The Unlikely Academic Podcast, The Real Graduate School Experience! show

The Unlikely Academic Podcast, The Real Graduate School Experience!

Summary: Academia can appear glamorous. Professors take on many different roles: subject matter experts, educators, advisors, researchers, community leaders, and more. Having a doctoral degree gives aspiring student professionals plenty of opportunities outside of the university environment. Getting accepted into, and subsequently surviving graduate school can seem overwhelming for anyone, especially for the “unlikely” among us—those who do not fit the common stereotype of “grad school material.” Regardless of whether you fit the academic mold or are sure to break it, the Unlikely Academics podcast has tips and tricks to help you along the way. This is a podcast which discusses the underbelly of the Graduate School Experience, addressing some of the unwritten rules and culture related to applying and thriving in graduate school. The hosts of the Unlikely Academics Podcast each have their own experiences of strife, adaptation, and tribulations to share from their respective quests for academic and career achievement. We hope through our discussions and advice each week; we can help other unlikely academics find their voice, maximize their educational potential, and find the path to success that best suits them as future scholars and/or practitioners by navigating both the spoken and unspoken rules of graduate school. Visit our Website at Join our private Facebook discussion group at or email us at questions [at] Podcast Theme Song: The Outsiders ft Aj Aka Zhou - I Know We Gon Make It

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  • Artist: Dr. Christopher F Silver, Dr. Jenny Holcomb, and Mr. Thomas J Coleman III
  • Copyright: 2019 The Unlikely Academic Podcast


 S01E25 -- The Psychology of Interpersonal Dynamics, Understanding the Role of Personality in Graduate Work and Beyond | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 01:12:12

In this episode of the Unlikely Academics, Jenny, Tommy, and Chris discuss how various personality traits can result in misunderstandings, interpersonal conflicts, and enhanced or inhibited group productivity. For this episode, the Unlikely Academics utilize the Big Five Personality Factorial Model to explain the various ways personality differences can result in miscommunication. The unlikely academics discuss how the main effects of each factor can influence one’s perceptions of others who differ in personality. Further, the co-hosts also discuss the various interactive ways that high versus low scores influence miscommunications such as low on agreeableness with high conscientiousness can result in rigid thinking. Further, they discuss how extroverts can perceive introverts as lacking teamwork in their projects. They suggest that an awareness of personality diversity can strengthen communication as well as capitalizing on the strengths of the various personality styles as a form of cognitive styles. They conclude by suggesting that listeners consider taking the Big Five Personality Assessment to understand better how misunderstandings may occur.

 S01E23 -- The Day Before, the Day of, and the Day Following in Taking the GRE. A Graduate Applicant’s Guide to the Psychology of the GRE. | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 01:33:21

Based on listener feedback, the Unlikely Academics discuss the experience of taking the GRE and by extension, other standardized testing for admission to graduate-level programs. Drs. Jenny Holcombe and Christopher Silver whose expertise is in evaluation and assessment discuss the experience of taking the GRE, things to be prepared for on test day, and planning if the scores do not meet the test taker’s standards for applying to graduate school. They discuss preparation the day before, things to do on the day of the GRE, and things to do in coping with one’s experience following the GRE. The hosts reiterate their position that applicants should prepare for the GRE, including test preparation, taking a practice test, and actively planning to take the GRE with plenty of time. They take the listener through a typical GRE experience, including security checks, offering suggestions as to what to bring when one arrives, and how to cope following the test. This episode is based on the feedback from one of our listeners Lincoln who requested we revisit this topic as he is applying for graduate school as a non-traditional student and is unclear regarding the experience of taking the GRE.

 S01E22 -- Opening up about Open Science for Grad Students | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 01:30:51

In this episode of the Unlikely Academics, the Co-hosts Tommy and Chris interview Ms. Sarah Charles, a Ph.D. Student from Coventry University in the United Kingdom. Ms. Charles discusses the utility and benefits of Open Science and preregistering research and studies in the Open Science Framework ( She discusses the origins of scientific review, the epistemological aspects of the evolution of scientific research as well as the applied benefits of openness in addressing the replication problems and the perceived p-hacking scandal in social science research. Ms. Charles offers solutions and insight into how these approaches could be employed to further the role of higher education and science in furthering human knowledge with a focus on consistency, accuracy, and outcomes. She concludes by offering some of her own experiences and insights into the topic. Sarah Charles is a Ph.D. student at Coventry University (UK) in the Brain, Belief, and Behaviour research lab (she is one of my lab mates!). Her doctoral research explores the psychobiology of social bonding. She is also one of the local authorities on Open Science practices at the university

 She/He Stole my Research, How to Prepare for Academic Creepers Scoping Your Work at Academic Conferences. | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 01:12:25

