5 Tips for every PhD student's Partner

By Sara Papendorf

Many of the posts on this blog come from the point of view of those in the academic world. I thought it might be interesting (and helpful) for some readers to describe several experiences of a PhD student from a completely different point of view – the view of a partner. My name is Sara Papendorf, and I am the partner of Dave Papendorf, your favorite blog editor.  I am not an academic, but I’ve lived through the process and, therefore, have some tips to share.

To provide some context, my life as the partner of a PhD student started back in 2014. After much discussion about our future, Dave and I decided that he should pursue a PhD in history. Thus began the long hours of filling out applications. Dave applied to a number of different programs in the Midwest. I still remember how exciting it was getting letters in the mail from the different universities he applied to – honestly, I think I was more excited than Dave was! I have always been the mail checker in the family, so Dave had to kindly ask me to not open any letters without him. I obliged his request......well......basically. There were several times when I held a letter up to the light to try and see what it said. In fact, this was how we discovered that Dave was accepted into the program at CMU. It was a very exciting time for us!

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Fast forward four years later to July 2018, and Dave is currently in the writing stage of the program. As for me, over these past four years, I would say that I have learned much about being the partner of a PhD student.  If I were to provide you with any advice, here are some tips that I have found helpful: 

Tip 1: Expect challenges

Anyone who is currently working on or has completed a PhD program knows that the life of a PhD student is not for the faint-hearted. There are huge milestones in any program – being accepted, passing comps, completing one’s dissertation, defending one’s dissertation, and securing a job – not to mention that each milestone is filled with its own set of tasks to complete.  It has been important for Dave and me to recognize that this stage in our life is not permanent, just temporary and to expect that there will be difficult times throughout each major milestone.  Keeping this outlook has allowed us to pace ourselves, take one day at a time, and enjoy ourselves along the way.  

Tip 2: Show interest in your partner’s work

Frankly, I never had much interest in history during my academic years.  I much more enjoyed math and English.  It’s quite comical that my partner has such a great interest in history.  Even though I am not a huge history fan and it takes some focus to learn about history, I have discovered over the past several years that Dave appreciates when I take an interest in what he is working on.  My interest in his work doesn’t have to be a big ordeal; questions as simple as, “What are you reading about now?” or “What did you discuss in your colloquium today?” can go a long way.  I actually find great joy in hearing Dave describe what he is learning because I can tell that he truly enjoys doing what he does.  Last year, Dave taught his first course, which was medieval history.  At the beginning of the semester he asked me if I was going to attend any of his lectures. Looking back, I think he was half joking and half serious.  However, I was able to attend two lectures, and I know taking the time to attend really meant a lot to Dave.    

Tip 3: Be spontaneous. 

There are times when your partner will need to do something to take their mind off of the grind academia - studying for comps, reading primary sources in sixteenth century Latin (I might be speaking from personal experience here ;-)), or editing the same chapter of their dissertation for the fifty-second time.  From January to June of this year, Dave and I lived at the Leibniz Institute of European History (IEG) located in Mainz, Germany.  The IEG has dormitory-like living – single rooms equipped with a sink, shared kitchen space, and shared bathrooms. Over the six-month span, Dave and I both worked in our room every day.  I am sure you can imagine how easy it would be to go stir crazy working in a small space. To help keep us sane, we often took spontaneous walks along the Rhine River.  There were a handful of Saturdays where Dave and I intended to tackle several items on our checklist; however, instead of working, we decided it would be better for our quality of life to set aside our mile-long to-do-lists and spend some time enjoying each other’s company and enjoying our German surroundings. Sometimes an unplanned trip to get gelato or to the market was just what we needed.  And you don’t have to live in Germany to follow this tip – find some spontaneous fun that works in your locale!

