Q&A with Political Science Alum Cassandra King-Burgos
May 27, 2014
Cassandra King-Burgos, BA ’12, is wrapping up her first year at Rutgers University New Brunswick. She is studying political theory and women and politics, and is the recipient of a Rutgers Excellence Fellowship, which funds four years in the PhD program.
We caught up with Cassandra to chat about her research plans for the future, managing the shift from undergraduate to a fully fledged graduate student, and what advice she would give to younger scholars in the Department of History and Politics.
What precise area of political science are you studying? What research projects are on the horizon?
I am interested in radical and decolonial political theory, feminist theory, gender studies, and the intersections of race, gender and class. This summer, I will start work on a long-term project on women in Latin American and Caribbean revolutions. I will be using a feminist theoretical framework to analyze how and why women participate in revolutions, what happens when they do, and what is missed when the analysis is done within a “typical” theory framework.
How did you decide to pursue your graduate degree?
By the end of my senior year, I had not decided whether or not I should attend graduate school. I was encouraged by some really wonderful faculty members including George Ciccariello-Maher, PhD, to consider a PhD program, but I wanted to make sure that this was the right path for me. I took a year off after graduating from Drexel to work and think about what kind of programs I would be interested in. When I finally made my decision, I had a handful of supportive and resourceful faculty members to reach out to—they were really instrumental in helping me put together a successful application.
Could you speak a bit about the actual process of applying to graduate school?
One concern I had when applying to different programs was the fact that I had some poor grades on my transcripts as a result of personal issues that impacted my ability to get coursework done. I learned that I shouldn’t be afraid to apply to a program because of an imperfect record. Most institutions are willing to overlook a minor fallback that you had as long as you show that you have improved and give a short, reasonable explanation for your grades in your admissions essay. They are looking to see what kind of student you are at this point in your life, and they might even appreciate a little honesty in your explanation about how you overcame that situation, what you learned from it, and why it will make you a better graduate student.
Which political science classes at Drexel were most helpful to you, and why?
Two classes in particular were really useful to me in terms of training the way that I think and write about political theory. The first class, Theories of Justice, was heavily focused on traditional theory, but anyone doing work in social justice, race, and class, knows that you have to understand where the concept comes from in order to begin to critique it within a contemporary context. Second, the Comparative Political Theory course was instrumental in helping me learn how to read and compare texts from different periods and authors in order to get to a deeper understanding of the texts themselves.
Which political science classes were your favorites?
Every course I took with Professor Ciccariello-Maher was such a great learning experience, but my favorite was his course on Political Theory from Below. The readings were an excellent selection from huge names in abolitionist and anti-colonial struggles throughout history. It was really refreshing to read about politics and history not from the standpoint of the elites or government officials, but from the people who were impacted by the movements on the ground and the people who really made history happen. That course still informs the work I do every day; I kept all of the books and they have a prime spot on my bookshelf (especially WEB Du Bois’ “Black Reconstruction in America.”) Take this course if you get a chance, it will change the way you think.
Do you have any words of wisdom for our younger students, especially if they are thinking about graduate school? What advice would you give to your undergraduate self?
Take advantage of the excellent and hard-working faculty in the political science department! If you take a course with a professor you like, try to take as many of their courses as you can. It took me until the end of my junior year to begin to work on building relationships with faculty members—I wish I had started sooner. Those relationships had a huge impact on my career trajectory; I would not be in graduate school today if it were not for the fantastic Drexel professors who saw potential in me. The connections I made with some faculty members have been a source of information and support, both personally and professionally. Start building your network as soon as you can, and take the opportunity to talk to your professors about their careers and experiences in grad school—they want you to succeed and will work to help you get where you need to go, you just have to ask.
How have you managed the leap from undergraduate to graduate student? That can be a big, somewhat nerve-wracking switch—any hard-won advice?
One key difference between graduate and undergraduate work is the level of independence that you have as a student and researcher. Graduate seminars typically meet only once a week and require you to do much more reading. This was the most difficult transition for me moving from undergraduate-level work because I had to learn how to budget my studying time effectively. When I first started classes, a faculty member gave me a great piece of advice: figure out where and when you do the best studying. Not everyone can pick up and start reading mid-afternoon in a busy library (I definitely can't), so I found a quiet space on campus where I could work alone in the evenings, and I soon became much more efficient at getting my work done.
I would like to share one suggestion I received from a student further along in the program: write every day. I struggle with starting papers and developing my ideas, so she suggested that I free write as a way to explore my thoughts about the subject, then worry about formatting later. This has helped me so much! I write my thoughts down throughout the day as they come to me when reading, or in class, or when food shopping. When I come back to write the final product, I already have a pretty clear outline of the entire paper and the task doesn't seem quite as daunting.
Want to hear more from our alums? Read our Q&A with political science alumnus Adrienne Girone, who is currently working towards her PhD at Vanderbilt University.