Reflections on the virtual semester – Fall 2020.

Well, folks, we did it. We survived the COVID virtual semester. I guess.

I hope this post finds you well. I hope it finds you rested and in good company, whether it is family, friends, or your own. I hope you are taking some time off and taking care of yourself.

I meant to be better about posting and such. But, you know, COVID.

I recorded a voice note back in October in lieu of writing because I was tired but I wanted to get some thoughts out. So, I have transcribed it here because as messy as this is, I think there is an important message. So, bear with me and lets’ see where this takes us:

October 21st, 1:00 AM

I’m exhausted and my brain feels like it’s underwater. But I had some thoughts, and I wanted to remember them. I definitely don’t have the capacity to type or look at my computer now so I thought a voice note might be the way to go.

I am tired. I am zoomed out, polled out, emailed out. I literally cannot look at an email without feeling a sense of deep dread in the pit of my stomach anymore.

Actually, when my phone goes off and I see a new email notification my anxiety peaks – I feel a twang in my stomach. I don’t want to open it. Because I just don’t want to have to read all of it. I don’t want to respond to it. And very likely, I will have to read it all and respond, because it’s not a spam email. How I miss the day of spam emails from Sephora or Groupon.

I’ve been thinking more and more about the state of the semester and the state of my mental health, and that of my colleagues, and somethings gotta give. This is not right. And I don’t know what the answer is, but this is not it.

Today the county that my university is in has declared a stay in place order for our undergrads because our COVID numbers are spiking. So, COVID is running rampant in my university, yet we are marching full steam ahead towards finals. This semester has been wild. I don’t think another word describes this semester better than will. Well, I can think of a few but let’s stick with wild. 

It blows my mind how our response to a global pandemic is a semester that is running at lightning speed with an exponentially increased workload for our students, and our GSI’s. And our professors and faculty, and everyone really, but I really feel like the brunt is falling on the students – the undergrads and graduates. And I don’t mean to take away from the faculty and professors who are working so hard, to discount their labor and their time. But honestly, as a GSI and a graduate student, personally, I am one unfortunate event away from a mental breakdown. Or maybe I am there already. I am talking to my phone at 1 AM.

So let’s just kind of, and reflect on the state of things, and look at all the things that are wrong here, shall we?

First, there is the fact that our university is prioritizing money over us, to put it simply it has been made clear many times that our lives, mental health, and well being are not worth more than the all mighty dollar. Great feeling.

So here we are, pretending like everything is ok. Working from our rooms or dorms or wherever we may be. And the ironic thing is that instead of having a slower pace semester as one might assume if you’re going to go through with classes in a global pandemic, we have done the opposite.

As a result, my students are anxious. They are exhausted. They are confused. They are terrified. My students have had COVID! They email me asking for an extension on their assignment because they have COVID. That’s the first thing that pops into their mind when they find out they have COVID.

Like, kid – I am so sorry that this is your train of thought right now. That you have a virus that is killing people. And we have programmed you to worry about your stupid grade so that you email me at 7 pm on a Friday asking for an extension when you should be resting. This is what we have done for our students. And we are doing this to ourselves too because I was just talking to my roommate the other day and honestly both of us were thinking, if we were to get it – get COVID – our first thought in our minds would be “oh my god, how am I going to get through the semester.” That is how we have been programmed by this commercial, consumeristic, capitalistic system. Where we prioritize our classes, our “education” over our health. And that’s really fucked up, to be honest. And I don’t want to blame us really, I blame this system for this, fully.

We have created this system where it’s like a zero-sum game where you either play by the rules or you forfeit. And for many of us, we have invested way too much of our time, energy, and labor into our program to forfeit now. I’ve been in this game for over 8 years now, I can’t quit, I’ve invested pretty much my whole adult life into this – so there is no going back for me. I mean never say never.. but still.

End of transcription.

I did say it would be a mess, but I hope you were able to follow my train of thought, muddled as it was. My point is – this semester was terrible for my mental health, and from my observations, that of my peers and my students. So I don’t think I am over arching when I say this was likely the case for many many others. I am not blind to the fact that it is a privilege to be able to attend school, safely, online from my home. And that many people had to risk their lives daily to go to work to keep the rest of us afloat – I understand that. I merely wanted to reflect on how the academic year progressed and see if there is room for improvement as we move froward – and there is always room for improvement, my friend.

I acknowledge that most universities were laxer in terms of grading and deadlines to accommodate students struggling with COVID or COVID related issues. And I acknowledge that how accommodating individual faculty members are is really up to them, and there is not much the admin can do to ensure that everyone plays by the new COVID rules. I was lucky that my professors were understanding – but I know this was not the case for everyone.

I know that many countries are now rolling out the vaccine but the vaccine is not a miracle cure. It will take time to get enough people vaccinated for us to have some sort of immunity. We still have to be careful about social distancing in the meantime – virtual school may our reality for longer than we want to even think about. And if that is the case, we need to learn from this semester. Because to be very frank, I don’t think I can handle another semester like this.

It is so easy to over book and overextend yourself in a Zoom semester. To agree to another meeting because you don’t really have to go anywhere, anyways. To attend another seminar because its free or because you have a 40 min gap in your schedule. To eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in front of a Zoom lecture. Or to forget to eat all together.

