You can read my other posts here. You can also browse my Public History and Museum internships blog for design, marketing, education, library science, archival, curatorial internships and more at historic sites and museums. 

The highlight of my time attending the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s undergraduate program at the Universities at Shady Grove (USG) has been completing a minor in Public History. Many people have never heard of public history before, but it essentially means any work people or organizations do to make historical information more available to ordinary people instead of just academic historians. This could be anything from designing a museum exhibit to creating interactive websites about history to leading history-themed summer camps for kids.

The neat thing about public history is that it allows you to combine other interests or skill sets you might have – theater, writing, designing, programming, working with kids, music, cooking, etc. – with history. There are so many creative avenues to use to study and share history with other people. Public history is also great in that it aims to bring more diversity and depth to the study of history, and a big focus of our program is trying to represent more people in the history we tell.

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Students investigating a house dating back to 1797 on a field trip in Baltimore. (Photo: Rebecca Gale)

The public history minor is open to anyone who is enrolled in UMBC’s program at USG. It’s only 18 credits, so it’s really easy to complete in addition to your major. The professor in charge of the public history minor, Dr. Melissa Blair, is not only a great teacher who is extremely knowledgeable, but also so helpful and approachable when it comes to getting advice about your future career. The classes I’ve taken for public history have been my favorite – really interesting, thought-provoking, and helpful in planning what I want to do after I leave Shady Grove.

Something I often hear when I tell people I’m a history major is, “You’re going to have a hard time getting a job with that!” The Public History minor allows you to explore the different career options available to people who are interested in doing work related to history. A major element of the Introduction to Public History course is learning about the huge variety of careers related to history, which can intersect with other areas of interest too. I like to think of public history as a chance to get your hands dirty and think about how you would use the things you read in your textbooks in other classes in the real world. If you’re a person like me who likes to get out and do projects, not just study things, this is a great program.

One really exciting opportunity the public history minor provides in this regard is the Service Learning in Public History course, which is offered every spring to people who have taken Intro to Public History. Each year, the class works with a local African American historic site, Pleasant View, about ten minutes from campus, which has a church, school, and cemetery that was crucial to the African American community in the Gaithersburg area after the Civil War and into the Civil Rights era. Each class has a central project they work on to help preserve the site and educate the public about its history.

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Pleasant View Methodist Church, part of the historic site public history students help work to preserve. One exciting part of public history is taking field trips, and we visit this fascinating site many times! (Photo: Rebecca Gale)

This semester, we have been working on researching more about Pleasant View’s history and nominating it to be on the National Register of historic places. We also created designs for signs telling about the site that will hopefully be put up in the future to raise awareness about the site. With schoolwork, we don’t often get to make an impact on the community around us, so it’s been exciting to do work that is so meaningful.

One last major element of the public history minor is doing an internshipI completed mine last summer and fall and learned so much from it. It also gave me inspiration for my senior thesis paper topic, a requirement for all of us history majors. You can read about the internships UMBC public history students have done on our blog Retrieving the Past.

IMG_20160731_003311The historic Japanese pagoda at National Park Seminary historic district, where I completed my internship. (Photo: Rebecca Gale)

If you’re interested in the public history minor, consider signing up for Intro to Public History (History 300) this fall and seeing what this is all about! It’s a fun class (and includes field trips!) and is open to any major.

Endings and Beginnings

This was originally posted on the Universities at Shady Grove‘s student blog Around the Grove on May 12, 2017.

It’s mind-blowing to think about, but this will, sadly, be my last blog of the 2016-17 school year here on Around the Grove. Ending the school year is always bittersweet – there’s the relief that you can finally relax, the sense of accomplishment, but also the overwhelming realization that you might not get to see people again. As classes wrap up, I’ve been reflecting a lot on my time at the Universities at Shady Grove and how honestly grateful I am that I was able to come here.

I never expected to go to school at Shady Grove. I spent three years at another school out-of-state and I thought it would be the perfect place for me. But circumstances led my to a crossroads in life where I realized I needed to move back home and change schools. It was really tough to make such a huge change, especially when I just had a year left at my old school, but as I wrap up here at USG, I realize I would have missed out on so many important experiences if I hadn’t ever ended up here.

