Alicia Banks (1st Year PhD) on her first semester experience, research interests, and going back to school

Alicia Banks is a 1st Year PhD student and an experienced high school history teacher. She is interested in how Afro-Brazilian history is taught in Brazilian schools and hopes to continue research she started on the topic through a Fulbright grant which was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

How did you find yourself in anthropology?

Anthropology was one of my concentrations as an undergrad, and I think that a lot of what I learned in anthropology has really shaped my overall thinking and understanding of the world around me. I found it incredibly relevant to my graduate studies in international education and in my roles as an EL and history teacher. Since it’s always served as a kind of foundation for my academic and professional interests, it makes sense to circle back to it now and study it more in-depth, especially as my program combines it with education.

What are your research interests? How have they changed over the course of the semester, if at all?

I’m interested in researching how Afro-Brazilian history and culture is taught as a topic in Brazil. This was the original premise of a research project I had started as part of a Fulbright scholarship that was cut off by the COVID-19 pandemic. I would still very much like to continue my research- so my interest hasn’t directly changed- but I feel like over the course of my studies there are definitely a variety of avenues that I’ll pursue that will allow me to expand my research topic.

What have you liked about TC and the Anthropology Program so far?

I’ve really enjoyed the content and topics covered in my classes; I’ve gained a lot just in the first semester. I also appreciate the diversity of backgrounds and experiences my classmates and professors have, and how incredibly knowledgeable they are. It’s been enriching just interacting with them. I also genuinely appreciate how approachable and supportive they’ve been, especially since I was a virtual student this semester- people have gone out of their way to make others feel welcome and that’s been great.

What has been the most challenging thing about going back to school? Or about the program more generally?

I think balancing my time between being a student and working full time has been the biggest challenge. Also since it’s been more than a few years since I was in graduate school, it was a bit of an adjustment getting back into the academic mindset- I forgot how much I used to highlight and annotate, but I feel like little by little it’s gotten easier!

What are you looking forward to most about next semester?

I am really excited about moving to NYC, being able to attend classes in person, and finally meeting my classmates and professors! I also think having more time to focus/study will be a welcome change.

Do you have any advice for people about applying to the doctoral program?

I would say that if this program sounds interesting and/or it seems like it might be a good fit, people should definitely look into it. I advise going to any open houses, workshops, seminars, etc. and reaching out to any professors who share their research interests. It’s a great way to begin the process, which can be a bit daunting sometimes. So, follow your interests- regardless of the outcome, you’ll gain experience either way!

Anything else you’d like to share?

If anybody’s interested in starting a running club, let me know!

If you’re interesting in learning more about Teachers College’s Programs in Anthropology, contact us by emailing


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