I am not going to sit here holding my breath that all the change needed will come top-down. What I can change however, is how I approach next semester personally. So if you have some advice for setting healthy boundaries and managing virtual learning, please do send them my way! In the meantime, I think the number one thing I will be prioritizing in 2021 is valuing myself and my time more. I was terrible a doing this past semester, and my mental health suffered it greatly.

This does not mean that my approach to 2021 will be avoidance – to check out. I will of course, still put 100 % into everything I do. I will try to be the best student, GSI, colleague, and accomplice I can be. But I will also try to be the best sister, daughter, and friend. And to do any of these things, I need to be a good caretaker of myself – mentally, physically, and emotionally.

So fellow students, as we wrap up 2020 and head into 2021, remember to love yourself more. You will get everything that you need to get done. But remember that to tackle that ever growing to-do list, you need to be ok first.

Peace, love, and positivity.

(And all the sleep.)

Living in perpetual liminality – LGBTQ+ Rights in today’s Albania.

Liminality is a concept that intrigues the anthropologist.

It has been the topic of much anthropological and social research in the last 100 or so years. It was first explored extensively by the European ethnographer Arnold van Gennep when he proposed the three stages of the rite of passage; separation, marginalization, and aggregation (van Gennep 1960, Turner 1979). However, his work was unknown to many British and American scholars until after the 60’s when his pivotal book The Rites of Passage, was translated into English. It is after this that American Anthropologist Victor Turner stumbled upon the book, fortuitously some may say, and the rest, well that is history…or anthropology (Vizedom 1976). 

So what is liminality? The literal definition means “threshold.” According to van Gennep (1960) and Turner (1967, 1979), in a period of liminality, one is at the threshold between two social identities, being neither one or the other wholly. The period of liminality is often marked by a feeling of disassociation while the individual is “betwixt and between” (Turner 1967). The end of the transition or the end of the phase of liminality is marked by the end of the rite of passage, and a re-entering into society with a new status. Coming of age ceremonies are an example of a rite of passage, which are present in multiple societies around the world. 

Many scholars, (Barry and Yilmaz 2019, Howard-Grenville et al. 2011, Thomassen, Underwood and Rhodes 2018, Wimark 2019, Ybema et al. 2011) are now using the concept to refer to multiple aspects of everyday life, not just the passing of important milestones. Broadening our understanding of the concept to include processes like immigration, migration, and personal identity. It has been incorporated into the teaching philosophies, theoretical critiques (of anthropology in particular), and even in the medical field when it comes to things like patient care and visitor experience (Underwood and Rhodes 20118).

Ok, so how does this relate to the queer community in Albania. In all the ways. And I am not the first to make this argument, many other’s like Wimark (2019) have specifically tied the concept of liminality and queer individuals. However, in his article, he refers to refugees and asylum seekers specifically. However, in general, scholars who use liminality as a concept outline two important points, first that the concept of liminality does not apply to just the in-between phase of a rite of passage. And second, more critically, that an important part of the liminal theory as argued by Turner, is the end of the transition. Theoretically, there is a point where the transition is complete, and you re-enter society. 

But what if you never reach that point? What if you live your life in perpetual liminality (Thomassen 2012, Ybemer et al . 2014). If the process of liminality is meant to be a short one when the actor remains “betwixt and between” two existential phases of social life, then what happens when they never make that transition? How does this affect an individual’s sense of identity? (Thomassen, Ybemer et al. 2014, Wels et al. 2011) How do they navigate their society? Because for whatever reason, there is no “category” for them on the other side. I know I am using terms like “they,” which implies some sort of shared, universal experience. And I want to state that I acknowledge that this is not the case. There is no overarching shared identity of what it means to be both part of the LGBTQ+ community and Albanian. But the reality stands that there is some overlap in experience and that for many, this clash of identities leads to marginalization (prejudice, bullying, abuse, stigma, etc.). This can manifest in several ways, from the scale of the individual to their family to their community (Telliti 2015). This is the reality for many members of the LGBTQ+ community who live in countries where it is illegal to be gay, or if it is not illegal on paper it is not socially accepted. Where being yourself means losing your family, or the very right to make a living. The right to safety, work, shelter, and dignity.

If you have read my previous posts or know anything about Albanian culture, you will know that as a people we are traditionally…well traditional. This is the first point made by all the authors of the suite of articles discussing LGBTQ+ rights in Albania (Çuri 2018, Kadi 2014, Hazizaj 2013, Telliti 2015, Shtylla 2013, Peshkopia et al. 2018, Rexhepi 2016). This adherence to a traditional way of life leaves no place for many “new” things like homosexuality or women’s rights. As mentioned in previous posts, it is as if being Albanian excludes certain other identities and beliefs; you cannot be both because they fundamentally oppose each other.

Having written essays for the last decade of my life, I can’t help but feel the need to structure my posts similarly. So having introduced the concept of liminality and making an argument of why it is an important one to consider when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community in Albania (and any country where LGBTQ+ individuals are marginalized, really) I will provide a brief overview of LGBTQ+ legislation in Albania and conclude why liminality is an important (yet, one of many) lens (es) to view the situation.

