Graduate Programs

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In this episode of Victors in Grad School podcast, Dr. Christopher Lewis interviews Dr. Grace Carey about her educational journey and career. Dr. Carey began her academic path at the University of Michigan Flint, earning a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and sociology with a minor in international and global studies. She later pursued a Ph.D. in anthropology at Princeton University and currently works for the Michigan Municipal League Foundation.

Dr. Carey’s decision to attend graduate school was influenced by the mentors she had at the University of Michigan Flint who provided her with guidance and support. She discovered the possibility of receiving financial assistance for graduate education, including stipends, housing, and health insurance, making the idea of graduate school more feasible.

The conversation then touches on Dr. Carey’s transition from a regional institution to an Ivy League institution. She mentions the challenges of overcoming preconceived biases and narratives that regional institution degrees are less valuable. However, Dr. Carey found mentors at both institutions who supported her journey.

The discussion emphasizes how Dr. Carey’s undergraduate and graduate degrees have prepared her for her current career. Her background in anthropology allows her to interpret complex legislative issues, mediate between local communities and governments, and create community-driven programs.

Dr. Carey provides valuable advice for her younger self and prospective graduate students. She highlights the importance of openness, vulnerability, and open-mindedness when entering a new academic environment, as well as the benefits of conducting informational interviews with professionals to explore potential career paths.

The episode concludes with a message about the University of Michigan Flint’s graduate programs and encourages listeners to explore their graduate education options.

Overall, the episode covers Dr. Carey’s educational journey, her transition from a regional institution to an Ivy League university, the applicability of her degrees to her current career, and her advice for those considering graduate school.

This podcast is brought to you by The Office of Graduate programs at the University of Michigan-Flint. If you’re still wondering about other things to consider when it comes to graduate school, you can also contact the Office of Graduate Programs at UM-Flint. We’re here to answer questions Monday – Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. EST. You can also find out more about the 50+ programs that the university has to offer here.


Christopher Lewis [00:00:01]:

Welcome to the Victor’s in Grad School, where we have conversations with students, alumni, and experts about what it takes to find success in graduate school. Welcome back to Victor’s in Grad School. I’m your host doctor Christopher Lewis, director of graduate programs at the University of Michigan, Flint. Really excited to have you back again this week. As always, every week, you and I are on a journey together. We are talking about the graduate school journey that you are on, Whether you’re already in graduate school, whether you’re just starting to think about graduate school, whether you’ve put in that application, you’re waiting to hear, Every person is on a little bit different path. Every person is on is at a little bit different place in that journey. But It’s important to think about the end goal, which is graduating from that program, but also at the same time, thinking about what you need to do now To prepare yourself for the journey and prepare yourself for finding success in that journey.

Christopher Lewis [00:01:05]:

Every week, I love being able to bring you different people, different guests, people that have gone before you, That have gone through graduate school, have been successful, and can share that journey that they went on with you as well And provide you along the way with some hints, some tips, some things that they learned that may help you In the journey that you’re on as well. This week, we’ve got another great guest with us. Doctor Grace Carey is with us. And, doctor Carey started her educational journey at the University of Michigan Flint where she got her bachelor’s degree. She got a A bachelor’s degree in anthropology and sociology with a minor in international and global studies. And from there, She went on and she got her doctorate degree. She got a a doctorate degree of philosophy, a PhD in anthropology From Princeton University, and she currently is working for the Michigan Municipal League Foundation. And we’re gonna talk about that in kind of the the journey that she she was on because she also worked at Princeton University for a while as well.

Christopher Lewis [00:02:20]:

And with that degree that she had received, so we’ll talk about that as well. So I’m really excited to have her here, For her to share her experience with you and to learn more about the journey that she had. Doctor Carey, thanks so much for being here.

Grace Carey [00:02:36]:

Yeah. Thank you for having me.

Christopher Lewis [00:02:38]:

It is my pleasure having you here today. Really excited to be able to talk to you and to learn more about your own journey. I guess, 1st and foremost, I’d love to go back in time because you did your undergraduate work here at the University of Michigan Flint. And at some point during that educational journey, you made a choice. You made a choice that you wanted to continue your education After you got that bachelor’s degree, and it was about a year after that you started your degree. So talk to me about what were the reasons that made you decide that you wanted to go further and go and get that PhD.

