Charlottesville – One Year Later

Standing in the midst of protests during the State of Emergency – Charlottesville Downtown Mall – August 12, 2017

I moved to Charlottesville on August 11, 2016.

One year later, my new hometown became a trending hashtag. Heather Heyer lost her life on a street where I would walk every single day to buy groceries. My campus was awash with tiki torches. The pungent smell of smoke still comes to mind every day as I walk to work. The same night that alt-right protestors flocked to “The Lawn” at The University of Virginia, I was wholly unaware of what was coming towards me as I sought to recover from a day of travel from Canada one day prior – until a police officer recommended I get to safety. Though I sought solitude, I was instead involuntarily in a line of literal fire. My story was documented in a blog post published only moments after returning home.

Celebrating my one-year anniversary of living in the historically rich (and complex) city didn’t feel the way I expected after having packed all of my worldly belongings into cardboard boxes and made the journey from Metro Detroit. Though I was a newcomer, I never felt a more profound sense of belonging to a geographic place than I did in the midst of crisis. I equally have never felt a deeper sense of urgency for the topics I research – fascism, the Second World War, ideological conflict, propaganda.

Though the world remembers August, I remember the months that led up to it. I lived on 1st Street at the time – one of the roads that intersects the Downtown Mall, and equally meets the statue of Confederate-era general Robert E. Lee in what is now known as “Emancipation Park” (formerly “Lee Park”). I was unaware of the history of the statue, but I wasn’t too shocked to see a Confederate monument in Charlottesville, as Richmond was once the capital of the Confederacy. I was a bit more surprised once I found out the statue was commissioned in 1917 and dedicated in 1924.

It’s interesting to think that all of the events of August 2017 were precisely one hundred years after it had been commissioned by a philanthropist named Paul McIntire – a man who equally donated generously to the University of Virginia and was decorated with the Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur.

It was in February 2017 that I first encountered a protest against the removal of the statue – a solitary man sitting on a park bench.


I didn’t say anything to him, and he didn’t say anything to me. He saw me looking at him and glanced back at me briefly. Having never seen anyone displaying a Confederate flag in this way, I took a photo, took note of my surroundings, and walked back home. I didn’t think much about it, except for the fact that I never would have encountered a similar scenario anywhere where I had lived in the past.

Fast forward to May 13, 2017 – a date that often goes unnoticed by those outside of Charlottesville. This was the day that the first tiki torch rally took place at the base of the statue. I once again was nearby, just as I would be in August. Shouts rose to the sky like smoke. “Russia is our friend!” they shouted. “You will not replace us!” cried others. Needless to say, I was confused by it all. It was only upon going home that I had remembered that the City of Charlottesville had offered to sell the statue, and that an injunction of six months had been put into place by a judge in April 2017.

Instead of fast forwarding a few months, let’s focus on the ones we don’t think about too often. Now-infamous Jason Kessler was booed off the Downtown Mall while eating at Miller’s Bar with some of his friends in June 2017. He started a Periscope video to rally his supporters on Twitter, and I decided to interview his group with questions after they began to move away from the bar. You can read my article from that time here. What I gathered from my interaction with the group and having seen how the antifa had organized itself to track and denounce Kessler – I recognized that our community was on the verge of something unprecedented.

Investigating online, I discovered that the worst was to come in the form of a major rally to be held in August. I tried to ignore it as I taught middle schoolers for a month and then traveled to Canada to visit family and conduct research in the national archives. I thought I was going to miss all of the events. Instead, I was back just in time.

As a doctoral student focusing on cultural history, I’ve come to realize that Charlottesville – like the rest of the world – has layers of history that are memorialized in different ways. When these histories intersect present academic and social initiatives to re-document and accurately represent the past, there will always be resistance from groups who collectively remember historical events differently. These histories – which are inherently connected – bring out unresolved conflicts, biases, and insecurities that can lead to the events we saw unfurl in our streets in August 2017.

But where do we stand now in August 2018?

