Just the Bear Facts

To help you get your bearing in Grad School.

Month: December 2015

Talking to Bears: Amanda Sawyer

Talking with Bears is a series where we take a few minutes each week to talk to some of the current graduate students at Baylor and discuss their experience at the university and in Waco.


Name: Amanda Sawyer

Hometown: Batavia (Chicago), IL

Undergraduate Degree: B.A. in University Scholars with concentrations in Chinese Language and History, magna cum laude, 2015

Undergraduate University: Baylor University

Graduate Degree: M.A. in Museum Studies

Expected Year of Graduation: Spring 2017


What was the biggest factor that persuaded you to attend Baylor for graduate school?

One of the members of my thesis committee encouraged me to consider the program here after I discovered my love for public history. He had been incredibly influential in helping me develop and pursue my research interests. When the financial aid and assistantship offers came through, I was beyond excited to continue my education at Baylor.

What is one thing that has surprised you about graduate school at Baylor?

I’ve been amazed by the tight-knit community that has developed among students in my program.

If you had to describe your graduate school experience (so far) in three words, what would they be?

Challenging, enlightening, hectic.

If you were Dean Lyon for a day, what would be two things that you would change?

I’d be excited to see a greater variety in professional development opportunities for graduate students, since the majority are aimed at those pursuing a career in academia. I’d also appreciate the occasional lecture or workshop which occurred after 5 pm. Since I work or attend class from 9 am to 5 pm every day, I don’t get to participate in many of the activities offered by the graduate school.

What activities are you involved with outside of the classroom?

I study piano and sing in a choir. I own far too many books and am steadily working my way through all of them before I allow myself to return to Half Price Books. I go to yoga with some of my classmates and study Chinese when I have some free time outside of homework.

What does your average Saturday look like?

On a normal weekend in Waco, I sleep in for an extra hour, make coffee and pancakes, and usually watch a little television or a movie. By the afternoon, I’m back to reading and working on papers. If it isn’t too hot, I go for a run in the evening and typically eat out on Saturday nights. I usually try to get a good hour of piano practice in on Saturday evenings, as well.

How has the city of Waco impacted your time during graduate school?

I love Waco! I’ve been working on the Waco History App for about a year and a half now and I’ve developed a strong affinity for the city. A lot of my non-class time is spent researching its history and community. On a more personal level, I love Waco’s community festivals like Art on Elm, I enjoy hiking in Cameron Park, and I think that the suspension bridge and riverwalk at night might be one of my all-time favorite places.


What is your go-to lunch spot in Waco?

My lunch breaks are usually short, so I’m incredibly excited that a Freddy’s just opened on the other side of the highway! But if I have more time, I love to eat at Lula Jane’s in East Waco.

If you could give one piece of advice to prospective graduate students that are interested in Baylor, what would it be?

Communicate personally with a professor you are interested in studying with. The conversations I had with faculty members of my program are what ultimately made my decision to come here.

Compiled by Matthew Doyen

The Five Tips for Applying to Graduate School

Applying to graduate school can be a stressful time. During my process, which happened to span about a calendar month, I looked around the Internet and asked friends for their advice. I found some really good information that was helpful and I thought I’d share some of my favorite tips as we start to reach the fall application deadlines.

Tip 1: Start Early and Often

I began my search for the perfect graduate school in March, while the deadline was the following February. Beginning the process that early may sound daunting or even trivial, but the knowledge that I gained in those first few months was invaluable. I learned the major (and minor) differences between similar programs that were beneficial in deciding to take one track or another. Applicants shouldn’t just start the college hunt process early, but also get a head start on studying for the GRE and gathering references. I know that many students take the GRE multiple times. Making the decision to schedule that first one can either get it out of the way so you never have to look back or give you the realization that you need to study more and take a GRE class. Luckily, since you took the initiative so early, you have time to do that! Also, don’t leave your recommenders for the last second. They are usually extremely busy and need time to formulate a quality letter. Make sure to give it to them!