The Past:

When looking at changes in the Albanian legislature regarding LGBTQ+ rights the year 1995 is one of the first landmarks so to say, as this is the year that homosexuality was decriminalized. Until then, specifically under Hoxha’s regime, homosexuality was punishable by law and convicted individuals were sentenced to lengthy prison sentences. However, decriminalization does not ensure equality, something that many scholars have touched upon. Changing the law is one thing, changing public opinion is another. This is something that I will comeback to later. It is interesting however to note that homosexuality was decriminalized once before under the Ottoman regime, while the practice itself remained unpopular in public opinion (Çuri 2018, Kadi 2014).

The next big year that stands out is 2010. It is then that the constitution was amended to state that discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation is prohibited. This amendment extends to workplace discrimination. But again, this does not mean that these laws are enforced. It is very commonplace from someone who is LGBTQ+ to be refused a job, a house, or even help from the police when reporting abuse. Of course, this is changing, but there have been cases where individuals have gone to the police to report abuse and were not only ridiculed by the police but abused by them as well (Çuri 2018)

And even to this day, with a much altered and amended constitution, LGBTQ+ individuals fall through the cracks when it comes to ensuring basic human rights because of terminology or loopholes in the constitution. Gay marriage is still illegal and not recognized before the state for example, even though the previous Prime Minister Berisha stated in 2009 that it would be made legal. The clause was dropped from the 2016 amendments under Rama a few years later (Peshkopia et al.2018). In the same vein, LGBTQ+ individuals also do not have legal rights to form a family (Çuri 2014, Peshkopia et al. 2018)

2012 is the next stop in our tour so to say. This year marks Albania’s first Pride Parade, which despite being approved by then Prime minister Berisha, was met with heavy backlash by the general public, with protesters hurling objects at the organizers (Koleka 2012). The organization of the parade in 2012 and subsequent years, despite the backlash, is important for several reasons. As Rexhepi (2020) states, the parade itself is not just an event, but a form of resistance. You can read his recent article on PRIDE in the Balkans and what it means for LGBTQ+ activism in the region here.

While legislative changes in regards to LGBTQ+ rights seem to be moving at a snail’s pace, this does not mean that nothing is happening. This is quite the opposite, a lot is happening, thanks to the multiple NGO’s that have been created over the years to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and provide support, shelter, and information to members of the community and its allies. Examples of these organizations include STREHA, Historia Ime, and AleancaLGBT. While sharing a common cause, these organizations address different needs within the community.

The Present:

Where the government fails, the community does not. Over the past month, I have had the opportunity to observe as multiple organizations and activists as they prepared for Tirana Pride, which was held on May 15th, online (again, you can read more about the parade in Rexhepi’s article, linked above). Despite doing many things wrong, Albania did one thing right thanks to the hard work of these individuals, being one of the few countries in the world to hold a virtual pride. I have had the opportunity to listen to multiple LGBTQ+ and Feminist activists from Albania and it has been truly a humbling and inspiring experience. Seeing the hard work that these brilliant and resilaint individuals have poured into this cause truly makes my heart soar as an Albanian – there is hope after all.

Despite all odds, they are raising the banner for LGBTQ+ rights, and have been doing so for over a decade. They are creating a platform for people to share their stories, they are creating safe spaces for people to discuss and learn about human rights, LGBTQ+ rights and women’s rights. They are starting a dialogue.

It is their work, specifically a project run by Historia Ime [My Story], called Queerantine Storytelling that inspired this post. The purpose of the project is to document how Albanian LGBTQ+ individuals are experiencing quarantine due to the COVID-19 outbreak. By doing so, you have before you the analogy of social isolation which applies to everyday life for members of the queer community who can never really be a part of society as they are. Many individuals worldwide have experienced feelings of isolation, depression, desolation due to the quarantine. Isolation is a difficult thing for many people. While some of us happily identify as introverts, many of us are not all too happy to have our choice to isolate ourselves taken away from us. We like to cancel plans on our own volition. So, imagine a life where you are always isolated. Where the choice is not yours to make. Where you have to keep on a mask all the time because who you are is not accepted. Where your parents would kick you out of the house, they might even beat you, they might even kill you. That is an extreme of course, but not unheard of.

When you live in a society where being LGBTQ+ is not accepted, you live a life of isolation. While some may be lucky enough to have understanding and supportive parents, many don’t. Coming out is not an option. So they are resigned to a life of pretend; their mask never comes off. They live in perpetual liminality.

The Future:

I’m sorry if my last sentence was a bit grim, but I don’t see why I should sugarcoat the issue. As I have said before, I love my country and I love our culture. But the argument that we need to preserve our traditional ways at all expense is ridiculous… If you really think homosexuality is a phenomenon of the 21st century, I hate to break it to you, but for as long as people have existed, homosexuality has been a part of the human condition. If we are going to move forward as a country, into the EU or not, we need to make real tangible steps towards securing equality for all members of the Albanian community. Regardless of gender, sexual orientation, and social class (another topic for another time).

