Interview with Diana Emiko Tsuchida

“One strength of this field is its versatility. Graduates can take their education in American studies into nearly any humanities discipline, including literature, history and even business.”

Third year PhD student in American Studies with specializations in Asian American Studies and Critical Mixed Race Theory
University of Hawaii
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Graduate School – Application Process

How did you select your graduate school and program?

I selected University of Hawaii for my PhD in American Studies because of the diversity of the area where the university is located. Hawaii’s multicultural island communities view mixed race interactions as a part of life, not a problem.

My prior education in feminist and ethnic studies also made University of Hawaii’s American studies program an excellent fit. American studies allowed me to place my knowledge of feminism and ethnicity into the context of everyday American life across a variety of disciplines, including film and history.

What did you do to prepare yourself for graduate school?

I prepared myself for graduate school by researching and choosing a school carefully and then tailoring my personal statement and letters of recommendation to suit it.

Did your application requirements include standardized test scores?

Yes, my application did require GRE scores. I am unsure of the exact scores required, but I scored very poorly on the math portion and the school still accepted me into the program. I think that only the more relevant portions of the GRE are weighed during the review process.

What kind of information did you include in your personal statement?

My personal statement included my reasons for wanting to attend University of Hawaii. I worked hard to make sure that my personal statement was not generic but tailored to the university specifically. I wanted them to know that I had done my research on their program and faculty.

How did you choose faculty to approach for letters of recommendation?

I approached some of my undergraduate professors for my letters of recommendation because they knew me well. In my experience, PhD students are often motivated individuals who stand out during their undergraduate classes, and professors of these students are more willing and able to write well about their work ethic, intelligence and dedication.

Do you have any other tips for a student who is considering applying to graduate school in American studies?

Yes, I recommend that students considering an American studies doctoral program identify and communicate in their personal statements why they applied to that specific program. Schools want to know what has made their program interesting to candidates, and they appreciate those who demonstrate a willingness to research their faculty and program policies.

Graduate School – The Program

How long is your program and how is the curriculum distributed?

My program requires 2 to 3 years for coursework and then 3 to 5 years for the dissertation. The amount of reading for the first few years is daunting. Students do very little of their own research at this time. Instead, they focus on learning about the discipline and its principles for research. Once students complete their coursework, they shift to working entirely on their own research.

What is the focus of your dissertation research?

I chose to focus my research on mixed race, ethnic and gender studies in my third year. I wanted to be part of the emerging scholarship in these areas. My overarching goal is to contribute research that would further the cause of racial justice. That goal has required me to pinpoint gaps in current scholarship.

One bit of advice that I want to pass along to students who are in the process of selecting their dissertation topics is that they should choose an idea that they will not mind seeing and thinking about for the next 5 to 7 years. If they dread topics before they even spend time with them, then students will probably not be able to sustain their research for years on end.

Can you describe the process of researching for and writing your dissertation?

I have not yet started to write the dissertation, but the research process so far has been exhausting. In fact, the biggest hurdle that I have faced has been losing steam on my research topic. The doctoral program has been a full-time job for me.

The research and proposal processes of my dissertation take up about 2 to 3 hours of my day, and I spend the rest of my time preparing lesson plans and teaching. One small comfort has been the flexibility of the project deadlines, which I can set for myself under the advisement of my department chair.

How is the dissertation process different from working on a masters thesis?

Scope is the biggest difference between a dissertation and a masters thesis. A masters thesis is an exploration of a problem or idea and usually takes just a year or 2. But a dissertation requires intense study and original research, and the process takes 3 to 5 years.

What role does your advisor play in your education?

The role of my advisor is to provide advice and honest feedback. Generally speaking, I feel advisors should seek to challenge their students in ways unique to their specific field and research topic. They should facilitate students’ success rather than press their own specialties on their students.

For this reason, I selected my advisor based on my own research interests. I wanted someone who was familiar with my specific subject area and could provide pertinent guidance for my dissertation.

