Posts Tagged ‘grad school’

from Word(s) to Images to Pages

July 20, 2009

I just completed the first chapter draft (I started with Chapter 3)  of my dissertation, now only two more to go! I started writing my draft in Microsoft Word — the universal default for word processing, but have indefinitely put my relationship with Word on pause to start a love affair with iWork Pages.

Pages is much more amiable when it comes to inserting images and formatting. What takes me twenty minutes to lay out in Word, takes only about seconds in Pages.

Since I am using dozens of photographs in my dissertation, having software that operates not just as a word processor, but also, as an image processor is of extreme importance.

Although InDesign is probably the best program for image-based design — after all, it is the industry standard, Pages is perfect for novices who would like to incorporate more design into their writing.

Although Pages still has its faults (not everything is as intuitive as it should be), I think I have a much healthier relationship with my dissertation.


interview with a gurkhas grad student

May 1, 2009

One of the great things about being at the University of Edinburgh  is having the opportunity to interact with so many interesting minds. Chandra Sing Gurung is one of those students. A Nepalese with three degrees and two more pending, Chandra has the kind of life story that would be featured on This American Life. It’s epic, moving, and cliché  — but in the best possible way.


Born in a small rural village in Western Nepal, Chandra had always wanted to excel in academics. However, due to poverty and the death of his mother when he was seven years old, he was only able to finish primary school. It was not until he was sixteen-and-a-half years old that he had the opportunity to leave his village and pursue education. Undergoing one of the most difficult and competitive selection processes in the world, Chandra was chosen out of hundreds of thousands of hopeful youth to join the legendary Nepalese Gurkhas soldiers. Joining Gurkhas makes you a hero in the villages,” says Chandra, “From the UK or American perspective, it’s like getting a place for postgraduate studies at Oxford or Harvard. That’s how tough it is to be a Gurkhas.” Chandra was selected for Singapore Gurkhas.

While stationed in Singapore, he took night classes in Business Information Technology at an off-shore campus of the University of Central England in Birmingham in Singapore. Entirely self-funded and self-driven, Chandra was the first Gurkhas in the history of Singapore to receive a bachelor’s degree. “I am a military man,” explains Chandra, ”while you’re with the Gurkhas, education is totally distant from what you do.” Despite the lack of formal encouragement, Chandra continued on with his education. In 2007, he received a Master of Arts in International Relations from Flinders University of South Australia in Singapore. In 2008, he received a Master of Science in Strategic Studies from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. In the Gurkhas, he rose to the rank of Commission Officer (Inspector), the Gurkhas equivalent of an army second lieutenant, “which is given to the ‘best of the best’ among the Gurkhas.” Chandra recently decided to pursue a doctorate in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. He is now pursuing a Master of Science in Social Anthropology as a part of his PhD and will be a PhD candidate from September 2009. His research interest is the Gurkhas diaspora, with a focus on the Gurkhas in the United Kingdom.

Chandra was kind enough to let me interview him, so over fanta, green tea, and cookies, we talked about his experiences in Nepal, Singapore, and Edinburgh.

How was the transition from Singapore to Edinburgh?

My transition from Singapore to Edinburgh was fairly smooth. I was in Edinburgh before, so I knew what to expect. However, there were things that surprised me. Coming from Asia, I thought that Westerners were not very serious about their education, so when I came here and went to the library, I saw all my classmates reading and studying all day, I was very surprised. The students at the University of Edinburgh are very hardworking and bright, perhaps the best minds in their field of studies.


What has been your greatest challenge in Edinburgh?

My major challenge was in the first semester. Because my first two masters were in totally different fields, Strategic Studies and International Relations, I lost in terms of disciplinary language when I was attending seminars in Social Anthropology the first semester.

The next challenge was, I wanted to get distinction in my master’s modules, but when I received my first semester’s results, I got distinction in none of the modules – that was a real challenge. In the second semester, I got the rhythm, I am much better now, but my challenge of getting distinction is still going on.

What advice would you give to international students?

When international students leave their own country and they are in UK, I suggest they learn the culture and language of the host country. At the same time, exchange the culture and language of their own with host country as well as with other international students. Take the best thing to their home countries. It doesn’t mean they have to do everything; they can filter the best things and take them to their own countries.

I encourage international student to be more active, rather than passive, so that they will make more friends and student life will be more fun. Participate in as much activities as possible within the University and beyond. For example, I had never done yoga in Asia, although I could have done, but I started doing it here. Currently, I am learning capoeira (Brazilian martial art cum dance) and Scottish Ceilidh is something I love doing now.

