Office Hours: Ama Bemma Adwetewa-Badu
Ama Bemma Adwetewa-Badu @AmaBemma
English Ph.D. Student at Cornell University
M.A. in English from Clark University
B.A. in English from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts
What inspired you to attend grad school?
I knew that to become a Professor in an English department, I would need to get a PhD. I also knew that I needed to be “professionalized” in terms of knowing what a life in academia will require out of me. It was not only about being “inspired,” but also about knowing my goals and being spurred on by them. In terms of inspiration, I had amazing professors in my undergrad program who constantly encouraged me and gave me the opportunities and resources to do interesting and stimulating research. This really expanded my understanding of what literature is and what it can do. The mixture of their encouragement and the engaging research I undertook during those years really encouraged me to think about what I could do with this information and where I could go to learn more about what was activating my curiosity. Grad school became the answer.
Tell me about your proudest grad school moment. Why was it special for you?
When I started the first semester of my PhD program, I knew that I wanted to finish the semester with strong papers and a strong GPA. I also knew that I wanted to make sure that I made time for my personal research outside of my coursework. I took four courses this past semester (three for a grade and 1 pass/fail with no paper requirement). During the semester, I had to really organize my time in new ways that I hadn’t done before, so it was a bit of a challenge. By the end of the semester, however, I found that I had not only reached my goal of writing strong papers and finishing with a strong GPA, I was also able to do some of the important and critical reading that I had set out to do. That may be a little thing, but I think that it is important to celebrate every little thing.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten while in grad school?
During my MA, I had a professor give me the book From Student to Scholar: A Candid Guide to Becoming a Professor. In our brief discussion of the book, prior to me reading it, he told me that a part of grad school is learning how to be a scholar. It was no longer about taking every class in the course-book and getting an A, but about focusing on an area of research and perfecting myself in that. From our conversation, I learnt that this means that grad-school is truly a continuous and ever-growing to-do list. There is always something to be read (either for class or for personal research); there is always something to be written ( a poem, a novel, a research paper, a conference paper, and article). It was now up to me, as a person with a scholar mindset, to pick and choose how I spend my time wisely (in terms of the work that I do).
This conversation generated this very centering piece of advice. His kindness in even taking the time to speak with me about transitioning into a grad student (and giving me a book!) also taught me a lot about academic generosity. Each one teach one.
If you had to describe your Black Grad experience with one song, which one would it be, and why?
I’ve recently been playing an old but good song: Nina Simone’s “Young Gifted and Black.” Although the melody is rather mellow, it amps me up. Whenever I am going through a rough patch, Simone’s song tells me that I’m young, gifted and Black “and that’s a fact.” That’s enough to spur me forward.
What has been your biggest obstacle in grad school? What strategies have you used to try to overcome it?
When I was doing my MA, I worked between 2-3 jobs at any given point. I also volunteered and did other service activities. There were days when I would go to work, speed over to class, and then go to work again. Although my time management skills are pretty solid, I was constantly tired and drained. This was an obstacle in terms of just learning how to practice self-care. Although my mentality at the time was just to muscle through it, which I did, I have learnt how to say no to things (that others ask of me AND things I over-ask of myself). In order for this to not rear up again, I have learned to manage how many activities I take on (even though, sometimes, we may want to do it all). Learning self-care was central. If I have to stop what I’m doing and read a comic, talk to my friends, or watch a movie, I do it.
What has this experience (pursuing a graduate degree) taught you about yourself?
I have learnt that I am capable of doing everything I put my mind to. On the flip side, pursuing a PhD has also taught me that my worth is not defined by publications, conference presentations, fellowships etc (even though they are nice to have!).
If you could go back to the first day of grad school, what advice would you give to yourself?
Get to know as many professors as possible. What is listed on their faculty page may not reflect the entire breadth of their scholarship. Speaking to people earlier on will give you an understanding of who you can place in your committees and also who you can approach with certain ideas.
How do you think your identities have informed your graduate experience?
I strongly believe that being a Black woman has given me a different perspective about not only the literature and theory I read for class, but also about the academic spaces I occupy.
How do you intend to use your degree in the future?
I intend on becoming a university professor once I complete my degree. I particularly want to teach poetry in a way that makes students critically and socially aware of not only the politics of aesthetics (and of life) but of the power in language.
What’s something that you would tell someone who is interested in pursuing a similar path?
Look at the scholars you admire. Figure out what they did to get where they are and modify their steps to fit your exact goals. Doing this has helped me in everything from developing my writing style to the PhD program I am now enrolled in.