So where does this leave us in regards to the future? Continuing with the analogy of liminality, in order to move forward, we need to create a mechanism bring an end to this phase which is meant to be temporary. We can do this by legislative changes, to extends the same basic rights awarded to Albanian citizens to LGBTQ+ individuals. But more importantly, we need to work to change public opinion. As mentioned above, legislation is one thing, and practice is another. How can we change public opinion? Education. I’m starting to feel like I end all my posts with: education is the answer. But honestly, it is. We need to have open and frank discussions and engage with the general public. This where things like Pride and the internet come in. Again, where legislation fails, the community has stepped forward, organizing everything from public outreach, to talks about sexual health (Tabu.al), to events that increase visibility, to feminist theory reading groups. I understand not everyone can cry for equality from the rooftops so to say, but we can all do out part to help bring this cause forward. Even if it starts with educating yourself. 

Whether you are part of the community or not, LGBTQ+ rights matter. If you believe in democracy, then you will understand that securing basic human rights for minority or marginalized groups is a basic fundamental building block of democracy. And more importantly, just because something may not affect you directly, it does not mean that the cause is not worth your while. Quite the opposite, if you have the privilege not to be affected by oppressive legislation, it is your duty to acknowledge that privilege and use it lobby equal treatment for others. 

And I will leave it there for now. There were so many other things I wanted to talk about (EU incorporation and the politics of equality for one..), but for the sake of time, and a shorter article, I left it out.

If you are interested in the concept of liminality, the articles I references are found below, and many of the pivotal books can be found online. 

If you would like to know more about LGBTQ+ rights in Albania, many of these articles are found online, as well as multiple other resources. Wikipedia has a surprisingly well-written page that provides a run-through of legislation regarding LGBTQ+ rights. 

If you would like to know more about the NGO’s mentioned, the links to the websites are embedded in the post. A lot of them also have Facebook pages and Instagram’s.

And if you would like to discuss any of the things mentioned, I am always open to discourse. This post is not meant to be all-encompassing, it is just the tip of the iceberg. My goal, as always, is to entice a conversation. 

Peace, love, and equality.

Works cited

Barry, James and Ihsan Yilma 2019 Liminality and racial hazing of Muslim migrants: media framing of Albanians in Shepparton, Australia, 1930–1955, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 42:7, 1168-1185.

Çuri, Urjana 2018 Legal Provisions, Discrimination and Uncertainty on LGBT community in Albania.” Academicus International Scientific Journal 17:111 121.                                                                                                                

Hazizaj, Altin 2013 Legal Framework for the Protection of LGBT Adolescents from Violence a ndDiscrimination in the Pre-University Education System in Albania. Balkan Social Science Review 2:151-167.

Gennep, A. van. 1960 The rites of passage. [Chicago]: University of Chicago Press.

Kadi, Xhensila 2014 The approach towards gay marriage in the Albanian legislation and society.

Koleka, Benet 2012. Albania gay activists cycle to call for rights. Reuters.

Howard-Grenville, Jennifer Karen Golden-Biddle, Jennifer Irwin and Jina Mao 2011 Liminality as Cultural Process for Cultural Change. Organization Science, Vol. 22, No. 2, Cultural Construction of Organizational Life pp. 522-539.

Ridvan Peshkopia, Drin Konjufca, Erblin Salihu & Jonida Lika 2018 EU membership conditionality in promoting acceptance of peremptory human rights norms: a case study in Albania considering public opinion, The International Journal of Human Rights, 22:10,1355-1376.

Rexhepi, Piro 2016 From Orientalism to Homonationalism: Queer Politics, Islamophobia, and Europeanisation in Kosovo in Bojan Bilic (ed.), LGBT Activism and Europeanisation in the Post-Yugoslav Space. Palgrave, Macmillion.

Rexhepi, Agron 2020 Vendet e Ballkanit me Parada Alternative te krenarise. Kosovotwopointzero. 05/27/2020

Shtylla, Albana 2013 Sexual orientation, gender identity and non-discrimination. The Albanian labor legislation and its effects on employment and vocational training potentials. Member of Central Electoral Commission of Albania.

Telliti, Adisa 2015 Sexual Prejudice and Stigma of LGBT People. European Scientific Journal 11: 1857 – 7881.

Thomassen, Bjørn 2012 Anthropology and its many modernities: when concepts matter. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute,18(1) 160-178.

Bjørn Thomassen 2014. Liminality and the Modern: Living Through the In-Between. Taylor & Francis Group.

Turner, Victor 1967 The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. Cornell University Press.

Turner, Victor 1979 Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage. Reader in Comparative Religion 4:234-243

Underwood, Janet, and Rhodes, Christine 2018 A Qualitative Investigation of Hospital Visitors’ Experiences Using the Analytic Lens of Liminality: Informing Nursing Practice and Policy.” Nursing Inquiry, vol. 25, no. 3

Vizedom, Monika, 1976 Rites and relationships: rites of passage and contemporary anthropology. Beverly Hills, California: Sage Publications.

Wels, Harry Kees van der Waal, Andrew Spiegel & Frans Kamsteeg 2011Victor Turner and liminality: An introduction, Anthropology Southern Africa, 34:1-2, 1-4

Wimark, Thomas 2019 Homemaking and perpetual liminality among queer refugees, Social & Cultural Geography, DOI: 10.1080/14649365.2019.1619818

The Grad School Application Process

I know what you’re thinking. It’s still August, why are you talking about applying to grad school, the deadlines are months away.

Well maybe I’m just an overachiever, but I’ve always found that getting a head-start on bureaucratic type processes, like grad school applications, is always a good idea. These things take longer than you think. And a strong application is one that has been well researched and well thought out, in addition to being well written.

