Black Fear, Black Rage, and how Black Lives Matter in My Work

On August 9th, 2014, Officer Darren Wilson killed unarmed black teen, Micheal Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown’s body laid in the street for 4.5 hours while witnesses and family members grieved behind the yellow tape. Feelings of anger, hurt, fear, rage, sadness spread throughout the neighborhood, and soon a wave of protests began in the city. The police use of tear gas and rubber bullets on protestors, coupled with the none-arrest of Wilson, caught the attention of the nation. We waited for more than 100 days to hear whether or not Wilson would go to trial. And on Nov 24th Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, after 30 minutes of what resembled closing arguments, revealed the St. Louis grand jury ruled there would be no indictment. In other words, they decided there was not enough evidence to even support a criminal trial.

We watched as Brown’s mother sobbed in the middle of the street and as his step-dad raged. We watched as parts of Ferguson burned. We watched as hundreds of demonstrators passionately (and outwardly peacefully) took to the streets all over the U.S. to protest systemic police brutality and seemingly unjust justice systems. The protests made one thing very clear: people are mad, and angered, and hurt, and fearful, and sad, and tired, and ready to work.

**And now I’m editing this post after another long night of protests. The protests share the same level of passion, and protest against the same systems of oppression, but this set of protests were actually ignited under a different name – protests that sought to honor the stolen life of Eric Garner. Garner was murdered (yes, murdered as it was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner) by a white police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, after Pantaleo used the banned choke hold method in an attempt to arrest Garner. Yesterday, on Dec 3rd, a Staten Island grand jury again decided there would be no indictment. Even despite the fact that the whole ordeal was caught on camera. And now the world is left with Garner’s haunting last words: I can’t breathe.**

So again, we are seeing that people are mad, and angered, and hurt, and fearful, and sad, and tired, and ready to work.

But it seems like not everyone gets the fear and the rage, so I thought it would be helpful to share some background statistics regarding these issues (perhaps better labeled inequalities or injustices), because as my mentor said, numbers don’t lie:

People are mad, and angered, and hurt, and fearful, and sad, and tired. These feelings are real. They are justified.

The facts and numbers above tell a story, but ask any black person in America, and they will have a personal story (or many stories) to share as well. Both my husband and I have had very problematic and life-changing interactions with the police. More recently, I had another encounter with an individual, one that pales in comparison to others, but one that continues to keep me up at night. The story:

When we first moved into our new home in our somewhat diverse but non-black neighborhood, our Boston Terrier was small enough to escape under the fence. One of the holes was in the shared part of the fence with our neighbor’s house. One night I wanted to fix our trap and paused and thought “what if the neighbor thinks I’m a burglar?” but then I tried to reassure myself “…this is my house, its fine.” So I went ahead and mended the fence. A few days later, during the day, I decided to try to fix it again as my son played in the front yard.

I was bent down by the fence when I heard hurried footsteps from behind me and someone yell: “Hey! What do you think you are doing?!”  I stood up slowly, turned toward the voice, then silently tried to calm my son as he watched this older white man yell at me.  All I could muster was “I live here.”

The red drained from his face as he spoke, “Oh I just saw a shadow and then saw a boy and I didn’t know…. I’m sorry. I just thought… I didn’t know”

When black people tell you they live in fear, it is true. I fear for myself, my husband, my brothers, my sisters, and my son, who at age 4, was still seen as a threat. Perhaps why this smaller incident hit home was because it again reminded me, that this (this fear of blackness, this devaluing of blackness, this attack on blackness) is something I will continue to encounter. Being a college professor can’t save me. Being a woman can’t save me. Being a mother can’t save me. Having a white mother can’t save me. And when the fear subsides, rage can seep in.

Ok, so what does this post (and black fear and black rage) have to do with ‘the sociology phd and me’? As others have noted, it has everything to do with it. I signed up for this job because being an educator, teacher, mentor, and researcher is my passion. Surviving in this world as a black woman is a necessity. Those two things can’t be divided. Black lives matter, which means I as a black woman matter. I as black sociology professor matter. My being at this university matters.

UC Merced has the highest percentage of black students of all the UCs. I can open my doors to all students so that they know they matter. I can attend their student meetings when invited so they know they have an ally. In my sociology classes I can discuss histories and systems of oppression so students can learn the roots of racial discrimination and mass incarceration. Using sociology, I can teach all students that black lives matter.