One aspect of academic conferences many people are not prepared for is the conference “creepers.” In this episode, the Unlikely Academics discuss these individuals who go to conferences to capitalize on the research and science of others (generally undergraduate and graduate students as the target of creepers). While science is a collaborative, some take the ideas of others and attempt to present them as their own. Many times, these individuals have access to resources such as money, a lab full of research assistants, or charismatic students who are looking to make their mark in a particular academic field. The result is that they are quick to conduct research and publish in an attempt to own your work as their own. Those who are respectful will cite your work if they are drawing on your research presented at a conference. However, we are talking about those who do not cite your work and work quickly to replicate and publish the same or similar work as their own. The Unlikely Academics provide solutions for protecting yourself against this type of conference attendee. We also suggest to be careful as some faculty and fellow graduate students may have legitimate interest in you or your research but always be mindful of such exchanges.

 S01E20 – Finding One’s Song in the Cacophony of Life, Navigating the Challenges of a Disability When Seeking Life’s Dream of Becoming a Music Professor. | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 01:18:03

This week’s episode of the Unlikely Academics explores the themes of living with a disability in graduate school and thriving in graduate programs of music. Tommy Coleman and Chris Silver interview Mr. Ash Glenn Doctoral Candidate at University of Southern Mississippi (USM) related to his experience both as a graduate student with a disability as well as his experience as a graduate student of music. Mr. Glenn discusses the challenges he experienced upon losing one of his legs due to a medical condition and the subsequent daily challenges he experienced navigating his graduate curriculum and campus in taking and teaching classes. He discusses finding ADA accessible class spaces, accessing his office, finding ADA accessible restrooms, and other topics facing students with a disability. He also discussed how his mother and others have served as a role model for fighting for ADA rights on his campus. Midway through the podcast, The Unlikely Academics shift themes to Mr. Glenn’s experiences with pursuing a graduate degree in music and the types of things to consider when picking programs. This includes pursuing a degree in conducting to shifting to music educators graduate degree. He also reflects on advice he received regarding the challenges of being a person with ADA condition and continuing in a conducting program given most conductors stand by directing. He describes the process he went through in considering graduate programs of music and the kinds of sacrifices made by others in pursuing music graduate degrees. He concludes with offering messages of support for others but suggests the importance of doing reconnaissance before applying to programs. Dr. Holcombe was absent due to vacation. Mr. Glenn serves on the American with Disabilities Act -- Disability Accommodations Committee while at USM. He received his Bachelors of Arts in Music from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, a Masters in Conducting from American Band College and is a Doctoral Candidate at Southern Mississippi in Music education with a minor in conducting. His dissertation is on the transition and transaction experiences of community college students seeking a Bachelors Degree in music education.

 S01E19 – disABILITY as Culture and Cognition in Higher Education, An Interview with Dr. Michelle Rigler, Executive Director of the Disability Resource Center at UT Chattanooga | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 01:02:40

This episode of the Unlikely Academics Podcast explores the theme of disability and accessibility for potential and current graduate students as well as best practices for teaching assistants and new faculty. Tommy Coleman and Chris Silver Interview Dr. Michelle Rigler regarding her experience as a disability advocate related to her experiences with creating and sustaining accessibility on campus, notifying faculty of accommodations for students, and some of the types of indicators of disability-friendly graduate programs and employment. Further, Dr. Rigler shares a short history on the Americans with Disability Act, the types of programming and support services at UT Chattanooga, and model programs at other universities which create a warm and welcome space for those with disabilities. She also highlights that not all disabilities are apparent, but some are hidden and the role we all play in not assuming we can understand other’s challenges. Dr. Rigler suggests methods for ensuring the course curriculum is accessible and faculty and teaching assistants being open to feedback regarding curricular changes. She ends by stating that we all have to be patient with ourselves as we learn from others, and no two disability narratives are alike. She suggests being mindful of others and coordinate with one’s Disability Resource Center either in support of one’s own educational goals or in facilitating accessible course spaces for all types of students. For more information on Dr. Rigler or the UT Chattanooga Disability Resource Center please go to

 S01E18 – Graduate School with Families, A Listener's Feedback with Questions and Answers Episode | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 01:19:14

Trying something new, The Unlikely Academics cohosts interview one of the listeners who offered feedback and wrote a letter to the cohosts providing feedback. That listener was Ms. Hannah Majewski. Ms. Majewski is an undergraduate senior at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay in English Literature with a minor in Ancient Medieval Humanities. Ms. Majewski is a mother of two and was initially a nursing major who shifted to the field of English, where she found her passion. The co-hosts turned the microphone over to Ms. Majewski to ask questions regarding the role of the family in graduate school with a focus on childcare, familial and friend support, funding for non-traditional students, and the various things undergraduates should be doing while enrolled in their undergraduate work. The cohosts shared their experiences with having families while in the graduate school including some tips for ways to navigate the graduate school selection process taking familial life and work/life balance as one of the critical data points in making the decision. The podcast concluded by asking Ms. Majewski about her favorite episode of the podcast series as well as asking how institutions of higher education could do a better job of serving non-traditional students. Twitter handle is @babymedievalist