Grace Carey [00:03:15]:

In a way, I’m kind of a first Generation graduate student in my family. My dad was actually the 1st generation person, but he didn’t start college till I was older. And then he also went on and did a master’s of Fine arts, and we were almost doing our graduate programs concurrently, so we were both, like, figuring this out at the same time. So that was a really interesting journey for me. And Because of him doing that while I was midway through my undergraduate, I started thinking about, like, wow, graduate School. Like, what even is that? I didn’t really know. And I have to say I got phenomenally lucky at U of M Flint with the anthropology department we had, Which is still a phenomenal department. I know a lot of the current faculty, but 6, 7 years ago, the folks who were there were just incredible mentors.

Grace Carey [00:04:00]:

And, I mean, they truly dedicated so much of their day and so much of their time to the group of us who are going through the program at that time way beyond The classroom setting where we would have lunch together regularly and phone calls and getting sent home with books from their personal bookshelves over the the breaks of, Oh, I heard you were interested in this. Here’s, like, my 6 favorite books on that. And it was really from them that I started to realize graduate school was an option because I I grew up very working class. Even going for my undergraduate degree, I I did work study the entire time. I worked outside of that as well. So I actually worked about 15 different positions at U of M Flint, during my tenure there, and one of them was actually as a career counselor and academic adviser as one of their peer advisers and kind of the Inaugural wave of that. So I got thinking about grad school through that a little bit as well as I was advising other students about what do you do next? Like, do you start looking for a job, or Do you consider, you know, going on for more schooling? And if so, like, what is your reason for going on? Sometimes we’re looking at a professional degree. Right? Like, I I need a JD so that I can practice law.

Grace Carey [00:05:08]:

It’s very practical. But for something like anthropology, that’s not the easiest trajectory. Right? Like, Constantly being asked, what do you even do with an anthropology degree? What would you do with more of an anthropology degree? It was like an insurmountable question. Right? So having these Very strong mentorship relationships with folks in the anthro department was the reason I moved forward with what I did. Being able to Talk to them about things in my field that really sparked my interest beyond the classroom and realizing the way I was thinking about things Was interesting. It was valuable and that there was other people who would see some merit in that to go on and do research and actually go and Practice being an anthropologist, which you don’t get a lot of opportunities to do outside of the academic sphere. But the tipping point for me was when I got sat down because I’d started looking at graduate school, and I was also thinking again, how how am I going to afford this? Seeing what my dad was going through As a a master’s degree, you don’t often get offered something like a stipend or housing or health insurance. He was working full time, raising a family, Doing classes at night, paying a lot for a master’s degree, and I was like, how could I afford this? How can I manage this? And to have someone sit down and tell me, oh, no.

Grace Carey [00:06:30]:

If they’re not gonna pay you to go do a PhD, it’s not worth your time. I had no idea. I had no idea that you could get Paid to be a graduate student. I didn’t know that you could get housing and health insurance included in that. That really, really changed the way I was thinking about it and whether it was Oh, good use of my time for starting a career, because it’s also it’s a big commitment. Right? Like if you do a PhD, you’re looking at anywhere from 5 to 8 years of Time that you’re looking at your peers who are going out and they’re starting a job with their bachelor’s degree. And by the time that you finish your PhD, Steve, they’re already going to have 6 to 8 years of work experience under their belt. And even if you’re looking at an academic position, you’re Trying to catch up at that point.

Grace Carey [00:07:13]:

Right? Like, you’ve just spent 6 to 8 more years. So really sitting down and thinking about, wow, this could be something very very worthwhile and thinking about grad School as a step in my career and not still being a student, I think, was a big shift for me as well. And that was, again, having those mentors to Walk me through that process that, like, it’s not the same when you’re in grad school. Right? Like, you’re not just coming to classes and learning. You are actually the ones starting to produce the ideas. You’re writing papers. You’re working on a project. You’re going out.

