Professor Spotlight: Dr. Alondra Nelson, Sociologist

As a company by and for the academically-minded, we decided to launch a weekly series that features a professor’s work and thoughts on academia. To start this series, we asked Dr. Alondra Nelson, who served as the founder’s faculty advisor while they were both at Yale University, to kickstart the series. Fortunately for Scholar Hero, she agreed.

Dr. Alondra Nelson is a Professor of Sociology and the Director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Columbia University. With a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology and a PhD in American Studies, Dr. Nelson describes herself as an “interdisciplinary social scientist” that uses history, social media, and new technology to examine sociological questions.

Alondra_1.5-6

Photo Courtesy of Alondra Nelson

What Inspired A Career in Academia

Dr. Nelson’s own inspiration to enter an academic career developed late into her college studies when she realized her excellence among peers at the University of California, San Diego. Furthermore, the significant presence of young, female professors in her college experience provided many role models with whom Dr. Nelson could relate and aspire to become.

Insight on Academic Culture

When asked about the state of academia, Dr. Nelson suggested a decrease in its commercialization. She sees academics as “an increasingly corporate space” where attending is “analogous to going to Macy’s.” When the students are the consumers, they carry an attitude that forbids professors from challenging them.

Body and Soul book bover courtesy of Alondra Nelson

Body and Soul book cover courtesy of Alondra Nelson

As a solution to the academy’s problems, Dr. Nelson supports an increase in interdisciplinarity by creating a model that exists as an outgrowth of the college seminar. “A great college seminar is great because you have, around the table, people from different majors, different experiences, from different parts of the country or the world, sitting in a room together talking about the same topic.”

Advice For Aspiring Academics

“Do the work that feels urgent to you, the work that answers those questions that you wake up thinking about everyday. Don’t compromise your curiosity.”

To contact Dr. Alondra Nelson, you may email her at alondra.nelson@columbia.edu. You can also buy her latest work, Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination, at Amazon.com.

Nathan Repp is a writer for Scholar Hero, Inc.

Academic Woe-Be-Gone (a.k.a. The Education Eeyore Effect)

Dear Academica Readers,
It is my honor and pleasure to introduce Academica’s very first contributing guest writer, Stacy Austin! Stacy is a close friend of mine since our high school years (the exact years I refuse to disclose), and she has graciously written a few of her own thoughts on her experiences in graduate school to share with you. We hope she will be the first of many to rise up and express their grievances about academic culture. Please enjoy!

Lee Ngo
Co-Founder | Academica

*****************************************************************************************

I clearly remember the first day of my graduate program. It was supposed to be a quick two years master’s program in communication. I went to orientation, met with my cohort, and even updated my Facebook status: “First day of grad school, complete!” I was genuinely excited.

Then came the endless academic journals, the competitive nature of my colleagues, and unrealistic expectations I set for myself to publish and present. Every morning, I would wake up, cry deeply, and say to myself,

“I think I’ve made a mistake.”

Along with endless academic journals,
be prepared to scour the library for more things to read.

My department is very reputable and strong, but it has recently gone through a massive upheaval, i.e.

  • Faculty retiring,
  • New faculty recruitment,
  • A move to a new building, and
  • New core program requirements.

After losing my thesis advisor to a department change, I voiced my frustration to the department head over the lack of guidance and information I had received. All s/he told me to do was  “soldier on.” How could professors who are  scholars, experts, and educators in communication… be so poor at communication?

I’d often spend time with graduate students in other programs.

“I’m miserable,” I’d tell them.

And they’d reply, “We are too.”

Look at these students loitering on campus.
They appear to empathize with academic pains.

Even though they didn’t have the same problems I did, they certainly had their share. Academia is full of problems.

When I asked a professor for more positive feedback, he actually retorted, “…But I don’t get any. When my work gets published, no one pats me on the back.”

I really don’t mean to complain. Yes, I understand that…

  • There are dozens of people who are rejected or wait-listed from my graduate program each year,
  • Having an additional degree has numerous positive effects for my future, albeit currently unbeknownst to me, and
  • I should be happy to work with and for my esteemed professors.

The library is a cold, sterile building,
but I’ve spent so much time there that empty chairs always look really welcoming.

Let me share a bit of advice given to me by a peer, of which I still pass on to others. Participating in graduate classes and teaching undergraduate courses are the easy part of grad school. Working on my thesis, however, has been the real uphill battle. If you decide to stick it out and finish your program, here are five tips for completing your thesis and graduating out of the “Eeyore Effect” (see Winnie the Pooh to understand).

  1. Every time you email your thesis advisor a draft, let them know how many weeks are left in the term and your expected graduation date. This may seem unnecessary, repetitive, or even annoying, but let’s hope it’s an idea that must get planted in their heads. Don’t just cross your fingers; take initiative to move the process along.
  2. Keep the graduate advisor in your program updated about your interactions with your thesis advisor every month. You will have a paper trail and the department can assist you in case your thesis advisor drops the ball or goes rogue on everyone. Also, if you are concerned about your thesis advisor returning emails or providing feedback within a reasonable amount of time, tell your graduate advisor as soon as possible.
  3. If you email or call your thesis advisor, and they don’t reply, contact them again. If they don’t reply, do it again until they finally respond. If over a week passes where you’re unable to work on your thesis paper due to a lack of feedback, you will have lost valuable time.
  4. Get your forms and deadlines in order, marking them on a calendar. Graduation is often contingent on getting your department to sign and turn in the correct paperwork on time. Help them help you.
  5. Follow-up on EVERYTHING you tell your thesis advisor. To them you’re merely vacationing in academia, while they’ve made it their life’s work. No matter what, you will be perceived as a lower priority to their own concerns. Pertinent information about you can easily be forgotten by them.

Maybe your program is a breeze and you’ll never need to utilize these tips. If so, good for you! If not, plenty of people will empathize with you, so don’t ever feel like you’re ever alone in how you feel.

As I was once told, “A good dissertation is a done dissertation. Dissertate and graduate!”

Good luck!
Stacy

Stacy Austin is a master’s student in communications and a freelance writer. Visit her blog stacylaughs.com or follow her on Twitter at @stacylaughs.