4 Tips for Grad School


This December, I finished my coursework for my master’s degree in media and communication. While every program is different, I’m hoping the tips below can help someone else who is considering or attending grad school.

4 Tips for Grad School

(1) Find spaces that work for you and/or make spaces work for you

My first semester of grad school, I did most of my work—reading, writing, researching—in my apartment. This wasn’t exactly all bad—sweatpants! No shoes!—but it was difficult to separate school time from leisure time. And while it often seems like there is no separation from the constant, impending deadlines and projects of grad school, I found that creating work spaces away from home helped me to be more productive and put some distance between me and work. Some places where I enjoy working now are the library, the graduate student offices in my building, and a local coffee shop. Working away from home isn’t possible for everyone, but if it’s possible for you, give it a try.

Tip: Try creating physical separation from your work in small ways. Maybe your backpack doesn’t go into your bedroom or your books can stay in your office until they’re needed.

Tip: If the place you’re in doesn’t have the right atmosphere, try creating one with an app like Noisli that lets you design your own background noise. In the library or in a quiet office, I use the app to make it sound like I’m in a coffeeshop on a rainy day or by a crackling fire.

(2) Read outside of academia

Reading only academic work for extended periods of time can make reading a burdensome chore. I do enjoy reading academic work in the humanities outside of my specific discipline, which helps mitigate that effect. But the best remedy I’ve found is reading outside of academia entirely. A small amount of time each day reading poetry, graphic novels, creative nonfiction, or fiction can remind you that (a) actual humans write things that most other actual humans can read and (b) reading and writing can be emotional, riveting, and imaginative.

Tip: Many literary magazines have online daily features with short pieces of flash prose or poetry. Some even have blogs, like Ruminate Magazine, which I edit. Check it out here.

(3) Find small things that give you joy

Being a grad student often means you don’t have time to indulge in lengthy breaks. So, find some small things that give you joy. I like picking flowers on the way to school (when it’s not 0° in northwest Ohio) or watching a four-minute music video on YouTube. A good cup of tea or a conversation about literally anything other than school can feel like a miracle.

Tip: Larger joyful things can be divided into smaller ones! Maybe you don’t have time to watch that whole movie on Netflix, but watching it in 15 minute segments might be more reasonable.

(4) Be patient with yourself

You will make mistakes, and you will live through them. Show yourself grace, and figure out how to do things better next time if you can.

Some bonus tips:

  • If you’re doing large-scale research projects, or even multiple smaller ones, a reference manager can really help. I’m currently using Zotero.
  • Ask the more experienced students in your cohort/department about their experiences. Learn from their stories.
  • Utilize your library’s resources as much as possible. They might have services that you don’t know about, like individual research appointments. Seriously, librarians are the best.
  • Find fulfilling ways to do service to your department, School, university, or community. Grad school is a lot about you, but everything in your life doesn’t have to be.


Ode (In Lists) to 2017


Some lists to commemorate 2017:

Favorite books I read
Dance of the Dissident Daughter—Sue Monk Kidd
Don’t Calls Us Dead—Danez Smith
Ru—Kim Thúy
The Mothers
—Brit Bennett
The Fire Next Time—James Baldwin

Honorable mention:
Between the World and Me—Ta -Nehisi Coates

Most listened to albums
Moana Soundtrack
Sudan Archives
— Sudan Archives
Turn out the Lights— Julien Baker
Wendigo—Penny & Sparrow

Most listened to songs
“Cherry Wine”—Overcoats
“Devil Like Me”—Rainbow Kitten Surprise
“Just Breathe”—Pearl Jam
“River”—Leon Bridges
“Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”—Otis Redding

Honorable mention:
“Shaker Hymns”—Dry the River

Favorite movies I watched
Daughters of the Dust
Wonder Woman
Captain Fantastic

Favorite foods
Friendly Farms vanilla Greek yogurt from Aldi
Overnight oats
Spaghetti Warehouse
Sugar cream pie
Turtle sundae at BG Frosty Fare

Miscellaneous favorites
Supernatural gag reels
Noisli app
My spineless yucca plant
Wendy’s 4 for $4s
That bush next to my apartment with the leaves that look like tiny fingers



We would stand in circles holding hands and pray, an assortment of kids in an assortment of clothing. Some girls were lucky enough to wear pants—jeans!—to Sunday church. Others of us, myself included, were stuffed into jumpers and chunky sandals.

The group leader would corral some age group of kids together and encourage us to share our prayer requests. This would not be a big people prayer, like our parents or neighbors or grandparents were doing in the big people sanctuary, since those prayers required microphones and ambient music and probably some mysterious work of the Spirit. Here, in kids’ church, the group leader would pray for and with us in hushed tones, quiet, near.