Grace Carey [00:07:46]:

You’re doing research. That was, I think, Really critical for me. It felt like I was moving forward with my trajectory, with my career, with actually, like, doing anthropology. And so, yeah, that was What led me on this path and what led me towards Princeton as well, I think, with many different degrees that you look at for graduate school, There’s a lot of variants. Some of them are very independent in the work that you do. Some of them are very much like you go and you join a project that’s already happening, especially in some of the harder sciences. Right? So that process of also finding the right fit for grad school was really interesting and definitely strongly aided by the mentors that I had to be able to find who is this, like, 1 person that has enough of a similar research background that they could actually assist me through my Graduate journey, that’s what led me specifically to Princeton.

Christopher Lewis [00:08:37]:

That was actually my next question because, you know, you went from coming from The University of Michigan, Flint, a very regionally based institution that has a lot of students from the Genesee County and surrounding areas To a nationally known Ivy League institution, very different, very different Scope very different way of thinking, very different way of teaching. So talk to me about that and how you came to the realization that that was a school, 1, that you wanted to apply to, but 2, that that was the school that you would ultimately end up attending.

Grace Carey [00:09:17]:

Yeah. That was a very emotional process, I’m gonna say, because, especially, I was starting at U of M Flint 2011. There was a lot Happening politically. When I moved and started graduate school, the water crisis was just starting, and that was also really difficult to deal with. But Through all of that came a process of having to come to terms with the power of some of the narratives that we have in Flint about ourselves and our community, and how detrimental those can be to us actually seeking out opportunities. So I don’t know if things have changed a little bit recently. I’m I’m back in the the area now, but definitely at that time, that idea that, like, Flint’s been abandoned, we’ve been left behind, and there was, To be honest, some tension between the Flint campus and our, you know, colleagues at Ann Arbor and how we didn’t feel entirely included in the The University of Michigan kind of family, which I know that, like, 1 university movement’s really taken hold since then. But There was a lot of talk by my peers and other folks of like, oh, well, you have a degree, and your degree says Flint on it.

Grace Carey [00:10:25]:

Like, It’s not gonna be worth as much, or it’s not gonna matter as much, and that couldn’t be more wrong. It couldn’t be more wrong at all because before the water crisis happened, Nobody outside of here even knew where Flint was. And if they did, they’d be like, oh, it’s that Michael Moore movie. Right? Like but we had this narrative constantly going that Because it says Flint on our degree that we can’t get into a place like Princeton, or we can’t get into a place Like other Ivy League schools or what have you. And so, again, having the mentors that I did who sat me down and they were like, Don’t listen to any of that. What you do is good work, and what we do here as an institution, as a university, is good work. That was really a big kind of, I think, emotional step that I had to take to realize, like, I can apply to Princeton, and I can get in there because there were Some other folks, even some other faculty who would tell you the opposite at that time, and that was something I had struggled with. I had 1 professor in particular who would tell their Students like, oh, just apply for a good state school.

Grace Carey [00:11:27]:

That’s that’s all that we can really get into. And I know for a fact that that’s not happening anymore. That was a situation at the time, but that was really challenging. And I’m very glad that I had the people at the inter department that I had who made me realize, like, Princeton isn’t this Unachievable pipe dream. Right? Like, you can go there and, yeah, like, having them help me write the applications. We spent months Going back and forth, writing my application, realizing that you don’t have to do that whole process in a vacuum, that I am kind of the sum of All of my mentors and the things I learned from them and the things that I grew and developed from them, like having them helped me write the statements and that kind of idea of what my project was going to be like. That didn’t have to happen alone because that learning didn’t happen alone. And, Yeah.

Grace Carey [00:12:16]:

That’s what led me to Princeton and getting in there, and I’m I’m so glad that I took that leap. And I would really like to see a lot of other students feel like what they’re doing at U of M Flint is is valuable because it truly is. And having been in a couple of different university settings now, I can tell you That, like, the educational experience that I got at U of M Flint was so unique in that my professors actually took the time to know me, to know my interests, and that does not happen at a lot of places.