So, without further ado, the AA’s guide to the grad school application process…To be taken with a grain of salt, of course.

The first thing you need to do is to do your research. And to do it well. When I first started the grad school application process back in ’16, I must have spent hours Googling different schools, looking at how they compared to each other in regard to my program. Some of the basic things to look for include program duration, cost, funding opportunities, if there is a thesis component etc. I made a little spreadsheet by hand comparing my top favorite universities so I could see how they compared at a glance – not saying you have to do this by any means. I know I’m my own, special, level of organized. Excel also works great..

The next step is to see if there are potential faculty members that could supervise your research, either as chair or committee members. If you like a program, then take a look at the faculty there. Make sure that there are faculty members that can help you with your research.  Alternatively, if there is someone in your field that you really want to work with you might start by searching for the university where they are employed. Don’t limit yourself by only looking at the faculty members in your department only, there could be several faculty members in related departments that would provide valuable insight on your research. For example, I often would look to the geography or classics departments.

Ideally, you will have 3-4 programs that fit your research interests and that have faculty members that could serve as your potential advisers. The next step is to start getting in contact with the university. The best person to initially contact is the graduate adviser. Typically, they know the program better than anyone else and can tell you relatively quickly if it is a good match for you, additionally, recruitment is often a big part of thier job, so they will be happy to talk to potential new students. In the email, introduce yourself, tell them that you find the program very interesting and are interested in applying. You might want to elaborate on your own research interests in a paragraph or so. Ask if there are any resources that you can look at and if the program is accepting students etc. Usually, the graduate adviser will direct you to a faculty member who is taking students and/or has similar research interests. With some luck, it is one of the people that you had researched.

Then you can contact the faculty members you are interested in working with. This first email is essentially the first impression, so it is important that it comes across professional. Keep it short and respectful, and as always, free of typos and grammar errors.  Again, introduce yourself, tell them briefly about you and your research interests and mention that you find their research interesting and pertinent to yours. Ask them if they are accepting students and if they have any advice about your application.

In my experience, the people I reached out to were usually very upfront with me. And let me tell you, I was rejected many, many times. I often got the “your research is interesting, but not really my niche, but you should contact X” response. Rejection is not a bad thing, if someone is not sold on your research, it is better to know that right away. If you get the “sorry not my niche”, or “I have too many students” response, thank them for their time and wish them the best. If you get the very much sought after “that sounds very interesting, tell me more”, and “I am taking students” email, thank them for their time and let them know how much it would mean to have the opportunity to work with them. Now just because someone says they are accepting students doesn’t mean you are in, but it’s a start.

Email etiquette is extremely important at this phase since this is the primary mode of communication with your potential adviser. So, always be polite and prompt. Don’t take three days to respond to an email, and don’t email at 2 am in the morning. Rookie mistakes.

Once you have narrowed down your top universities with faculty members that are taking students and are interested in your research, you can start working on the application itself. This is where the real work starts.  I recommend keeping it to about 3 applications maximum for two reasons – one the applications cost money and they can be expensive, about $100 each. Two, the less applications the more you can focus your time and resources to making strong applications. If you are an international student, I recommend you start early since it will take you time to get your documents ready. The deadline for most programs is often December -March. I would write these deadlines down and know them by heart. Programs won’t consider late applications.

There are about 7 components to the process:

  • Application (form with your basic information)
  • Transcripts
  • Statement of purpose / Personal statement or both
  • Writing Sample
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Your CV
  • The Tests (The GRE and TOEFL)

To really drive the point home, here is an example timeline (with deadlines) of how the application process unfolds. At least how it unfolded for me. If you want to start in the fall semester, you need to start thinking about your application about a year ahead, usually, this is the last year of your current program, unless you are re-entering academia from the workforce or something along those lines. Regardless, this often means that August is when the process begins.

One: Narrow down three to four schools to apply to and make the first contact with the graduate coordinators, then later professors. (August – September)

Two: Find out the requirements for the programs. (Early September)

Three: Contact previous professors from your school to ask about letters. Ask them early and provide them with the deadlines. The can also help edit your statements of purpose.(Early September)

Four: Start the application process, write-down the login information so you don’t forget it. Figure out what documents you need to send and how; some schools are picky about this. If they want hard copies from the school send them early (September).

Five: Start writing your statements. Look at the website for each program so you can tailor each statement fit the goals of the university. Keep in mind, three applications means three statements since you will have to make them specific to the program. (October).

*This is probably the most important part of your applications as it demonstrates who you are and what you have to offer. It is important that it is well written and shows you are driven and ambitious. Here you can talk about your research goals, what you intend to do with your degree after graduating and how your academic career thus far has prepared you for this next step. Mention that the goals of the university line up with your own, that you feel that you will flourish as an academic there for these reasons. Additionally, mention the faculty members at the university who you would like to work with and why. *

Six: Edit your CV and your writing sample. Make your CV show that you are a well-rounded academic with experience. Find a piece of work you have written for classes that you got a good grade one. One that shows your ability to write academically. It helps to have a friend look them over to catch any minor errors or typos you may have missed yourself (October).