The idea here is, participating in activities broadens your stay mentally and physically. With these activities, you will make your life a lot more interesting as a student and at the same time, you learn a lot more. With so much goes on at University of Edinburgh and so many events that take place in Edinburgh, I reckon it is a great opportunity be here in Scotland.


What do you hope to do in the future?

My immediate aim is to complete a PhD and then gain some research experience in the Western world. Thereafter, I would like to return to Nepal where there is a huge brain drain. Most of the intellectuals in Nepal are leaving for greener pasture, probably due to ongoing political conflict. I, however, believe, as the citizen of Nepal, I should return to Nepal and impart the knowledge and skills that I have gained so far, I believe in contributing whatever way I am able to help Nepal. I believe the notion the good use of knowledge is an honour, and sharing is caring. There are many people to whom I can be a great help especially in my motherland.

My strategy is to teach at University in Nepal, and I would also like build a big public library at the heart of Kathmandu. There are university libraries, but, sadly, there is no public library in Nepal even at the beginning of the new millennium. To achieve my goal, if there is an absolute need, I will even go into politics, but that would be my last priority.

Situation changes, so does the strategy, hence, I wouldn’t exactly be able to tell you what I will be doing to fulfill my life long goal of helping people.

What do you think it will be like going back?

Although I lived in Singapore for a long time and am now in Edinburgh, I still have my own relationship with Nepal. There will be challenges since I have been away from Nepal for a long time. However, it’s possible to overcome these challenges. Being in the Gurkhas has made it easier for me to assimilate and adjust to new environments.

People in Nepal may have a different perception of scholars educated in the Western World, but I will see what strategy fits better. I am an optimist, “nothing is impossible, it is only impossible until one finds a solution to make it possible.”

learning how not to be too ambitious?

April 25, 2009

7971252_7e070ade7bOne of the biggest challenges of writing a master’s dissertation — or conducting any large-scale research project for that matter — is learning how to focus and choose a specific research object.

If you’re too ambitious, you may get overwhelmed and lost in an overabundance of ideas and end up writing something very general.

Even if you’re researching a field that obviously hasn’t been really researched, it may be too much for you to take on for a masters. If that’s the case, consider continuing on for a PhD. or a research fellowship.

The trick is finding a research gap in your field of study, but a gap that’s not too big.

Photo by Flickr user gapsi *your guide

faces and favelas: 7,883 words later

April 23, 2009

After three weeks of intensive reading and writing, I now have time to catch on email, my google reader, and this blog! Both essays went pretty well, I managed to finish both of them without pulling an all-nighter.


"JR à Londres - JR @ London"

For the Cultural Studies paper, I wrote about the significance of the face in Parisian street artist JR’s work, focusing on his Face2Face Project in Israel and Palestine. Contemporary critical theorists, such Bernadette Wegenstein, that the face is now obsolete, meaning that it is no longer the primary signifier of the body and human experience. The face no longer colonizes the whole body.

Now, the body can be represented as just an arm or a leg. However, these body parts do not stand for the whole body, but are autonomous and self-reflexive. Challenging the notion of the “natural” body, advancements in technology and science have allowed us to think about and control the body in new ways. These developments have forced us to question the supremacy of the face and the ways in which the body is organized and hierarchized.

However, using the face in JR’s face as my case study, I argue that the face stills plays an indispensable role in certain cultural contexts and while other body parts may achieve the same level of significance as the face, this is only possible in particular situations. While we should imagine and use the body in new ways, we should also recognize its historical, cultural, and material limitations.


"Favela Villa Canoas, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil"

For the City and Its Others paper, I wrote about the spectacle of the favela, focusing specifically on the way in which pop cultural representations, such as City of God, Flickr, and even restaurants, reflect and influence our perception of the favela. I discussed how the favela is understood on a macro and micro level, looking at how it is situated in the discourses on slums and urban poverty, but also how its own site-specific cultural history has impacted its development.

While the favela is still viewed as a “marginal” space in classical urban theory, its status of “marginality” has been re-worked in new ways to promote the cultural products of this othered urban space. The favelas are often seen as on the cutting edge of culture, offering a multitude of opportunities for mass consumption. These pop cultural products have inspired many to visit the favelas, places that were once considered completely off limits to non-residents.

One of the most recent cultural practices in developing cities is slum tourism. Whether it is to have a more intimate understanding of poverty or a more ‘authentic’ and ‘edgy’ travel experience, touring the slums has become an increasingly popular trend among urban travelers. However, to what extent, is this practice ethical?

