Rachel Tindall’s Advice for Grad Students

Rachel Tindall received her Bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in Literature from the University of Southern Indiana in 2015. Now, she is working towards achieving her Master’s of Arts in English here at Ball State and plans to graduate in May of 2017. 

preview-chat-20160822_132743I’ve always been one of those people who knows what they want to do. I came straight from my undergraduate degree into my Master’s program at Ball State as part of my plan to become a university professor of American Literature. My degree, when I graduate this May, will be a Master’s of Arts in English, with which I hope to become an academic advisor or career coach at a university in Indianapolis or the surrounding area. Not the same as the aforementioned “plan,” right? Well, as I’ve come to realize, sometimes things change.

From the time I arrived at Ball State, the faculty and staff in the English program have been so helpful in helping me achieve my goals. I am a Teaching Assistant (TA) in the Writing Program, which means that once I completed my first semester of classes and observed my mentor’s English 104 class, I was assigned to teach my own. This semester is the fifth English 104 class I’ve taught while at Ball State, and I finally feel like I’m getting the hang of it.

During my time teaching, I’ve learned that my favorite part of being an instructor is actually meeting with students one-on-one during conferences, hence my desire to go into advising or career coaching. Having developed multiple teaching philosophies for pedagogy classes, I have found my core values as an educator. But two years ago, I had never taught a class, and to be honest, couldn’t even really picture myself in front of a classroom. Sure, it was a passing thought for some time in the distant future, but it wasn’t concrete. Thankfully, my professors and mentors saw my potential and worked with me every step of the way to help me become a confident graduate student and instructor.

I’ve also grown in two other important ways through grad school. First, as a student. Second, as a person. In order to really understand this growth, it’s important to know a few things about me:

  1. I live, and have lived for the duration of my degree, an hour away from campus.
  2. I was engaged when I arrived at Ball State, and now I’m married.
  3. I didn’t know anyone at Ball State when I arrived straight from my undergraduate institution.

My experiences at Ball State have shaped the way I act as a student, and how I handle life as an adult. The intensity and learning curve as a grad student have affected me profoundly. As a student, I am much more resourceful and confident than I was as an undergrad. This is partially because of skills that I have learned, but also because of the encouragement I receive on an almost daily basis from my support network. I feel confident that I can achieve my goals, and because of that I do better work. As a person, I am much more aware of my own impact on the people around me. I know that I need to spend time with my friends, my family, my dog, and most of all my (new) husband. All of those people support me daily, and they need me to pull back from school sometimes and just be a person. Probably the biggest (and hardest) thing I’ve learned is how to manage my time. I drive to Ball State an hour each way every day, so every minute I’m home or at school needs to matter for something – whether that’s personal “break” time or school work time.

My story is one of many at Ball State. For the most part, I’m just like any other graduate student struggling through, trying to figure out this whole “life” thing. However, I think there are a few things I can share that could be useful to new graduate students.

  1. Graduate school is HARD. You will be tested in ways you didn’t know you could be tested. You graduated in the top 10% of your undergraduate class? So did everyone else! You love researching and writing papers but tend to procrastinate? Try doing that with a 20-page seminar paper that’s worth 50-60% of your grade – on second thought, that’s a terrible plan.
  2. You will fail at something, and that’s okay. So you didn’t go to every single social event, finish every assignment exactly on time, or build the most fun assignment for your classes. You may have even have lost a library book that you later found stuffed under the seat of your car because you were carrying too many books at one time and it slid underneath the seat. It’s okay, you’re just human! Everyone else around you has also done these things (at least once) and survived.
  3. The people around you, your cohort, your professors, your mentors, your office-mate(s), understand your pain. They get it. Use that to your advantage. Talk through issues about your classes. Ask professors how the heck they made it through their education. These people want to help you – let them!
  4. Take advantage of opportunities. Every semester you will produce some sort of project, whether creative or research based. When your professors suggest conferences or publications to submit to (and then offer to help you get there), go for it! Getting accepted to a conference and then sitting in front of a room full of people who want to hear about your research is awesome (and validating)! Collaborate with your colleagues, go to events, network with people. Not only does that change your perspective about your research interests, but it also might help you get a job.
  5. Plans change. So you had a “set” plan and now you’re questioning whether it’s what you want? You’ve wanted to be a professor for years, but now you like the job description of something else better? Like failing at some things, changing plans happens to most people. Some people “stay the course,” but if that’s not you, that’s okay. Part of grad school is figuring out what you want, and no one will blame you or judge you (hopefully) for making the best decisions for you.
  6. You CAN do it, AND it IS worth it. When you’ve cried 3 times in the past week because you have so much to do and you don’t think that one person can possibly do all of the tasks you know you have to accomplish, life can seem bleak. Finishing your education to get to your goals can seem impossible, and sometimes you will probably feel like you’d rather binge watch Netflix with your dog and a tub of ice cream than read one more article. But, when you finish eating all the ice cream and run out of your favorite show (this definitely happens) you will find the strength to read that last article and write that 500-word discussion board. You will write that 20-page paper and do well, even if you have to ask for help a hundred different times from ten different people.