Seven: Take the standardized tests. These are a pain, but they are required by most schools. The GRE is required for all American schools and the TOEFL is required of all international students. As with any test, it helps to prepare. Luckily, there are lots of resources out in the inter-webs to help you study. Most schools will say what their required minimum scores are for acceptance. Now, not meeting this score is not the end of the world, but coming close helps. Especially if there is a lot of competition. However, it is the impression you make on the faculty through your interactions with them and your letter of academic intent that really matters. (October / November).

By end of November, you should have everything ready, I suggest submitting your applications end of November to early December (depending on when they are due, but I did all my applications in one day to get them over with). Everything is done online, including your letters of recommendation. Your professors submit them via a link you send them. You will need their emails and approval when you are filling out your application. When you decide that you’re going to finalize and submit your applications, make sure you give yourself time, it takes a few hours to get everything uploaded, double check everything! I made a folder in my computer for my applications and in this, I made a folder for each school. I saved everything in the folder so when it was time to apply I had everything in one place.

Now, this post may seem like overkill and the deadlines are just suggestions. But I honestly do mean to be helpful. I’m the first in my family (both sides) to go to graduate school. I didn’t have much help figuring out this process, and there were times when I felt overwhelmed. But, I did it (twice), and you can too. Just take it a step at a time, plan it out and start early. Show ’em what you have to offer; be confident, be professional, be you.

Thoughts at the airline gate – WIFI withdrawal and phone dependency

I wrote this post two months ago while waiting for my airplane to go to Albania. In the midst of working and travelling it somehow got lost in the depths of my tablet. However, having now returned home and recovered from my jetlag, the post has resurfaced. Without further ado; the musings of an Albanian archaeologist at an airline gate.

I’m sitting somewhere in Atatürk airport, awaiting my gate assignment.  In all honesty, I’m still groggy from sleeping on the plane 8+ hours.  I wasn’t planning on writing anything today – I had given myself the day off, but then an idea hit. As I was sitting there, thinking about nothing in particular, a guy, maybe in his late 40’s early 50’s asked me if there was WIFI here.

Good question I thought, I don’t see why not. All airports offer some sort of WIFI. So I open up my phone and showed him that there was a WIFI and that you had to sign in through the browser etc. It wasn’t working for him for some reason. Now I was determined. So I tried to get it to work on my phone. I was actually surprised that the WIFI here is not actually free. You had to put in your number, get a code, put in that code, then you get your free two hours of WIFI. This is slightly problematic if you’are with a plan back home that charges insane fees for roaming. So, there’s no WIFI for me today.. and that got me thinking.

It is sort of funny that it was almost inconceivable that there would be no WIFI available. WIFI has become a basic right. When you don’t have access to WIFI or a cellular network at least, you instantly feel disconnected. At least I have in the past. When I would go back and forth between Starkville and Toronto, I wouldn’t have a phone number in Toronto. So the second I stepped out of the house, I was unreachable. That used to terrify me to no end.

“What if have to make a phone call?”

“What if I got lost?”

“What if I needed to look something up?”

Or worse – “What if got board and couldn’t scroll mindlessly through Instagram.” Quelle vie!

If I, a 24-year-old, 90’s baby, went through WIFI withdrawal, how must it be for the generation that was raised with smartphones and tablets in their hands? The generation that is chronically diagnosed with ADHD, that doesn’t know what its like to play outside all day?

I’m not trying to blame technology or the internet, I love both, but sometimes I wonder how deep the effects of such a dependency on these things have on us. I’ve spent a lot of time in airport gates lately, the scene is always the same: almost everyone is on some sort of device, a smartphone, a tablet – plugged in. There are people camped out by plugs to charge their ever-draining batteries. I myself am no exception. Not only am I typing away on my tablet, I’m listening to music on my phone as well (Nothing Else Matters – Metallica).

I often wonder how this dependency on technology has affected human behavior. Overall, I think technology has drawn us into ourselves and made us terribly inpatient.

“But it can connect us to people around the world!” You may argue.

True, very true, but while you’re talking to someone across the world, who are you not interacting with that is right in front of you? People go to bars and cafes with friends and spend most of the time messaging other people.. that seems so ironic. My friends and I have recently made a conscious effort to keep phones away when we are hanging out, especially when we are having dinner or grabbing a coffee. What a difference it makes. How nice it is to have fully engaged conversations with no distractions. With no absent-minded “huh” or “yea..”

We have become so content to plug into our phone that we can be in a room with others and talk to no one. It has become such an epidemic that talking to people is perceived as weird and only done in the rare instance that the WIFI is not working or cannot be found. It’s strange, its almost as if we are scared to talk to each other. The man who asked me about the WIFI sounded so uncomfortable like he was pushing himself to ask me.  Last time I was coming home from Starkville, I was sitting next to this woman. And she asked me if she could use my phone to call her brother because she couldn’t sign into the WIFI. I am not proud to say that my first reaction was to tell her I was uncomfortable with giving her my phone. And then it hit me, the irony of it all! I consider myself a culturally relative ANTHROPOLOGIST, above all, a decent human being. So why could I not lend this woman my phone ?! So I apologized and offered her my phone.