Christopher Lewis [00:12:47]:

Now you did find success. You you got through the the graduate degree. You finished the doctorate degree. As I said, you know, doctor Carey, you made it. And with that, and with the transition that you made from the University of Michigan Flint to moving to Princeton, There are definite things that I’m sure that you had to do to be able to, 1, set yourself up for success as you transition into the program, but Things that you had to do to maintain that success throughout the many years that you were at Princeton And you are working on your doctorate degree. Talk to me about that and what you had to do to not only set yourself up for success, but also to maintain that success throughout the entire time.

Grace Carey [00:13:32]:

Yeah. No. That’s also a really good question, and I know that this is super cliche, but it really boils down to, like, Building strong networks. I got into Princeton because I had strong networks in Flint, and that was those mentorship relationships I had. And then once I was there, I didn’t I didn’t just drop those relationships. I made sure that I nurtured them and kept them strong, and I tried to build new types of relationships in my graduate program as well. So, while I was there, I spent a lot of time really networking with my professional association, which I had done a little bit throughout my undergraduate degree. I’d been going to American anthropology conferences every year, but it was kind of a different beast once you’re into grad school.

Grace Carey [00:14:11]:

Right? Like, I’m I’m going as a presenter now and not just as a student attendee, and I’m going there to meet what I thought at the time were potential colleagues because I when I first started, I was very continuing in the academic trajectory. I was like, I’m gonna teach when I’m done. This is A 100% what I wanna do, but about halfway through because I’d started, you know, I took some internships with a journal, really started to try to build Experience and networks outside of the classroom setting. I realized during my fieldwork where I spent over the course of, like, 4 years, I ended up Spending around 24 months doing intensive on-site field work in a town in Florida on kind of political legal issues and the building of a privately owned and privately governed I started realizing what I actually liked doing on a daily basis was this kind of mediation or facilitation between the community I was working with And their local government are helping them understand these very strange pieces of legislation that had made a privately owned town possible and, Yeah. Helping them understand why they couldn’t elect their city council members and all these kinds of comp complicated things. Right? And it was like halfway through that I realized Maybe I don’t wanna teach. Maybe I wanna be in a practical space when I leave. And so that was like a moment where to kind of do a 180 and I had to start Seeking out other folks who had left academia for lack of a better term, which is very, very unusual.

Grace Carey [00:15:35]:

So that was very complicated and difficult. Like, pretty much everyone’s like, oh, you have an anthropology degree. Like, you’re gonna teach, and that’s what Princeton’s department sets you up for. And even my other faculty there, like, they didn’t know how to prepare us for success outside of the academic space. So those resources were not available to me in program. They were all like, this is fantastic, and we support you on this. We don’t know how to help you. We all have 25 page CVs.

Grace Carey [00:16:01]:

We don’t know how to make a 1 page resume anymore. You know, like these kinds of things. Right? So I actually started doing a bunch of informational interviews, and I wish I would have started a lot sooner. So if anyone’s listening to this, like, start I’ll start in your undergraduate degree. Just, like, call up folks who work in a field that you think you might be interested in. Ask to do a 20 minute phone call and just ask them about, like, what do you do on a daily basis? What does, like, a daily routine look like for you? What What does your job entail? Do you like it? How did you get there? Because that helped me realize, like, what’s out there? What can I do with my degree? And at the same time, I, Again, built up that network so that by the time I was looking for the job I’m in now, I had a whole bunch of people who understood really well What I did, which is, again, hard if you have an anthropology degree. Nobody knows what it is. So to have that group of people who understand Not just the term anthropology, but what I do specifically with it, and to help them find the right place for me.

Grace Carey [00:17:01]:

Like, that made the job search So much easier, which can be a little challenging if you have a PhD and you’re going into the job market. I think for a lot of places outside of academia seeing that PhD is maybe a little daunting, and people don’t understand it. So talk to people. Build some networks.

Christopher Lewis [00:17:19]:

I was going to ask you because you do have a doctorate degree, and you’re working outside of academia because in a lot of times, a PhD He does prepare you for that teaching experience. So talk to me about the degree that you got at the undergraduate level, the degree that you got at Princeton, And how you find that graduate degree truly prepared you for the work that you’re doing on a daily basis.