Tip 2: Keep Track of Deadlines

We’ve all been there. “Oh, that paper isn’t due for another couple of weeks. I have time.” One week later, “It’s due next Friday. I still have plenty of time.” The night before it’s due, “I can’t believe that I have to write a ten page paper in one night.” This is not the pattern that you want to follow when applying to grad school. Procrastination is the enemy. Fortunately, many programs allow you to create an account well before the deadline is anywhere near. By creating an account and entering in their systems, you’ll often get periodic emails reminding you that something is due soon. Make a calendar with your own deadlines to make sure that you don’t forget to send your transcripts or write a personal statement. The last thing that you want colleges to see is that you forgot to add something or submitted it late. Aim for great first impressions!


Tip 3: Take your Time on the Personal Statement

You’ll come to hear that programs want their applicants to be holistic. Now, if you’re like me, you’ll just nod your head, pretend to know what the word holistic means, and wonder how the heck you got into grad school. Basically, by wanting holistic applicants, colleges are saying that they don’t just look at the GPA, or the GRE scores, or your resume. They take the whole application into account. With that being said, the personal statement is by far the most important piece that you will hand over. It gives you an opportunity to show your strengths and explain why there may be some weaknesses on your application. It provides a vital opportunity to sell yourself to the university. Do not rush! Write a little bit at a time. Edit it to make certain that it is grammatically correct. Have others read it. Edit it again. Then submit it with no regrets!

Tip 4: Don’t Limit your Search by Distance

The fact is that the perfect program may well be halfway across the country. It is natural to want to stay at a school and in an area where we are familiar with everything around and feel safe. Always apply to your undergraduate school if they have the program that you are interested in pursuing! The fact that you are already loyal to the college will actually go a long way when they are reviewing applications. But don’t let the fact that you are scared about moving some place new by yourself prohibit you from applying to that program one thousand miles away. Chances are that you will love it and meet some of your best friends there. As my Taco Bell hot sauce packet once read, “You never know, if you never do.” So do!


Tip 5: Stop Reading Online Articles

One of the worst things that an aspiring graduate student can do is to start reading articles about the difficulties about getting accepted into a program. Even the most qualified applicants will start to second guess their resumes. It’s imperative that you are confident during the whole process. Don’t stress about not having the perfect GPA or the highest test scores. You’ll read that you need them to get into any program and that more people get declined from graduate school than accepted. You’ll see all of these unbearable statistics that will make your heart sink. But all of that just makes it even sweeter when you receive that acceptance letter. Just remember that you are qualified. And make sure to show it!

By Matthew Doyen

The Best Places to Study on Campus

With finals quickly approaching, everyone is becoming attached to their books and becoming one with their favorite study places. Luckily, Baylor has a number of charming and quiet buildings and areas that graduate students especially like using.

1. The Second Floor of the Student Union

The first time that I journeyed into the SUB I was amazed by the ornate furnishings and decorations. It was like stepping back in time to the rich grandmother’s house I never had, but even better because everything wasn’t wrapped in plastic and smelled like perfume. There are long hallways and small rooms that branch off from the main ballroom that are specifically designated for studying. It is like a private family room that brings about coziness and studiousness every time I enter. There are also eateries to buy food and coffee on the first floor so prepare for an anticipated hour long study break to turn into an all day event.


2. The Incubator

The name is still a mystery, but the Incubator is a dedicated section on the first floor of the Moody Library that is only for graduate students. We don’t have to fight the sleep-deprived undergrads for couches and tables any longer! Besides for the graduate student events that occur, the large room rarely gets crowded. With stacks of resources right outside, and the Graduate Writing Center located at its entrance, the Incubator is a one-stop shop for those exciting December research papers. Oh, and if the free coffee in the space doesn’t hit the spot, Starbucks is right down the hall in the main lobby.

3. Armstrong Browning Library Garden of Contentment

Located on the outskirts of campus, the name just whispers relaxation. The Garden of Contentment is located on the left side of the Armstrong Browning Library and provides an excellent atmosphere for getting work done. Although it may be too cold to use by the time fall finals roll around (although in Texas one never knows), the garden’s trees, expansive foliage, and small fountain make it an extremely comfortable reading space for those late August and early September assignments. If there are no tables available outside, the Library also provides a unique, beautiful, and quiet space for studying, contemplating, or cat-napping.


4. Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation

The Foster Business Building is Baylor’s newest academic building. Its sleek design and innovative technology make it a perfect space for tackling that dreaded group project. Foster offers breakout rooms that look over the main lobby area that any student can reserve. While all the activity can be distracting to some, the lobby is an excellent space to study for the student that can tune out all the noise and action. But to be honest, most people just go to this building to study because it is home to the new café and bakery: Au Bon Pain.

