Graduate School Stories & Advice

Mike Read ’05 writes, “Wherever I’ve been, whatever I’ve done, I haven’t been able to shake being a major in history at Puget Sound.” His history training has informed all of his postgraduate experiences:  “Directly after graduation, when I took a job in Minnesota as a camp counselor and resident lawn mower, I had Bill Breitenbach’s Transcendentalists to keep me company, taking me beyond the day-to-day. Later, as a substitute teacher and world wanderer, I had Nancy Bristow and her engagement with issues of justice, inequality, and the persistence of the conservative spirit to keep my mind a-turning. Later, when I headed out to the rivers of the Colorado Plateau as a river guide, I had Doug Sackman urging me, unbeknownst to him, to hone my interpretive knowledge of humans and nature in the Southwest.” Now pursuing a Ph.D in History at the University of Rochester, Mike continues to carry the lessons of his Puget Sound education with him as he explores the political implications of captivity narratives in early American history.

Christina Baker ‘06, a double major in History and Spanish, earned herM.A. in Latin American Studies at UC-San Diego, then spent a year teaching English in Spain.  She is now finishing up her doctoral dissertation on contemporary Mexican performance in the Ph.D. program in Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  She continues to keep in touch with UPS professors, and was recently back on campus to present her research at the Spanish Matters Colloquium.  She writes, “studying history has given me an research advantage that is unique to the discipline. Being able to write a thesis at UPS, though it seemed daunting at the time, prepared me for longer research projects, critical thinking skills and the opportunity to make professional contacts.”  

Kurt Kalanz ’09 spent a few years working on the West Coast before moving to Germany (where he had spent his junior year of college) to get his German language certificate in 2011. In 2013 he enrolled in the M.A. program in European-American Studies at the University of Regensburg, where he has worked as a research assistant, translator, and proofreader while writing his thesis, tentatively entitled  “Memoirs from the Battle of Hubbardton and the Transnational Experience of the American Revolution.” He writes of UPS, “The small class sizes of our department, the level of participation required, and the focus on primary sources prepared me for the work load and expectations of a graduate level seminar.” He encourages current students contemplating graduate school in History to “think long and hard about whether it is really what you want to do, and if so, create a clear plan for your career path. The humanities in general are facing decreased resources and funding, and finding graduate positions and jobs in academia is extremely competitive. My advice would be to focus on emerging academic fields and methods, such as material culture studies, and not to limit yourself to the U.S. in either the location or topic of your studies, as the digitizing of information and the overall increased communication facilitated by the internet is making international cooperation between universities and academics increasingly possible.”

Michael Denman ’14 worked as a tutor at the College of Southern Nevada’s writing center before entering the M.A. program in History at SUNY-Buffalo, where he is back working as a writing tutor in between studying and doing his own research.  He writes, “Being in the History department was really helpful because of the seminar/discussion style of classes (which most graduate classes are designed to be like) and the amount of writing that one had to do at UPS in general. If one hopes to do anything in academia, the ability to write and think critically about writing is absolutely necessary.” He encourages current students to keep pushing themselves to improve their writing ability, and to study at least one foreign language, something most graduate programs will require. 

Michael was recently awarded the New York Conference on Asian Studies (NYCAS) 2016 Marleigh Grayer Ryan Prize for best graduate paper. Michael will be presenting that paper, "Identities from Shaolin: Identity and Culture in 1970's Hong Kong Kung Fu Genre Movies," at the NYCAS annual meeting in September 2016. Michael will begin work on this M.A. thesis this fall, exploring the sword as a tool with religious power and significance in Daoist theory and practice.