Tip 4: Be supportive

Throughout the past four years, consciously attempting to be a supportive partner has been an important component of my role as Dave’s partner.  Supporting Dave has taken on many forms, and I have learned that sometimes being supportive is more about listening to Dave describe his concerns and struggles rather than offering my best solution to a difficult problem.  Honestly, this is one thing that has been the most difficult for me to do but has meant the most to Dave.  Lending a listening ear has often provided Dave with the support he needs to keep plugging along.  

Tip 5: If you get to travel, take advantage!

During the second year of Dave’s program, we spent the academic year living in Newcastle, England.  Knowing we would be in the UK for quite some time, we decided to book several trips to various locations across Europe – Belfast, Rome, Geneva, Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona, and Edinburgh.  While these trips could get prices, I would say that our experiences (seeing the spectacular views of Giant’s Causeway, walking the streets of ancient Rome, taking a ferry ride down the Amsterdam canals, and touring the catacombs in Paris……just to mention a few) were worth every penny.  I can honestly say that we made the most of our time in the UK and have no regrets.  Throughout all of our travels, we have discovered some simple ways to save money:  choosing to stay in an AirBnb rather than a hotel, packing a lunch (and dinner…and breakfast), and searching for deals on cheap European airlines (EasyJet and RyanAir). Traveling with Dave has been such a great privilege as he is often able to explain some of the history behind many of the things we have been able to see when traveling abroad.  As someone who was born and raised in the Midwest, I would say it’s often easy to get wrapped up in visiting places in the US. Don’t get me wrong, the US has much to offer, but the world is quite a big place.        

These tips are by no means scientifically proven. They are just the things that have worked for me and Dave over the past 4 years. I expect (and hope) that some, if not all, might be encouraging to you as well!

Fellowship Hunting

By Dave Papendorf

As a late-stage PhD student working to finish my dissertation, I have quickly begun to come to grips with the facts.  Specifically, though I was fortunate enough to have funding through my university, my funding package would not cover me completely as I finish my dissertation.  In other words, I wasn’t going to get paid for the final year and a half of my program. Years one and two were breezy and care free; I was just a portion of my time into my program, still learning the ropes, and living blissfully in the time when my biggest worries were seminars and colloquia rather than the dissertation lurking behind every corner. Thankfully, I received advice from some of my mentors to go fellowship hunting.  And away I went.

There are lots of funding opportunities out there, but that doesn’t make any of them less competitive or exclusive.  So, the daunting task began.  Because I study European history, I was naturally drawn towards fellowships that afforded me time to research in Europe and be close to my important archival sites.  After countless hours of research and filling out applications, I fortunately received a six-month fellowship at the Leibniz-Institut für Europäische Geschichte in Mainz, Germany.  The IEG is a non-profit research institution founded to further scholarship in European history and promote collaborative research between the countries in war-torn Europe.  Currently staffed with a large contingent of senior researchers in two divisions (Western Religious History and Universal History), the IEG continuously houses around 40 research fellows (Stipendiaten) who are working on their dissertations.  Housed in the Domus Universitatis (a building built in the 17thcentury to house Jesuit monastics, pictured above), the researchers also have access to a wonderfully-stocked library.  The highpoint of the week at the IEG is the Forschungskolloquium – a time when all of the researchers and fellows gather to hear a presentation from a peer or senior researcher.

Needless to say, I was absolutely thrilled to have received this fellowship.  Since January 2018, my wife and I have lived in Mainz – a historic city along the Rhine which was both inhabited by the Romans as early as the first century B.C.E. and the hometown of Johannes Gutenberg and his famous printing press.  Just living in Mainz alone was worth applying for the fellowship.  However, my experience here has been much more significant than simply living in another country.  I was able to pick the brains of German and European scholars who have offered differing perspectives on dissertation methodology.  It has also been stimulating to work and live with other doctoral students from all over the world and to chat about common experiences (and, let’s be honest, fears concerning the job market).  Moreover, presenting my research to a room of experts on European history was also equally helpful in crafting the intricacies of my dissertation.  In short, my experience at the IEG has been both formative and invigorating as I continue to march forward.  My experience seems to be similar to many of the other fellows that have passed through the IEG.  With this in mind, I recommend that any PhD student seriously consider applying for domestic or international fellowships.  It will give you unique life experiences, allow you funded time to work on your dissertation, and likely, as in my case, give you continued traction to push on with your project.