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Looking ahead and behind (Photo by author)

For anyone considering Shady Grove, here are some of the greatest parts of the USG campus and community:

  • Small campus. USG is a tight-knit community. You usually know everyone in your program and it’s much easier to get to know your professors.
  • Opportunities for leadership. Because the campus is so small, it’s easier to get involved in campus activities and have the opportunity to take leadership roles. I’ve had the chance to build my resume, self-confidence, and skill set through these opportunities that I didn’t have had the chance to participate in elsewhere.
  • Great staff. From the first time I set foot on USG’s campus, I was so impressed with how helpful the staff members were in making sure I had a smooth transition to a new school. When I had issues with credits transferring, a UMBC staff member here at USG spent hours calling other administrators to get help for me.
  • Student services. USG has so many great services for students – the Counseling Center, Career Services, Academic and Student services, summer GRE prep classes – and the staff are always very attentive and friendly.

USG is such a great concept, allowing people who are working or who need to live at home to have the chance to get an education in a way that fits their needs. This is so important in a society where changing careers is becoming more common and people need more and more higher education to get a job.

USG provides the individualized support you need to succeed and fills an important niche that has been overlooked. It can be very lonely being a commuter at a traditional university, so it’s refreshing to attend school where everyone is in the same boat as you.

I’ve learned so much from my fellow students and professors, and been so encouraged by the support of USG’s staff as well as the opportunities I’ve had here to grow and be involved. So I’d like to extend a thank you to the entire USG community. You guys are great and will always have a special place in my heart!

This summer, I am excited to have the chance to continue writing here on Around the Grove about a fellowship I will be completing at Historic Deerfield in Massachusetts. Stay tuned and best of luck with finals!

Presentations: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The following is another piece I wrote for the student life blog of the Universities at Shady Grove, Around the Grove, originally published on April 14, 2017 at this link.

I recently signed up to give a presentation on the research I’m doing for my senior thesis at the University of Maryland Baltimore County‘s undergraduate research day. Presentations are pretty nerve-wracking – if not downright terrifying – for most people, but giving a good presentation is a really important skill to have both in academics and in the work place.

If you get the chance to practice this skill in your own school’s program or in clubs, I definitely recommend taking the risk to build up your courage. The Universities at Shady Grove also has a Toastmasters club where you can practice public speaking in a supportive, informal environment to help overcome public speaking fear.

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Made using dogr.io

So what should you do if you have class presentations coming up at the end of this semester? I’m no expert, but here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years:

  • Start working on your presentation early. The biggest mistake people make is being underprepared or doing a rush job. If possible, start working on your PowerPoint as you’re writing your paper or doing your project so you can create it while the info is fresh in your mind. Start sooner rather than later. You’ll be less nervous if you’re more prepared.
  • Plan out what you’re going to say. A few people are good at speaking on the fly, but most people ramble, blank on information, etc. if they don’t prepare. Spare yourself and your audience and plan ahead of time the major points you want to make or even write out a script. You don’t have to follow your plan exactly or read it word-for-word, but thinking through your presentation will make it ten times better and help you feel more prepared.
  • Practice, practice, practice! It’s always easy to figure out who rehearsed a speech and who didn’t. Last semester, I would rehearse in my room, for my family, and even while I drove to school. It felt silly at the time, but it really helped me iron out what I wanted to say and make sure I was meeting the time limit. I also felt more confident going into the presentation.

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    Get out from behind the podium and show them who’s boss! (But maybe don’t use Wikipedia as a source…) Standing at the right place in the room can help you engage attention. (Photo: Beatrice Murch/Wikimedia)

  • Command the room. When you feel nervous about a speech, it’s easy to look nervous and undermine the hard work you’ve put in. I’m not the world’s greatest public speaker, but I’ve noticed it helps to come out from behind the computer and stand beside the PowerPoint screen, facing the class. You can’t hide and you look a lot more confident!
  • Don’t second guess yourself. Once you leave the podium, leave your presentation there too. If your professor gives you feedback, file it away for next time, but don’t obsess over how you did in your head…This will make public speaking more intimidating. Pat yourself on the back for accomplishing yet another task and overcoming your fear, and move forward! (Easier said than done, I know!)

Best of luck with all of your end-of-the-semester assignments! We’ve got this!

 

Read more of my Around the Grove posts here.

Gear up for grad school apps!

This was originally posted on the Universities at Shady Grove‘s student blog Around the Grove on March 17, 2017. Read my other posts here.

