First Book of the Year: Broke Millennial Takes on Investing by Erin Lowry

I challenged myself to read 100 books this year. I just finished my first one: Broke Millennial Takes on Investing by Erin Lowry. When I mentioned that I was reading this book, I got a lot of questions from friends about whether it was good, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to write a book review.

I previously read Erin Lowry’s Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping by and Get Your Financial Life Together, which offers general financial advice. As a somewhat financially savvy millennial, that book confirmed a lot of things that I already knew to be true. Nonetheless, it was helpful to think about my overall budget a “grown up” way. Now that I have finished grad school, I felt like it was time to tackle the second Broke Millennial book.

As many of you know, my dissertation was on General Motors’ advertising and public relations in the 1990s and 2000s. A portion of it focused on auto loans, specifically 0% APR loans. You may be thinking, “You’re not really a novice. You know some financial terms already!” That’s true. I am somewhat familiar with how the market works generally and with financial terms. However, studying the marketing of financial products is a bit different from starting to invest. I might be able to sniff out bad products or marketing gimmicks, but it doesn’t mean that I’m my own certified financial planner.

In the introduction, Lowry advises readers to skip around, depending on their financial situation. For example, if you already know financial terms, you can skip the second chapter. However, like a good academic, I read the book cover to cover. While I was familiar with most of the terms in chapter 2, a refresher was nice before diving into the rest of the book.

Lowry’s book is not a step-by-step guide to investing. Instead, you get a general idea of what products and services are out there. For example, while many of us may not think of 401(k)s as investing, a 401(k) is investing. Lowry establishes the importance of putting money toward a 401(k) or retirement account before other types of investments. Lowry also addresses issues that are important to millennials, such as whether to invest when you have student loans (the answer: it depends on the loan). Lowry also offers a review of financial apps. Although some of the information in that chapter may be outdated, the general overview can still help you to assess whether to use an app for investing.

Ultimately, Lowry leaves the decision-making in the readers’ hands. Readers are left with a basic understanding of financial products and services, but without specific recommendations for what services to use. At the end of the book, Lowry offers suggestions for podcasts, books, and other resources to help readers continue to research their options.

Overall, I enjoyed the opportunity to familiarize myself with the options available and think more about what goals I have for my investments. However, I still feel like I need to research more before putting any money toward investments. I would recommend Broke Millennial Takes on Investing to complete novices. However, if you have an idea of the financial marketplace, then you might try just researching some other resources for more detailed investment advice.

End of the Year Post

2019 has been a year of professional changes. The last six months have been about five years in the making.

My biggest accomplishment of 2019 was graduating with my doctorate in Communication from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As part of my doctorate, I wrote and defended a dissertation.

Many academics say, “A good dissertation is a done dissertation.” This advice is helpful because it encourages graduate students to focus on the bigger picture. While writing, I certainly felt bogged down at times by the weight of perfection. I wanted my dissertation to be “perfect,” but “perfect” really meant done. Writing a dissertation is a learning process, so there will be (and should be) areas for improvement.

A dissertation can be turned into a book, multiple journal articles, or both. However, the published version of one’s dissertation research is not meant to be the same as the version that one defended. After writing a dissertation (and going back and forth with one’s advisor about content), a graduate student submits their dissertation to a committee that has been chosen by the student to evaluate their work. As part of one’s defense process, committee members suggest a variety of revisions, some of which can be implemented quickly and others of which may take some time and reflection. In the next few years, I may revise my dissertation for publication, or I may just leave it on a shelf (or more correctly on a thumb drive).

Regardless of where my dissertation goes, I’m proud of what I accomplished in a year (beginning in about May 2018, not within the 2019 calendar year). I wrote over 350 double-spaced pages of content based on archival research. I worked daily to meet my writing goals. For me, writing a dissertation is a testament to the fact that even large tasks can be broken up into smaller, manageable ones.

Shortly after officially completing my degree in August, I relocated to the DC area to become the Content Development Specialist at the National Communication Association (NCA). I am about 4 months into my new position at NCA, and I am really enjoying it.

I continue to learn a lot about writing clearly and for popular audiences. While I have strong writing credentials from higher education, I’m enjoying the opportunity to flex other writing muscles. As an added bonus, I get to stay familiar with academic research by writing summaries of academic journal articles, known as Communication Currents, that are published on the NCA website and social media pages. Over the last four months, I have written 16 of these. I’m happy with the range of research covered in these Communication Currents pieces. I hope that people have found them useful and enlightening.

While in grad school, I tried to cultivate hobbies, but I often didn’t have enough time to spare. I hope to find more time in the next year for baking, painting Magic: the Gathering cards, and playing board games. I am also challenging myself to read 100 books in a year because my reading will no longer supplemented by dissertation research and academic seminars.

