PhD Program Applications: More Advice

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Others have written before on Drown Unbound with advice about the process of applying to PhD programs, here and here. Jimmy, Kyle, and Megan offer excellent advice in these posts; however, I’m writing to add one or two additional and, I think, crucial pieces of advice.

  1. Start Now


If you are a first year MA student and you have already decided you want to pursue a PhD (a difficult decision in itself, particularly given the abysmal state of the job market), start researching schools now. Talk to the profs in your field, particularly the person with whom you’re writing a thesis, and ask their recommendations for PhD programs strong in your research field. Look at some of your favorite scholarship, and take note of where the authors teach. Read through your chosen departments’ websites, looking for potentially good fits. Using all of this information, develop a reasonably expansive list of schools where you might want to apply, and do so this semester.

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Imagining the World We Want, Together

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Lehigh Culture & Community / Literature & Social Justice / Politics

This article is cross-posted from Southsider article published March 6, 2018. Southsider focuses on celebrating the local vibrant arts district, reporting on arts and culture programming in Bethlehem’s South Side. For more information about Southsider, visit them online.

On Wednesday, February 14, Tackling T.I.N.A. hosted the first of three public conversations scheduled this Spring. Themed around the idea of “Storytelling as a Strategy for Change,” Lehigh students and faculty joined together with Bethlehem community members to imagine how narrative frames and cultural myths shape our social and political realities.

Led by graduate students in Lehigh’s Literature and Social Justice Program (Department of English), Tackling T.I.N.A. discussions consider how literature — and narrative more broadly — can create social and political action. The group takes its name from one of the dominant myths about contemporary capitalism: “there is no alternative” (T.I.N.A.). As an organization, we aim to broaden participant understanding of economic justice and inspire one another to expand the horizon of possibility.

“Story-based Strategy Campaign Model” flowchart. Excerpt from Reinsborough and Canning’s book Re:Imagining Change.

Reimagining Change: Who Tells Your Story?

Building on Tackling T.I.N.A’s commitment to economic justice, the “Storytelling as a Strategy for Change” offered participants the opportunity to read two provocative texts: “Degrees of Freedom” by Karl Schroeder and excerpts from Re:Imagining Change: How to Use Story-based Strategy to Win Campaigns, Build Movements, and Change the World by Doyle Canning and‎ Patrick Reinsborough. Together, these two texts gave participants common language to discuss the political power of storytelling and a fictional example of what that might look like if we were to more fully integrate creativity into our democratic process.

Two special guests joined us as co-facilitators for this important discussion. Charles Kiernan, a member of the Lehigh Valley Storytelling Guild, and Sarah Stanlick, director of Lehigh University’s Center for Community Engagement, both offered insight on the subject of community storytelling, and the power it has to change our perception.

Kiernan, for instance, explained that stories get to people before thought and thus serve as a powerful way to pass on social values, for better or for worse. And the best stories, Kiernan added, were those where the storyteller disappears entirely, allowing the audience to experience the story directly. While this narrative sleight-of-hand undoubtedly makes for a magical evening of storytelling on the stage, it becomes more complicated when we apply these theories to the stories by which we live our lives. It makes me wonder who is behind the cultural myths that shape our daily lives, and what social values they might unwittingly pass on to us.

Nevertheless, during the discussion, participants expressed both anxiety and excitement about how cultural myths influence political action. Together, we confronted a tension that lies deep within the democratic process, recognizing that no political debate ever escapes the influence of narrative frames. The “facts,” which are so often emphasized in politics, do not make sense outside of the cultural context in which they arise. Thus, as one participant suggested, like an archaeologist discovering fragmentary evidence of some distant past, the challenge of political subjects today is to use narrative strategies to make sense of the information we encounter.

As I continue to reflect on the conversations we had that day, I find myself increasingly frustrated with the polarized “fact wars” that so often define today’s political debates. Liberals and conservatives each reference particular statistics to discredit their opponent’s position and the debate ends in a stalemate, with both parties further entrenched in their side of the political divide. This leads nowhere. We need to change the story, and a focus on narratives can help us do just that. What we need, as Reinsborough and Canning assert at the end of Re:Imagining Change, is a movement of storytellers.

Upcoming Discussions

  • Wednesday, March 28, 4:00 – 5:30 | Building a Better Future: A Public Conversation
    Humanities Center, Lehigh University (224 W. Packer Ave., Bethlehem, PA  18015)
    For this discussion, we will discuss the work of adrienne maree brown, an activist, author, and scholar based in Detroit. As part of an ongoing effort to challenge the dominant narrative that “there is no alternative” to capitalism, this free event focuses on how narratives impact and direct community development projects and local politics. Readings are available here. 
  • Wednesday, April 18, 4:00 – 5:30 | Sustaining Local Communities: A Public Conversation
    Humanities Center, Lehigh University (224 W. Packer Ave., Bethlehem, PA  18015)
    For this discussion, we will discuss the relationship between food activism, environmental justice, and the economy. As part of an ongoing effort to challenge the dominant narrative that “there is no alternative” to capitalism, this free event focuses on how the politics of food play a key role in imagining alternative economies. 
    Readings are available here.