I am not saying the answer to this WIFI dependency syndrome is to oblige every stranger that decides to talk to us. But maybe it would do us all a little good to unplug every now and then and interact with those around us. Put away your phone for a few hours when you’re at home and spend some time with those around you. Ask them how their day went, what is on their mind, what their favorite song is at the moment (if you’re wondering, mine is Brother’s in Arms by Dire Straits). It might do humanity a little bit of good if we relearn how to interact with each other. After all, we are social beings, and the ability to effectively interact with others was a key trait in our evolutionary path.

 

 

 

 

How to “Thesis”

books.jpgYour coursework is done, you are now a seasoned graduate student, it is time to begin the ever-daunting thesis writing process.

Regardless of your school or department, most programs have a thesis writing component. I don’t know if this is the case for everyone, but the thought of churning out 100+ pages of academic writing terrified me to no end. Yet, I somehow managed to do it, and successfully at that.

“Thesising” as we began to call it in my department, is not easy, but it shouldn’t be terrifying either. It is just another process you have to go through if you want a career in academia. If you break it down, a thesis is essentially a really big essay. At this point, you should be an expert at writing essays, so what’s one more?

Hindsight is 20/20, looking back on my thesis journey there are many things I would do differently. Not to be too harsh on myself as there are things that I did right as well.  As I toiled through my thesis I started creating a little list in my head of tips and tricks that just might be handy for someone who is about to begin the ever daunting thesis writing process.

 

  • Know what you want to research and get approval from your supervisor

What helped me out immensely was that I knew what I wanted to base my thesis research on before I even applied to Mississippi State. Knowing what you want to study works in your favor since you can gear your classes to help your research (more on this below). However, it is important that you obtain approval from your thesis supervisor if you are coming in with a research question already determined. Your thesis research in not only a reflection of your work but is tied to your university and your committee as well. Your superior will be able to tell you if your research is feasible and ethical. While I came in with a research question in mind, my research design and many important parameters were decided in agreement with my supervisor. However, I’ve noticed that many people do not have a hard and ready research question coming into a graduate program. Most of my peers had general research interests, but not set question. If you do not have an idea question that drives you, the best thing you can do is take on a research question that is pertinent to your supervisor’s research. Chances are your supervisor’s research interests are similar to yours, either theoretically, geographically or methodologically. Additionally, they would be able to provide you with access to the required data more readily, as opposed to trying to secure data from elsewhere.

 

  • Know your topic – Do your background research

You do not need to be an expert, but you do need to know what you’re talking about. When I began my thesis, I knew very little about Albanian archaeology, other than I wanted to study it. I grew up in Canada, so Albanian prehistory was not a high priority in the Ontario Public School Curriculum. However, I was lucky enough to take a Directed Individual Study (DIS) in the second semester of my first year which allowed me to familiarize myself with my topic. I created a list of readings which covered Albanian archaeology, the history of archaeology in Albania, archaeological theory, GIS and GIS in archaeology, which my thesis supervisor amended and approved. I would read my weekly readings, take notes and meet with my supervisor once a week to discuss them. This kills two birds with one stone as it allows you to familiarize yourself on your topic all the while doing the background readings for your thesis proposal. Since a DIS is a class, you will need a way to be evaluated – in my case, I wrote my thesis proposal as my evaluation. This was helpful in moving along my progress in the program as it gave me a hard and fast deadline which I had to adhere to, of course I added significantly to my reading list over time, but this is a good stepping stone to get you started and build up a base of knowledge. As I made my way through my original list, I found more articles by looking through works cited pages. As my proposal came together, I noticed gaps or ideas that I wanted to explore more, which prompted me to consider other resources or articles that I had not considered previously. Additionally, as my knowledge on the topic grew, I was able to search more successfully for new resources since I had a better idea of what keywords to look for. Also, worth keeping in mind is that the research portion of your thesis does not end with your thesis proposal or your literature review. I was constantly reading new articles and expanding my works cited – I found some of my strongest articles 3 weeks before I defended! Never stop reading, never stop writing, and the more you read, the better your research becomes.

 

  • Do not try to reinvent the wheel

Consider why your program requires a thesis in the first place. In my department, they encouraged us to cap our thesis at about 100 pages, excluding graphics and appendices. As a master’s student, you are not supposed to reinvent the wheel. What you are required to do is demonstrate that you have the capability to organize and carry out research, and interpret the results within a theoretical framework.  This means that you should keep your reach question as simple and your research design as straightforward as possible. Take it from someone that had 13 hypotheses and sub-hypothesis – Simplicity is your friend! If you can prove or disprove something with two hypotheses and two sub-hypotheses. DO IT. Keep your research question simple and above all feasible! While it may be very interesting to do DNA analysis on human remains from a Pueblo site, for example, chances are you will not be allowed to do so. When coming up with a research question keep in mind access to data and time and money restrictions. Is your data overseas? Can you access it? How will get access to it?  Are you allowed to publish on it? What about your methods – are they destructive? Do they take a long time? Are they expensive? Do you have access to certain tools and instruments you will need? It took me 5 months to collect and work with my data, and I was working with secondary sources and open data that could be accessed online.