 S01E17 -- Planning for International Conferences and Making the Most of Them as a Student or New Faculty. | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 01:12:07

For this episode of the Unlikely Academics Podcast, the co-hosts (Dr. Jenny Holcombe, Mr. Tommy Coleman, and Dr. Christopher Silver) discuss the importance of planning early to attend international research or professional conferences as part of one’s graduate journey. In this podcast, the co-hosts suggest that graduate students should begin planning and preparing even as early as the summer before they start their program. This includes identifying possible conferences, applying for a passport (not a passport card), and reaching out to graduate students in the current program to determine if they have attended international conferences. The hosts then suggest networking at the conference by socializing with participants from various countries, sharing business cards with social media information, and following up with emails thanking attendees met during the conference. The podcast also includes suggestions for finding funding and capitalizing on graduate student status by reaching out to conference organizers, one’s department or university, or seeking outside funds mainly if the graduate student is from a developing nation.

 S01E16 -- Memoirs of a Person of Color in Graduate School – A personal reflection of minority experiences in privileged higher education. | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 01:18:03

This week’s episode of the Unlikely Academics discusses the challenges people of color face in institutions of higher education, particularly those with wealthy “legacy” enrollment. Dr. Jenny Holcombe and Dr. Christopher F. Silver (sans Tommy Coleman who is at a conference in Rome, Italy) interview Dr. Felysha Jenkins a Community Psychologist and Diversity and Inclusion advocate related to her experiences in graduate school. Dr. Jenkins first explains her identity as an unlikely academic then shifts to the challenges she faced in higher education including topics of socio-economic status, privilege, pursuing higher education degrees at traditionally wealth based institutions, and navigating the politics of higher education as a minority. Dr. Jenkins shared her research on persons of color in STEM fields as well as navigating the challenges of being different from the white male institutionalization of graduate school. She also shared how community psychology has informed her worldview and helped her find connections between her phenomenological experiences with the pragmatism of graduate education. The podcast concludes by addressing ways to be “in the know” if minority individuals express interest in pursuing graduate school as well as ways high-status individuals can be mindful of their minority students through active listening and taking concerns raised by students seriously. For more information on what Community Psychology is and how it is applied, please go to:

 S01E15 -- Respect my Authoritah, Hope for the Best but Plan for the Worst in Graduate School and Teaching. | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 00:58:03

In this episode of the Unlikely Academics Podcast, the cohosts address the very controversial topic of preparing for the unfortunate potential of protecting one’s self from toxic authority and when to file an official complaint. The podcast begins discussing some examples where expectations on the part of faculty, staff, or lab management can result in tension and/or the perception of failure. Dr. Silver discusses his work briefly in university administration and the investigation of university policy violations, and the types of things graduate students and early career academics should be aware of as they pursue their interests. Mr. Coleman and Dr. Silver shared examples of where expectations pushed the line of "appropriate" given the power differential between faculty and student. Dr. Holcombe shared the experience related to a friend whose advisor expected too much, including childcare and treating them as a personal assistant. The co-hosts suggest that as time permits that everyone should familiarize themselves with policies and procedures including faculty handbooks, student handbooks, campus policies, code of conduct policies and others as they relate to student, faculty, and staff expectations. Only then are they prepared should these situations arise. Pardon our South Park joke. :)

 S01E14 -- The Perception of Competition in Graduate School | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 01:11:42

This week’s episode discusses the perception of competition within graduate school. The co-hosts discuss how competition or the perception of competition can be both productive and toxic depending on program or lab culture. The Unlikely Academics discuss how different leadership styles can constructively capitalize on competition or destructively create program or lab-based dissention. The Unlikely Academics discuss ways to navigate the hostile forms of competition and find ways to brand oneself as productive, seeking constructive feedback and coping with hostile personalities (e.g., fellow graduate students, advisors, lab managers, etc.). They conclude by asking for feedback and reminding the audience that we offer the podcast free of charge.

