We’ll feature an occasional post by our Southern Studies grad students.  First up, Sophie Hay, who comes to us from the University of Birmingham in the U.K.  She’s a first year in the Southern Studies Master’s program.  Her research interests include the civil rights movement, gender, and African American literature.

Thinking of applying to Graduate School? Here’s why you should…

SophieHere at the University of Mississippi campus, it is evident that fall is well underway; the intense summer heat is finally subsiding; the leaves on the trees in the Grove are turning shades of red and brown; pumpkins sit on doorsteps on Sorority Row and Christmas ornaments hang in the university gift shop; the J.D. Williams library is increasingly busy and the line in Starbucks ever longer since the celebrated return of the seasonal pumpkin spice lattes (hurrah!).

What a wonderful time of the year…unless, of course, you are someone planning on applying to Graduate Schools, in which case these seasonal changes are a rude reminder that the time to make big decisions about your future is fast approaching. I don’t want to alarm anyone. I’ve been through it. I know how daunting it can be. In this blog post, I intend to give you a taste of what it is like to be a grad student and, hopefully, to show you how fantastic the Southern Studies Master’s program is here at the University of Mississippi.

In August, I moved to Oxford from my home in England. Although I had done an exchange year at Ole Miss in 2012, the majority of my friends from that time had already graduated and I was nervous at the prospect of starting a new life here on my own. I needn’t have worried. As soon as I turned up to the Southern Studies orientation I felt at ease – the staff and faculty housed in the Barnard Observatory certainly epitomise everything you hear about Southern hospitality. Everyone is friendly, welcoming and eager to help. I was impressed by how quickly professors learnt my name and how they showed a genuine interest in how I was settling in. The second year M.A. students were also keen to introduce themselves and offered friendly words of advice. I felt completely reassured and confident that I had a strong support network within the Center for the Study of Southern Culture.

All first year M.A. students take three classes, including the required Southern Studies 601 intro class which is a multidisciplinary reading and research seminar. In this class, you’ll find your eyes opened to new interests and fields of study, often way beyond and divergent from your initial primary research interests. I came to the Center with a background in English Literature and American Studies, intending to continue the history-based research I began for my undergraduate thesis. However, I have since discovered a burgeoning sociological interest (a foreign discipline to me) after reading Zandria Robinson’s This Ain’t Chicago, a Memphis-based sociological study which explores Southern black identity. Now, I look forward to developing this new-found interest next semester by taking a sociology class and by volunteering for the ‘Behind the Big House Project’ in Holly Springs, MS. Without the Southern Studies 601 class, I would never have considered this route.

Southern Studies classes are also a great way to get to know your peers. Despite our varying backgrounds and life experiences, we have clicked as a group. We are encouraged to share and explore our ideas respectfully in a relaxed, seminar style forum. So far, our Southern Studies 601 class has seen enjoyably lively and stimulating discussions ranging from the difficulty in “mapping” the South and the “myth of Southern exceptionalism” to the production of explicit t-shirts promoting regional identity and the Japanese version of To Kill a Mockingbird (which was introduced to us by our Japanese classmate).

Our new class of M.A. students, incoming fall 2014. Photo by Jimmy Thomas.

Outside of class, Southern Studies students enjoy a variety of opportunities here on campus and in the local area. We are invited to apply for internships and encouraged to write for the Center’s scholarly journal, the Southern Register. The Center hosts a range of exciting events and so far this semester I have been privileged to attend a music concert by the Cajun band ‘Feufollet’, a Gilder-Jordan Lecture by Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, gallery exhibitions of student documentary projects and weekly “Brown Bag Lectures” by guest scholars. Further still, graduate students can volunteer at conferences and symposiums which grant access to academic panels and an opportunity to network with field experts. I feel very fortunate to be exposed to such valuable experiences and am confident that they will increase my employability prospects when it comes to starting a career.

I cannot speak highly enough of the Southern Studies M.A. program here at the University of Mississippi, but of course, I’d be lying if I said things were always easy. The program is intense and very demanding. Each week I read three books and write three response papers. Some weeks I am also required to lead class discussions and complete fieldwork exercises. This workload can sometimes be overwhelming and it does take time to establish a routine (which sadly means sacrificing much loved hours spent on Netflix) but once you embrace the challenge, the work is extremely rewarding. Fortunately, I have found that my professors recognise the demanding nature of this program and understand the difficulties new students face adjusting from the undergraduate level. Professors are more than willing to discuss the struggles you are facing and to help come up with possible strategies to alleviate them – the success of which I can personally testify to.

I have now passed the half-way point in my first semester as a graduate student. The beautiful Barnard Observatory has become my new home, my course mates have become my new friends and my classes have inspired me to pursue new and exciting fields of research.

Good luck with your applications and feel free to contact me at smhay@go.olemiss.edu if you have any questions.

For more information on applying, visit our MA page.