Tag Archives: outlook

Advice For ph.d. students

By Wei Gao

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[3 minute read]

Are you a Ph.D. student? If you are, or you are considering pursuing a PhD, I have some advice for you. I am currently a PhD student, and without receiving advice from different individuals in my life, I wouldn’t have the outlook I do now. I want to share one particular word of advice that had a great impact on me, which I think could have an impact on any PhD student.

To fully explain why the advice I received was so important to me, I must introduce the person who gave it to me: meet my friend Tanya [ˈtɑːnjə]. Tanya is from China (the Chinese pronunciation of her name is Tanya [tán yǎ]). I met Tanya for the first time a few years ago in 2016 at an academic conference in Shanghai. As a graduate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Tanya was certainly a rising star in academia. I was responsible for her reception when she came to my university as a guest for the conference. Since it was such a rare opportunity to speak one-one-one with such a distinguished scholar, I asked her, “Tanya, I plan on pursuing a Ph.D. degree in the near future. Could you please give me some advice about how to do good research?” She replied, “Lady Gaga is a great singer; a real artist. You should listen to her music.” Then she left. Needless to say, I was confused after hearing that. I thought to myself, “So does she mean I should listen to Lady Gaga’s music to become a good researcher?” Following her suggestion, I started to listen to Lady Gaga’s music. However, after I listened to all of Lady Gaga’s songs, my research skills had only marginally improved.

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

One year later, someone told me that Tanya hadn’t published any papers this year. I couldn’t believe it, but after checking her website I realized this person was right. Soon after, I heard people starting to gossip, “Tanya is not a rising star any longer,” “Tanya flops”, “Tanya isn’t what she used to be”. I was genuinely worried about her, and I kept wondering what had happened.

A year later, I met her in person again at another academic conference in Washington DC. After some small talk, I had to mention, “Tanya, I have been following your research, but it seems that you haven’t updated your website for some time.” Although I didn’t ask directly why she hadn’t published anything notable, she quickly understood what I meant. Then she said, “Remember a couple years ago when I asked you to listen to Lady Gaga’s music? Here’s why I did that. Lady Gaga had a commercially successful career for several years. Then, she flopped in 2013 when she released her album Artpop. So what happened? Instead of just satisfying the public, Lady Gaga was trying to produce an album created from an artist’s perspective. Thus, the album Artpop was not accepted by the majority, although it had a large influence on the music industry overall when we look back at it today. The subjects of this album, art and pop, can be considered by many to be antithetical. She caused a stir with her pop fans when she picked sides. Lady Gaga chose art, but that came with a cost.” 

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Summer Book Club: Reading Harry Potter with Fresh Eyes

By Natalie Grace Sipula

[5 minute read]

This summer I was a leader for the American Language Institute’s brand-new book club. I helped to lead discussions for this pilot program with international students, and the book we chose to read was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Like many other college-age individuals, both in America and around the world, Harry Potter was an integral part of my childhood. From the moment I picked up the first of those mysteriously thick volumes, I was entranced. The world of Harry Potter, in the eyes of a child, is often vivacious, all-consuming, and enigmatic-a land of opportunity for the child who sees part of themself in one of the multitude of characters or feels misunderstood.

I think that sometimes those of us who grew up with the Harry Potter series put it on a pedestal, carrying it in a place so deep in our hearts that it is hard to look past it’s many virtues to see some of it’s obvious flaws. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was chosen by the book club for an international audience because of its accessibility to a wide range of audience members, but that accessibility to many different age groups and backgrounds also suggests varying levels of complexity. Returning to the Harry Potter series in a discussion-based setting with older eyes revealed some interesting new layers to this book. 

