In the last post, I introduced this blog, Project Graduate School, as your source of easily accessible, comprehensive information on how to think about, apply to, get funded for, and succeed in, the graduate program of your choice.
But, who am I, you might ask, to be the keeper of such knowledge? In this post, I will tell you.
I am Karen Kelsky, the McNair Advisor for the McNair Program at the University of Oregon.
Here’s a bit more about me: I got my Ph.D. in 1996 at the University of Hawai’i in Anthropology. I got my first tenure track job at the University of Oregon, with a joint appointment in Anthropology and Asian Studies. I got tenure here at the UO, and then got recruited to a job at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. There I had the opportunity to serve as Department Head of the East Asian Languages and Cultures department for five years. For family reasons, we then decided to move back to Oregon, and I’m delighted to be working in the McNair Program, helping deserving underpresented, first generation, and low income undergraduate students get a leg up to succeed in their graduate school goals.
My own undergraduate degree comes from the University of Michigan. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I was not a first generation graduate student, but I was a second generation graduate student. In other words, my mother and father were the first and ONLY members of their respective families to attend college–the University of Pittsburgh. My dad had achieved podiatry school degree on the strength of the GI Bill (he is a WWII veteran). My mother had painstakingly worked her way through a teaching degree. Of course they both lived at home throughout. So, college and the “college experience” (let alone graduate school) was still not the norm in our family, not by a long shot.
My parents started me off in Bowling Green State University, because for them, one college was as good as any other. After a year I knew I wanted more, and twisted their arms to let me go to the illustrious and much more demanding UM. This was partly because I was by then majoring in Japanese Language and Literature, and I knew that Michigan was one of the strongest programs in the country.
My parents didn’t have a clue why I would major in something as obviously useless as Japanese language. Let alone, why I had an ultimate ambition of being a college professor of Japanese studies. For them, college was a route to two things: money and social status.
Well, no, actually, because I was a girl, to one thing: finding a husband with money and social status.
You can imagine our perspectives on my higher learning objectives were rather different. For years my parents ridiculed me for being a “perpetual student,” inquired diligently when I was going to get married, and wondered aloud why I was wasting my time “learning Chinese” (!!??).
There is more to my story that I’ll share as we go on.
But I share this much now to say this: if you’re struggling to imagine a path to graduate school–I get it.
If you find yourself arguing with family members about the value of a college degree and/or the value of advanced schooling—I get it.
You’re not alone.
College and graduate school are almost unimaginably huge hurdles for people who come from families that don’t have that background or orientation.
There is an enormous gap of knowledge, experience, and entitlement between students from families who encourage higher learning and higher degrees, and students from families who do not. And that gap plays out in a massive disparity in the success rate of those students in getting in to and succeeding in graduate programs.
The McNair Scholars Program exists to narrow that gap. I personally have been dedicated throughout my career to narrowing that gap. I have taught countless workshops on graduate school and professional success.
And I have trained scores of graduate students who have gone on to gain hundreds of thousands of dollars of funding, and a range of meaty postdoctoral and tenure track positions.
This blog will be a place that I share my fund of personal and professional knowledge on how to narrow that gap.
Do you have burning questions right now? Ask them! I love questions. And comments. And anxieties, existential dilemmas, and practical conundrums. Share anything. We’ll figure it out.