As a researcher I will continue to study topics where black lives matter. I will continue to study race and racism in the US and aboard to help uncover the intricacies of the various white supremacist structures that nations were built upon. I will continue to research the causes of racial disparities in health, and those mechanism that help racial minorities achieve mental well-being in the face of heightened stress. 

For me, my protest within the professoriate is clear. It is also personally powerful because it helps me overcome my fear and rage: Black Lives Matter in My Work

I haven’t blogged in a while, mainly because I told myself I wouldn’t blog until I finished my dissertation. But I just so happened to get married, finish the dissertation, move across the country, and start a new job within a six months… so time got away. I have so many blog ideas in the works but I found myself sitting at my computer unable to do any work until I got my thoughts out on this, because black lives matter which means my well-being matters.

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Why I Will Blog About My Research

This blog has focused on sharing experiences and tips I’ve learned as a sociology graduate student. I haven’t been keeping up with the blog like I should have, but I recently got inspired to write about a new publication. Considering how central research and publishing is to a student’s training, it is actually a shame that I have yet to blog about my work. So today I logged on to WordPress with the goal to write about my research… and then realized I wasn’t exactly sure where to start. So I did what any good researcher would do, I quickly researched online resources for tips on how to write about research. When I finally  returned to write, I started off by summarizing my rationale for writing, but soon realized that my introduction to the post became a post in its own right. Oops, it happens.


Based off of what I found, here are some of the reasons why I will (and you should) blog about my (your) research:


1. Get Heard

Publishing in academic journals is one means to disseminate knowledge, and perhaps the best way to get your work and name out… in academic circles. This is important for your academic livelihood. However, most of what is published remains in tight circles and doesn’t get out into the ‘real world’. Back in the day, many academics contributed towards monthly newsletters or publications. Some scholars contend that blogging is actually a return to serialized scholarship. For instance, the canonical figure of American Sociology, W.E.B. Du Bois, published a newspaper, The Crisis, which included short articles and circulated over 100,000 copies in the early 1900s. Blogging can circumvent the standard gatekeeping embedded in academic journals and get our work heard.

2. Blog For a Change

This is related to the first point. Dr. Eric Grollman powerfully argued that blogging can be a form of intellectual activism – a way of speaking truth to the people. If a sociologist’s job is to study people, shouldn’t ‘people’ have the opportunity to hear findings from the study? Furthermore, if the research is about potential social change, there is a need to get the ideas out that in hopes of working towards such change. The Crisis editorial board wrote, “The object of this publication is to set forth those facts and arguments which show the danger of race prejudice, particularly as manifested today toward colored people.” Du Bois and his colleagues believed their research and writing deserved to be shared, and knew that the implications of getting the facts out could be monumental. Blogging can similarly help get ideas out to those who need it and can use it.

3. Improve Your Writing Skills

I once joked that twitter helped me become a better academic writer. I have no data to back that up, but academics do love “tight writing” and restructuring a thought into 140 characters forces me to get to the point. Similarly, blogging about research can help with academic writing. It forces you to highlight the impact of your work by pushing you to think about your work in a more practical manner. Furthermore, you learn to rely less on trivial details or jargon, and learn how to get to the good stuff quickly. Dr. Christopher Buddle actually found that blogging increased research productivity #word

Still not convinced its for you? Check out these 37 reasons from Sociological Imagination.


But wait, before you start blogging away, I want to share a few important cautions on blogging about research:


1. Don’t Misdirect Your Time 

Blogging takes time–which could potentially take time away from your work. You can’t blog about your research if you are so busying blogging you don’t have time to do your research. Someone was once described to me as an academic that “spends so much time engaging in online debates and so little time creating work to back the debates that no one takes them seriously”. Don’t let that be you.

2. Don’t Let the internet Steal Your Work

I think we have all come to accept that once something goes on the internet, it belongs to the internet. For instance, just because someone deletes a tweet, doesn’t mean it’s gone. And you never know when a tweet might show up on some buzzfeed list or even in the court of law. Blogging is the same way. If you put your unpublished ideas out for all to see, you have no control over how it gets shared, if it gets cited, or if the ideas will be ripped off. I think it’s safest to discuss preliminary findings at your will, but save all of the specific details for after you have a copyright.

