Leaning into the Villanova Community: Graduate English Alum and Michigan PhD Student Shares Advice for the Graduate Student Journey

While at Villanova, Olivia Stowell ’21 MA developed strong relationships with professors and peers, explored research opportunities and established a healthy work-life balance as a busy grad student – each of which helped her on her journey to pursuing her doctoral degree.

Olivia Stowell ’21 MA, a graduate of the Villanova University master’s program in English


VILLANOVA, Pa. – Olivia Stowell ’21 MA, a graduate of the Villanova University master’s program in English, recently completed her first semester as a doctoral candidate in Communication and Media at the University of Michigan. A researcher of race and ethnicity, especially within food and cooking television, Stowell published her first academic article “There’s Certainly a Lot of History Here, But We’re Here to Roast Oysters: Afterlives of Trans-Atlantic Exchange in Top Chef: Charleston” in the journal Television and New Media in January 2022. Presently, she’s co-editing a collection of essays on dark academia for Post45 Contemporaries to be published in February. 

While at Villanova, Stowell developed strong relationships with professors and peers, explored research opportunities and established a healthy work-life balance as a busy grad student – each of which helped her on her journey to pursuing her doctoral degree. 

“Honestly, I can’t speak highly enough about Villanova’s faculty. During my time in Villanova’s MA in English, so many professors supported my work and shaped my thinking, and I could go on and on about how much I appreciate and am grateful to the English department faculty,” Stowell said.

“Dr. Kamran Javadizadeh was my advisor from the start of the program, and I feel beyond lucky to have worked with him in class, as his teaching intern, and while writing my thesis. He supported me as my advisor, from connecting me with other scholars to encouraging me in pursuing my research interests to answering my many, many questions about theory, teaching and academic life. Kamran is not only brilliant, but also generous and kind; working with him made me a better teacher, a better writer and a better thinker.” 

Stowell also highlighted the support she received from Villanova English faculty as she applied to doctoral programs. “Dr. Lauren Shohet’s advice and encouragement increased my confidence during the process of applying to PhD programs,” Stowell said. “She expanded my disciplinary horizons, read countless drafts of my application materials, and made me feel empowered as a scholar.”  

In addition to learning from faculty, Stowell credits her coursework with enabling her to envision herself as not only a student but also a scholar. “Even though I changed disciplines from English to Communication for my PhD, [Villanova English professor] Dr. Heather Hicks’ Intro to Theory course especially gave me a robust sense of how to keep my finger on the pulse of scholarly dialogue,” Stowell said. “I also think that the chance to work on my thesis project in a self-directed way made me feel more equipped to pursue my current scholarly agenda.” 

When asked about her successes as a graduate student, Stowell credited her support system and acknowledged the importance of a healthy work-life balance. 

“On the abstract level, I would say that I’m a successful grad student because of my family, my friends, my mentors, the communities I’m a part of,” she said. “On the more granular level, I think I manage a balance of working really hard and also not forcing myself to do things I don’t want to do. I think I’ve found success in my work in part because I prioritize things other than my work, and also because I let my work process take whatever shape it wants to.”

For current graduate students looking to apply to doctoral programs, Stowell advises finding a mentor, repurposing class work for larger projects and leaning into the academic community. 

“I would encourage current grad students to be deliberate and persistent in seeking out mentors! Villanova’s faculty are such a fantastic resource. Also, I would say that it’s worthwhile to try to be strategic about how you use your time and energy in relation to your academic work. During my three semesters of coursework at Villanova, I wrote eight seminar papers: three of them became conference papers, one I submitted for an award, one got published in CONCEPT, and one became my PhD application writing sample, which then became the third chapter of my thesis, which then eventually became my first published academic journal article. Being savvy about how I imagined the work I did in the context of classes ended up saving me a lot of time and allowed me to pursue the opportunities I was interested in,” Stowell commented.  

“It can be easy for academic work to consume your life; it’s important to build real community with the people who are alongside you in the grad school experience. We can do so much more together than we can alone, and sometimes academia is inclined toward this competitive, individualistic mode that I think we ought to actively resist in favor of shared vulnerability, transparency, support, solidarity and collective action.” 

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenged and changing world. With 39 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.

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