History (African History IE Pre-Grad Intern) Senior Danielle Porter
Going into the internship, I had many goals for the semester. I truly wanted to gain a greater understanding of the field I am interested in while also preparing for graduate school at the same time. Simply saying that I achieved these goals would be an understatement, because what I gained from the experience was so much more.
Participating in the Pre-Graduate School Internship in the field of African History was difficult, especially when we were initially planning what we were going to do throughout the semester. Emily was a great mentor because she came up with enriching activities for me to participate in, such as meeting with the history librarian at the PCL. While I am currently in the process of writing a senior thesis in the Department of History, I had never thought of meeting with a librarian to discuss the sources I had access to as a UT student. This was an important experience because I was dumbfounded by the sheer number of resources I had after meeting with Paul Rascoe, the history librarian. I learned that while writing a major work of independent research in the field of history is a difficult feat, there are an abundance of resources available to help graduate students and researchers along the way.
Going into the internship, I knew that I wanted to become a professor in the field of African history; therefore, when the opportunity to attend the 50th Annual African Studies Association Meeting presented itself, Emily and I did everything we could to attend. I can honestly say that attending the ASA meeting was one of the best experiences from my time as an undergraduate student at the University of Texas. I was able to meet with graduate students and professionals from a variety of programs throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and Africa. One of the major features of the ASA meeting is the presentation of original research in panels over the course of three days. I thoroughly enjoyed attending the panels because I was able to see graduate students present their work and subject it to questioning by the general public and professionals within the academy. Similarly, at the conference I found the largest collection of Africana studies books I had ever seen in my life at the ASA book sale. Being at a place where I was surrounded by people that shared my passion in life was a truly moving experience. When I left the ASA conference, I remembered why I wanted to become a professor and work in the field of African History. I had renewed confidence in my graduate school applications, and beyond that, I actually knew what to write for my personal statement.
Working with a Ph. D student in the department of history at the University of Texas was a great experience because I got to work with someone who had similar regional interests as me and was actually part of a program that I was applying to. Therefore, when I had questions about the application process, she generally had exceptional answers. Going into the Pre-Graduate School Internship, I assumed that I should apply to most, if not all, of the African history programs in the United States. I found out fairly quickly that this was not the best approach; I needed to find faculty members within specific institutions with similar interests, contact them, and proceed with the application process. While this was an intimidating feat at first, I grew comfortable in my interactions with faculty members at a variety of institutions, which was important because I may be working with them in the future (hopefully).
Throughout the course of the internship, I also learned that I do not have to know exactly what I want to research going into graduate school. Part of being a graduate student of African history is finding what interests you and going to countries to see if you can actually conduct research there. I am extremely interested in nationalism and nation-building in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and many people have discouraged me from pursuing this at the graduate level because of conflict in the region. However, I learned that it is possible to conduct research in the Congo (I met many scholars at the ASA meeting who have successfully published works on the region recently), and that I need to experience it for myself to make an educated decision.
One of the assignments for the Pre-Graduate School Internship was to complete an interview with a faculty member. I conducted my interview with my thesis advisor, Dr. Wilson. It was an interesting experience because, for once, we spoke as peers. In the course of the interview, he told me that I would not make it through graduate school unless I am absolutely positive that African history is my passion. He also suggested that I take time off to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer before beginning graduate school, because not only would I have the time to grow as a person, I would have the opportunity to study African languages. Similarly, as my thesis advisor and mentor, he mentioned on several occasions that he wants me to find a place in a great African history program not only because he wants me to receive an outstanding education, but also because it is extremely difficult to be a minority in the academy unless one has outstanding credentials. This was not something that I had thought about until Dr. Wilson mentioned it.
Overall, the Pre-Graduate School Internship has been a great experience and has taught me a lot. It did not change my mind about going to graduate school; in fact, it strengthened my decision to attend. However, it forced me to figure out why I wanted to attend, which was truly beneficial. It also allowed me to see that graduate school is not merely an extension of undergraduate work. It is considerably different, both in the type and quantity of work. I also learned that in order to make it through graduate school, I need to improve my time management skills.