Today, the Mujeres Talk Collective brings together a series of dichos for graduate students as we kick off the year 2013, the winter quarter, and the spring semester. Because many of us do not have frequent access to Chicana camaraderie and mentorship and more of us cannot wait until the Summer Institute to solicit advice, I asked some professors who are MALCS members for their gut/heart-response to the following question:
In a few words, what advice can you give to MALCS graduate students as we resume our work this semester/quarter?
Below are their answers. May the words of these mujeres sabias, this chorus of fairy godmothers, enter our hearts and guide us as we continue on our journeys to do the work we have been called to do. And please, use the comments section of the blog to share dichos that have been helpful to you.
Querid@ [Insert your name here],
Keep from sabotaging yourself. We have to learn to recognize the “worm” of self-sabotage every time it attempts to invade our organism with its tactics and skills of sabotage. It may well have a symbolic relation to Gloria’s “serpents.” Or is it “maggots” I mean to call up? Among those “worms/maggots” is the feeling of incompetence which is our heritage, that is to say, as a colonized people we have always already been judged incompetent, and we become overwhelmed by the “proof” of history. Keep from sabotaging yourself.
—Norma Alarcón, Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley
Make sure to make time for sleep and laughter. Both are good medicine for what ails you. I think of sleep as horizontal meditation, your mind and body enter a new state in which it can heal from the demanding often bruising world of academia. Sleep still helps me process readings and arguments. As for laughter, nothing beats a loud, open-mouthed, body shaking, roaring carcajada!
—Lourdes Alberto, Assistant Professor, The University of Utah
My mom advised when I started first graduate school: Aprende todo lo que puedas.She didn’t mean just what was taught in school, I am convinced, but she was telling me to LEARN … and I have not stopped yet! Otra cosa que se me ocurre is to be patient and not think you are a failure if you don’t do EVERYTHING all at once. Be patient with yourself and acknowledge what an incredible accomplishment it is to be a Chicana/Latina in graduate school.
—Norma E. Cantú, Professor Emeritus, The University of Texas at San Antonio
Find yourself a mentoring circle/support group—preferably one that includes good food!
—Debra A. Castillo, Emerson Hinchliff Professor, Cornell University
There are always little rituals that I have before writing—I clean the house, feed the animals, light candles, clear the air. Sometimes it is a good thing to change the ritual, to change the hour of my writing, the directions, places, mix it up a little with poetry, fiction, a short sexy-funny-clever list of words to begin my writing day. These breaks in routine help me de-stress because if I am stressed, I cannot write.
—Cindy Cruz, Assistant Professor, University of California, Santa Cruz
“Quien adelante no mira, atrás se queda.” Create a year-by-year plan for how you will complete the Ph.D. Study the requirements of your program and map out your course loads, your exam schedule, dissertation preparation schedule and fieldwork time if required. If your program allows it, research classes in other units that you will want to take or professors in other Departments with whom you want to study. Plan how and when you will fulfill language requirement. If your Department offers workshops or orientations on preparing for comprehensives or writing the dissertation proposals, be sure to attend those. (In my graduate study these were organized and led by the graduate student organization in the Department and featured advanced students who discussed their own preparation strategies) If your Department doesn’t offer these, then work with peers to create them with Department help. Ask whether your university offers dissertation support writing groups, which are different than writing groups. In the former, students from across disciplines meet with a counselor as a group every few weeks to share challenges and keep on track. In the latter, peers share and critique each other’s work. Talk to your advisors about your plan every year and be sure to get their feedback on it.
—Theresa Delgadillo, Assistant Professor, The Ohio State University
Don’t feel guilty saying no, and trust in your abilities.
—Dora Ramírez-Dhoore, Associate Professor, Boise State University
Don’t compare yourself to other people. Remember you are on your own journey.
—Elena Gutierrez, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
Contemplative practice is good, even deep breathing, even remembering to breathe! Find your optimum writing time and be faithful to it, be loyal to yourself, to your obra—that is, you.
—Inés Hernández-Avila, Professor, University of California, Davis
Mija, in all you do know what your spiritual anchor is and tend to it. It may come from your traditions, you may find it in community or perhaps you feel it when you are in nature. It is in this anchor that will always reflect back your greatness and your deep interconnectedness to la vida. The academic part is easy. You’re brilliant and you’ve been admitted, punto final. El camino es lo dificil. Cultura cura … however, spirituality is the preventative piece.
—Sandra Pacheco, Associate Professor, California Institute of Integral Studies
Trust your gut, your intuition, your own judgment; avoid anyone, situations, or theories and scholars that make you feel less, badly, disempowered.
—Laura E. Pérez, Associate Professor, University of California, Berkeley
As someone who was also a first generation grad student, it was imperative that I created a strong community of friends/colleagues and a structure of mentorship across cohorts of graduate students and faculty within my department. There is so much knowledge and experience that can be passed down to lessen the anxiety of embarking on such an enormous endeavor.
—Felicity Schaeffer-Grabiel, Associate Professor, University of California, Santa Cruz
Don’t over-do. A chronic thing that haunts me is over-doing. I think that it can be equally detrimental to do too much than to do too little. And for us chronic perfectionists, it can really be debilitating. Also, I’ll say yes to too many things and then land up not doing some very well and then punish myself for it. Not over-doing is about self-care.
—Patricia Trujillo, Assistant Professor and Interim Director of Equity and Diversity, Northern New Mexico College
¡Feliz 2013 y échenle ganas, mujeres!
Sara A. Ramírez is a doctoral candidate in the Ethnic Studies Graduate Program at the University of California, Berkeley.