Sociology Pre-Grad Intern Christina Ngo

Christina NgoThis semester, I was fortunate enough to have my former TA, Esther Sullivan, as my mentor for the IE program. Last semester, she was the TA for my SOC379M class, and it was not until almost the last week of class that we had ever spoken to each other. She told us during our final review session that her research interests are in housing and gentrification. She is working on her PhD in Sociology, but she is very involved in the LBJ School and the School of Architecture. This set off a light bulb in my head because I am currently on the home stretch of my Sociology Honors thesis this semester. My topic is gentrification in the Rainey Street Neighborhood here in Austin. When I asked her if she had any recommendations for literature, she suggested that we do the IE program together this semester. I had never heard of it, but I could not pass up the opportunity to have one-on-one mentoring with a graduate student.

The IE experience has been phenomenal since then. When we came back in January for this semester, we started meeting weekly to discuss research and the graduate school experience. As the semester started to get busier and busier, we relied more heavily on contact through email. I think it was a different experience because instead of me completely helping her with her research on mobile home communities, she has ended up helping me with my research. She has been there every step of the way from suggesting articles to read to editing drafts of my thesis. Together, we explored the City of Austin's Neighborhood Planning & Zoning Department, we attended a Social Science convention in Houston, and I feel like we both learned a lot.

She gave me a lot of insight into what it is like to be a graduate student in Sociology. The experience is much different from those in professional schools like law or medicine. She told me about how she progressed through her academic career. She is a very successful graduate student as well; she is in the midst of preparing to be published in a very prominent Sociology journal this year. Her dream is to become a Sociology professor at The New School for Social Research, a college in New York that encourages interdisciplinary intellectual projects. She stressed the importance of taking time between undergraduate and graduate education. Her life experiences, she said, are what she can pull from now in her education. She said that there is a significant difference in the students that go straight from undergraduate to graduate and those that take time off. She also pointed out that life as a graduate student is busy. Really busy. When we met at the City of Austin, she told me her Spring Break plans included reading numerous articles and chapters for school. However, she does know how to balance work and fun. She also took the time to go to SXSW and relax.

The IE program also gave me an opportunity to really interact with someone older and wiser too. Being able to become friends with someone who has already gone through a lot of the things that we as undergrads have gone through means a few less surprises to encounter. While as an undergrad, she also worked on an Honors Thesis. As a graduate student who also interviews residents, she gave me tips on how to initiate conversations with Rainey Street residents. She also let me bounce ideas off of her in terms of how to organize my research.

Another part of the IE program that I really enjoyed was being able to interview a faculty member. I interviewed my Honors Supervisor, Dr. Robert Hummer. He is also the Department Chair for Sociology, so it was a great chance to also see the administrative part of being in academia. He labeled himself as a regular, average student during his undergraduate education, something a lot of us are. Not everyone has a 4.0 GPA all four years and gets published as an undergraduate. He proved to me that you don't have to be the most outstanding student in the world to become successful. He also emphasized the importance of taking time between undergraduate and graduate school. During that time, he had a "real" job in the corporate business world, and he realized he did not like it. That is when he decided he would attend graduate school and his future would lay in teaching Sociology. Many, many years later, he is the Department Chair at this phenomenal research university, and he is one of the leading young people that studies mortality.

Upon graduation, I will be moving to Phoenix to begin my two-year commitment to the Teach for America program. Esther took the time to set up a meeting between one of her friends, a TFA alum, and me. During this meeting, Lindsey gave me more insight into her TFA experience and again, stressed the importance of balance between work and fun. This is going to be my "break" before graduate school. However, I will be pursuing a master's in Secondary Education during those two years. It will not be the exact same graduate school experience that I anticipated, but I know after TFA, I will continue onto graduate school (again).

Balance has probably been one of the most important lessons I have learned from the "olders" and the "wisers" I have spoken to this semester. This semester has been my busiest one of my entire college career, and as a senior in her final semester, I thought this would be the easiest and most relaxing. However, I have taken the time to unwind and loosen up. Taking that time for me might make the next day harder, but it also means I am more prepared to take that next day head on. This is the same thing everyone has stressed, which is why it makes sense to postpone graduate school for a few years.

It sounds corny, but I really do want to grow up to be like Esther. She is a ridiculously successful, independent, well-educated woman that knows what she's doing. On top of that, she is a really cool person too. It is a shame that other undergraduate students have not had the chance to interact with a graduate student like I have this semester.

Without the IE program, I would not have had the opportunity to take part in all of these different experiences or meet these successful academics. Graduate school before the IE program was a vague possibility in my future, but now at the end of the program, I know graduate school will certainly be an adventure I will be undertaking in a few years.