Since those of us who are undergraduates at the Universities at Shady Grove are within at least a couple years of graduating, a lot of us have the question of what on earth we should do after graduation on our minds. One obvious path is going to grad school. While this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, the great news is that USG has tons of resources to help with the daunting process of applying to grad programs. As I’ve talked to professors and grad school alumni, I’ve come up with a list of some of my own tips for applying:

  • Start early!!! If you are planning to enter grad school in the fall, you should probably start working on searching for, getting in contact with, and applying to grad schools at least a year (if not more) in advance from when you would start the program. So if you’re hoping to enter grad school in the fall of 2017, you should start the process in at least the fall of 2016. The earlier, the better because it’s a lot of work. Be aware that GRE scores, transcripts, letters of recommendation, etc. can take a while to get sent. If you are starting late in the game, limit the number of schools you apply to so you don’t get overwhelmed and miss things or consider waiting till next year to apply so you can really bring your A-game.
  • Research your programs well. Comb through every part of a program’s website and read about the coursework, internships, experiences, and faculty to get a better sense of what their focus and objectives are and how well it fits with what you want in a grad program. Unlike with undergrad programs, grad programs offer you the chance to really focus on a specific area that interests you, so find something that excites you!
  • Get a GRE prep book, take practice tests, and sign up for a practice class. These books explain the test format and offer practice questions, refreshers on how to do that math you learned in high school, and more. There are also apps where you can practice answering questions on the go. Best of all is that USG offers a summer GRE prep class for students and alumni, completely free to students, run by our incredible Center for Academic Success staff.
  • Find a mentor to guide you through the process. Whether a professor, a career counselor, or a current grad student, find someone (or multiple people) who can give you insight into the process, suggest programs, give things a second look-over, and offer advice and encouragement. This is crucial!
  • Talk to your professors. Get more engaged in speaking in class and meeting with professors outside of class so they can get to know you and your work in order to write a stellar recommendation. Not to mention, profs can be a great resource to let you know about grad programs they think would fit you, as well as recommendations for how to make your application stronger. They want to see students go to awesome grad programs, so don’t be afraid to ask them for help!
  • Gain internship, work, public speaking, research, and publishing experience in your field.  Grad programs can be extremely competitive, especially funded ones. So completing internships, volunteering, working on research with a professor, presenting papers at conferences and symposiums, and publishing in journals can make you a more impressive candidate. This kind of experience proves that you are serious about working in your field, disciplined, and hard-working.

Best of luck!

Ask a profess(or)ional

This was originally posted on the Universities at Shady Grove‘s student blog Around the Grove on March 3, 2017. You can read my other posts here.

For the first three years of my undergraduate experience, I was terrified of talking to professors. Thankfully, I was at a small school, so most of my professors knew who their students were, but I avoided ever going into office hours to talk to a prof unless I had a really urgent question.

Here at the Universities at Shady Grove, I’ve been so impressed with how helpful the staff are and what great professors we have to teach us. But I’ve also learned that it’s not just enough to take notes and pay attention in class – it’s also so important to form relationships with professors outside the classroom. Here’s just a few reasons why:

  • You will need letters of recommendation from them for jobs, internships, and grad school applications. If a professor knows you, he/she is usually a lot more willing to serve as a reference and will write a much more positive letter. I’ve been told by professors that if they don’t know a student much, they will make that clear in their recommendation.
  • They can give you advice and guidance. Professors have a lot of life experience and knowledge of the field you’re studying, so if you’re looking for career advice or tips on how to improve your performance in classes, ask a prof. They’re there to help and are usually more than happy to point students in the right direction.
  • They will be more understanding. Unfortunately, many of us will encounter some rough spots along the road of our college experience: illness, family troubles, relationship issues, or having five papers due in one day. If a professor knows you, she/he is much more likely to cut you some slack should thing arise that prevent you from meeting deadlines or doing as well in class. (Of course, it’s best to communicate with professors about these things so they know you’re struggling.)
  •  It will enrich your college experience. Knowing professors can help you feel more comfortable participating in class and more connected to school. It can also be personally enriching to have longer discussions about class material outside of lectures.

I’ve found it helpful to ask about my professor’s career path to get some guidance about my own future. I’ve also gotten advice from them on revising cover letters and finding places to apply for grad school. If you want to get more in touch with these great resources, here are some steps you can take to start to get to know your professors better:

  • Talk more in class. This can put you on a professor’s radar as someone who is engaged in class and interested in the subject. It also helps them to get to know more about you and your interests, and it can help you get more comfortable interacting with the professor.
  • Stay after class. If a professor mentions something in the lecture that you find intriguing, consider asking them a couple questions after class about that to break the ice.
  • Go into office hours. Come up with a few questions – whether it be about class material, career choices, grad school, your course selections for the coming semester, or whatever – to ask your professor and see where the conversation goes.

Professors can be great mentors. Of course, you won’t like every one you have, but if you enjoy a certain professor’s class or find them very approachable, it’s definitely worth it to forge a relationship with him or her.