Does your doctoral program require comprehensive exams prior to graduation?

Yes, my program requires a comprehensive exam before I can start dissertation work. The comprehensive exam is focused on a general field of study and 2 specialty fields related to students’ research. For example, I have a reading list of 200 books that cover American studies, which is my general field, as well as Asian American studies and critical mixed race studies, my 2 specialty fields. The goal of the comprehensive exam is to test the limits of students’ research interest.

How does a doctoral program differ from graduate study at the masters level?

The biggest difference between a doctoral program and a masters program is the people. PhD students always have their research on their mind and are using this research as a significant stepping stone in their careers. More often than not, doctoral students are looking for a future in academia, while masters students tend to integrate their degrees back into their professional field. But nowadays, a PhD can be very beneficial in several fields, if you can devote the time to the degree.

Graduate School – Paying for It

How much does your PhD program cost?

Tuition for my PhD program is tens of thousands of dollars. However, the university grants tuition waivers to those students in this program who are approved for graduate assistantships.

Secondary costs are the greatest expense. Books, rent, insurance, phone bills, food and transportation all add up to thousands of dollars each year. Unfortunately, a tuition waiver does not cover any of these costs.

How are you funding your education?

Although the university granted me a tuition waiver once it approved me for a graduate assistantship, I am still using student loans to cover my secondary costs, such as rent and food, and I have also applied for scholarships.

The process of applying for student loans and aid was simple. I completed the FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which bases eligibility on parental income or personal funding through jobs and scholarships. I also provided a tax return.

How difficult do you anticipate it will be to pay off your loans after graduation?

I worry about paying off my student loans after graduation. The difficulty and years required to address that debt will depend on the job opportunities that present themselves after I graduate.

Graduate School – Living Life

What are the time commitments for a PhD in American studies?

I divide my days into teaching, personal time and studying. In the mornings, I teach a class for 2 to 3 hours. Once I finish the class, I unwind, work out or take care of my e-mails. I save my studying for the evening, which is when I am most productive. I often stay up as late as 2 or 3 in the morning doing my reading and studying.

How has graduate school affected your personal life?

Graduate school has not drastically affected my personal life because I work hard to maintain a balance. The workload for doctoral programs is challenging, but shutting out everything else is unhealthy. Instead, I maintain a social life and always schedule time to relax. This strategy helps me cope psychologically with the demands of my program so I can continue to produce good work.

Scheduling and multitasking are the time management strategies that I use to help me stay on top of my work and personal life. Coursework schedules not only help me keep up with work, they also allow me to feel okay about taking time to relax. And multitasking helps make every minute a productive one. For example, if I am waiting for something or have downtime on campus, I pull out my reading and get some work done.

Graduate School – After Graduation

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

In 5 years, I hope to have a position teaching at a university. American studies can be a challenging field to find teaching work in since universities tend to underfund these programs. However, 1 strength of this field is its versatility. Graduates can take their education in American studies into nearly any humanities discipline, including literature, history and even business. Ideally, I hope to continue my research on media and Asian American history, which will likely steer me toward film studies.

Graduate School – Advice

What insights can you offer a student who is interested in pursuing a PhD in American studies?

My advice for students pursuing American studies is to love the subject. Doctoral programs take as long as 10 years to complete and student will struggle if they don’t have a passion for the subject area and the act of learning.

One unfortunate part of academia is its social politics, but I think that true success comes to those who behave with integrity and honesty. PhD students are competitive because the programs are competitive. However, in my experience, the students who seem to have the most success are those who demonstrate their willingness to work with and show respect to everyone.

Finally, faculty can make life easy or hard for students. Faculty can help students prioritize their assignments and finish the coursework more quickly, or provide the criticism and mentorship necessary to help students write excellent dissertations. People who want to increase the success of their dissertation must find professors who sincerely want them to succeed.

Wonda Baugh


Bowling Green State University


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Shannon Corkery


University of Arizona


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Catherine Mangum


University of Washington