An area councilwoman was quoted to say that we as a community have ‘lost our naivete’ in a recent Washington Post article. As someone who witnessed these harrowing events firsthand, I respectfully disagree. We as a community have never been naïve. We are conscious, we are active, and we are resilient. It has taken a lot of time to recover from last year’s events, and as I am typing this, I am still hearing State Police helicopters patrolling every inch of this city. Others in this article agree with this sense of resilience, but it is telling that the title of this article (and general tone) has painted a fractured portrait of Charlottesville one year later.

The same article also states that “the real damage has been to the city’s psyche and the sense of itself.” Residents of this city – commonly called C’villians – would disagree. Our city is vibrant and self-aware. Its residents define it – not the tiki-torch wielding alt-right protestors who stole our tranquility and tried to dismantle our sense of community.

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This is what defines Charlottesville. Only steps away from where a car drove into a crowd of counter-protesters and residents, graphic designers at Charlottesville’s Rock, Paper, Scissors shop designed a heart that symbolizes our resiliency, our progress, and our unity. We as a community recognize we have much to address – rapid gentrification and its consequences, being the city with the most expensive ACA health insurance in the nation, and a past rife with discrimination – but we are challenging ourselves every day to face the real tasks at hand that will enable us to build a more egalitarian, sustainable community.

As for this weekend, only time will tell what will happen. We have reverted to our State of Emergency, and our streets are filled with law enforcement. The alt-right was denied a permit to hold a second “Unite the Right” rally here, so they’ve taken their show down the road to Washington D.C. instead.

Charlottesville is one year stronger.

Claire-Marie Brisson

Why I Teach – A Journey

imageStanding in front of a classroom full of thirty students might sound daunting to some, but to me, it’s the most invigorating part of life. The first day of class, the students flow into the room and sit in the sage-coloured chairs, their outfits crisp, their eyes perky, and their lips sealed. The weeks that follow, the students begin to start wearing sweatpants, their hair becomes frazzled, and they sometimes skip. At the end of it all, it’s as if they had run a marathon. Some run to the finish line confidently, others proceed with caution, and still others sit on the sidelines, procrastinating until the last minute. As I write this today, I am seeing off another talented batch of students as they finish their final exam.

Along the journey, these faces become the mosaic of a teacher’s life. From the very first moment that I taught in a high school classroom as an undergraduate student with big dreams, to where I am now teaching university students who display extraordinary determination and passion, each of my students remain in my memory. Thousands of students will stream in and out of my life in waves throughout my life, and for that I am most thankful.

Teaching goes beyond a career for me. I wake up in the morning and smile, despite any personal upsets or feeling ill. My students are like a reset button for me. Entering the classroom for me is seeing rows upon rows of individuals that I am able to educate, inspire, and motivate towards their goals. They may not always complete every assignment perfectly, but that doesn’t change my perspective of them as individuals. After they leave my classroom, some keep in contact, others leave forever. Sometimes life will create a chance encounter where you’ll meet again, and that’s the beauty of teaching – wherever my students will go, I know I’ve made just the smallest difference in the world.

It’s in helping my students that I feel the most rewarded. Teaching the subject matter is one thing, incorporating it into my students’ lives is another. When a student approaches me for extra information about a subject, advice in their general life, or simply wants to reach out and share something with me, I feel enriched.

My students leave me with a trail of cards, souvenirs, and memories, and I am forever grateful for them. They are small tokens that remind me of the good times shared in class and the smiles they brought to me. I continue to learn the art of generosity from my students. Though life may not be easy for them, particularly in their role as students, they never fail to make me feel appreciated and happy.

Though my comments may sound idyllic, many fail to recognize how much of a time investment teaching is. “You only teach for two hours every day? Oh that sounds like a dream job!” exclaim my friends who work cubicle jobs. There is indeed a lot of flexibility in teaching at a university, however, consider the time that goes into preparing lesson plans, PowerPoints, handouts, quizzes, exams, review sheets, and on top of all of that being accessible to students, and you have a whole different perspective. Moreover, most university lecturers don’t just teach at one location to make a livable wage. Teaching isn’t the easiest life path, but for me, it is certainly the most rewarding.