 S01E13 Managing Expectations and the Perception of Entitlement in Graduate School | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 01:46:28

In this podcast, the unlikely academics tackle the controversial topic of perceptions of entitlement. We use this phrase because there are overarching generational assumptions made regarding current undergraduates and graduate students from age 18 to 30 and ways to manage these perceptions even when there is no objective reality to the perception. The podcast begins by first addressing listener feedback. First, we received a question regarding other podcasts on the topic of graduate school and applying. We encourage listeners to follow or subscribe to these podcasts for multiple perspectives. To this end, we created a short list. While it is not exhaustive, we made a list of podcasts we like which listeners may find interesting or useful. Scholars and Shots This is Graduate School Research in Action Freakonomics Stats + Stories Another listener suggested that Dr. Silver tone back his assertiveness (or even perceived ego) on the podcast which he agreed. The unlikely academics shifted to the theme of the perception of entitlement in graduate school suggesting that while these perceptions can be unfair and are unwarranted, the hosts also suggested personal brand management in terms of these stereotypes. They suggest that many faculty may conflate entitlement with positive and negative behaviors. Those positive behaviors include self-confidence, a sense of justice, and pride in accomplishments. Negative behaviors include non-productive entitlement, an unclear or shifting sense of justice, or unfounded arrogance for previous accomplishments while ignoring areas of needed growth. The hosts suggest that while there can be injustice and such injustice should be acted upon, students should step back and carefully consider behavior showing appreciation for opportunities, being proud of accomplishments and fighting for others who may not have an equal voice to do so. Moreover, the hosts suggest that experiences of prejudice should be documented and where appropriate reported but that getting feedback from peers and “safe” faculty can help navigate this process. Yet, they also suggest that faculty have the power and students should be hyper-vigilant monitoring faculty perceptions of their performance in the program. The host also suggests that while these organizational and bureaucratic structures are unfair and biased in many respects, we still have to navigate them professionally and mindfully to succeed. The podcast concludes by citing the work of Drs. Joshua Grubbs and Julie Exline from Case Western University in explaining “entitlement” and the stages experienced in becoming entitled and ways to address such behaviors.

 S01E12 -- The Psychology of Bullsh*t and Graduate School in Canada. An interview with Unlikely Academic, Doctoral Student, and Cognitive Psychologist, Mr. Shane Littrell from the University of Waterloo. | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 01:07:05

In a surprise interview with the Unlikely Academics, Mr. Coleman, Dr. Holcombe, and Dr. Silver welcome Doctoral Student Shane Littrell to this episode. Mr. Littrell shares his research on the Psychology of Bullshit, dual process theory, and belief formation in his Cognitive Psychology Program at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo Ontario Canada. Shane is a 43-year-old non-traditional student who had his first career in Industrial-Organizational Psychology and Restaurant Management and returned to academia to receive a second masters in research psychology, and eventually landing in a cognitive doctoral program at Waterloo. Shane discusses the move to Canada, cultural differences, and adapting to a new place and culture. As a sincere renaissance person, Shane has cross read in a variety of intellectual domains connecting social theory, philosophy, practice, and psychology into a very captivating interview.

 S01E11 – The Working-Class Philosopher and His Analysis of the Absurdism of Applying to Graduate School and other Musings in the Deconstruction through Philosophy of the Higher Education Industry. | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 01:52:49

Trigger Warning: This Episode Addresses the Issues of Depression, Institutional Alienation, the Philosophical Underpinnings of Applying to Graduate School, and the Psychological Implications of rejection. Please be aware that the listeners will hear more explicit language as well as themes of clinical depression and concern with mortality. If these themes easily trigger you, we highly recommend skipping this episode. This Week’s Special Edition Podcast (2 Hour Episode) is an analysis of applying to graduate school from Mr. Brandon Jones, a non-traditional student, and working-class philosopher. Mr. Jones is a non-traditional student who initially failed out of his undergraduate education, returning to complete his undergraduate successfully once he found his intellectual interest, and now reflects on challenges of finding the right graduate program for his interests. Mr. Jones is a working-class philosopher as he is hyper-aware of the hierarchical structure higher education particularly related to incoming graduate student challenges faced in finding their voice in the cacophony of higher education research and pedagogy. Mr. Jones works in the field of Information Technology and has slowly worked toward his undergraduate degree while employed full time. Coleman, Silver, and Kippes explore these themes with Mr. Jones paying particular attention to Mr. Jones’ concerns with higher education, environmental degradation, and what this means for all of us. Note that while all the participants in this podcast are close friends, there are points of healthy debate and analysis resulting in high emotions and discussion particularly at the end.

 S01E10 Academic Conferences and Travel Dos and Do Nots, Why Not Treat Yourself! | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 01:21:27

The Unlikely Academics discuss the joys of traveling to Academic Conferences and the expectations of students when attending. They speak to ways to save money, connect with scholars, and find other students and academics with similar interests. They discuss setting expectations with one’s advisor, networking with fellow students, and the opportunities to travel where one’s budget or funding permit. They discuss the importance of attending conferences either regional, national, or international as well as ways to find funding to offset the costs of attendance and travel. They conclude with a discussion regarding their own experiences and benefits of making connections and large versus smaller conferences.


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