 

  • Use your coursework to help you

I wrote my thesis while taking classes. This can be difficult at times, but what helped me make progress in both my classes and thesis, is that I would use my coursework to aide my thesis research. You have to write a paper for you GIS class, great – write it on the history of GIS in Albanian archaeology. Need to analyze data for your stats class? Great, use your thesis data! I tied my thesis research to every class I had to take, even Middle Eastern Cultures (I wrote a great paper on interconnectivity in the Mediterranean and world systems theory – the main theoretical framework I used in my thesis – WIN!). By the time I finished my coursework, I had written papers on the history of Albanian archaeology, world systems theory and interconnectivity, GIS application in archaeology and Albania and done multiple projects using my thesis data for both my GIS and my stats classes. Using your data for classes is so useful as it allows you to really get to know your data, and facility with your data is key!

 

  • Deadlines and progress

I remember being in my first semester of classes and thinking about my thesis as if it was some monster. It was overwhelming, how does one get to a polished, bound, approved thesis in just two years. The answer, dear friends is to break it up into manageable chunks. This is how I broke down my thesis:

  1. Background reading
  2. Thesis proposal – Literature Review, Methods and Materials
  3. Collect data
  4. Analyze data
  5. Interpret data
  6. Write results
  7. Conclusions, limitations

I gave myself deadlines to adhere to for each part outlined above. They were not set in stone, and they were sometimes unrealistic, but they helped keep me on track. My deadlines were often super early, so even if I missed them, I would still be on track. I am a very visual person, so once I had an approved thesis proposal I create this board for myself. I know, sounds lame, but I swear to you this thing kept me from going crazy.  I went to Walmart, got a cork board, some push pins and cue cards and sat down on the floor of my room one September day and planned out my thesis writing process. At the very center of my board when my thesis statement. This was not an original idea. I remember from my professionalization class, Dr. Zuckerman telling us to write down our thesis statement and to put it over where we will be writing. Having your thesis statement direct over your head as you are writing is a great way to keep yourself on topic, and helps keep your writing concise and to the point. The next for que-cards around these statements consisted of important information that is pertinent to your research. I had the descriptions of my categories up; my time periods, site designations etc. Finally, were the posts with deadlines and progress.  I gave myself hard and soft deadlines and made note of things that I had completed. The latter was helpful for morale – even through my to-do list was very growing, seeing the completed list grow as well always made me feel a little better. The most important deadlines, however, where the department and program deadlines. Write these in BOLD RED. Know them, live them, have them memorized. Do NOT miss these deadlines.

 

  • Don’t take it personally

One thing that I quickly learned is that when you have a complete and approved thesis proposal, 1/3 of your thesis is done! Your proposal consists of a problem statement, a literature review, methods and materials, those are the first few chapters of your thesis. Of course, you will have to add and edit certain parts, but a big chunk of your thesis is ready. Once you have a first draft you really are past the hard part. Now all you have to do is go through the rounds of edits with your supervisor and committee. There are some things to keep in mind during this part of the process. First, draft one will never be perfect, so get ready to edit a ton. And two, thesis edits are not to be taken personally, they are meant to make your work stronger, so if you committee suggests you change or add something, my advice would be to do it. I added entire sanctions to my thesis to meet the requirements of my committee and I am so glad that I did because now I think I have better and stronger thesis.

 

  • Love yourself

This became my motto and words of advice during my last semester. I finished my program in two years but it is designed to be three. Most people take courses for two years and then write in their third. I, however, had classes, TA’d, volunteered and wrote and defined my thesis in one semester. And while I did it, I sometimes think my mental and physical health suffered for it. Of course, there have been people before me who have done the same, and there will be many people after me who will successfully defend in two years. This is something that is determined between each individual and their committee. But my advice to everyone who asked me if they should do it in two years is to think about why they want to finish in two years. Do you have a job lined up?  Do you have another program to start? Do you have family or someone waiting on you back home? Does your supervisor think that you can successfully complete the program in two years? If the answer is yes, and you yourself want to finish the program in two years, then do it. I know you can. Otherwise, love yourself more, and work at the pace that you’re comfortable with. Remember, it is not a race and you are not competing with anyone, the impotent thing is that you do good research. Also remember that it is ok to take breaks, to cut yourself some slack and to love yourself. Believe it or not, it will get done, it always does.

 

  • You are not alone

Cheesy as this sounds, you need to remember that you are not alone. You have an entire department behind you. Your supervisor and committee have a vested interest in you succeeding, after all, your success reflects positively on them. I cannot count the number of times I had to go to my supervisor for help when I was stuck on a method, when my data would not process or when my stats were wonky. And every time, my supervisor sat down with me, walked through the problems with me and helped me come to a solution. We ended up changing major parts of my thesis by the end of it, and my thesis is only the stronger because of it.  Aside from your committee and your supervisor you also have your peers. There were countless times when I would sit up and talk theory or methods with my colleagues. What I loved most about my department is how much we care about and help each other. One person’s success is all of our success. My colleges and I would help each other find resources, edits drafts of our work, and even just be there for moral support. I remember I was so stressed one time that my roommate went out and brought me a little “happy” bag filled with my favorite chocolates and kombucha and a fuzzy blanket. Some of my best memories are of paint nights in with my friends to celebrate finishing a chapter or getting back thesis edits.

Now take this with a grain of salt, I am not a professional and this little list is not meant to be exhaustive. But the point is, writing a thesis does not have to be a terrifying task. If you come at it with a clear and simple research question, break it up in manageable parts, and chip away at it consonantly, you can get it done. After all, it’s just another essay, and you’ve written hundreds of essays by now.