Category Archives: Grad School

Nearing the end of the semester

And all is well! Well… sort of.

The last two weeks have REALLY ramped up the busyness, and I am constantly reminded of how far behind I am on everything.

Joseph is not amused.
Joseph is not amused.

Despite all of that, I gave a well-received paper at the MTSU Holocaust Conference last week discussing Germans’ responses to the Stolpersteine. The conference has helped rekindle my interest in the project, which has been needed to help get this thing “put to bed” as we say in the newspaper business (not that I’m in the newspaper business anymore, but you get the idea.)

Also creeping up on my to-do list is the very, very, very scary decision of where to go for my Ph.D. program. I narrowed it down to four schools, but today I added one more for a nice, round five. Applying to five worked well for Master’s programs, so I will stick with the trend. The programs (in no particular order) are:

  • UTK (If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it right?)
  • University of Kentucky
  • University of Georgia
  • UNC Chapel Hill
  • The Maxwell School of Syracuse University

Not a bad collection, if I must say so. All of the schools have upper-mid-range Geography programs if you go by the most recent NRC rankings. History has taught me not to put much stock into getting accepted at top schools (cf. my experiences with Wisconsin and Minnesota), but none of these schools should be (too far) out of reach. Going by the rankings actually reveals some surprises:

  • Kentucky ranks as high as 9
  • Georgia ranks as high as 14
  • Syracuse at 16
  • UNC Chapel Hill at 20
  • UTK at 27

You really have to read the link about about the NRC’s research and ranking methods to understand the whole “as high as ##” statement, but suffice to say that the NRC does not give an outright ranking of programs anymore but rather a range based on multiple surveys and calculations.

Regardless of the rankings, I am excited at the possibility to work with the faculty I’ve picked out at any of these universities. To name drop, for the geographers in the audience, these include: Jamie Winders and Don Mitchell (Syracuse), Andy Herod (UGA), Altha Cravey and Nina Martin (UNC), Richard Schein, Patricia Ehrkamp, and Michael Samers (UK), and last but not least the most excellent Micheline van Riemsdijk, Josh Inwood, and Ron Kalafsky (the UT with the CORRECT shade of orange). Now I just have to start emailing all of these brilliant people to get the conversation rolling… Not a small task!

I know this post is just whetting your appetite for more, so hopefully I’ll have a chance to post some of my initial dissertation topic thoughts in the near future. They are still a work in progress, so we’ll see!

Rainy-ville on the Hill

I love a good rain. Just not when I’m in it. (Isn’t that true for a lot of life? All good urban and economic geographers are aware of the powerful NIMBY: “Sure we need a new subway line, nuclear power plant, and shelter for the homeless, but Not In MY Back Yard!”)

I somehow managed to avoid the rain today while going from Burchfiel (my proper geographic home away from home on UTK’s campus) to South Stadium Hall (under part of Neyland Stadium) where I have my Anthropology of Genocide class. After class, I was even more fortunate: the sun came out and surprised me, given the bleakness that had previously filled the sky. The heavens opened up during my evening class tonight, and I peaked out the window from the fourth floor of my safe haven in the Burchfiel conference/seminar room and watched other less fortunate students without umbrellas get out of class only to find themselves immobilized by the rain. There were some who dared it, and others who were prepared to face the downpour with their umbrellas held high.

But for those who forgot, or ignored the prevalent warning signs swirling in the atmosphere above them today – they found their space suddenly limited, their comfortable space narrowed to the underside of a pedestrian bridge between our hallowed halls on the hill.


I do appreciate those of you who slugged your way through my feeble attempt to write at the end of the day. Thursday are an inimitable pain. I can’t complain too loudly, as I brought this academic hardship upon myself and, indeed, I do enjoy all of my classes thus far, it just so happens that the lineup of Thursday classes pushes my brain to the boundaries on a day when I usually could use an extra nap.

I have had an excellent first few weeks here at UTK. That’s mostly an understatement, for it fails to do justice to the situation. Despite being constantly overwhelmed with my school workload (mostly reading for the Geographic Thought seminar), I am really enjoying the camaraderie of fellow grad students who are as enthusiastic about geography as I am and having a wide range of professors who don’t mind you picking their brains on occasion. This is no way a slight to my undergrad experience at UTM – the program does an excellent job with the resources it has, and I think undergrads get a much more personal education than they would here, simply because of the sheer number of students here compared to at UTM. Both are high quality programs, and both provide a service for their universities – there is just a difference of scale. At the graduate level, however, we are known. Professors know our names and our research interests, considering us colleagues in training.

