Ulises Mejias, who has taught graduate courses at SUNY Oswego since 2014, identified a need for his students who were beginning their graduate school journey. 

Because of the nature of the strategic communications master's program, students engage in the program in a multitude of ways, which means that getting them oriented to the process comes with its own challenges. Applying his communications teachings and principles, Mejias identified a way to both engage his students and meet them where they are -- by creating a podcast that introduced them to graduate school essentials. 

“Our graduate communication students are online students, asynchronous students, students who are on campus, students who are off campus, so it’s really varied,” Mejias said. “If we have an orientation meeting at the beginning of the semester, not all students can attend that meeting. I began thinking about how we can expose the most students to this content as part of an orientation process, and I thought a podcast would be a great way.”

“Podcasts are such a fun and trendy thing right now,” said graduate student Juliana Wright said, who got involved in the podcast after learning about it at orientation and met Mejias in person. “Any way that I could get my feet on the ground running and learn the best way I can utilize my education to be successful is how I succeed.”

The production 

The Grad School Essentials (GSE) Podcast -- which requires login to Oswego email to access -- was produced by the strategic communications master's program and takes Zachary Shore’s book “Grad School Essentials: A Crash Course in Scholarly Skills” chapter by chapter, dissecting and reviewing the key points for students who may not have time to read the book, but who still want to gain the knowledge in a digestible form. 

“The podcast episodes are relatively short -- 30-40 minutes -- and students can listen on their own,” Mejias said. “Students won’t feel like they have to read the whole book if they’re too busy. We did an episode for each chapter and students can be selective about which chapter they listen to first.”

Mejias identified Shore’s book as an important text for new graduate students or for undergraduate students considering graduate school, but may not know what to expect. Since much of the graduate student experience seems to be filled with unknowns, Mejias wants to bring as much clarity and transparency to the process so students get as much from graduate school as possible. 

“A lot of graduate students assume that the way they’ve been doing things at the undergraduate level is the same way they can do them at the graduate level when in fact it’s not -- it’s a little bit different,” Mejias said. “I also think as faculty, we just assume that it’s fine to just throw students in the middle of the situation and let them sort of figure things out, but the feedback I’ve gotten is that it’s very useful about being intentional about picking up the skills.”

Students featured in this current recording of the podcast are:

  • Episode one: How to Read: Annie Hekker Weiss 
  • Episode two: How to Write: Sarah Ozga
  • Episode three: How to Speak: Katelyn Curro
  • Episode four: How to Act: Juliana Wright
  • Episode five: How to Research: Amber Saint Joy

Hekker Weiss has years of experience as a television executive at FOX with notable highlights in her career working on "The Simpsons" and "American Idol." But even with those years of experience, she found that Shore’s book was able to provide tools and skills she was missing to be successful in graduate school. 

“Coming back from the professional world –- it’s a different language,” Hekker Weiss said. “I would write promos or maybe a script – but I did not have to write the way that we have to write for graduate school.”

Although the current podcast is five episodes, Mejias hopes to continue to produce the Grad School Essentials podcast, both in re-recording the current episodes as well as producing new content and episodes to expand upon the graduate student experience.

Ozga also hopes more episodes of the podcast will be produced and more students will benefit. Ozga had a bird's eye view, serving as Mejias’ graduate assistant and not only completing an episode with Mejias, but also creating the website and gaining podcast-editing experience.

“I hope this podcast continues to expand,” Ozga said. “I hope every semester, if not every year, that we get new people to talk about these chapters and to get new insight to learn and spread their own opinions and their own experiences. This is something so easy to get involved in, and it’s so cool to hear your own voice and you can go back and hear yourself active in it. It’s not just a project or paper - it’s a literal verbal result and it’s really, really neat.”

Scholarly skills 

In Shore’s book and in the podcast, scholarly skills are identified as how to read, write, speak, act and research. Mejias notes that while the podcast and was created for the strategic communications program, content from Shore’s book can be applicable to those studying in the sciences as well. 

The useful crossover can be seen in content like Chapter 4 -- How to Act. Shore immediately addresses the elephant in the room -- your ego. 

Shore notes many graduate students enter graduate school having been the top students of their classes, whether during high school or as undergraduates -- and suddenly realize that so was everyone else in the room. Being a graduate student suddenly feels as though the bar has been exponentially raised, and you can feel immediately unsure of yourself and your capabilities.

“The book talks about imposter syndrome -- that feeling like you’re always faking it,” Mejias said. “I found that a lot of our students suffer from that -- we as faculty continue to suffer from it too. I think it was just good to have Shore explicitly talk about it and student’s really identified with that. They realized, 'Okay, it’s not wrong for me to have these feelings.'”

“I really loved the whole chapter, because not only was it about how to act, but also how you can put up your own boundaries,” Wright said. “You can say 'no' to things, but as students, we don’t feel like we can say 'no.'” 

Saint Joy, who completed her undergraduate at SUNY Oswego and is now a residence hall director in Johnson Hall, had this takeaway from Shore’s book - she’s not alone. 

“Honestly, just the idea that I’m not alone, and that I’m not the only graduate student who has these concerns and who is concerned about being successful,” Saint Joy said. “Shore’s book is a tool and something I can always reference, whether I’m a graduate student or even going for my Ph.D.”

Honest teaching

Mejias believes in the ultimate thought posed in Shore’s book: the better understanding you have of the world around you, the better your life will be. 

“We need confidence, we need curiosity, we need creativity,” Mejias said. “We need to approach the world with a view of understanding it and making it better. Our graduate programs are very focused on specific skills -- but what I wish is that students gain the skills about how to encounter the world, think about it differently, and do something to improve it."

And each student who worked with Mejias on the podcast agreed that Mejias is a one-of-a-kind professor whose open and honest tellings about academia help students find a sense of belonging at SUNY Oswego while unlocking scholarly skills.

“Working on the podcast was really fun and really warming,” Saint Joy said. “Even though I’ve been at SUNY Oswego for a long time, this confirmed this is where I’m supposed to be and he confirmed that. Even confirming my fears about research, and relating and being honest himself from that professional setting and hearing his thoughts himself was really great.”

“He’s really inspiring in terms of he takes you to a subject and he’ll want you to pull the stuff out,” Hekker Weiss said. “He’ll encourage you -- it’s that taking care of you piece -- where he wants to know what you saw.”

For those wishing to listen to the Grad School Essentials podcast, please note you must have a valid SUNY Oswego log-in, as the GSE podcast has not been released on any other platforms at this time.