Out of all of the experiences in my life, I continue to be the most grateful for my career. In so many ways, the love and support that I feel while teaching surpasses the feeling of being a millionaire. Money can buy you a lot of things, but it certainly can’t buy you the chance to see so many incredible minds at work. As I look at the stack of exams that I dread checking to finish up the semester, I realize how lucky I truly am to have had such a positive experience with a myriad of stars that continue to blaze their paths through life. Thankful doesn’t even describe it.

Claire-Marie Brisson

Incorrigible Youth

image Age. The saying goes that it’s just a number, and in truth it really doesn’t matter how many times you’ve made a full revolution around the sun, it matters what you take from it.

As with every year, the days preceding and following my birthday (26 April) tend to be a time of reflection for me. It’s a time that I’m grateful for all that has happened in my life – good and bad – because I see how it continues to make me develop and reevaluate my perspectives. I equally think about all the adjectives that represent the multiple facets of my character, and how those grow as I do.

Despite the sand that continues to accumulate in the bottom of my life’s hourglass, I realize that I will forever identify with having incorrigible youth.

Now what on earth do I mean? Incorrigible usually has a negative connotation implied when it’s defined. To me, it’s life’s greatest blessing.

Though we may mature, grow, age, get stretch marks and wrinkles, and have our hair fade to a soft grey or become a dry desert, we must always nourish what’s inside – our heart. It’s within your heart that you should raise the anchor and let your passions set sail. I’m incorrigibly in love with life, and giddy with the happiness of youth. Youth is the burning fire that continues to be rekindled within my heart, and it has no age. The moment we forget how it feels to muddy a pair of shoes running through a grassy field, the joy of standing in the rain, the true sweetness that comes from observing the smallest things in life – in that moment we forget that life’s treasure box exists.

One of life’s treasures is sharing a true laugh with someone. Laughter is one of the most sincere emotions I know. Share it. It’s catchy. Laughter is the song of the child that still wishes she could wear a tiara outside while riding a bike. It has no hidden agenda.

Though my exterior may look studious at times, hardworking at others, and on some days even glamourous (or at least, I do try) my inside is graced with an incurable youthfulness. In anticipation of my birthday, I celebrate the child that I was, am, and will forever be, even when I’m 100. Embrace your quirkiness and love your child within – they’ll be glad you’re not neglecting them anymore. 🙂

Claire-Marie Brisson

Taking the First Step

makeithappenAmbition. Honesty. Dedication. Three words I try to live by. 

To be honest, I haven’t been ambitious, honest, nor dedicated in one area of my life, and that is taking care of myself. Yes, I love doing my makeup and trying on different clothes, but in reality, that doesn’t translate to total wellness. I exert myself outwardly to the point of neglect, and today I’m taking the first real step to change that.

I’ve gone on and off trying to monitor my weight and my nutrition. If you’ve known me for a while, you know how I’ve tried to go to the gym, have continually tried to work on maintaining a healthy weight, and always strive to eat well. I avoid all kinds of foods that are bad for me for the most part, however, I realize that eating things labeled ‘organic’ doesn’t always mean that I’m nutritionally on the right track.

Furthermore, I put myself under a lot of stress. I had at one point dedicated myself to spending several minutes every day meditating, but somewhere along the line that disappeared. I want to regroup and reclaim the Claire-Marie I want to be.

I don’t have unrealistic expectations. I don’t think I can drop 20 pounds in a week. To be honest, that’s pretty unhealthy and can shock the body. When I see the photoshopped models in magazines, I realize that marketing is intended to make every body type feel self-conscious. However, I recognize that there are some simple steps I can take to advance myself both physically while at the same time mentally working towards my academic goals.

Writing this isn’t easy, but here’s my first step. I’m not writing about it to glorify it, or to make others feel like they should follow suit. I’m writing to hold myself accountable, so that one year from today I’ll be able to see how I’ve progressed, if at all. I do hope for the best.