One final note…although I was successful in my IEG application, I was rejected on five other applications.  It was difficult to remain upbeat through the discouragement of rejection letters, but just remember:  you will get rejected more times than you are accepted.  This is a hard pill to swallow for most PhD students – a group of over-achieving, intelligent, successful, top-of-the-class people. Resist the urge to be discouraged through applications, because the applications are good training for job ads and often serve to make you think more critically about your work and even your CV. In conclusion, apply for fellowships! Keep grinding, and you’ll likely get the opportunity to move somewhere new, receive insight from senior scholars, and get an extra boost of encouragement just when you need it. Good luck!

Study Abroad From Scotland to Michigan: Why You Should Take the Leap!

By Amy Greer

Throughout my four years of undergraduate study at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, my goal was always to teach history. After being told I had been unsuccessful for my PGDE – the first step to becoming a qualified high school teacher – I felt lost with what the future would hold for me after leaving Strathclyde. Little did I know that an amazing opportunity that would change my life was about to come along.

Although the previous few years have held many milestones, it is safe to say my Masters year at Central Michigan University has been my biggest growing year yet (and not just because I have to buy my own groceries and pay rent). Back in 2017, in the space of only four months, I had been awarded the fellowship to come to CMU, taken my honors year examinations, graduated, and was on a plane to Michigan. Looking back now, it is difficult to believe that my journey began only this time last year. Once all the paperwork had been completed and I no longer had anything to focus on, I questioned whether I was truly ‘ready’ – although I am not sure anyone would ever say they were completely ready to move four thousand miles away from the place they have always lived. However, I am so thankful I pushed myself take a leap of faith to attend graduate school…in America. (Pinch me moment for sure!)

In two semesters at CMU, I have not only grown personally but also academically. Any expectations I had of what graduate school would be like were blown away in the best way possible! For me, it was a different world: suddenly I had my own classes to teach, my own office in the department, and was in graduate seminars surrounded by PhD students, feeling completely out my depth. However, it is amazing how quickly I adjusted with the help and support of my fellow grad students and Professors. Our Transnational exchange program stretches far to places such as Germany, Newcastle, and France to name a few. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this honored exchange program and to work alongside an amazing group of grad students, many of whom I am extremely lucky to call my good friends.

One of the main things that first attracted me to the program at CMU was the graduate teaching position. It was a daunting but equally exciting prospect. This experience was either going to confirm or deny what I always believed I wanted to do with my life, and I think it is safe to say I will never forget my first lesson (or how nervous I was)! Over my two semesters of my Masters year, I had the chance to teach two different courses: HST 210 U.S. History through Michigan Eyes and HST 323 Native American History. With U.S. history being one of my fields, I felt slightly more comfortable; however, the prospect of having my own classes to teach with no experience was nerve wracking to say the least. Despite this, being thrown in at the deep end has allowed me to progress far quicker. It is amazing how natural it all becomes. Lesson planning, teaching, grading, and helping students, all while doing your own course work is extremely stressful. You certainly do not see rewards every day when teaching; but when you see students progressing in their writing, or just enjoying a lesson or discussion, it makes it all worthwhile knowing you had a small part in those students’ journey. 

During some down time (I know what you are thinking, what grad student has time for a social life?!) I have had the great pleasure of exploring some parts of beautiful Michigan. Throughout my year I have visited Detroit and more specifically the Detroit Institute of Arts – thanks to Professor Harsyani for organizing such a wonderful trip as part of one of my favorite classes I have had the opportunity to take so far.  I have also had the pleasure of visiting Tahquamenon Falls in the Upper Peninsula as well as Traverse City. Before coming to CMU, Michigan was not somewhere I had a lot of knowledge about. In fact, most people I meet back home in Scotland are intrigued to know more, and when people hear what Michigan has to offer and see the insanely beautiful photographs of the Great Lakes…who wouldn’t be sold?