My paper discussed the way in which the spectacle produces and is produced by slum tourism, as well as the politics of seeing and visiting the favela.

Overall, I am happy with the way both papers went, but I am glad I can now just focus on my dissertation!

“JR à Londres – JR @ London” by Flickr user yoyolabellut

“Favela Villa Canoas, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil” by Flickr user Philip Ritz

the moleskine podcast #2: the cultural studies perspective

March 1, 2009

This is the second installment of the moleskine podcast series. Just to remind you, for this series, I’ll be interviewing students, professors, and advisers to give you an insider’s perspective on admissions, research, accommodations, and much more!


Bethany, me, and Muriel recording in my kitchen.

For this podcast, I interviewed two of my friends Bethany Johnson and Muriel Lovo who are also in the Cultural Studies MSc. Programme at the University of Edinburgh. Bethany graduated with a bachelor of arts in English and Humanities from the University of Louisville in Kentucky, USA and. Muriel received a bachelor’s degree in Arts and Filmmaking at the University of Arts and Social Sciences in Santiago, Chile.

In this podcast, Bethany and Muriel will be talking about applications, Cultural Studies, scholarships, and life after graduation.

Resources mentioned in this podcast: The Mary Churchill Humphrey Centenary Memorial Scholarship

You can also check out my first podcast with my American friends Ben and Julie who are also studying at the UK.

the process

Making this podcast was a bit easier than making the first one, but it still had its challenges. Recording can be especially difficult if you have never been on a podcast before or are with a couple of girlfriends. Muriel, Bethany, and I spent several times re-recording the introduction because we couldn’t stop laughing. It was a great fun, but next time, I’ll start the recorder before the interview starts and just transition naturally from casual conversation to interview.

I recorded the moleskine podcast #2 on my boyfriend Andrew’s macbook pro and used Audacity to edit the majority of this podcast. However, I think I might try a different editing program, like Reaper or SPEAR, because Audacity isn’t the most intuitive or user-friendly program. I actually ended up doing the final stage of editing through Nuendo, a digital audio workstation. Most professional sound design is made through Nuendo or Pro Tools.


This is a screen shot of Audacity


This is a screen shot of Nuendo

Through Nuendo, I was easily able to cross-fade, compress, and equalize (EQ) the sound. These processes are essential to producing high quality sound. Because of the nature of a live interview, I had to cut and paste certain sections  in order to tighten the podcast. Since sound is a time-based medium, you always have to be aware of how you’re moving sections around. This is why you have to cross-fade in order smoothly transition from one section to another. Finally, in order to improve the volume and quality of the podcast, you have to compress and EQ the sound.

An important lesson I learned while editing this podcast is saving incrementally as different files. I had saved incrementally, but under the same file. In other words, I selected “save” instead of “save as”. This simple error cost me about 45 minutes of editing time. Not too bad in the grand scheme of things, but still annoying.

thank you

Big thank yous to Bethany and Muriel for letting me pick their brains.

Special thanks to Andrew, check out his blog { sound + design } for tons of geektacular sound stuff!

Thanks to warg from Soundsnap, a user-driven sound effects library, for the cheesy, but fun loop warg elizabethtown.


learning to commit

January 31, 2009

I am a commitment phobe. There are few things I dread more than having to set aside my schizophrenic set of academic interests to focus in on a specific area of research. I often jump from one topic to the next, but soon I’ll have to commit to something. The research proposal for our 15,000-word dissertation is due in about a month and a half, and we have already made our first stabs at the proposal.

Today, I had to write a 200-word abstract — or a better way of putting it might be a mini proposal since you generally write the abstract after your research is completed  —  and select a piece of complimentary visual material for my Cultural Studies Research Methods class. The abstract I wrote is more of a stream-of-consciousness journal entry, but nevertheless, better represents my ideas than a formal proposal.