3. Blog Responsibly  

This is a general caution, but a very good one: always blog responsibly. (<– seriously everyone, read this important post!)

And for more tips on blogging about research, check out tips for starting academic blogs, read about how to write a good research blog post, or get involved with


Good luck on your posts and stay tuned for mine!


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Academia is Not a Meritocracy

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Aware of Awareness

Academia is not a meritocracy.

 (And here’s a dirty little secret : Neither is any other professional field).

You would think that smart people – especially social scientists – would have internalized this rudimentary kernel of truth.  But we haven’t.

The myth of academic meritocracy persists mainly in two forms: 1) a collective obsession with academic rankings and status markers and 2) the hysteria that surrounds so-called “stars”.

Academic rankings and hierarchies continue to signal to our undergraduate and graduate students that certain departments are better than others.  These same departmental and institutional reputations are taken seriously in hiring decisions.  The most highly ranked journals are routinely framed as the most important and legitimate gatekeepers of scholarly research.  Prestigious fellowships and awards are often framed as supporting the “best” and the “brightest” academics in their respective fields.  And, all too often, the folks that publish in the most prestigious journals and win these highly prized jobs, fellowships…

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Nashville could be the hostess with the mostess

I’ve been saying forever that Nashville should host a sociology conference. For one, it would mean I could attend a conference without going broke. But importantly, it would also mean sociologists could come hang out in this awesome city. Honestly, I was hesitant to move to Nashville from the North, but in my 6 and counting years here, the city has stolen my heart ❤ And it’s not just me. Even the New York Times said this place should be called Nowville 😉 So of course I was very happy to hear that the winter meetings of the Sociologists for Women in Society would be hosted in Nashville. I mean look at the place!

The SWS conference is being held this upcoming weekend (Feb 6-9th) at the convenient Hutton Hotel. Many of my colleagues and other SWS planning committee members have done an amazing job planning this event (I take no credit whatsoever). They have created a few wonderful resources to ease in the stay. Check out the Sweet Experiences Unique to Nashville or the ample details they provide here.

But I have seen some solicitations for things-to-do and places-to-eat on facebook and twitter so I thought I would throw in my own suggestions to the mix.

I will start with my favorite things to do/see in Nashville:

  • I love Centennial Park. In the summer I might catch a concert, or find a spot by the pond to meditate, or meet up with some runners to break a sweat. Although we are still in the midst of our winter weather, it is still a great place to check out. Walk around the replica of the Parthenon (and possibly see the museum located inside). Centennial Park is just a mile walk from the conference hotel.
  • Speaking of museums, the The Carl Van Vechten Gallery at Fisk University (a HBCU) always has a great display. It’s $5 for out of state students, and free for any student in Tennessee. Fisk University, located close to Meharry University and Tennessee State University (more HBCUs), is only a 5 minute drive down the road. There is also a great mom & pop style southern food and chicken spot located in this historic black area of Nashville.
  • Two of my favorite eats are located in Germantown. The first is a family-style restaurant called Monell’s. Bring some friends and a large appetite as the staff will load your table with some of the best southern food you can find. Take what you want and pass the rest. They are also open for brunch on the weekend. Right next to Monell’s you will find the *best* cupcakes ever at Cupcake Collection. They close at 4 or when they are done cooking for the day so get there early. Germantown is a little less than 10 minutes away from the conference hotel.
  • A weekend in Nashville wouldn’t be complete without visiting some Honky-Tonks on lower Broadway. You are always in for a treat when you go at night, but you can find live music in most of the bars throughout the day as well. My favorite is this magical place called Tequila Cowboy. Watch out though, because you might be forced to ride the mechanical bull. Lower Broad is a straight shot down from the conference hotel.
  • If Honky-Tonks aren’t your thing–trust me, I never ever thought they would be my thing but I’ve had too many good times to deny it, nonetheless–if they aren’t your thing you might opt for a place like BB Kings or the Dueling Piano Bar.  Both offer seriously great music, but if you want to dance my vote would be for BB Kings. These places are also located in the Lower Broad area.
  • Oh, and I love taking a stroll at the Farmer’s Market. You can buy anything – fruit, veggies, flowers, homemade breads, handmade lotions, books, or even knock-off bags. There is a bunch of restaurants located in the center of the Farmer’s Market, ranging from Jamaican to Mediterranean. It’s also located next to Bicentennial Park, which is riddled with facts about Tennessee.