What exactly, then, am I going to push myself to do?

The Plan

  1. Drink more water
    This sounds fairly simple, but I just don’t get enough water every day. This has an immense impact not only on weight, but also on other basic needs my body has, including skin issues.
  2. Reevaluate my food intake
    I’ve reactivated a program to help me count my calories. But beyond recording that the yogurt I eat has 120 calories, I am equally going to monitor the amount of total fat, carbs, and protein to see what’s going on. Furthermore, my work schedule makes my eating times rather weird. I’m going to try to normalize my food schedule.
  3. Schedule exercise
    If you could see my Google Calendar, you’d be fairly shocked at how much work goes into my week. This doesn’t mean that I’m sitting the whole time, however it definitely means I’m not scheduling in exercise as I would like. I like the motto of ‘no excuses.’ I’m going to reincorporate morning yoga, quick dance breaks, and other exercises that will make me more active. (Or just scheduling the simple walk I enjoy across campus for starters).
  4. Less stress
    This one is going to be hard for me, however it needs to be done. I tend to lead a fairly stressful life given my duties. Good ways to de-stress such as disconnecting from all technology for spans of 10 minutes, going for walks, meditating, and reading are great ways to take some ‘me’ time and are very doable. I used to enjoy going to a meditation group, too. I might schedule that in at least once a month.
  5. More sleep
    Another one that will be hard to do, given how many different things are whizzing around in my life. I’m dedicated to at least getting 7 hours per night, which is my preferred sleep duration.
  6. The brighter the food, the better
    A fast-paced lifestyle sometimes translates into eating things that are convenient instead of better for you. I don’t eat fast food, however, I do eat quick meals from the organic section that are just as bad as their ‘standard’ counterparts. I’ve heard that colourful foods are better – and that translates into way more fruits and veggies.
  7. Less beer, more wine
    I love both, but beer really takes a toll on my waistline. I’m going to try to limit myself to one or two beers a week. Wine will never get nixed from my diet.
  8. Coffee choices
    I tend to drink café au lait, which can be fairly high in calories, despite the fact that I never use sweetener. I’m going to switch to black coffee as often as possible.
  9. Stay on the go as much as possible
    Some days I sit all day grading, writing, reading, and watching videos online. I can change at least one of these hours into taking time to care for myself.

Here’s to the first step,

Claire-Marie Brisson

Wanderlust: Escaping the Quotidian

wanderlustWanderlust. Origin: German. It literally means a strong desire to travel. The kind of desire that makes you prone to check airline ticket prices bi-weekly. In my daydreams, I’m constantly on the go, in flight, exploring and moving forward across our chaotically brilliant blue sphere. The beauty of imagination is that we can envision ourselves doing other things, even when physically doing something else. Imagine the countless times your mind drifted off to other worlds in class, in your cubicle, or while listening to someone on a horrendous date describe their own self-obsession. In my case at least, my mind has a sense of insatiable wanderlust.

The idea of travel is exciting for so many reasons. We become creatures of habit when we’re familiar with our surroundings. What we pass on our quotidian commute to work blurs into a familiar, groggy haze. We’re very prone to set ourselves on autopilot and drift half consciously through our day. We wake up, we clean up, we dress, we leave for work or school, we come home, we eat, we sleep. Repeat for 365 days, save weekends or sick days. And those days have their own routines, too.

Idle living is a direct product of the lives we’ve created outside of the state of nature. Most of you reading this belong to the first world. You have a roof over your head, clothes and shoes on your body, access to clean drinking water and some source of food, and the luxury of technology. The fact that we are able to claim “boredom” echoes how far removed those in the first world are from the instability of life in the wild, where resources might be scarce and security a constant question.

This is why we should create the question marks for ourselves in life. The thrill of going to an unknown city with no map and no tour guide might sound frightening to some – mainly because it disrupts the entire routine we’re accustomed to from day to day. Travel is the catalyst for so many other things. When we break away from what we know and enter into a world that we don’t know, perspective adjusts accordingly.