You may be wondering why (or if) you should trust me. After all, what can a twenty-something year old know about the big world of academia and grad school? I guess my short answer would be: don’t just read about it and silently chuckle at my experiences – come experience all of these things for yourself. Live them, suffer them, grow from them. Have your own crazy experiences. But, if you have the opportunity to go to grad school, if that’s how you get to the job you want, or if you’re still unsure but you love to learn: go for it. Take the leap of faith – it won’t let you down.

Writing Project Grant (and more February Good News)

iwp_primary_logo_colorThe Indiana Writing Project directed by Professor Susanna Benko was recently awarded a $20,000 grant for the College Ready Writers Program, sponsored by the National Writing Project. This program focuses on teaching argument writing in middle and secondary classrooms. The grant money will be used to invest in 12-16 experienced middle and high school Writing Project teacher-leaders. These teachers will engage in extensive professional development studying argument writing through the summer of 2017 and the 2017-2018 school year. Congratulations!

On Thursday March 2, Prof. Cathy Day will be reading from her work at Franklin CollegeOn Saturday, March 25, she will be speaking on “Getting the Most out of Your Writing Life” at the Antioch Writers Workshop. In June, she’ll be traveling to the 2017 NonfictioNow conference in Iceland, speaking on a panel about “Obsession in Nonfiction.”

The English Department’s undergraduate ENL license recently received National Recognition.

Prof. Frank Felsenstein and Prof. Jim Connolly were guest speakers at Columbia University’s Book History Colloquium.

Prof. Michael Begnal published an essay on the Chinese Taoist poet Li Po in the new issue (#7) of the Free State Review. Prof. Begnal also presented at this year’s Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900, on February 23. His paper was titled “Modernist Mythologies and the Poets of Santa Fe in the 1920s.”

Prof. Mary Lou Vercellotti had four submissions,”Research Faculty Fellow,” “Taking Steps to Control Variables in a Quantitative Quasi-Experiment,” “Interdepartmental Faculty Collaboration,” and”Building Institutional Support for SoTL” accepted into a new book on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), It Works for Me with SoTL, edited by Hal Blythe, Charlie Sweet, and Russell Carpenter. The goal of the book is to give interested teachers information about the scholarship of teaching and learning (researching the practice of teaching.) The book will be released this fall.

Prof. G. Patterson was invited to be the keynote speaker for Miami University Hamilton’s Women’s History Month event. The talk is called, “Don’t Despair. Organize: Activist Feminisms and Intersectional Futures.” They will be giving the keynote on Monday, March 6. The event is open to the public.

Prof. Joyce Huff  will be inducted as an alumni member of Phi Beta Kappa by St. Mary’s College of Maryland in recognition of her scholarly achievements since graduating.

Prof. Rani Crowe‘s short film Beautiful Eyes was screened in Berlin at the Final Girls Film Festival, a women’s horror festival.

Prof. Molly Ferguson‘s article, “Clowning as Human Rights Activism in Recent Devised Irish Theatre” was accepted for publication in the 2017 “Resistance in Modern Ireland” issue of Studi Irlandesi: A Journal of Irish Studies.