In the next year, I also hope to work on my public relations skills. If you have any recommendations for books or resources, feel free to reach out on LinkedIn or social media (if we’re already acquainted).

Happy New Year! Bonne Année!

Teaching (and not Teaching)

From August 2012 until August 2019, I taught at the University of Illinois. When I first began teaching in August 2012, I was nervous. I was only a few years older than my students and had never taken a public speaking class. Yet, in a few short weeks, I was trained to teach public speaking to first-year students. I worked with my colleagues and mentors on how to best present materials to students. Eventually, I became confident in my ability to teach public speaking, a course that I would teach many times during graduate school.

Teaching was one my favorite parts of graduate school. I developed confidence in my ability to explain concepts to non-experts and improved my own public speaking skills. I also learned to develop expertise on a topic quickly, so that I could teach it to others. Teaching also presented opportunities to collaborate with my colleagues. We often spoke about how to develop classroom materials and how to approach topics in the classroom. While people may think of graduate school as primarily about research, many graduate students are also learning how to teach.

This August was the first August in seven years that I did not have to prepare for teaching. I did not have to write a syllabus, create a Moodle page, or come up with an ice breaker activity for the first day. Many of my friends still teach regularly. I see a lot of social media posts about teaching and still get questions from my friends about how to best approach Communication topics in the classroom. Although I may not be in the classroom every day, I continue to stay on top of the latest teaching research in Communication. Through NCA’s Communication Currents, I summarize this research for teachers and the public.

In a recent Communication Currents, I discussed research from Communication scholars that addressed which stories are most relevant to students in the classroom. Students frequently felt that stories that related to their own experience were the most relevant. For example, some students felt that stories about struggling as an undergraduate helped them through their own struggles. In addition, stories that explained concepts through pop culture references were also helpful. One quick note is that students may not always find teachers’ pop culture references relevant. As a teaching assistant, I learned (to my surprise) that many of my students had not seen Star Wars. This was not an insurmountable hurdle, but it meant that I had to be a bit more attuned to the pop culture that they were consuming.

You can read the full Communication Currents piece on NCA’s website.

Some of my Recent Communication Currents

I wanted to share some of the Communication Currents articles that I have completed in the last few weeks. I hope you enjoy learning about recent research in Communication!

Social Media may offer a Remedy to Hollywood’s Whitewashing Problem (August 29, 2019)

This Communication Currents is about whitewashing in Hollywood, which is when a white actor is cast in a role that was written as race-neutral or as a person of color. The authors argue that social media might be able to encourage white people to see movies with a predominantly minority cast. It’s a really good read about why the economic logic behind whitewashing doesn’t hold up.

For People Living “Overdraft to Overdraft,” Social Support Can Make a Difference (September 9, 2019)

This Communication Currents deals with the important issue of providing social support (e.g. comforting people, financial support, etc.) to people who are financially precarious. Social support can help people make better decisions and avoid bad decisions. The summary includes some personal experiences people shared during a focus group.

Skeptics in the Court: The Use of Rhetorical Skepticism to Protect Abortion Rights (September 23, 2019)

This Communication Currents focuses on how Justices Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor used rhetorical skepticism during a 2016 abortion case. The essay describes how this skepticism brought women’s lived experiences into the courtroom.

Is “A Cake Just a Cake?” The Commitment to LGTBQIA+ Equality in the Marketplace (September 30, 2019)

This Communication Currents addresses the conflict between equality and freedom when business owners use claims of religious freedom to impede an open marketplace, thus nullifying claims to equal citizenship for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. The article focuses on media coverage of a prominent case in Oregon concerning a cake for a same-sex wedding. Media coverage of the case contributes to how the public understands the legal balance between freedom and equality.

Writing about Scholarship from a Different Perspective

After I defended my dissertation, summer was a whirlwind. I recently relocated to the Washington D.C. area to join the staff at the National Communication Association (NCA). NCA is a scholarly and professional organization for researchers, teachers, and practitioners in the field of Communication. You can learn more about NCA in the video below.

I am currently working as the Content Development Specialist for NCA. I write content for NCA’s website and social media pages. I have already written two articles for Communication Currents, an NCA publication that summarizes recent research in Communication.

One article focuses on how campus carry laws have affected instructors. Researchers interviewed instructors at a university in Texas and found that most felt unsafe after the passage of a law that permits concealed carry of guns on campus. Some teachers even changed their teaching practices because of the possibility that students might carry guns. You can read about the ways that instructors reacted to the campus carry law on NCA’s website.

The second article focuses on how John Oliver uses trolling tactics on Last Week Tonight to propel social change. The article breaks down a few common trolling tactics and explains how Oliver has used those tactics effectively. It’s a great read if you enjoy late-night comedy.