Wanderlust, though sometimes negative in its influence on what your savings account might look like, is a sentiment that is a productive longing equal to learning. A former professor once told me that the best way to keep the mind active – once students had cycled out of the education system – was to randomly pick a spot on a globe, research it, learn the language of the area, and if possible, plan a trip there. I couldn’t agree more with him.

There’s something thrilling in setting future travel goals for yourself, too. On the lackluster days where I’m confined to my cinder block office, I become my own mason and build adventures that I hope to experience one day. The best in the meantime is to reenvision each day as an adventure. Notice the oddities of your daily routine. Dare to change your habits. Drive a different route to work. Stop for lunch at a new café. Whether at home or abroad, your life is built for exploration.

Claire-Marie Brisson

Graduate Hoops – Defining Graduate Study


The graduate student: a role that few outside of the realm of academia investigate. It is often said that graduate students are idealist perpetual learners afraid of the ‘real world.’

You’re so lucky you chose such an easy career path,” quipped an acquaintance with me once. “All you do is talk to students, write papers, and read.” As a graduate student, you will be confronted with these remarks for years to come.

As one can already tell, this viewpoint is as uninformed as it is stereotypical. Many misunderstand the labyrinth of ‘hoops’ a graduate student has to pass through to achieve their goals. Whether the end result is to become a professor, a researcher, or to hold another job title, the culture of graduate school is enigmatic to most.

Even more puzzling is the role of the university instructor. To undergraduate students, the person lecturing at the front of the room is immediately identified as “professor.” On occasion, I receive e-mails that say “Dr. Brisson.” I will be one day, but it is wrong to assume that every instructor holds a Ph.D.. For the most part, undergraduate students are equally unaware of what the words ‘tenure,’ ‘dissertation,’ and ‘part-time faculty’ mean. Throw ‘graduate teaching assistant’ into the mix, and it becomes more puzzling.

In lieu of writing an entire book on the subject, here’s a list of terminology and a few definitions that might be helpful to a prospective graduate student.

The GRE: an exam that measures your aptitude in several areas. These include quantitative reasoning (i.e. math), writing, and verbal components. To summarize, this exam is irrelevant in its content matter for the majority of prospective students. It does give a general sense of how someone works under pressure, with most sections timed for about 30 minutes. I would not say that it allows for much creativity, save for in the writing sections.

On the test day itself, the examinee jumps through several hoops, including signing legal paperwork, being wanded by a metal detector, and having their photo taken. It’s an isolating environment which, in my view, aims to increase stress levels. I highly recommend eating a protein-rich breakfast, including eggs, nuts, and milk (‘brain foods’).

GTA/GRA-ships: ‘graduate teaching assistantships’ or ‘graduate research assistantships.’ Awarded to incoming students, this is a way that one can complete a Master’s or Ph.D. without worrying about the cost of tuition. Some programs include stipends and health care benefits. Depending on the university, these stipends can be quite inclusive or meagre. At most public research institutions, GTAs teach introductory undergraduate courses. They may also act as an assistant to a professor. Research assistants are usually employed in labs.

In my personal view, the word ‘assistant‘ should be removed from this title, particularly in the humanities. I don’t assist another instructor; I am the instructor. Though lesson plans are departmentally agreed upon, the way in which the material is taught is autonomous.

Teaching will either be a frightening or an exhilarating experience if this is your first time doing it. If you did not complete any education courses in your undergrad course of study, you could try substitute teaching to see how a classroom environment feels. Although college students are – for the most part – more docile than high school students, there are many similarities. To substitute teach in a high school, you need at least 90 credit hours accumulated within an undergraduate program.

Classes and The Program: this is the obvious expected component of the graduate student. You take, depending on your program, two to three classes per semester. Certain requirements such as readings and essays will pop up throughout the semester. As I am a humanities major, you will more than likely read a handful of books. Expectations at this point are to be able to be analytical and to postulate new ideas from synthesis of material. In earnest, this is the most exciting part of the graduate program. You will learn and grow in more ways than you expected. And to the naysayers, it isn’t easy. That’s the fun in it.