5. Common Grounds Back Patio

Although technically located right across the street from the campus line, Common Grounds provides a great space for studying and caffeinating. There are a number of couches and tables on the inside, but it often gets too crowded and stuffy for many people’s liking. A quick scurry to the back patio offers more adequate seating for writing papers and reading those journal articles on farm life in the mid-late fourteenth century. With not too much light, but enough to make doing work possible, it’s an especially calming spot to go to on Sunday nights as students mentally prepare for the coming week. Before you go, just make sure there’s not a concert happening!


Good Luck!

By Matthew Doyen

Waco: A Pleasant Surprise


When I first started telling people that I was going to attend Baylor University, their response was all the same.

“Isn’t that in Waco?”


“Waco, isn’t that where…”


“Oh, well be careful!”

There is no hiding the fact that Waco has had its fair share of troubles. A quick scan though its free encyclopedia page shows paragraphs about the Waco Horror, the Waco Tornado Outbreak, the Waco Siege, and the Waco Biker Gang Brawl. It makes it sound like the Hill Valley that Marty finds himself transported to in Back to the Future II after Biff steals the sports almanac. But once you read between the lines, Waco does have a strong history and a thriving future.

Waco, the county seat of McLennan County, is the 23rd most populous city in the state. I know, not too impressive. But if you adjust for the everything-is-bigger-in-Texas inflation rate, then Waco would be the third largest city in my home state of Pennsylvania. And if you look at the actual population of the town (130,000) and the metropolitan area (around 250,000), then Waco starts sounding a little more legit.

Waco is actually the birthplace of the oldest soft drink in the country: Dr. Pepper. The company’s old factory now holds a museum based around the soft drink industry. In fact, Waco has over a dozen museums, which include the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, the Historic Waco Foundation, and the Mayborn Museum Complex. Its strong public institutions continue in the form of libraries (in the Texas Collection, the Waco Harold Tribune, and the Grand Lodge of Texas), a zoo (Cameron Park Zoo), and recently, a national park (the Waco Mammoth National Monument).

There are ample opportunities for recreation, as well. The local “playground,” Cameron Park, is one of the largest municipal parks in the state and has areas for hiking, biking, running, fishing, kayaking, disc-golfing, and picnicking. It also sports awesome views of the surrounding area and plenty of shade from the foliage for those hot Texas summers (and autumns, and winters, and springs). A path even winds along the river for easy access from downtown. Baylor’s Waco Hall is also a well-liked spot to spend free time. The building hosts the local orchestra, an enormous amount of plays and lectures, and concerts from popular musicians (recently including Yo Yo Ma!).

With the rebirth of the downtown area, choices for entertainment, dinner, and shopping have dramatically increased. As the businesses there continue to flourish, more and more of the area is undergoing renovation. In 2014, the Waco Hippodrome, a restored early twentieth-century vaudeville theatre, once again became a staple along Austin Avenue. Because of this movement, the city is starting to again become an area where people are proud to call it their home and where resident investors are capitalizing. The rising local spirit can be seen as the community gathers on Saturday mornings during the newly-established Farmer’s Market, on Friday nights during the city’s First Friday events, and, of course, on any and all days that Baylor has home football games.


Some students may scoff at Waco and say that they can’t wait to leave, but these are often the students that are most involved with the city. They live at Dichotomy, have tried every flavor of ice cream sandwich at Pokey-O’s, and play trivia at True Love. They are immersed in the growing art scene and enjoy attending all of the festivals and the aforementioned events. They are the ones who will miss it the most (or the ones that will be sucked into Waco’s better-than-it-sounds “black hole”).

Even with its recent headlines, the truth is I have really never felt uneasy in Waco. I have never been bored. I have never wished that I would have gone to graduate school in another city. I enjoy being welcomed into the town by all the passionate people that call it home. It’s just a really fun time to be in Waco right now. I can take advantage of its recent success, but also watch as it continues to grow and become better. And I can be a part of it. I know that it may sound unnerving, and maybe even a little scary, coming to Waco, but as my one friend told me: “You don’t know how good Waco is until you’re here.”

And it’s true.

So don’t think of Waco as a challenge, think of it as an opportunity. And come see us soon!

By Matthew Doyen


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