I am beyond grateful for all that has happened in the past academic year: from all I have learned from my professors, to teaching my students, presenting my research in our annual International Graduate Historical Studies Conference, and having the opportunity to meet amazing historians such as Alan Taylor and Edward Ayers. I have much to thank CMU for, but I am especially proud to say I now have lifelong friends, who I am lucky to call colleagues, in what can only be described as very inspiring environment. Indeed, my passion for what I do gets stronger in a place where everyone loves what they do and works so hard. For now though, I am back in sunny Scotland (always the joke because it is hardly ever sunny) enjoying summer with my family and loved ones. Perhaps if it rains too much I can hide in the archives. Like for most of us that would be a day very happily spent for me. I look forward to returning to Michigan in the Fall and exploring what the next four years hold for me as a PhD candidate at CMU!


Amy Greer is a Scottish doctoral student at Central Michigan University. Her research interests are in Early Modern European History, focusing on education, women’s history, and gender studies.  

Where Could Your History Degree Take You Next? (Other Than the Library)

Rebecca Cuddihy graduation photo.jpg

By Rebecca Cuddihy

Towards the end of my undergraduate history degree at Strathclyde University, Glasgow, I thought I had my next year planned. I had already gained my Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) qualification and accepted a teaching position at a school in China. However, attending a last-minute career lecture would change my life forever, and just a few months later I found myself travelling from Scotland to Mount Pleasant ready to start a master’s degree at Central Michigan University.

The main thing which attracted me to this amazing opportunity was the graduate teaching assistant position which went hand-in-hand with my master’s program. While taking my own classes, the structure of which was a huge culture shock to me itself, I also taught HST101, Western Civilization from the Bronze Age – 1700 under the supervision of history department chair Dr. Gregory Smith. Having no teaching experience whatsoever, I was thrown into the deep end. Saying that, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. Being a graduate assistant was a great experience, one which I definitely miss. At the time, writing your own essays, planning each lesson, and grading your students’ work is stressful and time-consuming and sometimes makes you want to tear your hair out (we’ve all been there). But there is a huge feeling of achievement when you think about the knowledge and skills you’ve helped pass on to your students. I had the independence in my seminar groups to develop my own teaching style, and attending weekly lectures with students meant we were on the journey together. The position also came with many challenges. Navigating the American education system was a shock to me, since in Scotland we don’t follow a general education program in university, and there are no compulsory classes (e.g. writing intensive). I felt that getting the students motivated and excited about the class could be difficult, as many students didn’t immediately see the benefit of a writing intensive class because it wasn’t related to their major (in an obvious way). However, I think my accent alone managed to capture attention of my students throughout the year. They definitely taught me as much as I taught them! I knew the next year would have a lot to live up to.

Although I worked with some fantastic professors and fellow grad students and made friends for life, I felt that pursuing a PhD just wasn’t for me. I loved the teaching aspect of my time at CMU, but I didn’t enjoy being in the classroom as a student as much. Thankfully, working with students from all over the world created a fantastic support network and is definitely one of the department’s strengths, particularly for those like me who had come from a different country.

Fast forward a move to the Metro Detroit area, a marriage and some serious job searching, I now work at the Detroit Historical Museum in Midtown Detroit! Although my role is mainly focused on visitor services, the knowledge and skills I’ve gained from this is invaluable. Not only have I learned about the turbulent history of Detroit and its gradual comeback, I’ve been able to learn just how a museum actually functions and what the key roles and responsibilities are. I see how the museum engages with the community through educational tours, film festivals, speakers, and maintaining relevant exhibits around Detroit’s history, as well as meeting individuals who have lived through Detroit’s past. It really is enlightening learning about Detroit’s history on a daily basis and actually seeing how past events have affected the city to this day.