If you are not prepared to dedicate yourself to your subject in every shape and form, you are not prepared for a graduate program. Although many individuals are fantastic students, being a great student doesn’t make the cut. You have to have something beyond a love of going to classes. I’m in love with my subject, and I’m prepared to analyze it and make advancements in it for the rest of my life. There is no ‘maybe’ in graduate school. Passion is going to pull you through your exams, your dissertation, your doctoral thesis, and your publishing requirements.

Graduate programs each are structured differently. Some will not write a Master’s thesis, others will have a capstone project in lieu of an essay. Checking into different program requirements is your best bet. Personally, I will be completing a Master’s thesis, oral exams, and a defense.

The Inspiration: this is not terminology, though it is worth noting. If you’re still hesitant to apply to a graduate program, consult with a mentor. You’ll find that graduate school is academically challenging and incredibly inspiring. The quality of your work – no matter what your specialty – will ameliorate in unexpected ways. Your program will be tough, yes. You will have days where you regretted it because of your workload. But at the end of it all, it’s an incomparable experience. You will be making significant developments in a specialty that interests you, and that makes graduate study fulfilling.

Should you have any questions for me, feel free to list them in the comments below, or send me an e-mail, which can be found in the ‘about’ section.

Claire-Marie Brisson

A Valentine to Myself

dearselfToo often, we forget the care we need to give ourselves. Some strive for validation from others, others crave their attention. But, in the long run, you need to respect and love yourself first before you can love and care for anyone else. That’s why this year, I’m writing myself a Valentine.

Dear Claire-Marie,

Look at where you’ve come and where you’re going.

You always had dreamt of a life like this, but you never knew that you would achieve your goals so quickly. Remember when you used to write on triple lined paper that smelled like cardboard in your thick, dull pencil? You dreamt as much then as you dream now. When the teacher used to ask you what you wanted to be when you grew up, some days you’d reply “teacher,” and other days you’d say “to be loved.” That wasn’t just profound; that was the trajectory you’ve always followed – and continue to.

Claire-Marie. You focus too much on others sometimes. That’s why you need this Valentine. It’s a reminder that you count, too. In the grand scale of things, you’ve always wanted to be the harmonizer. The one who listens to the unlistened. The one who inspires those who were told they can’t. Take some time to dedicate care meant for yourself, too. You deserve it.

Amid the papers and books you scour and scrutinize, take time to take a step back and enjoy the humble silence of your own words, bubbling just below the surface. Sometimes the greatest endeavor is to hear yourself; a singularity in an endlessly connected world.

That gapped-tooth girl with the unruly hair – you’ve looked in the mirror and have seen her grow through your marble green eyes. That quirkiness of yours has developed from being a childish charm to an eclectic maturity. It’s beautiful to watch life progress. You secretly can’t wait to see how you’ll age. Well, you expect, as all fine vintages do.

There aren’t any words that a generic card could produce to encapsulate all that you are to others; all that you are to yourself. On the occasion that you’re having a gloomy day and you feel down, remember the power that lies within you. Remember that first and foremost, you belong to yourself. You’re beautiful.

With love,


10 things I’ve learned in grad school

20150207_1412151Autumn 2013. Freshly out of undergrad and ready for the challenges ahead, I began the long road towards my Ph.D. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, and as I look ahead to the last few semesters of my Master’s Degree and Thesis, I realize that I’ve grown in so many ways thus far during my grad school experience. Though I am far from done, here are ten things I’ve learned since starting out.

1. You know who your friends are.

Having a diverse friend group in undergrad is easy. With various campus events, mixers, and parties, you’re guaranteed to meet a variety of people from different programs. Grad school is a completely different animal, particularly if you find yourself in a very small discipline. My department has less than 20 people completing their Master’s or Ph.D, as an example. You begin to rely on these people as an academic family – all while your undergrad friends are faced with your never-ending stream of deadlines and research. Your true friends stick on for the long run, and you feel really grateful for them.