The above list is kind of my checklist for when I have out-of-town visitors. Some require a car and a little bit of money (but they shouldn’t break the bank). For those who want to know more about reasonably priced places to eat within a short walking distance from the hotel, here are my suggestions:

  • Amerigo. A classy Italian restaurant with filling plates.
  • Sitar. An Indian restaurant with a tasty buffet.
  • Noshville. A “New York Style Delicatessen,” good for breakfast or lunch.
  • Hattie B’s. Nashville is known for hot chicken and this place serves some of the best.
  • Ken’s Sushi. Sushi lunch special- all that needs to be said.
  • Chuy’s. Its a TexMex chain but if you go during happy hour you can stock up on free chips, cheese, and beef.

I can’t wait to meet everyone at the SWS meeting. I hope this list is helpful for this conference or anyone else with Nashville on their radar. Comment with any other suggestions!

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Remaining Inspired & Becoming an Inspiration

I wrote an earlier post on “how you might come back thinking ‘that was a great conference’“.  The conference was more or less a specialty conference, which means everyone there studies a very specific topic. This also means it is easier to connect to the ‘bigwigs’ in the field. I was aware that I’d be citing a large portion of the scholars in the room while and I remember being the most nervous I had ever been to give a presentation. The night before a fellow grad student and I were up late in the lobby practicing our presentations when a scholar whom I respect tremendously stopped by to check on us (awesome, right?). She told us that it is perfectly fine to be nervous for a presentation, in fact, she went on, it is best to remain nervous throughout your career because it means your work is important to you.

Will they like my work? Will I say something that can offend someone? Am I pronouncing someone’s name right? Did I really double-check all my stats? Do I have a stain on my shirt? Do they think I am smart enough? To be honest, I really do not want to remain nervous when present my work, or when I introduce myself to new faculty, or when I walk in to teach a class. I could seriously do without the shaky legs, swarm of butterflies in my stomach, and laundry list of questions that make me doubt every aspect of my professional self. But what I decided, however, is that I always wanted to remain inspired.

As I reflect back, I was nervous to present my work in that room because I was so inspired by those filling the room. Much of their work laid the groundwork for my own. And being in front of them would mean I had the opportunity to *ahem* inspire them. When I peeled back the layers of nerves I realize it comes down to one primary thing: I want to succeed in my role and give back as much as I receive.

As academics we use “informed” to describe the borrowing and building off of others’ work. Your methods can be informed, your theory can be informed, even your book title can be informed….but I think “inspired” might better explain what is really going on. I get inspired reading a journal article, whether it be for the groundbreaking theory or because the abstract is clearly written. I get inspired when a faculty member encourages me. I get inspired when I see a second draft of a term paper. And if its not obvious, I get really inspired at conferences.  But, the thing is, if we are open to it inspiration can come at any point and from any source.

So the advice that I give you (and myself) is to walk into that conference (or a job talk, new class, oral examination) and channel the inspiration into what you are doing. I’m speaking somewhat figuratively, but also literately – use the inspiration you received and put it into your presentation, that is, think of the person whose presentations you most admire and try to replicate it!

This advice is coming straight from Dr.  John Glavin, a professor of English who also moonlights as a speech coach.  Glavin told our seminar class a story in which he was working with a politician who was flat out strugglin’ in his speeches. Glavin felt as though they were at a dead end until he suggested the politician mimic his favorite speaker. A few days later the politician delivered his best speech to date. Who did he mimic? Martin Luther King Jr.

So okay, we won’t all be mini MLKjrs but what I am suggesting is to find your inspiration and use it to become an inspiration. Embrace the nerves by remembering why they are there. Allow them to be a reminder of your passion and use them as self-encouragement for the task at hand- if you are one fire, someone is sure to finds a bit of inspiration in you.

