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Washington State University
History | First Generation Graduate Students

The department of history is home to many first generation graduate students and faculty members. With many of our faculty identifying as first generation, we believe in offering prospective students all the advice we can give and ensuring that resources are available to those who need them. Please take a few minutes to look through the resource links to the left in the “First Generation Graduate Students” menu and then feel free to reach out to Graduate Director, Lawrence Hatter, or Program Coordinator, Claudia Mickas, with further questions.

Below are some words of advice for first generation graduate students from Drs. JoAnn LoSavio and Robert McCoy!

Dear First-Generation Graduate Student,


  • It will feel like you don’t belong here, but you do.
    • You belong in graduate school and academia.
    • You have something worth saying because your voice and work is important.
  • You will feel like an imposter.
    • You are not an imposter.
    • You are becoming an expert in your field of study.
  • It will be hard explaining to your family what you do, why you do it, and why it takes so long.
    • It will feel like you’ve become someone else – to them and to yourself. Your family is not wrong. Your experiences in college and now in grad school have and will continue to change you.
    • You’ll have moments when you can’t figure out who you are. (This part is really hard.)
  • Keep track of office hours.
    • Find an organizational method that works for you and be sure to record the office hours for the professors teaching your courses, the professors you are assisting, and your advisor/mentor.
    • Attend office hours frequently and ask questions.
  • When your fellow classmates seem to magically know how grants, fellowships, or some other part of the university system works, remember that it is because they had someone (probably a parent or other close family member) to ask.
    • You will find someone to ask, but it will just take a little more effort to find that person.
    • One day you will know these “magical” secrets.
  • Show up to everything.
    • Attend class as often as possible, barring emergencies.
    • Attend cohort gatherings, join graduate student associations, and don’t be afraid to show up to department gatherings.
  • Find a mentor who understands where you come from – this is crucial.
    • Find someone who cares, someone who motivates you through encouragement, and instructs you by example.
    • It is OK to fire a bad mentor. In fact, you should fire a bad mentor. Note: there is a difference between fear and awe.
  • Turn your work in on time and keep track of deadlines.
    • Participate in cohort workshops that dedicate time towards reviewing and revising work.
    • Keep track of thesis/dissertation deadlines and touch base with you advisor/mentor often.
  • Academia beyond undergraduate college has its own culture.
    • When your classmates nod their heads vigorously in seminar classes, it is not because they know something you do not. It is because they know the gestures and the (body) language to convince people to think they know what they do not know.
    • Create a network for yourself of people you can trust.

Congratulations on taking your first steps towards applying for graduate school! This is an awesome milestone and you should be proud of everything you’ve accomplished along the way!

From First-Generation PhD holders – faculty within the Department of History.