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Robert Vega, Director FAC 18 / 2304 Whitis Ave. Stop G6200 78712-1508 • 512-471-7900

Graduate Student Profiles - Asian Studies

Shaohua Guo - Internet Culture in Contemporary China
Matt Milligan - Ancient Indian Buddhist Archaeology, Art and Epigraphy
Keely Sutton - Mappila Folk Songs

Shaohua Guo


Graduate Program: Ph.D., Asian Cultures & Languages, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation Topic: Writing in Alternative Spaces: Internet Culture in Contemporary China

Undergraduate Degree: Chinese Language & Literature, Beijing Normal University - Beijing, China

What is graduate student life like?
Life as a graduate student in liberal arts means two things: reading and writing enormously.

What is a day in the life of a graduate student like?
A typical day in the life of a grad student includes TA-ing for the department, taking courses, reading, writing and cooking. Sometimes I also attend seminars, watch films and hang out with friends on campus.

What do you know now, and wish you knew then?
Read as much as you can.

What makes a graduate program more difficult than an undergraduate program?
The most difficult part about a graduate program is to decide what you want to work on in the following five to eight years and make sure you can figure it out in time (not too late).

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
In Asian Studies we have many opportunities to hang out with people from different backgrounds, most of whom would be excited to inform you about which restaurant in town offers authentic Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian food and much more!

What are 3 tips for students applying to your program?

  1. Be passionate about what you are going to study.
  2. Be devoted to language learning.
  3. Be open-minded and interested in different cultures.

Did you work on research projects as an undergrad?
I worked on several research projects as an undergrad, such as writing academic papers and conducting fieldwork in China. For one project, my classmates and I went to a rural area in China and collected ghost stories. We interviewed local residents who told good ghost stories and recorded those stories. Later we wrote a paper about the folklore in China. The whole experience was fun and educational. Therefore I would strongly recommend undergrads to work on at least one research project, which will help undergrads to adjust to life in graduate school quickly.

What is an interesting website you would recommend students check out?
I would recommend the Asian Studies Events site. It announces the most recent ANS events on a monthly basis. This is a very useful channel to learn about ANS activities, such as film screening and academic seminars.

If you wouldn’t have enrolled at UT Austin, which school was your #2 choice?
My #2 choice was Washington University in St. Louis.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years, I wish I could work with my own graduate students in the U.S. or China.

Download Shaohua's Profile

Matt Milligan

Graduate Program: M.A., Asian Studies in Ancient Indian Buddhist Archaeology, Art and Epigraphy, UT Austin; M.A. Thesis Focus: Buddhist Reliquary Mounds (Stupas), from Central India 200 BCE to 200 CE

Undergraduate Degree: Religious Studies & Anthropology, Albion College - Albion, MI

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The coolest thing about Asian Studies at UT is its interdisciplinary nature. Given that I study 2,000-year-old Buddhist archaeological sites and art, these kinds of questions lead me into many different disciplines outside of Religious Studies and Asian Studies.

What is graduate student life like?
As a graduate student, you’re constantly preoccupied with finding sources of funding, working on paper proposals for conferences, writing giant term papers for your seminars, and learning two or more languages simultaneously. You get used to having much less free time but make up for it by having wonderful experiences in foreign countries while doing research. It is comparable, maybe, to taking some monastic vows!

What do you know now, and wish you knew then?
I wish I had known to study more languages. Although the languages I chose to study for my graduate work were not available to me as an undergraduate, I really wish I had taken any language, really. The sooner you begin learning how to learn a language the easier life becomes when you learn multiple languages at the same time.

What are 3 tips for students applying to your program?

  1. Study one or two languages for a long period and really know how to operate in foreign grammars.
  2. Know how to network efficiently. The stronger and larger your social network the easier it will be later on to do co-operative studies, publish articles, gain references, locate funding for projects and tuition, etc.
  3. Spend time abroad. Understanding what makes the world “run” can only serve to increase your perspective on how to approach new projects and questions.

Why did you choose UT?
I needed a school that not only had professors who did Buddhist Studies, but strong Sanskritists, art historians, social theorists, and historians of India.

Would you like to share a story about your graduate life?
I like to get down and dirty with my research. Literally. I enjoy playing Indiana Jones and searching for new, interesting sites in remote areas. For instance, just today, I went rock-climbing in 110 degree weather to photograph ancient cave paintings in Central India. This was an adventurous side-project to take my mind off of my main topic, which, just yesterday, required me to hike to a remote ancient Buddhist monastic site. But the day was not successful - as I found no new material. In the end, even though you win some of these adventures and you lose others, at least you know how to use a whip and keep a watchful eye for snakes. I hate snakes.

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Keely Sutton


Graduate Program: Ph.D., Asian Cultures & Languages, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation: Mappila Folk Songs

Other Degrees: M.A., Religion, Wake Forest University - Winston-Salem, NC; B.A., Philosophy & Religion, Appalachian State University - Boone, NC

What are you currently studying?
Currently I am studying Mappila folk songs. The Mappilas are a Muslim community in the south Indian state of Kerala. India has many official languages, but the language spoken in Kerala is Malayalam. This community is particularly interesting due to the formation of a dialect and written language called Arabic-Malayalam which is, as the name says, a hybrid of Arabic and Malayalam. I have studied Malayalam for several years now, and to further facilitate my studies of these songs I am currently enrolled in an intensive summer Arabic program here at UT.

What is graduate student life like?
I think it varies depending on your program and what you are studying at the time. A typical day in my life includes classes, studying and reviewing between them, research in the library, and then going to a lecture or event that the department sponsors, if there is one. Sometimes on the weekends a bunch of grad students get together and go out, which can be a lot of fun.

What is the greatest difference between undergrad and grad school?
You are expected to be much more involved in the classes, but that’s not that big of a deal I suppose. But you are also pushed to think more critically, with more sophistication. On a more superficial level, the papers are much longer and the workload can be really intense in some classes.

What do you know now, and wish you knew then?
I think the best advice I ever got was when I was an M.A. student at a conference. A Ph.D. student who was about to graduate told me that getting a Ph.D. wasn’t about being smart, it was about stamina. And I have found that to be true. So I wish that I had known then that it isn’t necessarily about being the brightest, but it is about continuing on, and keeping your momentum going, even when you feel like you can’t do anymore. I think in graduate studies often you are your own worst enemy (and critic).

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad?
No, I did not. However, I recently worked with a student who was doing a senior honors thesis, and after seeing what she did I think that a project like that would be a good introduction to graduate studies.

What are 3 tips for students applying to your program?

  1. The statement of purpose is critical. Make sure it is succinct, not too personal, and have a professor help you with it.
  2. Make sure that what you are interested in studying is something that particular program can help you with-- e.g., don’t apply to a program that does not offer Tibetan if you want to study Tibetan Literature. Also, don’t be afraid to email professors in the program to ask questions.
  3. Make sure your letter of recommendations are from professors, or at least people who are familiar with your academic work.

Download Keely's Profile

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