MSU News Features “How to ‘Hack’ Grad School”

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Just six months after launching, a virtual forum started by a group of Michigan State University graduate students has become the first of its kind to contract with a leading higher-education publication.

GradHacker.org was started by grad students Katy Meyers and Alex Galarza to help their cohorts “hack” grad school one blog post at a time. The blog is now an official partner of the higher-education publication, Inside Higher Ed.

“There are university-based grad blogs and there are academic ones, but there wasn’t anything on a broad scale talking about grad school and the universal problems, solutions and issues we deal with,” said Meyers, a doctoral student in anthropology.

Along with Meyers and Galarza, eight fulltime bloggers and a handful of guest bloggers – some from MSU and some from other universities – have cultivated a loyal following of eager, curious and sometimes frustrated graduate students. Posts appear three times a week and receive thousands of hits a day – especially after contracting with IHE.

So what do bloggers write about? Life, said Meyers. Dating. Publishing a dissertation. Embracing failure. Establishing boundaries. Accepting criticism. Creating an “academic identity” and personal brand. Mostly: Real life graduate student stuff from people who understand.

Meyers’ most popular post discussed using her blog, “Bones Don’t Lie,” as an academic publication. She argued in a GradHacker post that since her blog is peer reviewed, it should count as published research. And a post by another GradHacker blogger was picked up by “Science” magazine.

“I hear from many of our grad student readers that their programs are great at intellectual exploration, but much less so on the practicalities of preparing for the job market, learning how to finish up a dissertation and launching a career,” said Scott Jaschik, editor of Inside Higher Ed. “That’s why grad students gravitate to GradHacker: It’s what they’re missing from other sources.”

The original concept for the blog came from the Cultural Informatics Initiative, a platform for interdisciplinary scholarly collaboration and communication created by MSU’s Department of Anthropology and MATRIX: Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online.

Five fellows of the program, which included Meyers, wanted to explore new technology and other survival tools for grad school. So they hosted a boot camp, which quickly filled up. The fellows started blogging regularly, which morphed into GradHacker. MATRIX and various MSU departments continue to fund boot camps.

It’s all part of building an academic identity, Meyers and Galarza said.

“What’s great about the Web is we have mediums now that can help us address the gap between academics who are of a celebrity status and people like us who want to put our work out there,” said Galarza, a doctoral candidate in history.

GradHacker.org will expand beyond its blog this month when Galarza and fulltime blogger Andrea Zellner, a doctoral student in educational psychology/education technology, will launch a podcast.

“It’s beneficial for faculty to see what we’re dealing with. This is a very different grad school from the one they went through,” Meyers said. “And it’s good for universities to see what we’re worried about, what problems we’re having – from personal to academic – so they can better support grad students.”

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02.25.12