(too cheerleader-ish? sorry, i’ll try more broodiness next time)

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From Planning to Prioritizing – 2014

It’s a new year, and with that often comes new resolutions. I’m quite the list maker, so jotting down goals/resolutions/things-to-do is basically a habit. This year, however, I am taking it a step further. I am committing to transition from a planner to a prioritizer.

The idea comes from Stephen R. Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. This book has been around forever—okay, maybe only forever in my world since it came out a few years after I was born—but anyway, I found a CD series of the book at Goodwill and decided it was finally time to read it. It is jammed back with helpful habits and tidbits and a great read for anyone. It was Habit No. 3: Putting First Things First that really struck a chord with me.

Despite my planners and to-do-lists, I often find myself rushing to get things done at the last minute. Although there are plenty of things that can contribute to my procrastination, Covey’s message made me realize how planning becomes completely inefficient if you have no order to the plans. Yes, I might even attach due dates to my list, but the lists still tend to be too disparate from the big picture. I need to prioritize to be effective.

Indeed, prioritization is just a manner of deciding what is most important. However, given the in-your-face, immediate gratification world we now live in, it is easy to confuse important with urgent. I’m sure this scenario might resonate with a few of you: you’re typing away at your desk and then an email pops up. You see the tag line, it’s from your adviser/boss/partner and you think “I gotta get back to them.” So then you divert your attention to whatever is the topic of the email is. For me, I might get an email asking what dinner would be. I now feel like I should scour the internet for recipes… or better yet, Pinterest… or maybe Instagram? And before I know it, time escaped me. Covey jokes about how bad our attention is when he describes another well-known scenario: you have a person sitting in your office but your phone rings, we tend to answer the phone and make the person sitting in front of us wait.

If we allow unimportant tasks that we deem to be urgent derail us from more important issues, we will wait to the last minute to get the important things done. This is why prioritization matters. We need not only to schedule and plan our time, but that should go hand-in-hand with prioritizing our plans. So, rather than making a list, Covey suggests a 4×4 table. (Oh hey fellow statisticians, you know you love tables too).  I will show how he describes it and then show how I adapted it for my work schedule.**

Habit 3

Here is my example:


 How to:

Important” should be on the Y-axis (vertical) and “Urgent” should be on the X-axis (horizontal). Therefore you will have 4 quadrants: (1) Important and Urgent; (2) Important and Non-Urgent; (3) Unimportant and Urgent; and (4) Unimportant and Non-Urgent.

Quadrant (1) Important and Urgent should include the tasks that need to be addressed right away. For instance, I have a deadline on a dissertation chapter. For me, the dissertation is very important and I have set deadlines with my advisor that I need to stick to.

Quadrant (2) Important and Non-Urgent should include tasks that are important, but that you are planning ahead for so you have ample time to complete them. As you see, some chapters of my dissertation are in this quadrant as well. I know they are important, so I will keep them in mind as I work towards completion but they don’t have an immediate deadline. When you get really good, Quadrant 2 will have the majority of the tasks. That is because you will slowly begin to eliminate unimportant tasks, and with planning, you will not leave important tasks to the last minute.

Quadrant (3) Unimportant and Urgent is where a lot of people get caught up. Emails are often not that important but feel very urgent. If we schedule a set time to read and respond to emails (e.g., for 30 mins every day at 11am and 4pm) we won’t get distracted by these tasks.

Quadrant (4) Unimportant and Non-Urgent is really a time trap. Social media is something I am working on (I tried to rationalize this, saying that social email is important to me 😉 but then I thought about the big picture).

I hope that this table will push me to be an efficient and productive prioritizor. Heck, I’ve already submitted my article to the American Sociological Association and completed a blog post.  Another great complimentary strategy is to put tasks into each hour block of the day. Head over to Get a Life PhD for an example. I am about to update my own schedule for this semester now (and might blog about it in the future). I’d love to hear other tips on planning and prioritizing!

** The example photo I included just has my work related tasks, but a full table might also include anything that takes your time such as paying bills, scheduling doctors’ appointments.

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Mixtape of Great Advice For Attending Academic Conferences (For Scholars On The Margins)

Advice For Attending Academic Conferences (For Scholars On The Margins).

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How you might come back thinking “that was a great conference”

I was recently told “no conferences are fun”. While the nerves, awkward intros, and early mornings might not be fun, I have found a few ways to come back from a conference and think “that was great!” Ok, so maybe fun wasn’t the right word but -at this point in my career- I don’t dread conferences, I enjoy them!

