Dispatches from Graduate School – Part 35

Cali Pitchel McCullough is a Ph.D student in American history at Arizona State University. For earlier posts in this series click here. –JF [Entry taken from Prof. John Fea’s blog, The Way of Improvement Leads Home by permission]

I just spent the last few minutes skimming the first several “Dispatches from Graduate School” entries from last fall. Just reading of my weak moments makes me anxious. But rather than deteriorating into a weepy mess at the prospect of another mountainous year of coursework, I remember that I have an entire year (and a summer full of reflection) under my belt. I am no longer a first-year PhD student! I can walk the hall with a greater sense of assurance. Instead of an outsider desperately trying to feel at home in what seemed like an inhospitable place, I consider myself part of the community.

Not that this year won’t be tough.

Over the course of the next two semesters I need to prepare my secondary field (which is now officially Urban History—perhaps more on this at another time); perform my History Graduate Student Association responsibilities (as Secretary); read for my Qualifying Exams; submit conference proposals and scholarly articles; ready History to the People for its February 1 launch; and again find that sensitive balance between school, family, and life. It’s hard to explain, but the tasks seem far less daunting, less intimidating.

The confidence that comes from successfully battling the insecurities and emotions of the first year will hopefully propel me into a strong second year. I’m especially excited for my coursework. Each of my courses will provide me the opportunity to produce work that will contribute to my thesis. Space and Place, a research seminar, will allow me to better understand and then to utilize space and place as categories of analysis. In Community History, I will analyze the central elements of American community life. I’m taking one comparative course, Modern European History, which will focus on the major European capitals (and on New York City) from the beginning of the nineteenth century through the mid twentieth century. The course will provide me an opportunity to read for my secondary field and spend more time engaging in the theoretical approaches to urban history.

In my very first Dispatch, I found the marathon to be a useful analogy for graduate school. This analogy has served me well and I must keep my own advice close as I embark on year two. I wrote that “I can commit to the next four-years with the intensity essential to not only tackle the hills, but to cross the finish line at a sprint.” As I begin the second leg of my four-part marathon I feel determined, but I am fully aware of the hills (there are plenty of examples of first-year hills on this blog). Nevertheless, I will continue protect myself from injury, fuel adequately, and move forward toward the finish line.

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