Prof. Jennifer Grouling‘s and Ph.D student Elisabeth Buck’s article, “Colleagues, Classmates, and Friends: Graduate v. Undergraduate Tutor Identities and Professionalization” will be published in Praxis: A Writing Center Journal in their May 2017 edition.

Pat Grabill: A Love for the Written Word

Pat Grabill graduated from Ball State with an MA in English in 1968 and pursued a teaching career for 30 years. After retiring from teaching in 2004, she worked as a technical writer for Precisely Write in Indianapolis and also became President of the Watercolor Society of Indiana, where she made use of her English skills and her love of art to promote painting in Indiana.

preview-full-unnamedWhy English?

I’ve always been a good student. Not a great student—although I have had some great moments—but a good student. When I graduated from high school in 1961 (yes, I’m old), I really wanted to go to college, but my dad wasn’t sure. So he picked my school—Purdue—a great choice for me, as it turned out, and he also picked my major, elementary education. Not a good choice. I would have been a barely adequate elementary teacher, so I changed my major to Secondary Education/English. I graduated four years later with many, many semester hours in literature, writing, linguistics, and rhetoric and went on to spend 30 classroom years mostly at the high school level. I retired in 2004 having taught all secondary grade levels and loving it. While my undergrad degree was at Purdue (Boiler Up!), I studied for my MA degree at Ball State (Go, Cardinals!)  I taught freshman comp in the BSU English department as a TA while doing my own course work. I wrote my Master’s paper on “The Myth of the West in Steinbeck’s Fiction.” I remember it well. I wish I still had my copy. I had some great teachers at Purdue and at Ball State, and I am grateful for the time they took with me.

Why major in English? 

You’ll know more than most people doing crossword puzzles. (A flippant response, I know). You will understand allusions to literature in ordinary conversation, news, plays, movies – conversations that people who are not avid readers may not get. But most importantly — and this is VERY important — you will learn to read critically and write clearly. You will have to read great books, short stories, poetry — all genres — and you will LOVE reading them. You will write — and you will become very good at it, too. Your speech and your writing will become more persuasive, and via your communication skills, you will become a leader. Your parents want to know what you’ll do with an English major, and the easy answer is that you will become language literate in a society that lacks many of those skills. That ability can be money in the bank in this culture where we write MORE than before, both because of and in spite of technology. It’s also true that an English major is great preparation for law school or for many graduate programs. There are also many opportunities in areas of corporate and non-profit communication given technology experience. My advice to you: take all the writing classes you can. You’re already a reader, or you wouldn’t even consider becoming an English major, so become a first-rate writer, too. Learn the concept of audience. Learn to be persuasive. Learn to love the language and to use it correctly.

While I loved teaching, after I retired I went to work as a technical writer.  My job was to write for and edit user Help files for a medical document written by a major pharmaceutical company. Our team’s job was to look at the plan for the program and, from that plan, write user-friendly Help files. It WAS an adventure, to say the least. I received a generous hourly wage, met some really good people, visited often with the software engineers, and learned a great deal about the very specific requirements for tech writing as opposed to regular writing. I’ve also been responsible for writing newsletters for one business and writing and editing for a not-for-profit organization, The Watercolor Society of Indiana, where I am a Board member.

Some years after getting my MA at Ball State, I again attended Ball State as a participant in the Indiana Writing Project, which was life-changing for me as a teacher. Finishing my MA did not finish my participation in learning more. I went on to take 30 hours past my MA simply because I wanted to learn new “stuff.” I applied for an Eli Lilly Teacher Creativity Grant at the end of the 90s because I wanted to study connections between writing and painting, and Lilly gave me $5,000 to spend during the summer on anything I wanted to do to enhance my knowledge of the written story and the painted story. That summer changed my life, too, because I have continued to be a painter. I have a studio in my home, and right now have three different paintings in process and some sketches I’m also working on. I am a past president of the Watercolor Society of Indiana (we have a Facebook page), and currently am Board secretary.

Finally, in answer to the question I posed in the title, “Why English”? My answer is, why NOT English? If you love the language and you love the written word, and you love writing and want to become better at it than you already are, major in English. If you’re good at it, do it. You’ll find a job, and maybe it will even be a job you like.