I wrote the following post after returning from a conference in Ireland the summer of 2012, check out what I had to say:

I complain a lot about graduate school but a tour guide in Ireland reminded my how blessed and privileged I really am. He asked why we (a friend and colleague of mine) were traveling to Ireland and when we told him that we were there for a conference on social stress he said “oh, so you are traveling to present research on the ways stress impacts health because you really don’t have any stress”. While I disagree with his observation because I have dealt with a lot of stress in my time, I think his bigger point was clear: we, as graduate students and future faculty members, are a relatively privileged bunch. Unlike those of the population that are hit hardest and the longest with stress and strain, we have opportunities such as advanced degrees, great social networks, financial incentives, that can help decrease the amount of stress we are exposed to and provide us with resources to help cope with the stresses we do encounter.

Indeed, I spent most of last week in the beautiful country of Ireland, and while I was there for business I had the opportunity to tour and relax. Here is how it all happened:
An esteemed faculty member in my department was asked to give the keynote address at a conference that he has been a long time member and supporter. He suggested that I come up with something to present, and with the help of another mentor, I was able to. Since I was presenting research on the faculty’s behalf, they found some funds to assist in the costs. I also asked my graduate school for a travel award (they grant $500/year for US travel and $1000/two years for international travel). So, in the end, I was able travel to Ireland without breaking my bank.

While the week before I left and the first few days after I arrived were spent in a frenzy trying to finalize the presentation, reflecting back on the trip I would say it was fun and refreshing. I have gone to a few conferences now and finally feel like I might have a few tips to share:

First, and importantly, make sure your research is sound and your presentation is interesting. Practice your presentation in front of your webcam, your family, your pet, or some peers. Practice won’t make for a perfect presentation but it will decrease the chances you fail. 

  • Stay within the time limit. No one likes the person who talks for 15 minutes about the theory then is either cut off before the findings or takes up everyone else’s time.
  • Premising presentations with the phrase “this is in the beginning stage” opens the door for audience members (and especially occasional haters) to give you “advice” on every part of the research they don’t like or think could be improved on.
  • Also be sure not to bore the audience. They don’t need to know every single author who has studied your topic or why you chose one measure over the other. They want to know what question you are asking, what you expect to find, what you did find, and why you think you found what you found.
  • Be clear, be concise, and be yourself! If they want more than that they can catch you during Q&A or in a break.

Second, network! Networking is key. If you think you might not be the best at walking up to someone and introducing yourself there are a few tricks to help. 

  • Scan the program before you leave and email anyone that you know will be at the conference and you want to me. You can schedule a coffee or lunch date that will minimize the awkwardness and feeling of “stalker-ness”.
  • Find a person you know and have good rapport with (faculty member or other seasoned person – but not another graduate student) and become their temporary shadow. They will run into old friends and automatically introduce you or you can be more blunt and ask them to introduce you to persons you have in mind.
  • Always remember that they are just people. Even if they wrote an article cited by 3000 people, when they ask the hotel staff which way to the restroom they are no different than you or me. Strike up a conversation about research, sports, weather, you name it– people, especially academics, like to talk!

 Finally, partake in all of the “scheduled fun”. Yes I know, “scheduled fun” is kind of like an oxymoron but it is an important part of conferences. One annual conference I attend schedules an annual “house party” (that sometimes is in the conference room)  and the conference I went to in Ireland schedules “karaoke nights”. Getting down on the dance floor and ruining ballads at the mike are some of my favorite things to do but I never thought I would enjoy doing it with my mentors or scholars who I admire or very senior scholars. However, seeing that person who laid the framework for your dissertation make a complete fool of themselves has the power to break down all walls and open a space to really connect like old friends.

I think these three tips go hand-in-hand. Even if you can give Whitney Houston a run for her money on karaoke, if you deliver a less than par presentation the faculty still might not want you as a colleague. However, if your presentation is impressive, you talk about research over lunch, and can still have fun over drinks… you are in for the win! Now I can’t really assure that you will find a job if you do these things, but I can assure you that you will come home feeling like you learned a lot, meet great people, and had a blast 🙂


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