2. Ten-page papers seem restrictive.

As a grad student, you almost feel restricted when your professor makes you write a shorter paper if you have a lot to say on the subject. Being precise is key, and sometimes your ideas will put you a few pages over the limit. The editing process becomes more excruciating than the writing process. Unless, of course, you have no interest in the subject matter and can’t find any resources. Then that ten-page paper is going to be as much of a beast as it was in undergrad.

3. You reinterpret your world.

This is true no matter if you’re doing a Master’s in astrophysics or a Ph.D in English. You begin to reinterpret and reanalyze all aspects of your world. The sheer amount of analysis you complete in your discipline changes the way you see and interpret things. This is also a reason why so many people find grad school to be the ideal place to mature.

4. You are more prone to receive criticism from others.

“Why are you in grad school?” “Haha, you’re a perpetual student.” “Getting a Ph.D seems pretty pointless to me.” “You should’ve gone to law school.” “What do you want to do with that when you’re done?” “That seems boring.” “Like we need another professor out there.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard these exact phrases said to me – among other things. For some reason, many people feel that they suddenly have the right to criticize you for your career choices. Others may give you “tips” or “life advice” for finding “a good job” instead of “wasting your time.” My response is more or less: haters gonna hate. Just brush your shoulders off and move on.

5. You find your own voice.

Grad school has empowered me in many ways. In undergrad, I felt more like a passive listener, mindlessly regurgitating information on scantrons. In grad school, particularly in the humanities, class seminars allow me to express my own ideas and learn from the perspective of peers. Class tangents are especially invigorating.

6. Dating suddenly becomes more awkward.

Especially when you have to explain how you’re a 20-something that teaches university undergrads while simultaneously writing a thesis. In my experience, I’ve been placed on some kind of pedestal when I meet new people and become intellectually untouchable. It’s quite aggravating. Going to grad school will place you at a distance with others, particularly on the dating scene.

7. You sit way too much, and you discover new ways to read in strange places.

Reading on an elliptical? Check. Reading while standing up? Double check. Reading while walking? I’ve attempted it with very bad results – namely walking directly into a concrete wall. (True story). You try to discover ways to be active while doing your research. It looks bizarre. It will always be bizarre. You will question your life choices. You’ll still do it anyway. Saying that, I forgot to mention that stationary bikes are a great place to read and take notes. You’re welcome in advance.

8. You have to plan things weeks in advance.

If you’re close to me, you know this to be true – I never seem to be able to do anything on weekends. Ever. Is it because I’ve suddenly started disliking you? Nope. It’s because my weekends are usually set aside for me 1) sleeping, 2) reading things I was supposed to read but didn’t have time to read during the week, 3) reading things I have to read for the upcoming week, 4) checking my students’ homework, 5) creating PowerPoints for my students, 6) studying in general, 7) watching Netflix and pretending that I don’t actually have a million things to do. Planning suddenly becomes very important. I specifically have Google Calendars and notifications set up so that I remember to schedule in people I care about. Finding free time is one huge downside to grad school, but it has made me very efficient.

9. You embrace solitude.

In undergrad, I felt awful if I didn’t have plans for the weekend. Now I realize that I do my best work when I’m able to sit with a coffee and think alone. You value moments alone just as much as you value others – and this is a beautiful thing. It means you’re comfortable with yourself. This doesn’t mean that I always like to be alone, but at the same time it does mean that you do appreciate a few hours of quiet.

10. You become unstoppable.

Grad school has given me a boost in confidence to say “yes I can do that.” No task seems insurmountable. You want to travel the world, read as much as you can, meet as many people as you can, learn as much as you can. You want to make your own personal splash in the ocean of life. Even as a small droplet, you know the change you can create. Your goals might seem lofty to others, but you know that when you aim high, you have a better chance of getting there. There’s no harm in trying. There’s a million paths to reach your goal, and only one person that can stop you – yourself.

Claire-Marie Brisson