My First Days of Graduate School: Pacifica Graduate Institute Faculty Reflections

Posted by Nikole Hollenitsch on Sep 16, 2015 1:41:00 PM

At this time of year Pacifica welcomes 11 new groups of students to campus for their first year of graduate school. We are excited to share some personal stories from Pacifica faculty members who reflect on their first days of graduate school. 

downing_chrisChristine Downing, Ph.D., Core Faculty for the M.A./Ph.D. Mythological Studies Program:  "I remember so well my own first days in graduate school.  I’d been out of school for seven years and had five pre-schoolers at home.  I’d been an English major as an undergraduate and was now going after a Ph.D., in religious studies, even though there had not been a single course devoted to that subject during my college years. I SO wanted to do this but was actually so unclear as to just why and just why it had to be NOW before at least a few of those children were in school. The first months were overwhelming. Both my professors and my fellow students (all male) were welcoming and the assignments and lectures and discussions were fascinating—but in a mostly bewildering way!  The vocabulary every one tossed around seemed abstruse, arcane, esoteric. (I wouldn’t have believed then how familiar it would be by the time I finished my degree; nor how hard it was to learn when I first started teaching undergraduates NOT to rely on that vocabulary.) And everyone else seemed already to have read so much, authors I’d never heard of, "isms" I’d never encountered.  What saved me was my husband’s unfailing support, my mother’s availability to help with the children, and just the blessing of having those children to come home to, the continued presence of that familiar world.  But not just that—also Wednesday evenings in the bar with a half dozen or so other students where we talked and talked and talked about the books, about the professors and their very diverse and seemingly contradictory opinions, about our beliefs and questions, our fears and fantasies about what lay ahead. AND my dreams. I’d been keeping a dream journal pretty faithfully for seven years by then; indeed, it was dreams that had persuaded me to undertake this journey—and staying in touch with them (or they with me) helped assure me that this was indeed where my soul and not just my mind was leading me." ~ Chris


Steve Aizenstat, Ph.D., Chancellor and Founding President:  "I am remembering my first quarter in graduate school. Given my learning challenges, school had always been difficult for me, and now this. . . graduate level course work at the University of California. To this day I believe the difference that made the difference was that I was befriended by two people who supported my academic work as well as my learning challenges. One was a professor who mirrored back the passion that brought me into the program to begin with and the other was an alum who served as a "tutor," "coach" of sorts who helped me with my writing. To this day I remember their support and the impact it made in my life as a person and as an educator.” ~ Steve

nuria_ciafaloNuria Ciofalo, Ph.D., Co-Chair of the Community Psychology, Liberation Psychology, and Ecopsychology Specialization:  "I did my graduate studies at the University of Hawaii after finalizing undergraduate and graduate studies in Germany and spending a couple of years doing community work in Mexico. The many struggles with language issues, sometimes mixing German, English, and Spanish as I wrote papers or tried to converse freely in coffee houses, university hallways, and classrooms, also gifted me with amazing classmates who turned into best friends and editors. After all, the time of final paper writing was coupled with socializing and soul searching in the company of my editors, colleagues, and friends. What you believe to be the most painful periods in life transform into cherished memories as we mature and learn to appreciate the rough roads that make us cry, laugh, and grow!” ~ Nuria

Topics: Mythology, Pacifica Graduate Institute, Community, Liberation, Indigenous & Ecopsychology