Perhaps the best part, though, is simply interaction with fellow grad students. There is almost a sense of “finally!” that can be added after that sentence, because a person like myself longs, at times, for intellectual interaction on that level with peers who are as completely engrossed by the subject as well. My advice to any potential grad school applicant (whether any of my readers fit into that category, I do not know…) is to make sure that the schools you apply to are schools that have that interaction and camaraderie among grad students. Yes, it requires more work than simply surfing a departmental website, but it is worth it.

While I’m spitting out mostly unrelated items to blog about, a sad product of not blogging often enough, I’ll just briefly say that Karen and I are enjoying Knoxville apart from campus as well. We’ve gotten to know some of our neighbors recently, through a Labor Day/Boomsday get-together (yes, we call it Boomsday here, for the magnificent 20-minute fireworks show that the city spends millions on each year). We’ve also decided to join Church Street United Methodist Church, a very exciting church in the heart of Knoxville, perfectly situated between downtown and campus. And on an related note (however selfish it may sound), CSUMC has stone floors, a pipe organ, a choir that can tackle complicated classical choral music, and handbells. We’ve also auditioned and been accepted into both the Knoxville Choral Society and its smaller chamber ensemble, the Knoxville Chamber Chorale.

Well, it has been raining on and off as I’ve written this, and my brain, despite being frazzled to begin with, is starting to clear with the writing, so I’m saying goodnight before I wake up any more and miss my chance to fall asleep to drip drops on the window panes.

Vacationing and Moving

Two things that don’t mix all that well.

Vacationing and moving. I don’t recommend going straight from one into the other, but in our case this month, going from our vacation with Karen’s family out to Wyoming just worked out flowing straight into moving to Knoxville. It can be a little bit of a whirlwind, which is why I now can say that I don’t recommend it. I’m still partially living out of a suitcase, and have been for three weeks now. That does get a tad bit old.

However, we are making progress on setting up our home. We have the kitchen pretty much completely done, and everything that is going into storage is already there. The bathroom and bedroom are partially done, but they (like everything else) are waiting for some Ikea furniture to be complete. We hope to go to Ikea in Atlanta soon, but the weather hasn’t cooperated this weekend. As in, we were planning to go yesterday (Friday) but then there was a big chance of rain, and sure enough, we got a pretty good pounding. Then today turned out beautiful. So of course we didn’t plan to go, since there was a chance of rain. Grr. Next week it’s suppose to rain some more, too. Oh joy.

The living room is in the worst shape. It resembles a hall way from the kitchen to the office in that there is basically a 3-foot-wide path from one assortment of boxes on one side to the other collection of boxes through which we can manage to walk around. It needs several things from Ikea to be finished, not to mention the boxes cleared away. The office is taking shape, though probably not in its final form. We’ve pieced together a rough corner of the living room with our two desks forming a square with two walls though Karen tells me this isn’t staying quite like this. At least I’ve found enough of my desk stuff to establish some sort of working area, because it’s surprising all the things that need to be done when one moves!

As for vacation, it was marvelous, despite the many, many hours of driving that were necessary to enjoy it. I think Karen and I will fly next time…More details will be shared in photos.

As I find time, I’ll get some photos up from vacation and the move in/final layout of the flat. I may get move in photos up sooner just so everyone can see how things are going here. Vacation photos have fallen in the queue behind photos from all of last year going back to our honeymoon…. Just too busy to Flickr lately!

Excitement and Sadness

Today was an amazing day.

For starters, I taught Sunday School at FBC Martin for the last time. Ever, I suppose, unless by some miracle Karen ever agrees to move back here! But I’ve learned some important things along the way. This isn’t a “Bible Blog” (so to speak) so I won’t go into detail about the spiritual lessons I’ve learned over the course of the year, but suffice it to say that they have been numerous!

