Sunday, October 14


Those of you applying to graduate schools this fall are likely grappling with this idea of visiting your top-choice graduate program with the hopes of making a good impression and helping your chances of being accepted with a full-ride.  Yes?  Based on my tally, I’ve got the following scholars scoping the following places for visits:
  • Darnell – just hobnobbed with folks from various IVY league schools when he presented his research at the IVY-STEM symposium in Philadelphia.
  • Katelyn and Jared are taking off for Wisconsin this Wednesday for visits to both UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee.
  • Justin C is visiting the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA this week with the hopes of connecting with one of the premier new faculty working on just the area that he wants to be in.
  • Maame will be attending the Compact For Faculty Diversity in Tampa at the end of the month to network with Ph.D. students from around the country and talk with reps from various grad programs interested in recruiting students of color; Maame spent the summer doing research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and developing a fantastic relationship with her faculty mentor; we are keeping our fingers crossed that this helps facilitate her successful entry into their Ph.D. program next fall!
  • Tanisha is making contact with the University of Texas-Austin and plans to bust down south come early November. 
  • Justin M has his heart set on Yale for his master’s in public health; he’s figuring out his plan for a visit.
  • Jennifer had an amazing summer research experience at Michigan State University this past summer and would love the opportunity to gain her Ph.D. there; however, she is also exploring Ph.D. programs that combine the dietetic internship with the Ph.D. such as the one at Cornell University – she’ll be going out there in a few short weeks.
  • After Jared returns from Madison, he’ll be situating the logistics for visits to Indiana University and the University of Illinois; given that Jared is an English major, it is doubly important for him to make school visits a priority!
  • After Katelyn returns from her Wisconsin visit, she is off to visit the University of Iowa – looks like she’ll remain a Mid-western girl at heart?  Stay tuned!
  • Next stop(s) for Justin C?  Flying out to Portland, driving to Euguene to visit the University of Oregon, then driving up to Seattle to visit the University of Washington, before driving back down to Portland to fly back to Grand Rapids.  Truth be told?  I so wish I was tagging along in his suitcase - would LOVE to take a trip to the Pacific Northwest!

 So, why are these visits so important and what do you need to do to make a visit successful?  Well, in these days and times, securing financial support is becoming more and more challenging.  The norm is having over 100 applicants competing for 4 – 6 slots.  Yeah. 

The good news is that McNair scholars have a distinct advantage over others by way of being McNair.  McNair scholars not only have built a credential set that rivals the top-tied candidates, but they have the support and encouragement to make contact with and visit their future faculty advisors.  This is HUGE.  Simply HUGE.  Making contact via email and then following up with a visit allows our McNair scholars to really shine, make a great impression that will last through the admissions process AND make sure that their decision to attend their top-choice school is the best one for them.

Not only are you going to connect with faculty on a personal level, but you are also “trying on” and getting a “feel for” each school/program.  It’s as much about you sizing them up as it is about them sizing you up.  Remember this.  You have a ton to offer.  Not everyone is a McNair scholar who is highly articulate with a ton of research experience with a ton of exciting ideas for the kinds of things they want to get involved with.  You are articulate.  You can talk about your research and why you want to get your Ph.D.  You can communicate your passion for the field.  You can tell them what you have to offer in terms of your skills and strengths.  Besides this, you want to hear what they have to offer you.  How do their faculty treat their graduate students?  What kind of graduation rate do they have and where do most of their alumni end up? 

Certainly, just the planning of these visits can be nerve-wracking.  You have to email faculty and have the courage to put yourselves out there.  You have to be willing to take a risk, get on an airplane, talk to people you don’t know…yet.  You have to be confident in your abilities, your interests, and your accomplishments.  You have to be willing to take the chance that someone might ask you a question that you don’t know the answer to.  The truth is, that’s okay.  It’s okay to be yourself.  It’s okay to be “right where you’re at” in your life.  It’s okay to be trying to further yourself, your goals, and your interests.  It’s okay to be searching for the right people to connect with so that you can further pursue your passions.

I recently sat down with Tanisha and listened to her talk about how she needs to “nail it” when she starts emailing faculty.  She stressed how important it is for her to really know why she’s interested in their program and to be able to speak intelligently about her skills and experiences.  While this is true and I get where she’s coming from, I sensed the certain level of stress and worry coming from these sentiments.  My gut helped me respond by saying…yes, you want to be prepared in your dealings with prospective faculty mentors, but this is NOT the be-all, end-all.  Certainly not. 

In my view, the most important piece of this puzzle is simply being you.  Be yourself in how you email faculty and tell them that you are interested in their work and their program.  Be yourself in being excited to set up appointments and schedule a visit.  Be yourself in reading over their work and familiarizing yourself with the details of their program, while also formulating questions for when the time comes and they ask.  Be yourself in talking about your experiences, how you got to this point in your life, why you see yourself going on to achieve your Ph.D.  Be honest with your excitement, your fears, and your feelings in general.  Honestly, I think it’s the best way to go.  When everything is said and done, if you aren’t connecting with people who can truly appreciate these qualities about you, then perhaps it’s not going to be the best fit after all. 

There.  It’s really about finding your fit.  Following your gut, as I like to think about it.  Putting yourself out there, being okay with what is.  Working hard, but then stepping back and letting go.  You can’t control other people.  You can’t control a lot of things in life.  You can control your ambition and your willingness to express yourself.  You can control your enthusiasm and your eagerness to move to the next level.  Let this happen how it is supposed to happen.

Seriously.  After witnessing a good number of McNair scholars take this journey, put themselves out there, go and visit people and places they’ve never been – I’ve determined this IS the exciting part!  You never know when good fortune will strike, when you will totally connect with someone, when you will totally knock it out of the ballpark in terms of making a super awesome impression.  It happens all of the time.  Let go of trying to be perfect and just be YOU.  They will take you and you will take them if it’s meant to be.

Friday, October 12

Journey, Not Destination!

So, I've been meaning to write one of these for a while.  It's been a great, long and very hard road to get here, but boy oh boy, I’ve made it.  Actually, like Terry O'Quinn just said about Lost, it's the journey, not the destination.

I miss my McNair people - All of them (YOU!), especially the staff and their support.  I can tell you, without a doubt, the instruction, care, and love given to me by McNair at CMU will be one of my best memories ever. 

Some of you may know, but I always thought I was a good writer, at least as an undergraduate.  I wanted to share a page from my first book summary in graduate school.  I haven't seen so many lines since grade school.

I also wanted to share this picture, which I think is freakin’ awesome!

Although the first five weeks have been tough, I absolutely love my school, my program, my adviser  and my new colleagues.

Anyway, I’ll be in touch.  I just wanted to offer an update of sorts.

With best wishes,
Eric Denby