I will try to keep this site updated with interesting writing, especially from Communication Currents. I’m really enjoying my work at NCA, and I’m excited to see where this position takes me.

What does it mean to “deposit” a dissertation?

After I defended my dissertation, I told my family that I was almost done. I had one step left: depositing my dissertation. This prompted my family to ask, “What does that mean?”

Dissertations and theses are stored in the campus library where they can be accessed by students, faculty, and visitors. These manuscripts are considered “deposited” after they are approved for storage in the library system. The deposit process at the universities varies, but it typically requires almost-doctors to conform to a particular format. Luckily for me, I got my degree in 2019. I didn’t have to worry about typewriters or white out. With word processing software, citation management software, and other tools, it is so much easier to research, write, and proofread documents than it was decades ago.

Preparing to Deposit: Proofread, Proofread, Proofread

The first step in preparing my dissertation for deposit was to proofread my manuscript. To more easily make line edits, I printed the 200 or so pages of my dissertation. Although I felt a bit wasteful printing that many pages, proofreading on paper makes it easier to catch one’s mistakes. I went through each page line by line to check for grammar errors and wording issues. I also used my Chicago Manual of Style to check the footnotes at the bottom of each page. I used Zotero citation management software to organize my sources, so I was reasonably sure that my citations were correctly formatted. However, I wanted to double-check. With nearly 1260 footnotes, there was a lot to check. This process took a few weeks.

Preparing to Deposit II: Formatting the Dissertation

The second step was to conform my now-proofread manuscript to Graduate College’s formatting requirements. I wrote my dissertation in Microsoft Word, but it needed to be submitted as a PDF. I also had to make my dissertation double-spaced, even though I wrote it as a single-spaced document. After I made it double-spaced and added my bibliography, it was nearly 350 pages. In addition to these technical requirements, I wrote my dedication and acknowledgements. It was satisfying to finally get to thank my friends, family, and mentors who had helped me through this process. With my formatting complete, I sent my revised manuscript to my department.

Preparing to Deposit III: Departmental Approval

The third step in the deposit process was departmental approval. I already had my committee’s approval after my defense. However, a staff member in my department also proofread the manuscript and checked the formatting. She sent me a few more revisions. Despite the length of my document, I was able to complete these corrections within a few hours of receiving my manuscript from her. With my department’s approval, I moved on to depositing.

Preparing to Deposit IV: More Corrections

The fourth step in the deposit process was to deposit my now-corrected manuscript to the Graduate College for a final review. Thanks to the excellent staff member in my department, I only had one correction to complete. With that correction made, I was finally ready to deposit.

Deposit!

The Graduate College swiftly approved my corrected dissertation. After filling out two surveys about my graduate school experience, my degree requirements were complete. My degree will be officially conferred in August, but I now have a PhD. My dissertation will eventually be available in through the Illinois Digital Environment for Access to Learning and Scholarship (IDEALS). I have decided to withhold publication for now, but I would be happy to discuss my work with you on LinkedIn or Academia.edu.

“Congratulations, Doctor”

Last Thursday, I successfully defended my dissertation. In preparation, I had spoken to my advisor and colleagues about what to expect. My advisor prepared me for the format of the defense and what I needed to prepare for my own presentation. My colleagues repeatedly told me that my defense would be much more casual than I anticipated. I struggled to understand how that could be. In my mind, my dissertation defense had been built up as the ultimate demonstration of my expertise. It’s natural for graduate students to feel that way. We often spend years working on our degrees and a year or more on the dissertation itself.

In advance, I prepared my presentation. In public speaking classes, I teach students not to speak from a manuscript. Speaking from a manuscript can leave you stilted and unable to interact with the audience. In the end, because of my nervousness, I broke this rule. I wrote out a manuscript and read from it. My advisor told me a slow down a few minutes into my presentation. I confessed that I was nervous, so I had typed out the presentation. After that point, I continued to read from it, but felt a bit more relaxed.

At the conclusion of my presentation, I feared the worst. I had labored over the 200 single-spaced pages of my dissertation (excluding my bibliography). Although criticism is an important part of developing academic writing, I was afraid of what this criticism would entail. Yet, the conversation was relaxed. It felt like a conversation between equals. I was at ease finally getting to talk about the topic that I had worked months on. I now know what improvements I can make on my project, but I am proud of the work I have done.

Near the end of my defense, my advisor told me “Congratulations, Doctor.” Although I still have to deposit my dissertation, I am nearly done. All weekend people have asked me how I feel. It feels a bit surreal. I worked for years toward this degree, and, in a matter of 2 hours, I was done. It feels a bit anticlimactic.