Tackling T.I.N.A. discussions are free and open to the public. Light refreshments provided.

Advice to (not) Follow: One Way to Get Through the Reading Semester

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The first bit of qualifying exam advice is not to follow anyone’s advice.

If you are reading, prepping to read, procrastinating reading, complaining about reading, behind, ahead, or on schedule for reading, then you are probably already in the whirl of veterans telling horror stories of broken computers, interrupting undergrads, crying, absurd laughing, and days of either sleeping too little, or far too much. This is often paired with the sage and almost deranged eye-twitchingly paradoxical comments, “It’s the best time!” or “You are going to feel the smartest you’ve ever been!” and, my personal favorite, “You get paid to read books for a whole semester (if not more)!” So, adding one more voice into the mix, writing a post reflecting on my personal experience through qualifying exams is not going to offer anything else other than options to consider in tandem with the battleplan you and your committee drafted.

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LSJ Conference Round 4!

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Get excited for the 4th Annual LSJ Conference happening this weekend (March 2-3)! If you don’t already have this marked down on your calendars, you should do so ASAP. The LSJ committee has been hard at work prepping for this conference, and we are stoked to hear from different graduate students, independent scholars, public humanists, and educators about the role of literature, and the arts and humanities in addressing inequality and building just communities.

LSJ Conference 2018 (Final)

This year’s theme of “Literature and Intersectionality” engages the influence of intersectionality and critical race theory on literary criticism, pedagogy, and contemporary movements for social and political change. Some of the cool panels we have lined up include presenters addressing topics such as ecofeminism, queer sass, public resistance, and pop culture productions like Beyonce’s Lemonade! Our very own Sarah HB will also be hosting a restorative justice workshop at the conference that aims to build white allyship in combatting racism. Check out the full schedule here.

For this year’s keynote, we have invited Dr. David E. Kirkland, the Executive Director of The NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and The Transformation of Schools. His presentation aims to raise awareness regarding the effects of educational injustices in the lives of urban youth of color to interrupt cycles of miseducation. By focusing on the (mis)education of Black males, the presentation will address questions regarding the influence of cycles of racial inequity on this group’s learning, and the role of educators in disrupting such cycles to empower urban youth. In addressing these questions, the presentation aims to more holistically examine the peculiar deficits of literacy education, exploring instead the possibilities offered by the spoken and written word for learning and liberation.

You can visit our very profesh website designed by Adam and myself (technically, I can only claim 20% of design credit). Registration is a cinch and free for Lehigh students. And if you’re still debating whether to attend, perhaps food might persuade you — we may or may not have sushi and wine…

Hope to see many of your faces there!

5 Tips to Start (or Continue) Creative Writing in Graduate School

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Whether we like it or not, we’re people who are building our resumes and careers on the written word. However, this work is often confined to the scholarly side of writing and publishing. What about the creative side of scholarly publishing? If you’re a potential short story teller, poet, novelist, creative nonfiction wizard, or just someone who is interested in writing creatively, this post is for you!

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What Have We Wrought?

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I was eighteen years old on April 20, 1999, the day of the Columbine High School massacre. The world stopped. People were stunned—and in pain—for days, weeks. The story was the lead on every news show, in every newspaper, for days, weeks. The footage of Pat Ireland falling out of a second-story window into the arms of two police officers is forever burned into my consciousness. This was a national tragedy.

More children died last Wednesday in the Parkland shooting than died at Columbine. But almost twenty years later, these tragic events have become routine.

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The Benefits of Taking a GAship Outside of the English Department

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Advice / Lehigh Culture & Community / Literature & Social Justice

Co-written by Sarah Heidebrink-Bruno and Jimmy Hamill


Sarah Heidebrink-Bruno, Ph.D. Candidate, 2 years in the Center for Gender Equity

For me, one of the best parts of teaching before and after I had a GA position at the Center for Gender Equity was the fact that my experiences in the classroom and in a student center symbiotically benefited one another. For instance, being a teacher taught me how to manage my time, respond thoughtfully to students’ questions and concerns, and turn even adverse circumstances into a teachable moment–all skills that served me well during my two-year tenure at the CGE.

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Sticking to a Schedule?

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Advice / Lehigh Culture & Community


Being a graduate student is one of the rare occupations in which we can make our own schedules; technically we can work whenever we’d like.  Before beginning graduate school this flexibility seemed an extremely exciting benefit, but once I began I realized how difficult it actually was to keep myself on track and prevent burnout.  With the end of my first semester as an MA student complete (and having survived  writing roughly 50 pages in two weeks) I’ve realized how important having and sticking to a self-imposed schedule is for me.

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Moving Forward With Hope

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In an essay on Octavia Butler titled “The Only Lasting Truth,” Tananarive Due calls attention to the necessity of utopic thinking, hope, and desire. It is an important reminder in a political present that is charged with an incessant appeal to catastrophism. The dystopian rise of Donald Trump has drawn on people’s fear and offered minority groups as scapegoats to provide a seemingly simple solution to our problems. Catastrophism worked for Trump, but in order to counter darkness, we need not more darkness but hope that the world we desire is still possible.

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