My copy of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”

Initially, I noticed that triumph in the face of adversity was a recurring theme throughout the book. What becomes particularly important is the people who are successful in overcoming the obstacles set forth throughout the novel, and how they are categorized. Almost as soon as Harry steps foot onto the train taking him to Hogwarts, he learns of a rigid system which categorizes students into different Houses based on personal qualities or attributes. Despite the fact that Harry knows nothing about the wizarding world, he takes to heart everything that his new friend Ron says to him on the train about the virtues of Gryffindor and the downfalls of Slytherin. This blind assumption is never challenged (at least not for the duration of the first book in the series) but is instead supported by other students and professors. Everyone seems to be looking forward to the day when Slytherin is met with failure, whether that be in personal conflicts, the House Cup, or Quidditch tournaments. In a moment that has been pointed out for it’s ridiculousness multiple times from fans of the series, Headmaster Dumbledore, at the end of year feast, absurdly recalculates the House points once Harry, Ron, and Hermione recover the Sorcerer’s Stone to make it so that Slytherin conveniently loses the House Cup by a measly ten points.

To any child reading this, this may seem like the epitome of justness, wherein the stereotypical group of bullies are met with disapproval and failure at the hands of an all-powerful adult figure. But in actuality, this favoritism continues throughout the series, illustrating a tendency for the wizarding world to look down on a group of people with supposed traits that they perceive as threatening. While it is possible that J.K. Rowling was trying to create a world in which your success is based on personal virtue and strong morals, it is difficult to see how this idea can coexist alongside a system where children are categorized at the earliest point in their education and then judged and questioned for the rest of their lives based on that categorization.

Preparing material for Book Club while wearing USC gear

Another aspect worth mentioning about the Harry Potter series is the interpretation of England which J.K. Rowling infuses into the magical world she has created. As an American preteen avidly reading the Harry Potter series, I did not have a particularly detailed idea of what the cultural landscape of the United Kingdom looked like. Returning to the series at nineteen years old with a greater understanding of UK culture, I see some vast differences between my new knowledge and the culture depicted in the Harry Potter world.

When we are first greeted by the presence of Hogwarts as observers of the nervous first years being transported in boats across the lake, we see a medieval-style castle, complete with towers, ghosts, suits of armor, and dungeons where the young wizards and witches take their potions class. The food they eat is old-fashioned: shepherd’s pie, treacle tart, and more. There seem to be few students of color in this world, but when they are mentioned, the reader is immediately tipped off by Rowling’s stereotyped names and descriptions-Dean Thomas being described as a black boy the first time he is mentioned, the only known Asian girl in the series being named Cho Chang, and the twins in Harry’s class of Indian heritage being almost indistinguishably characterized as Padma and Parvati Patil. In light of recent controversies of J.K. Rowling releasing transphobic statements via social media (which were met with outrage by Harry Potter stars Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson, among others), it is hard not to wonder whether those characters were included as a meager attempt to reflect the modern-day diversity of the UK or just a form of thinly shielded tokenism. As a young reader, especially one who is not originally from the UK, it is easy to overlook or misunderstand the Britain which Rowling portrays for us, but looking at the series with fresh eyes it becomes clear that this is a place that idealizes a medieval version of Europe that is disconnected from the thought and culture of the modern world and is predominately white. 

Reading outside is a great way to relax in the summer
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Staying Busy and Happy During Quarantine

By Gina Samec

[3 minute read]

For many of us, this summer, which was once full of travel plans and internships, has been reduced to three months of uncertainty. It’s been a strange transition for me to go from a structured week of class and extracurriculars to feeling directionless. Everywhere I turned this semester there was an irksome reminder that I was falling behind. When I checked Linkedin, my peers were posting about their remote summer internships. When I checked my inbox, I was receiving emails from career websites about how to stay competitive in the current economy. At first, I felt overwhelmed and defeated that I wouldn’t have something to put on my resume for this summer. However, I realized that most people I know are in the same situation as me. Instead of stressing over something that I have no control over, I can put my energy towards doing things that make me happy. For those of us who have the privilege to relax this summer, this is a great opportunity to do things we haven’t set aside time for in the past because we were too preoccupied. Here are some ways you can pass the time during quarantine.

Dance Workouts

Sitting or lying down all day has become the norm. However, it isn’t ideal for our health. If you hate the gym and don’t have motivation to work out, a dance workout is a really fun way to stay active without it feeling like a chore. Thanks to Youtube, there are plenty of free workout videos which are a great replacement for attending a real class. Here are some youtubers I enjoy who have been posting fun dance workouts: MadFit, The Fitness Marshall, and MYLEE Dance.

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash
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