First Year Issa Wrap

I have officially completed my first year of graduate school. I entered this year with the hopes of encouraging inclusive communities and improving educational systems. However, I’m not sure that’s what will sustain me in the future.

Below, I have written 9 lessons or considerations during this First Year Grad Experience.

1. Teaching in Higher Education

This year has shown me how competitive the world of higher education is. There’s a big push to publish and make departments look good. This push is encouraged within PhD programs so that you have a greater chance of finding a more permanent position in academia. I honestly just enjoy researching things that interest me at the time and am more concerned with taking action to solve problems (rather than writing about it). So I am still uncertain about whether academia is a good place for me.

2. When Students Don’t Prioritize Your Class

Teaching while studying can be challenging and frustrating. I lead classes or assist lectures to waive tuition and earn a living stipend. I do enjoy teaching and see the payment as a plus but it is difficult when students don’t prioritize your class. You know, it’s not that I’m ever bothered by my class not being a priority to them, it’s bothersome when students assume that they deserve an A for non-A effort. You earn the grade that you work for but this isn’t an easy conversation to have.

3. Higher Education as Place Holder (Limited Job Market)

I think most students (regardless of the level) see higher education as an end and forget the story in between. Often, students resort to school because there are limited options in the work force or they are anxious about that world. Personally, this dilutes my experience while studying but I also have to remember that it’s not about me. It is someone else’s race. And that’s more than okay. I do hope that our studies lead us to positions that we enjoy or that provide well for us.

4. Black in White Spaces

I have grown up in spaces with racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. I have also lived in spaces where I was the only black person (or one of the few). However, I never expected the latter to be so prevalent nor challenging for me at this stage in my life. It’s not that black people don’t exist here, they do. There’s a lot of us but in comparison to the whole…it’s fairly small. This campus alone is about 70% white. Which is a lot but I never would have imagined that it’d effect me as much as it has. But perhaps this is because I’m no longer surrounded by my friends who are black or people of color (or just with different mindsets than I find here). Who knows?

5. Education Versus Wellbeing

The previous lesson learned led me to consider whether or not to continue my studies. Graduate studies are challenging. Traveling and putting down roots is challenging. Living in space where you don’t feel considered breaks my spirit. I do not feel that acquiring an education is more important than one’s health (e.g. diet, sleep schedule, mental health, physical health, etc.). My life shouldn’t just be about school. So I’m constantly thinking about how to support myself and my happiness within a toxic environment…or if I should just remove myself completely.

6. Inner Creative

Speaking of happiness: as a leader and teacher, I am still forever a creative. I’m pushing myself to find a method, schedule, and balance that works for me. I think the first step is living in a place that inspires me. A place that is visually and audibly stimulating. Maybe that exists here and maybe not. So I’ll continue exploring places and working on projects.

7. Paying the Bills

I’m becoming more interested in just focusing on making money to put down roots and build myself. I think that previously I’ve been okay with floating around and being paid peanuts. But I’m starting to realize that I allowed companies to devalue my worth. My mind and hands are so incredibly gifted. I have developed skills and gained knowledge that should help me to do more than just pay the bills. However, I do enjoy my lights.

8. Content Versus Fernweh

I am not sure if I have less of an interest in traveling because I want to collect more money, I am getting serious about settling, or I am just tired of starting over and relocating. I also am well aware that I’m exhausted, finally entering adulthood, and anxious for answers. This changes every day but I’m not as concerned with traveling very farĀ  or as often anymore.

9. Discipline + Intention = Success

Finally, the biggest lesson learned that helped me survive graduate school was that discipline can occur in different ways. I never considered myself to be disciplined until this year because I usually associate that word with people who work out (I am not one of those people). However, I am disciplined in scheduling the personal and professional, in developing methods to conduct classes and complete my own assignments, and in budgeting my money. In looking at this past year, intentionality with discipline made me more successful. By envisioning and speaking goals to following through on, I have created a good reputation and earned great grades. I also continue to surprise myself with opportunities and possibilities for the future.

Final advice to first years:

  • Find a planner that works for you.
  • Build healthy habits.
  • Position yourself as the main focus.
  • Show up physical, emotionally, and mentally.
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up.

I learned that I am still uncertain about what I want to do in the future. I realized this over the past year. This matters because I am continually pushing to see what the end looks like. In light of this, I will continue to pace myself and be patient next year. The goal for my second and final year of graduate school is to produce great work which interacts with the public and continue pursing my inner creative needs. I’m anxious and excited to see what makes itself available this time next year and will keep you updated.


Cayla Jae

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