Grad School: An Interview with Jenean McGee

Jenean McGee

Jenean McGee was a graduate student and First-Year-Writing Instructor at UMass Boston. She was a Ronald E. McNair scholar at Southern Oregon University, graduating in 2015 and completed her Master’s degree in American Studies in 2017.

Ed Battistella: Tell us a little about your graduate program?

Jenean McGee: My graduate program was a two-year Master’s program at the University of Massachusetts Boston in the interdisciplinary subject of American Studies. The program is centered around six core courses that that focus on the ideas that surround the meaning of culture, citizenship, race, gender, sexuality, class, and politics in the context of the United States.

EB: What sorts of things are you reading and working on?

JM: I have recently graduated, however, as a grad student I was introduced to a wide variety of scholarly text. In my first year I on average I read three books a week. Out of the relatively long reading list I have narrowed down three texts that I enjoyed the most. The three are David R. Roediger’s Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, Eric Avila’s Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles, and Peggy Pascoe’s What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Laws and the Making of Race in America. I have selected these three texts because of their interdisciplinary scholarship that traces systemic racism in the United States through cultural history that focuses on legislation, popular culture, and democracy.

EB: How has your experience so far—-at SOU, as part of the McNair program, and at UMB–shaped your career goals?

JM: My experience so far has been rather challenging, and exciting. As a student I have always struggled with my writing. I have picked disciplines that I am passionate about, but have all been writing intensive. At SOU as an English major I often struggled when it came to writing my papers. I have always been able to understand course material and verbally communicate however, articulating my thoughts on paper has been my biggest challenge. At UMass Boston I have experienced similar issues. The McNair Program along with my mentor Prof. Alma Rosa Alvarez encouraged me to continue on my academic journey by believing in me, when I found it hard to believe in myself. They showed me that my challenges are part of my journey, and that I have nothing to be ashamed of. Thus far my academic journey has shown me that I belong in academia. As for my career goals I wish to earn my PhD and continue on in academia as a professor in the field of Cultural Studies. Beyond teaching, my goal is to mentor students. I am passionate about helping others see their true potential and aiding in an academic journey that is unique to them. No two students are the same, and my aim is to continue to promote an academic culture that is inclusive and supportive of “non-traditional students.”

EB: You were also a graduate assistant. What did that entail?

JM: Yes, I was a graduate assistant. For my first year at UMass Boston, I was a teaching assistant for several lower division courses. As a teaching assistant my role in the classroom varied depending on the professor I was aiding. Most of my job as TA entailed grading papers, and holding office hours to help students with their papers and understanding the course materials. For my second year I was given the opportunity to work for UMass Boston’s Center for the Study of Humanity, Culture, and Society. The Center put on events that showcased various aspects of interdisciplinary work within the Humanities. There I aiding in organizing and hosting events, and managing the website.

EB: What has been the most interesting part of your graduate work?

JM: The most interesting part of my graduate work thus far has been working closely with professors and cohort members to further develop my research interests. I have found that brainstorming with my peers and professors allows the creation of more innovative research all together.

EB: What’s been your academic focus? How it changed at all since you began?

JM: My academic focus in my Master’s program has been centered around African American history particularly African American popular culture. Throughout the program my focus has developed to encompass researching social media platforms and the role they play in forging bonds between African diasporic women.

EB: You lived most of the life in California and Oregon. How did you like Boston?

JM: I enjoyed my time in Boston. I particularly enjoy the academic atmosphere and the rich history; however, I could do without the cold weather.

EB: What’s next for you?

JM: My next to is a PhD program. Last spring I was accepted into the Comparative Ethnic Studies PhD program at the University of Colorado Boulder. They were unable to secure funding for me for the 2017-2018 academic school year. However, I deferred my acceptance and am currently waiting to hear about funding for the 2018-2019 academic year.

EB: Any advice for potential grad students?

JM: My advice for potential graduate students is to have confidence in yourself, build strong relationships with faculty and peers, and enjoy the journey; it is not a sprint, it is a marathon.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

About Ed Battistella

Edwin Battistella’s latest book Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels was released by Oxford University Press in March of 2020.
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