10 Good Days in Grad School

Photo:  Adobe Stock

Photo: Adobe Stock


When it comes to grad school, a lot of people like to sugarcoat things. But I try to be as candid as possible about the "ugly" things that I've experienced as a PhD student. I've had many sleepless nights trying to meet deadlines. I've struggled with anxiety and depression. And I've had to make a lot of sacrifices along the way. That said, it would be irresponsible of me to suggest that all of my experiences in grad school have been bad. I've actually had some really great moments, despite how things look on my Twitter feed from time to time:

Lol, you know that was funny. But even if you didn't laugh, that tweet got over 270 likes, so let's just say that I'm not the only one who feels that way. *Kanye shrug* Seriously, though, I've had some really great moments in grad school. Hell, there were times when I've felt like I couldn't see myself doing anything else. If I had to make a list my top 10 moments so far, though, it would probably look something like this:


#10. Getting My grades back for the first time.

I was scared as hell to check my final grades the first time I got them back. I often heard other grad students say that grades, at this stage, didn't really matter. (That's another blog post for another day.) But I was still nervous. I already didn't participate much during lectures. And on top of that, I had to ask for final paper extensions in TWO of my three classes. Ya boy was struggling! But I managed to pull through with a strong GPA for the fall quarter. I was so happy that I didn't know what to do. (Now, those spring quarter grades were a different story. But in this post, we're celebrating "wins," so that's neither here nor there.)


#9. Winning my first grant for dissertation research.

Early on in my graduate school career, I already knew a lot of my strengths and weaknesses as a student. I knew that I wasn't the most talkative during classes, and I knew that I struggled with time management. But I also knew that I knew how to get grant money! So why was getting my first fellowship a top 10 moment for me, you ask? Well, I got the notification when I was at a really low point. That email reminded me that although I probably wasn't great at everything, I was still really good at something. You need that sometimes.


#8. Actually Traveling, and doing that research.

My dissertation examines the hypermasculinization of black female athletes, and one chapter focuses on South African runner Caster Semenya. Through receiving different travel grants and fellowships, I was able to conduct preliminary dissertation research in Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa. The following year, I even got a chance to watch Semenya compete and win a gold medal at the 2017 World Championships in London. I fell in love with my research topic all over again on that day.


#7. Getting my work published.

I'll forever be grateful for Darnell Moore. In addition to being a great writer (pre-order his new book, No Ashes in the Fire), a couple of years ago, he gave me a chance to work with him on a essay for the book Football, Culture and Power. The piece, "In Dialogue: On Sports, Sports Activism, Sexual Freedom, and Other Types of Liberation," ended up being a conversation between the two of us, and we talked openly about our personal relationship to sports. The day that the book was published, I couldn't wait to hold it book in my hands and see our essay in print. That was my first publication, and it was truly a special moment for me. 


#6. The first time I felt "good" about a conference presentation.

I was a second-year PhD student at the time. I had already presented at an academic conference the previous year, but it didn't go as I had planned. (That's another blog post!) So I was pretty determined to do better. The night before I stayed up late to work on my presentation, and I worked on it some more the following morning. But for some reason, it still didn't feel right. I ended up working on it up until it was time for me to actually speak. Surprisingly, it went well—really well! People followed the story that I wanted to tell, and offered some great feedback during the Q&A session at the end. I left the conference feeling proud. I actually felt like a "scholar." 


#5. When I Found my academic home.

Preview of me seeing other people who studied sports at the 2017 American Studies Association Conference, courtesy of a 1960's Spider-Man cartoon.

Preview of me seeing other people who studied sports at the 2017 American Studies Association Conference, courtesy of a 1960's Spider-Man cartoon.

If you've spent any time on social media lately, you've probably seen this picture. Well, that's kinda how I felt at the 2017 American Studies Association Conference, when I saw all of the professors and grad students who studied sports. I mean, I was sitting right next to the same people I cited in my research papers. It was wild. At one point, I had to just leave the conference room. It was too much. There was something about seeing them do their thing that made me say, with confidence: "I can do this!"

(Representation is important.)


#4. When my professor referred to me as "Dr. Niles." 

Few things are better than hearing "Doctor" in front of your name. My boys back home used to always clown me for being the "smart one." And they'd call me "Doc" in jest. But it resonated differently when one of my grad school professors called me "Dr. Niles." I was a second-year PhD student at the time, and I was feeling extremely overwhelmed with all of my work. Hearing that just reminded me that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, in spite of how things seemed during the moment.  


#3. That time I finally "got it" during class.

When you go from struggling to just understand the words used in a conversation between all of the ontologyepistemology, hermeneutic, post-structuralism, etc. to actually being able to contribute a point or two.....and then defend what you said. Yo. Top 3 feeling!!


#2. When I won the best paper award.

One of my proudest moments in grad school was when I earned the "Best Paper" award for my Master's thesis. I battled through anxiety, self-doubt, and fatigue to even complete the assignment, so I was just happy that I didn't give up. But when I won the award, I felt affirmed. It helped me to realize that I not only belonged in grad school, but also that my research was important.


#1. Finding my squad.

Remember that moment in Bad Boys II when they're like, "We ride together. We die together. Bad Boys for life." You know what I'm talking about? Well, that's how I feel about the friends that I've made over the years. I can't really pin all of that down to one "day," per se. But all I know is that they've had my back, whether it was proofreading my work or taking me out to the city for a bite to eat.

The 3 Musketeers. (Y'all know who you are.) Know that you are appreciated!


About the Author

Bennie is a third-year PhD student at Northwestern University, where he is studying African American Studies. He created Just Tryna' Graduate to help Black students get to & through graduate school. You can find him on Linkedin and Twitter.