Grace Carey [00:17:45]:

Yeah. I use my degree in absolutely everything that I do, and part of that boils down to anthropology is the study of people and how we build systems and culture and shared knowledge so that is applicable to everything. But beyond that, in my undergraduate, I realized really quickly that I loved how anthropology looked at things, but I liked that sociology looked at the US and looked at especially, like, political legal stuff. So I had also, I think, maybe had enough classes for a minor in political science. My my whole degree was a mess again. I worked in the advising center. So I found all of the classes that, like, doubled and triple counted, and I had way too many things going on. But I realized then that that That was kind of a combination that I liked, which is why I ended up with both of the degrees for anthropology and sociology, and that was, again, a The challenge for grad school, anthropology is a very outward looking field, and that’s something that internally the field is trying to problematize and fix that, like, we can’t keep studying the quote, unquote other and the exotic, and we need to turn our own gaze on ourselves.

Grace Carey [00:18:49]:

But that being said, there’s still very few anthropologists who actually study culture in the United States. So that was, like, A challenge, I guess. Finding the grad school fit, but I’m digressing. So in my graduate program, I, again, was like kind of bridging together, like, political science and sociology and anthropology into this really unusual space that had started from Ann Arbor area, there was a lot of funding from Catholic, like, intentional communities there to go and start this privately owned town in Florida, and it’s Yeah. But taken over by real estate developers. So people that live there lost control of over their community entirely, and it’s kind of this weird mixture of space where anthropology is, like, really helpful for helping people interpret things like legislature legislation and how that actually affects you in your daily life. Right? Like, it has a lot of impacts on us, whether it’s how tall our grass can be or who can vote, who can’t, these kinds of things. So that That led me into the space I’m at now or at the Michigan Municipal League, which is a very strange organization.

Grace Carey [00:19:54]:

It is a membership association of 530 municipal governments across the state of Michigan, and we are kind of in that same weird mediation space as an organization that I was in as an individual in my fieldwork. So we kind of mediate between Local communities and local governments and the state, the federal government. We provide education. We do advocacy. We, do technical assistance, all these kinds of things. And so in my particular role as a program officer, I design programs that are community driven. So one of the programs I run is called My Water Navigator. When I first started it, the first thing I did was basically field work.

Grace Carey [00:20:36]:

I went out and I talked to village and city Managers from across the state, and I asked them, like, what are the barriers to how you’re accessing funding to fix your water pipes in your community? I didn’t know the first thing about water infrastructure. What I knew was how to figure out what the barriers were. So I went out and basically did field work, designed a program that was actually based off of the needs that the communities told me they had. And from there, I’ve been able to bring on a team of folks who do know the engineering, and my role Side of that is to, you know, distill kind of actionable insights from all of the data that we gather. So taking everything from qualitative Interviews from communities or feedback from workshops that I’m hosting or trainings or things like this and being able to steal that down into things like policy recommendations so that we can actually fix the application for funding at the state level that’s Causing the problems, all of that is anthropology and anthropological thinking. Right? Like, being able to take a systems view or systems approach and to drill it down into simpler ideas. That’s that’s what we do, and so I’m still doing that on a daily basis. And right now, I’m actually working to establish New learning and evaluation procedures across my whole organization, which, again, is a lot of what anthropology does.

Grace Carey [00:21:55]:

We have a whole field of organizational anthropology that looks at, like, how organizations function and how do we communicate better with each other and make spaces more equitable, all these Kinds of things.

Christopher Lewis [00:22:06]:

I really appreciate that because it makes a lot more sense, and it really allows me to connect the dots of how That PhD and your undergraduate work led you toward working with people and working, you know, within this governmental agency, See, I’m an organization to be able to assist the masses in a different way. So, you know, I really appreciate you sharing that. Now, I guess as you look back and you think of that younger self, that younger person that you were when you were going through that undergraduate degree And you look back now at the experience that you had as you went through that graduate education. What would you say to that younger self that would have prepared her better For that graduate school journey. And 2, what are any other tips that you might wanna offer others that are considering graduate education that’ll help and define success.

