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

Graduate Student Profiles - Spanish & Portuguese

Mike Acuña – Hispanic Literature
Verónica Ríos – Hispanic Literature

MIKE ACUÑA


Graduate Program: Ph.D., Spanish Literature, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation: Queering Convivencia: Political Defamation, Individual Freedom and “Lascivas Complacencias” in the Literatures of Medieval Spain

Undergraduate Degree: B.F.A., Art History, The University of Texas at Austin and M.A., Spanish Language & Culture, UC Santa Barbara

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The UT Spanish & Portuguese faculty are engaging and motivating which creates an excitement about the texts. Working with these professors has created opportunities to discuss multiple perspectives of the same works which helps keep interests in the subject fresh and unique.

What is grad school life like?
Graduate student life is difficult. I work full time and maintain my status as a full time student. Splitting my time between work and school has created times where one area or another has not received full attention. I often felt that if I didn’t have to work, I could have written a better paper or taken more time to research prior to writing an assignment.

What activities do you do on a typical day?
My days are filled going back and forth between work and classes with my evenings devoted to studying. Spanish literature requires reading many novels from different genres and periods. Studying is a major time commitment that keeps my evenings occupied.

What are the differences between undergrad and grad school?
The greatest differences are the smaller classes and knowing that in these classes (usually 10 students or fewer) you have to be prepared to be a part of the dialogue that occurs with faculty and classmates.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then?
I wish I knew that graduate courses have a great focus on writing. My undergraduate courses did not prepare me for the amount of reading or the amount of writing that is produced as a graduate student. And although I wrote a senior project as a part of my undergraduate degree, the level and style of writing was not enough preparation.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?
1. Apply early to various funding options so that you are not required to maintain a fulltime job to pay for graduate studies: utilize AI, TA, or part time positions on campus.
2. Increase your reading comprehension and know how long it takes to accomplish reading assignments: it always takes longer to read a book than anticipated.
3. Get help with writing: use the services on campus that assist with graduate writing.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad?
As an undergraduate in Art History, I produced a senior project and I also produced a Master’s project. Both experiences were research oriented. I would definitely recommend that undergraduates take opportunities for research, especially in the arts and humanities.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I really enjoyed my Master’s program at UCSB and had the opportunity been available, I would have continued there.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Teaching at a small liberal arts college.

Do you have a story, news or achievement you would like to share?
As a student, I have taken advantage of programs abroad. Studying in Spain and Brasil have been opportunities that have enhanced my educational experience and allowed me to experience the cultural richness of the literatures I study.

Download Mike's Profile

VERÓNICA RÍOS


Graduate Program: Ph.D., Hispanic Literature, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Central American Literature

Other Degrees: Undergraduate Degree in Spanish Philology & Master’s Degree in Latin American Literature, Universidad de Costa Rica – San José, Costa Rica

What is grad school life like?
Graduate student life is challenging and exciting, you must like classroom interaction! It is true that teaching and studying is hard work, but I get so much from my classmates, professors and students! Most of the time I feel a little bit tired, but I am trying to get as much as I can from my experience at UT. In my department, being a graduate student also means working for the department. Being a TA or an AI is part of our training. We usually teach four or three times a week and we take three seminars per semester. As an AI, I teach a language undergraduate course. I have to plan carefully my classes, make sure I am monitoring my students’ progress constantly, and try to make them enjoy learning Spanish. I really like teaching, and when a class goes smoothly it makes my day! Nevertheless it is not always easy for me –as a native speaker- to put myself in my students’ shoes.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
A typical day would start early and finish late in the evening. Reading, grading, writing, planning, thinking, and daydreaming fill most of my days. Studying Latin American literature is a full time job.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
Being a part of a department well ranked, full of very promising students is of course very important, but probably the coolest thing in my graduate program is being surrounded by classmates and professors who are always inclined to help you. Working/studying in a collaborative atmosphere makes graduate life easier!

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
I am interested in Central American literature, particularly on identity formation. Archival fashioning, that is to say, how history discourse gets constantly intertwined with literature and critical reception studies are at the core of my research.

Where are you in the PhD program sequence?
This is my third semester at UT, I am about to finish my coursework.

Do graduate students teach in your department?
In my department, being a graduate student also means working for the department. Being a TA or an AI is part of our training. We usually teach four or three times a week and we take three seminars per semester. As an AI, I teach a language undergraduate course. I have to plan carefully my classes, make sure I am monitoring my students’ progress constantly, and try to make them enjoy learning Spanish. I really like teaching, and when a class goes smoothly it makes my day! Nevertheless it is not always easy for me –as a native speaker- to put myself in my students’ shoes.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
The greatest difference is having smaller classes. It implies being always prepared and fully engaged in the class dynamic. I felt for the first time that I could have a dialogue with my classmates and my professors. Having an opinion, proving your point and debating require a higher level of energy and effort.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I wish I knew how important is to keep on reading what you like, and make room to pursue your own academic interests. Sometimes graduate school gets so intense, you tend to forget why you are putting yourself through such a highly time consuming schedule.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Go to the departments’ webpages; they are full of very useful information. The more you know, the more prepared you are.
  2. Write to professors with whom you may share academic interests. Do not be shy, ask questions. That is the easiest way to find out if your expectations are fully attained.
  3. Take advantage of the many workshops and services offered on campus. Graduate writing, library workshops, teaching workshops, for example.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad?
Engaging in research as an undergrad, at least to get familiar with the basics, is very important. Knowing how to make a bibliography, how to cite, where to look for information comes handy in graduate school. Research is at the very core of graduate school. I would definitely recommend that undergraduates take opportunities for research.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
My second choice was Ohio State University. Their program on cultural studies was very attractive to me.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years I would like to be teaching in Costa Rica, doing research and publishing. Hopefully I will also be doing community work related to my academic interests.

Do you a grad school survival tip to share?
My main survival tip for undergrads would be to enjoy the college years, to be open to new experiences and to study abroad if possible. I worked for almost four years before coming to Austin, and I got back to school partly because I missed them!

Download Veronica's Profile

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