Tara Olivero: Teacher at Homestead High School and Writer at Book Riot

Tara Olivero is a teacher at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne and a contributing writer at Book Riot. She graduated from Ball State in 2014 with a degree in English Education. In this post, she discusses her job as a high school English teacher and how her time at #bsuenglish helped her find her passion for teaching.

How would you describe your job?

My main career will always be my teaching career – I’m in my third year of teaching in Fort Wayne at Homestead High School. As any other high school teacher knows, it’s an exhausting job but one that’s personally satisfying beyond all compare. I also have two side-gigs outside of teaching. I’m a contributor at Book Riot, which I really love because it gives me a platform for my own writing. And my “purely for fun” job is that I work at an Escape Room in Fort Wayne on the weekends; I also write blog posts for the Escape Room’s website.

What’s a typical work day like for you?

I usually try to get to school between 6 and 6:30, so I can set up all the documents I need and make copies for students who have laptop issues. That’s when I don’t oversleep, of course. I teach five classes of freshman high school English, where we do the standard reading/writing you’d expect. I also teach one class of juniors and seniors in Film Literature, Tara Oliverowhich is essentially how to write thoughtful and critical analysis of films. After school, I’m usually still there until 4 or 5, either running one of the clubs I sponsor (including the school’s Creative Writing Club) or helping the theatre department with costuming. At the end of the day, I’ll finally head home to grade papers, work on my current Book Riot pieces, or pet my cat.

How did your English major affect your career path?

I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have the teaching position I have today without an English major. One of the strengths I bring to the table in terms of serving my students IS my English content knowledge. While I’m always trying to work on improving my teaching strategies, inclusion of technology, etc., I know I never have to worry that I’m not hitting at the heart of the books we read in my classes and the structure and content of the essays my students write.

When I was student teaching, I was overwhelmed with the experience, too. I didn’t realize how stressful it would be until I was already in it, but I knew that I wanted to teach English more than anything. I was armed with so much knowledge from my English classes, and I knew how painful it was to be in non-English classes at Ball State and see that writing was something that plenty of other students desperately needed to work on. All of that made me want to teach English even more. Reading comprehension, critical analysis, and the ability to put that comprehension and analysis into words are some of the most important skills high school students need to master, so I’m honored to have a part in that now.

What skills did you pick up in your major that have proved useful in your job?

The English Department did a bang-up job helping me hone my analytical writing skills. Until I started teaching Film Lit, I didn’t realize how helpful it was that I can actually write well. I’m able to show my students examples of my own analytical writing that they can use as models for specific tasks, which is nice.

The instruction I received in my writing classes also helped me hone my style and build my confidence in my own writing. The voice present in my writing and my passion for literature, both of which grew throughout my time as an undergraduate, helped me land a spot as a Book Riot contributor. For the longest time in college, I was a “quasi” book blogger; I ran a YA book blog but didn’t interact much with the blogosphere because I was intimidated. I feel like I can run with that crowd now and not feel inadequate, which is partially because all of the Book Riot people are lovely individuals and partly because I know I’m now a decent writer when I put in the time and care about what I’m writing.

Is there a particular class or professional opportunity that you remember having a big impact on you?

The young adult literature class impacted both the way I teach English, especially the way I run the student-chosen summer reading activities in class in the fall, and my experience writing for Book Riot as a critical reader of YA fiction. The ideas that were covered in that class – how to talk about tough subject material, how to tie in relevant current events, etc. – were more helpful than I could have anticipated. I also know that the entire education program, but specifically the English education classes, helped prepare me for how to design the best reading and writing lessons that I can.

What advice would you give current English majors?

If you’re trying to get onto a writing staff, be brave and apply when there are job openings, even if you think you won’t be good enough! You never know until you try. Write your passions and your voice will come through.

The Twittersphere is on fire right now, and Book Twitter is one of the greatest social platforms you can engage in. There is so much critical analysis happening in 140 characters, it’s madness. So find some authors, publishers, book bloggers, etc., to follow so you can get in on all of that action. It’ll also help you make connections that can further your own aspirations once you graduate.

Save all of your notes! I had to teach The Scarlet Letter my first year at Homestead, and I knew I had taken such great notes in Dr. Habich‘s class, but I tragically couldn’t ever find them.