Grace Carey [00:22:57]:

That’s always the hardest question, isn’t it? Like, what what was the number one thing I would like younger me to know? I think in many ways, my first Couple of years of grad school, I could’ve made more of the experience. I think part of it was me being, again, kind of held back from these narratives that we had in Flint about, like, who we were as Flintoids and how we thought the world looked at us, which, Again, was just not true. It’s just how we kind of got our minds. And definitely my 1st 2 years at Princeton, I had a lot of my own biases about, like, oh, this is a really affluent place, and I don’t know how to navigate the space and just, like, assuming that I I didn’t belong there because I was very working class or Just where I came from, it took me a couple of years to realize that nobody cared. Nobody cared, like, how I grew up or where not that they didn’t care, but, like, it didn’t stop people from having engaging relationships with me or from being interested in my work. It was me holding myself back because I was feeling out of place, and it took me, I think, far too long to get outside of that. So I would definitely recommend trying as hard as you can to Be as open as possible when you go into a grad school space because at the end of the day, like, openness to us having a new worldview, having a new learning, like, incredible new things. Like, it all boils down to allowing yourself to be vulnerable and open in that space, Especially if you’re moving to a new state and you’re doing you know, you have to find all new friends and everything is kind of starting over.

Grace Carey [00:24:31]:

That can feel really daunting. So So I think that’s that would be my number for one thing. Yeah. Do these informational interviews. I wish I would have known about those, like, a 100 years ago. That was something, like, I was finishing up my final year of grad school. I was writing my dissertation, and I finally found, like, a couple of colleagues who now, like, worked for or worked for, like, these really strange spaces, people that worked in user experience and just odd places for anthropologists to be. And one of them, Peter Kurie, he was like, you know what? You need to do these informational interviews.

Grace Carey [00:25:02]:

I was like, what in the world is that? And he’s like, oh, well, you know field work. Right? And I’m like, yeah. He goes, it’s It’s fieldwork. You go and you you do an informational interview. Like, oh, okay. I wish I would have been doing that through my whole bachelor’s degree. Through my Entire career as a graduate student, I had to boil basically what should have been years of learning about myself And what I wanted from a career into, like, 3 months as I was like, my fellowship is ending. I need to find a job.

Grace Carey [00:25:28]:

Like, what am I gonna do next? So, yeah, I think that would be the number one thing. And, again, like, the advice I was given was, like, it’s casual, but, like, you don’t Ask for a job during the informational interview at all. You just ask someone to give you 15 to 20 minutes of their time. They wanna talk about themselves. They wanna talk about what they do, and you just start to learn, like, what’s out there. And at the end of it, always ask them, like, is there anyone else that I should be talking to? And that’s gonna lead you on some journeys. It took me to where I am now. I did not even know what the Michigan Municipal League was until I was doing these informational interviews.

Grace Carey [00:26:01]:

And now I can look back, and I can trace The exact, like, 7 people who connected me to each other and got me to the this place where I am now.

Christopher Lewis [00:26:09]:

Great advice. And I will say that throughout my entire career, there have been many opportunities where when you ask that question, should I talk to next? It can lead you in a whole different direction. So I appreciate you sharing that, for saying that because I think it is so important, Whether it’s in a professional journey, whether it’s in a personal journey, no matter what it is, as you meet new people in your life, You can always ask that question of thank you for taking the time to talk to me. Is there anyone else that I can talk to that would help me better understand this in a different way. And so many people are more than willing To offer up other names, other suggestions to help you as you move forward. So so I really appreciate that and appreciate you sharing your own journey today. It has been eye opening for me and definitely eye opening, I’m sure, for everyone else, And I truly wish you all the best. Thank you.

Christopher Lewis [00:27:12]:

The University of Michigan Flint has a full array of masters and doctorate programs if you are interested in continuing your education. Whether you’re looking for in person or online learning options, the University of Michigan Flint has programs that will meet your needs. For more information on any of our graduate programs, visit To find out more. Thanks again for spending time with me as you prepare to be a victor in grad school. I look forward to speaking with you again soon As we embark together on your graduate school journey, if you have any questions or want to reach out, Email me at [email protected].