GRA hiring–like the NBA draft (NOT!)

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As a new faculty, you may or may not get afforded with the ability to choose your own graduate students.  This can be a blessing and a curse.  If you’re reading this and you were a new faculty once upon a time–you know what I’m about to say.

I started my position mid-year and was gifted some graduate students.  And gifts they have been!

Ranging from the super awesome to the super stressful, it’s been a real learning curve this spring.  As the semester wraps up here at “fill in the blank university” I’m going to be taking some time to reflect on what I did and didn’t do, and work on more of a plan to make things smoother for fall.  I certainly was not error free in my dealings with graduate students this spring, but I was also in for some surprises, particularly when one informed me that he refused to work for me/respect me because I was a female. That one threw me off a bit.

On the other side of the coin, I had some of the hardest working, diligent, and respectful graduate students one could ask for as well.  Always happy to give me a hand, never complaining, but always seeking constructive feedback. I am grateful for these students.

In the process, we decided to turn over at least one position (as of post date) and after announcing that we had a position, applications, emails, and requests started coming ‘out of the woodwork.’ (sort of like a county fair but for grad students).  I’ve been the proud recipient of emails and questions ranging from “how much more will I make than my current GRA” to “will I actually have to work in this assistantship or will it just be work when I feel like it?” PIC and I have had some laughs at these unknowing students’ expense. On the flip side, I’ve also received extremely professional packets and informative packets that will rise to the top.

As a new faculty, it’s been a hard lesson to learn.  I knew of this message, but had ignored it.  No one else will work like I do. No one else will keep the hours I do.  No one else has the same set of personal/professional circumstances that I do.  While I’ve tried to be sympathetic, empathetic, and professional with students, there comes a point when everyone sits down and says, “this isn’t working and here’s why.” There’s also a point where you stop communicating with the person who doesn’t see doing work as part of their job and you cease funding them and only tell them via email because they have failed to show up for any kind of “work” in over a month.  The graduate student brain is a complex one and while Jorge Chan makes light of it, some of the communications I’ve received have been nothing less than ‘cringe worthy.’  Get over yourself young scholars, you’re in grad school, not a Rhodes Scholar (some of you may actually BE Rhodes Scholars–to you I say ‘congrats!’).  A healthy amount of ego is just that, healthy.  Too much ego makes you come across as a pig.  There’s also the point when you sit down and say, “we love you, please stay with us forever….” and those are always the better conversations to be having.

Who do I want to hire?  I’ve got my short list based on some paper applications, but in all honesty, I want to hire someone who will work hard, learn the content and the knowledge necessary, and be open to the process of learning and working hard.  I’ve said learning and working hard twice in one sentence.  See where I’m headed?  Some basic pre-requisite skills will be needed, but I’ll take a really hard worker any day over some over-blown, know-it-all. No matter how the hiring process rolls out, here’s my short list of things I need to start doing.

  • be more like I was when I was teaching middle/high school–aim high with professionalism to start, then begin to warm up later
  • stop being nice and accommodating all of the damn time.  yes, if you can believe it, i was much more lenient than i wanted to be this spring b/c i was the ‘new girl’ in town
  • set high expectations so if they are not totally reached, the GRA’s will still come within range
  • be realistic-everyone has a life outside of work and so do i
  • meet once per week with these students. coffee, tea, no drinks, whatever–the regular check-in must commence once again.
  • stop being so hard on myself–seriously–i’m my worst enemy and i project that on others

As a new faculty, how have you handled your paid students?  What suggestions do you have in handling difficult GRA’s and how do you continue to reward GRA’s who are awesome?

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