I’ve also learned some valuable lessons applicable to life as a teacher and professor along the way this year. For example, I’m learning just how much time needs to be devoted to prepare for lessons, and Sunday School lessons are usually delivered in about half the time it takes for a normal college lecture (25-30 minutes as opposed to 50-75 minutes). It can be pretty time consuming if you want to be prepared and deliver the message in a coherent way. The time that I personally thought was the “worst” time I taught, I had a busy week and didn’t put in the full time that I should have to prepare. Lesson learned, trust me. Of course there were other lessons along the way as well.

So in a lot of ways, today was bittersweet. For the first time in the whole process of getting ready to start grad school I really stopped to think about what I would miss here. Maybe it was because I’ve been very focused on making sure that I accepted at the absolutely RIGHT school for me, or maybe it’s just because it only recently started to sink in that I’ll be in Knoxville beginning this summer, but I just never stopped to think about what I give up by going. There’s the fact that I’ve lived in Martin for 21 years of my life. I’m not by any means sheltered, of course, and there have been times when I traveled about as far away from home as I could be throughout those 21 years, but I’ve still always considered Martin to be that place in my life. A huge part of me is ready to move on, and I am eagerly anticipating moving on with my education at UTK. But there’s still a little tug of sadness leaving home.

I’m reminded of the Michael Bublé song “Home,” in which Bublé longs to be home with his love while out on the road (presumably touring in his case). In my own version of Home, the ones I will miss are numerous. Fortunately, Karen is ready to undertake this adventure and life experience with me, so that’s not a concern! Yet there are still family, and friends, and coworkers, and professors, and church families… You will all be missed, but it’s not goodbye forever! (And I promise I’ll do a better job of blogging about the adventures so you, my loyal readership, can keep track of us.)

That’s all there is to say about that.

However, the overwhelming feeling that I have had today, and for the last few weeks, is excitement! Yes, grad school will be hard, but I plan to make it as challenging as I can to get the most out of it that I can. Let’s face it, I need a good challenge after a year off from school (at least one that doesn’t involve puppy training or Crohn’s Disease!)

Off to Knoxville

It has certainly been an interesting few weeks. I’ve gone from not knowing anything about where I was going to grad school (other than having been accepted at University of Kentucky, Virginia Tech, and UT Knoxville) to now having a much clearer picture of where I will be for the next two years.

The first detail that fell into place was that I was offered a Teaching Assistantship at Knoxville that carries full tuition remission, a stipend for the 20-hour work week I’ll be putting in, an insurance package and a separate scholarship awarded by the Athletic Department. Yeah, I know. Me? Athletic? What?! My thoughts exactly. But it turns out that I don’t have to tutor athletes, and they’re not that desperate for new track team members. The athletic programs just make so much money from televised games and other things that they award small graduate fellowships across campus to support the academics. Now that’s an athletic program that I can get behind. So, in essence, Go Vols!

But anyway, I was still in the middle of the process of deciding on a school, waiting to hear from Virginia Tech and UK. Virginia Tech ended up offering me a loans package and would have offered me a 10-hour a week TA position but I went ahead and turned them down. I was down to UTK vs. UK. So I waited. And waited. And the week of my deadline to let Knoxville know if I was coming, I finally started emailing UK’s graduate director. But by this point it was mostly an effort in futility because I knew that I was supposed to go to Knoxville. It was obviously the right choice. So on Wednesday of that week when I heard from UK’s graduate director that they wouldn’t be able to let me know until Friday (the deadline day at UTK) I knew that it was the final sign.

So what did I do? I waited some more. Probably didn’t need to, but I thought seriously about holding out until Friday morning to see what UK’s offer would be. On Thursday afternoon, though, out of the blue this thought came to my mind: “You need to accept at Knoxville now.” So after I printed some pages out, signed, emailed, etc., I was officially a Master’s Degree student at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

At some point in the next few weeks, either at the end of May or first week of June, Karen and I will be trekking to K-ville to get an apartment and to get to know our way around. Should be fun! I’m already learning plenty of things about Knoxville’s site characteristics/geography from looking for apartments. Google maps and I have become quite good friends. We’ll be moving in July, so we’re in the process of getting plans set in stone.

In the mean time, look for (hopefully) more blogging on my part to accompany my unabating Twittering. I’m also still working on uploading photos from 2009 to Flickr…so stay with me!