Performing and Remembering the Other: On Place, Language, and Memory in South Korea

This project started off with an interest in looking how the unique, site-specific characteristics of Seoul and South Korea could be used to expand on recent cultural and urban theory, but as I worked through my memories, photographs, and writings, I felt dissatisfied. Almost none of the visual material* I had archived adequately captured the issues of hyper consumerism, globalization, xenophobia, and identity I wished to address. Even a keyword flickr and google image search couldn’t produce the results I wanted. It made me wish I had taken more photos when I was in Seoul. The lack of visual material coupled with my beginner proficiency in Korean and faraway distance from South Korea made me wonder if this was a feasible research topic. I started thinking about: How may one research a specific location without experiencing that place in person, having sufficient visual material, or being proficient in the native tongue? How can one acknowledge the barriers of language, representation, and distance while using them as a lens for understanding the experiences and memories of being a foreigner in South Korea? How does our perception of place change when our experience is filtered through these barriers?  This project will attempt to explore these questions by describing the experiences of being a foreigner in South Korea through an analysis of my own personal memories, blogs written by foreigners, primarily by English teachers, who are living or have lived in Korea, as well as photographs taken by myself, friends, and strangers. This project is an entry point into understanding the larger issues of memory, language, and place.

*The image above is one of the few pieces of visual material I found that resonated with my  ideas. I selected this image because the phrase “my god! I have to learn English” articulates the degree to which the English language has become embedded within education and the larger political economy of South Korea. I also like this image because it has phrases in both Chinese and Korean which to my untrained eyes have almost no apparent meaning beyond a few words. I see these writings more as image rather than as text. This largely image-based and fragmentary mode of reading Korean is how most foreigners experience South Korea. I am interested in understanding how this mode of language and interpretation affects their perception of place in South Korea.

So…that’s prety much where I am at now. This is an area of research I am hugely interested in, but I am also enticed by the idea of researching New Orleans, memory, and post-disaster cities. We’ll see, I still have a few more weeks before I have to officially commit. In the meantime, please send me your feedback.

grad school love

January 1, 2009


Our meeting was a cinematic cliche: by a twist of fate, a young French-South African meets a young Filipino-American at a Christmas party in Seoul. It was a party we both weren’t planning to attend. Andrew was the last to arrive. We didn’t take notice of each other at first, but once we started talking, it felt like we had grown up together in Seattle or Monaco. There was something about him and us that felt very natural and comfortable.

Like most young people meeting for the first time, we bonded over our “facebook” interests: travel, Wes Anderson, and grad school. Andrew had been out of uni for three years and was planning to apply to York University in Toronto to continue his Sound Design studies. I was in the midst of applying to Cultural Studies programs in the UK. Since I had done more research on apps than Andrew, I offered to help him with his research proposal. We exchanged contact information and silly mini self-portraits.


It wasn’t too long before Andrew and I became official. However, ironically, even though grad school jump-started our first conversation, it became the bane of our relationship in Korea. Helping a significant other with research proposals can be extremely challenging if you come from completely different academic backgrounds, disciplines and philosophies. Fortunately, we managed to work out our differences and submit a solid research proposal for York University.

However,the proposal maybe wasn’t worth all the trouble. When Andrew went to visit his family in South Africa for a couple of weeks in March, we realized we wanted to attend grad school in the same area, so that we could stay together. It was too late for me to apply to universities in Canada, so Andrew decided to apply to one of my schools in the UK. He found an amazing Sound Design program at the University of Edinburgh.


Fortunately, we were both accepted and are currently studying and sharing a flat in Edinburgh. It’s been over a year since our first meeting. These days things aren’t so cinematic; we are pretty boring and spend most of our time on the computer. But, that’s okay with us.

the personal statement

December 14, 2008

This entry was written by fellow Idealist grad school blogger Devi Noor. She is currently working in the non-profit arts sector in Los Angeles and is applying to MA/PhD programs in Art History. Her blog Lunardevi is filled with great information and advice, such as this post on “the personal statement.”

“The personal statement. It’s the one component of the graduate application where school admissions can get an idea of your personality. So when you’re writing your statement of purpose, every word needs to count!

I’m lucky that I have friends with eagle-eyes and editor-spirits. Blogging has made my writing style extremely colloquial- the complete opposite of what your statement should be. Some key things to remember when writing the personal statement:

1. Use the active voice; avoid passive writing.

I make this mistake all the time. If you’re writing phrases such as “I am planning”, I am seeking”, “Will have had ——ing”, cut it out! Passive=weak. Not a desirable quality to have. Graduate programs are a competitive, massive undertaking, so make sure the tone of your statement is confident.

2. Clearly state your objectives and keep them focused.

Vague is not vogue to grad school admissions. If you plan on spending at least 2-5 years for your program, what you intend to get out of your educational studies should be clearly outlined. If you know you want to teach upon completion of the program, be specific as to what you’ll teach, what audience you will instruct, and so forth.

