Welcome to the new AHA Today series on graduate life! The Graduate aims to provide a platform for students to discuss the issues they face, reflect on the unique experiences of pursuing a graduate degree in history (trials and triumphs alike), and make proposals for how we—as students, professionals, and as a discipline—can come together to address the challenges of graduate education.
I’m a sixth-year PhD student in the history department at the University of Southern California. My research focuses on fundamentalist Protestants, capitalism, and higher education in 20th-century Los Angeles. I also have a master’s in history from the University of York in the United Kingdom, where I originally hail from. With one foot almost out the door, I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on graduate study, both on my own experiences and those of my colleagues. I’ve also been trying to find ways to engage public audiences with my work, and recently wrote a blog post for AHA Today. The idea for this series emerged from conversations with the AHA Today editor, and the recognition that, despite the thousands of graduate students currently enrolled in history programs across the United States alone, we lack common platforms to discuss our professional lives. When she suggested that I head a column on graduate life, I jumped at the opportunity.
It is my goal that this series is frank in its treatment of graduate life, and that it does not shy away from controversial topics. Too often, graduate students believe that in order to succeed, they must maintain an image of relentless productivity. To admit to frustration, exhaustion, or worry, particularly to faculty but sometimes even to other students, often seems the “wrong tactic” or even outright risky. Graduate life can be isolating enough even when all the plates are spinning nicely. But when it goes wrong, it can go very wrong indeed. And, if anything, the challenges facing graduate students in our discipline appear to be multiplying. Whether it is the latest grim report on the academic job market or the recent proposal, albeit unsuccessful, to eliminate graduate tuition waivers, the current moment does not appear to be an auspicious one for graduate study in history.
Recent events, however, have also, in my view, proven the intrinsic value of graduate education in history. We graduates—whatever our field, time period, or area of specialization—are developing a firm understanding of the complexity and origins of contemporary global problems. And we make a difference any time we bring those skills to bear inside or outside of the academy. Amid the dispiriting developments facing the discipline of history in recent times, The Graduate will, I hope, prove to be a space where we graduate students can have a productive dialogue about what the degree is doing for us, what is going right about our graduate education, and how we can make the most of our time in graduate school.
As I conclude my sixth (and, fingers crossed, final) year as a PhD candidate, I will be writing the first few monthly blog posts in the series. However, AHA Today welcomes guest proposals from graduate students. Each post will focus on a single theme or subject, such as teaching, coursework, writing, and career development, drawn from writers’ own experiences or from their general thoughts on graduate life.
The new series will complement the AHA’s existing initiatives relevant to graduate education and resources. Our hope is to build an inclusive grad student community that connects historians across fields, range of experiences, geography, and type of institution. We’d like to speak to and hear from students from all walks of life: PhD and MA students, those just starting out, those more advanced in their degree programs, and those about to enter the job market. Whether you began your graduate degree straight from college or have rejoined academia later in life, have family or other caregiving responsibilities, or are a student of color or an international student, we want to open a discussion on a wide variety of issues relating to our shared professional experiences from admission to graduation and everything in between.
Hailing from the UK, Christina Copland has a BA in archaeology from University College London and an MA in history from the University of York. She is currently a history PhD candidate at the University of Southern California. Her dissertation, titled “Faith, Finances and the Remaking of Southern Californian Fundamentalism, 1910–1968,” ties together Protestant fundamentalism, the urban history of Los Angeles, and the relationship between capitalism and religion. She tweets @ChristinaCopla1.