I hope my journey will inspire current and future students that a history degree can take you to so many places! My next adventure will be down in Georgia, where for the next five months I’ll be working with the Augusta Museum of History in their collections department. I will be forever grateful for my time at CMU and to the faculty and students I worked with and taught. Who knows where my degree will take me next!


Rebecca Cuddihy graduated from Central Michigan University with a Master of Arts in History in 2017 and currently works at the Detroit Historical Museum. She is aiming to visit as many states as possible before returning to Scotland next year. She has also recently started a blog on her time in the USA so far: https://rebeccanormanusalife.wordpress.com/. You can follow her on twitter @rebeccacud92.

A German in Scotland ... via Michigan

 Rainy Glasgow Cathedral   (Photo credit: Gillian Macdonald)

Rainy Glasgow Cathedral   (Photo credit: Gillian Macdonald)

By Marcel Haas   

Rain is pelting down as I walk down Glasgow’s Cathedral Street, heading towards the Gothic outlines of the High Kirk of Glasgow I can dimly make out through the dark clouds. I walk a bit faster, stepping around scores of students hurrying out of the rain and into the Andersonian Library. One last desperate dash and I am in the foyer of the University of Strathclyde’s Lord Hope building, which houses the School of Humanities and my primary domicile, the Department of History. I rummage around in my once again chaotic shoulder bag, before my hand emerges triumphantly clutching the key card I need to enter the secretive chambers that hold my desk, the graduate school. Finally, I slump down behind the computer screen and start typing, “Rain is pelting down…”

   I came to Glasgow in June 2016, having fled the continental warmth of the German summer only to be attacked by even more sun over Scotland. (Thank you, global warming!) Luckily, Glasgow’s well-deserved reputation for beastly weather had come through in the end, and I enjoyed some lovely wet days while moving into my new apartment in the city’s eastern borough of Dennistoun. My new home was both a relatively quiet residential area, and a continuously up-and-coming hipstertopia, including snazzy cafes and traditional Italian restaurants, second hand shops and quite a few liquor stores. Needless to say, I instantly fell in love.
 

   My little picture of Glasgow might confuse my surely enormous readership. “Why in the name of all historical research is this guy in Scotland?” some will ask, “And why should we care?” Those are excellent questions! Insulting, but spot on. Well, I am (perhaps rather obviously) a graduate student at CMU. Besides being one of the lucky few graciously given the chance to pursue the increasingly longish goal of the PhD, I took (even more pleasingly) the opportunity to spend one year at one of CMU’s prestigious partner institutions, at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom (at the moment), European Union (not much longer, but hopefully soon again). Besides the prospect of living in yet another beautiful country, I had a good reason to be excited to move: I could do research on my dissertation topic at the very location where everything happened three hundred years ago! Granted, you, my fair reader, will only understand my exhilaration if you know that I study the relationship and first contact between Native Americans and the European empires, especially Great Britain, in the 18th century. There, I just told you. I hope you are appropriately excited for me.
 

   And so it goes that this increasingly wired up German made the grand journey from Michigan to Scotland (with a lengthy stop at his parents’ house in Jena, Germany) in a fashion reminiscent of the one made in the opposite direction by so many Scots during the last couple of centuries. In slightly less historic fashion I took a plane of course, which made the voyage considerably less arduous. (1) Scotland is now the third country where I studied and lived. It certainly is the prettiest. I say that with all due honours to Michigan, but there are few places on earth that can beat the view of Ben Nevis through the clouds, the winding road through Glen Coe, or the crushing waves around the Orkney Islands. (2)
  

 In my time here I have visited some of the best archives and academic institutions in the English-speaking world, and – all friendly hyperbole aside – they have helped me immensely to achieve some of my research goals. The British Library and the National Archives in London are only a (admittedly lengthy) bus ride away, Edinburgh’s Scottish National Library and Record Office are close-by, and Glasgow University holds an impressive special collection of 18th century documents. (3) Once the research stage is done I am also planning to attend and present at least at two large conferences in London and Edinburgh.
 

