We continue to welcome guest posts by BIPIOC scholars. Today’s post is by Dr. Ida Yalzadeh. Dr. Ida Yalzadeh is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Asian American Studies program at Northwestern University. She graduated from Brown University with a PhD in American Studies in Spring 2020. To learn more about her work, you can visit her personal website and subscribe to her newsletter, tiny driver.
Defending my dissertation and graduating from my grad program this past Spring was disillusioning, to say the least. My final meeting with my dissertation committee was done over Zoom in late April, and I proceeded to celebrate with myself in isolation. This was and is not a unique situation, especially as the pandemic continues to shape the day-to-day of all our lives. And I’m sure that many other graduates also felt a similar sense of incompletion to me. What is usually marked by celebrations and hugs could only be done from a great distance. The documents one usually hands to the Graduate School in person were done over email. It seemed like my finishing was all just a dream.
It was from this sense of needing closure that I initially decided to create a zine that talked about “Navigating Grad School as a Woman of Color.” I thought that if I documented my journey through graduate school, it would seem more real to me that this chapter of my life had come to an end. But, in the process of writing and designing it, I realized how much I wanted this to be a resource for my community. I had experienced the generosity of so many wonderful mentors and colleagues throughout grad school, and I realized that the first thing I wanted to do as I transitioned out of being a student was to pay my knowledge forward in an accessible way.
So, I ended up writing sections that I thought would give insight into each step of getting a PhD in a Humanities program: coursework, qualifying exams, teaching, and writing a dissertation. My goal for these sections was to relay information that may be more difficult to find online; these included screenshots of my computer file workflow, great apps for academic research, and the “target” approach to reading for exams. Alongside these sections,
I also included sections on mental health, mentorship, and online resources in order to center the importance of community building in graduate school. My support systems and the collaborative nature of my department were some of the main reasons why I was able to get through my program, and I wanted to make sure that I highlighted that throughout the zine.
When I released the zine in late July, grad students reached out to me saying that it was a resource they appreciated having in their arsenal. Professors also reached out saying that they were passing it along to their students. Particularly in this time, when mentors and instructors are already stretched so thin, I hope that my zine will provide a way to disseminate information that can start as the foundation of conversations between grad students and their advisors, rather than them having to start the discussion from scratch.
While this feeling of giving back to my community has been the primary source of joy I’ve felt from releasing the zine, I have also slowly come to peace with the way my graduate school journey has ended. Through writing this and documenting each step of the process, I found the closure I needed to move forward. And although it is still surreal that I am in my first academic position that is not categorized as “student,” I do feel some sense of relief when I look back and think, “I did that.” I hope that with the zine, it will make the journey for others even a bit easier.