3. Why [insert school name here]?

Be sure to explain why you are applying to the school. Listing the programs of interest, faculty, and resources is fine and dandy, but also making sure to specify how this school will help attain your personal objectives is much better.

The word limits for my personal statements range from 500-1000 words, some 2-4 pages, or 1000 characters. Yikes! My fellow blogger Lindsey also had issues with this. Be prepared to pare down your work for certain schools with short word limits. Keep these words in mind and say them to yourself when you have to crop another 100 words out of your statement: “succinct, brevity, concise, and pithy.” That’s what I do.

And since I now have to tweak my statement yet again, I leave you with some useful resources to get you started.

Good luck!


Personal statements in general: – has several articles on writing the statement of purpose

Berkeley – step-by-step procedure on how to write the statement

Art History/Humanities:

UPenn – great advice on the graduate art history application in general

Duke – tips on the statement of purpose in Humanities”

I’d also like to add, make sure you start your essay far ahead of the deadline and get a professor, TA, and/or friend to read and edit it a few times before you submit your application.

first semester overview

November 17, 2008

I have far fewer classes and less required work than I had as an undergrad at the University of Washington. To give you an idea of what the workload and setup is like, I have laid out my academic semester schedule.

I only have two required classes once a week. I am taking Culture and Criticism I (one of the core Cultural Studies classes) and the Anthropology of Health and Healing (my optional course). Each class is two-hours long, combining both lecture and discussion. I have about three hours of reading a week for each class. Grades are based on two 4,000 word research papers due at the end of the semester.

I am also auditing Qualitative Approaches to the City and attending the Cultural Studies Salon, both which are about two-hours long and once a week.

The first week of the semester I took a mandatory Research Skills and Methods lecture-style seminar composed of over 200 students in the School of Literatures, Languages, and Cultures (LLC). This class was an introduction to the resources and materials available at the university and in the city. We had four classes the first week, which lasted for about two hours each.

In LLC, we are also required to take three topic-specific workshops, ranging from Methods and Materials in Medieval Studies to Researching Film in the Digital Era. These workshops are about two-hours long.

We also had to submit a bibliographic assignment at the end of the seminar and will have to submit a 10-page annotated bibliography at the end of this month.

Considering this is a full-time load, the number of classes and amount of assignments seems a bit light. Personally, I wish we had class and assignments more frequently. But, I guess it gives me more time to write this blog.

grad school to-do list and timeline

November 15, 2008

Another fabulous grad school worksheet from Christina. Some of the info, such as the tips on the GREs, will not apply to UK applicants.

By creating a to-do list and a time line, you don’t have to carry all of the weight of the application process; you are only responsible for doing one thing at a time.  Once you have completed one task in the time frame you have created, you can move on to the next item on your list.  This makes applying to graduate school “do-able.”  As my brother often told me when I was applying to graduate school, “This is part of the process.  The graduate programs want to know that you can handle pressure and jump through the various hoops.”  In other words, if it were easy to get into graduate school, everybody would be doing it.  But, you aren’t everybody—so let’s get started.

Graduate School Applications To-Do List:

* Look into various programs by researching universities on-line, at the bookstore, or with a professor/ other graduate students
* Keep a record of application requirements for each university
* Narrow your list down to 6-10 of your top choices
* Look into your exam books or courses such as Princeton Review/Kaplan in preparation for the LSAT, GRE, MCAT, GMAT, etc.
* Take the exam
* Request GRE scores to graduate schools
* Order applications
* Begin writing your statement of purpose—be creative, specific and concise.  Say what you did, what you are doing, and what you will be doing in graduate school and further into the future
* Find 1-2 people who are willing to help you in the writing process (or, if there are other people who are also applying to graduate school, set up a peer review group)
* Ask for final comments from 2-3 people
* Request Letters of Recommendation
* Complete packets for professors (including stamped envelopes, a timeline, your SOP—even if it is not the final version—and a very detailed letter explaining how you feel you are a good “fit” for the various programs)
* Request transcripts from all schools you attended (community college, 2-year and 4-year programs)
* Find 3 works you feel best demonstrate your writing for the required writing samples
* Begin editing your work (this is important, though if you are crunched for time, your SOP is more important)
* Complete applications (or do on-line)
* Contact PhD programs—specific professors who you feel might be interested in working with you—and send them your statement of purpose
* If you are serious about a specific university or you have the financial funds to do so, visit the department and set up meetings with various professors
* Mail in applications with checks (please note that applying to graduate schools is expensive—plan ahead)
* Pat yourself on the back—you did it!