   This year has been (and still is) a revelation for me in terms of sightseeing and history, archival research opportunities, the bustling life at one of the busiest and best universities of the United Kingdom, and – last but not least – Glasgow’s culture. I know it is an often-used buzzword, but coming here has truly allowed me to broaden my horizon and gain new perspectives. (4) The people here are lovely, the food great, the drink (well if you have heard of Scotch Whisky, then no more words are necessary), and the university is racking itself to accommodate its foreign students’ academic needs. If this is not enough to make you come and see for yourself, then I do not know what would convince you.


(1) Except for the flight from Germany to Glasgow for which I enlisted the help of a certain Irish low-budget airline. They did not give me water on the plane. I had to buy it. Imagine my outrage!

(2) I am exaggerating only a wee bit when I say that one can hardly throw a stone without hitting a historic site on the Orkneys, be it 5000 year old stone circles like the Ring of Brodgar, or the Viking settlements at the Brough of Birsay. Seriously, if you are still reading this and not busy booking your flight to Scotland, you might hate history.

(3) The University of Glasgow’s campus is also a dead ringer for another famous, yet sadly fictional campus for the education of young wizards.

(4)There is a rather simplifying phrase in German, “Reisen bildet,” which literally means “travelling educates.” Obvious, yes, but also true. Sometimes both can be right.

Adventuring in England

 Wesley at his ancestoral home

Wesley at his ancestoral home

By Wesley Reynolds

Over the past five months, I have enjoyed my time studying at Newcastle University in Newcastle, UK. I have had the amazing opportunity to see the four corners of England -- not just the cities but the picturesque landscapes of rural England. I have fallen in love with the countryside, and through it, England’s people, national characteristics, and habits have seeped into my consciousness. Newcastle has turned out to be the perfect location for learning about England. It’s close to everything.

I am staying with a family just south of Gateshead (Newcastle’s sister city) in a little stone farmhouse; the perfect inspiration for higher learning. Bus fare is more than worth the opportunity of being introduced to England through the eyes of a traditional English family with connections both to Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

My host family is distinctive from the mining Geordie vernacular culture of Newcastle, but, for me, this has been an excellent match. They have instructed me in the finer social arts of inculcating an English sense of reserve, eating and drinking properly, posture and gestures, and even have helped me develop a southern English accent. There is a wonderful church and seminary here with many linguists, scholars, and people with real servant hearts. I have an amazing new home for study!

In addition to course work, I have been able to focus intently on my research on London coffeehouses. I visited the first coffeehouse in Oxford, and spent two weeks at the British Library in London and the National Archives in Kew investigating various primary sources. Accessing archives in England is an experience all of its own! Maybe for another post.

Most of all, I am enjoying the time I have off campus and discovering the culture. I am immersing myself in "old England”: Northumberland castles and farmland, the Lake District, York, Durham, Oxford, London, rural East Anglia, and pastoral Somerset. The Lake District is the most dramatic and inspiring landscape I have seen. It is a land of rock, fern, and waterfall; wild and unkempt, but still close to the mortal heart, with gradual shifts in lighting and subtle textures. The daylight in England touches the green grass with a golden hue and the moderate temperatures and frequent rains impart a certain gentleness to the country. Some of my favorite moments have been among the sheep meadows of Hexham, Northumbria; jumping over stone stiles and running along country paths. Passing along the Great Western railway through Bath and Bristol into the more gentle southwestern hill country of Somerset, I had the opportunity to stay in my old family ancestral manor house of Cothelstone. The red stone and soil seems now a part of me, and I will never forget awaking to a far green country spread out below my stone-framed, latticed window. In the southeast, the land is flatter and more suited for tillage. I stood on the runway from which my grandfather lifted off with his B-17 bomber in the Second World War. Up to Scotland sometime this semester!