There were the usual prayer requests: some kid’s parents were getting divorced; someone was being bullied; someone wanted their parents to stop smoking; someone wanted to be healed of asthma (that was me) or ADD; someone wanted their dad or grandparents or siblings to be Saved. (Being Saved meant a lot of things but it especially meant coming to church and making that long trek to the altar at the end of service. I did this regularly in kids’ church just to Be Sure, lest I die the moment I stepped outside of the church and be separated from God for eternity.)

But occasionally, as we made our way around the circle, myself indifferently taking in the other kids’ deepest desires, someone would say: Unspoken.


Images: looming shadows in a dark attic, a Very Bad Parent, something so treacherous it could not even be uttered, especially in God’s house. (I would liken this to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, but back then, Harry Potter was Of the Devil, along with Halloween and other stories involving general demonic demoness.)

An unspoken request was a mystery unsolvable by even the most fantastic, detailed scenarios one spent the rest of the prayer time cycling through. It was a secret between that person and God, and the rest of us were only aware of its presence.

Used sparingly, an unspoken request made someone aloof and serious in my eyes. Clearly, they had something to hide.

Used excessively, an unspoken request made someone predictable and gimmicky. Ugh. Another unspoken. Probably the same one from last time. How was one to find words to pray for something she couldn’t even identify? It seemed an unfair burden on the rest of us, especially kids like me, who took words a bit too seriously and always during prayer. Say it wrong and God might not answer it.

Today, I make unspoken prayers in solitude. It may be that I don’t want to say something, but mostly I don’t know what to say. Sometimes I lay in bed or stare at my dinner and just hope for God to know what I might be praying about but am not sure I’m praying about. I think in God’s general direction and say, “here.”

Unspoken requests no longer seem like the mysterious deeds I thought they were as a child. I have learned how often words seem to walk away.

“Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you. / Remember language comes from this.” wrote poet Joy Harjo.

Language is as complicated and faulty as everything else in the world. No wonder it doesn’t always work. Thank God it is not always needed.


Photo by Nicole Mason on Unsplash

A Playlist for Lent


My first Sunday at an Episcopal church, I’m still fumbling through the hymnal searching for a song by the time it has ended. The next song, a woman taps me on the shoulder and trades me her hymnal for mine. Hers is already open to “Glory In the Highest,” a hymn in praise of the Trinity:

Glory to God in the highest,
and peace to his people on earth.

Lord God, heavenly King,
almighty God and Father,
we worship you, we give you thanks,
we praise you for your glory.

Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father,
Lord God, Lamb of God,

you take away the sin of the world:
have mercy on us;

you are seated at the right hand
of the Father:
receive our prayer.

For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,

you alone are the Most High,
Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father, Amen.

It is very plain. This is what I think. There’s no nature-filled imagery. No personal sea of troubles to speak of or mountains being moved or presences wanted and felt. No harmony. And hardly anything about me.

As we move through the service, the worship enables me to paint a picture of God that places me nowhere near the foreground. In fact, I’m a tiny smudge way in the back. You can barely see me.

Lent, I think, is an opportunity to remember our smudginess. Not only are we in the back of the picture, we’re kind of ruining it. We, despite our best intentions, actively contribute to messing up the world, ourselves, and others a little more every day. That’s not to say that our efforts and struggles to be and do better are in vain; with God, these are holy pursuits. But we don’t live in the best case scenario, and we aren’t the best case scenario. On Ash Wednesday, we remember that we are dust and unto dust we will return.

And so begins Lent. This season is an opportunity foreground God, to contemplate Jesus’ journey to the cross, to consider the sick, dark reality that drove him there, and to wonder at his love that has offered life despite the ugliness that lives in us.

Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father,
Lord God, Lamb of God,
you take away the sin of the world…

Through Lent we can revisit Christ, ask him once more who he is, and contemplate his journey to save us with his own body.

Inspired by my friend Andrew Whitworth’s Ash Wednesday playlist, here’s a playlist I’ve been listening to this Lenten season:

  1. The Sound of Silence─Simon and Garfunkel
  2. Kill Your Momma─Alicia Keys
  3. Lost in a Crowd─Fantastic Negrito
  4. Learning How to Die─Jon Foreman
  5. Comes To Light (Everything)─Jill Scott
  6. Poor Man’s Son─Noah Gundersen
  7. Beacon Hill─Damien Jurado
  8. Forgive Them Father─Lauryn Hill
  9. To Be Alone With You─Sufjan Stevens
  10. Truce─Twenty One Pilots
  11. River─Leon Bridges
  12. Nothing But the Water─Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
  13. Shine─Leon Bridges
  14. Belly of the Deepest Love─Tow’rs
  15. Travelin’ On─Nora Jane Struthers
  16. Have Mercy─Eryn Allen Kane
  17. Re:Stacks─Bon Iver
  18. Is It Me─St. Paul and the Broken Bones