Monthly Archives: April 2013

Setting Up For Summer

Summer Reflection | New Faculty

I’d like to quote the twitter handle, S*^t Girls Say….”I can’t believe summer is here already….” It appears that May brings the end of a semester and the **supposed** summer time slump. By slump I mean: some vacation time. I don’t know about you, but being a 12 month faculty has it’s advantages and disadvantages and one of those big disadvantages is: less ‘down time’ unless I take it. So, I’m taking it. Don’t worry.

As a new faculty (or late stage grad student) summer is a highly coveted time. We think, “I’m going to get so much done” and then we get realistic about things. My lofty goals of last summer turned into realistic goals when I suddenly realized it was July and I was barely halfway through my list of things to conquer for the summer. Needless to say, I’d set myself up for failure without meaning too. This summer, I’m going to be more realistic about it and set measurable goals, both personally and professionally, in order to keep myself accountable.

I encourage you to take a few moments to make your own list, starting with your successes this year and things that you can work on as plausible and attainable goals.

Before I make my list, I like to recap what I did this past academic year that has gone really well (positive before negative right?):

  • I survived. *round of applause*
  • I continued to work on my personal health, fitness, & well-being. Slow and steady wins the race.
  • I stood up for myself when I needed too. I’m learning that I may not be one of the ‘big dog’s’ in the room, but I’m also not a free doormat.
  • I got comfortable in a good way. I’m feeling less frazzled each day, even if my hair doesn’t reflect that during the humid months, about who I am as a new faculty, a researcher, and as a professional. There are still areas of gray, but overall, I’m feeling better.
  • I’m getting better at managing a mid-size herd of cats, I mean…people…..I collaborate a decent sized team (pushing 30 bodies not counting all the kids we serve) and some days: it’s organized chaos. I’ve embraced that it looks like herding turtles through peanut butter and am going with it.

Here’s what I need to work on this summer:

  • Take some solid time off. Really. Spring break was not restful for me and I have tried to push through only to fail. As a new faculty, I cannot stress this enough. Learn from my mistake so you don’t end up suffering like I have. 
  • Be kind to myself. Emotionally, mentally, and physically. I have incorporated strength training this spring and while I’ve lost some pounds, not as many because I’m hitting the weights. I have to remind myself of this since the scale is such a reminder for me. I need to give myself a break. Not the “you should eat this pint of ice cream” break but remind myself that there’s only 24 hours in a day and I need to not work for all of them. 
  • Grants and pubs. This year was very fruitful (4 articles at last check) but there’s always room for improvement. I also hope to continue to work on my grant skills. If I stay in the academic game, I’m going to need both of these.
  • Staying motivated. I have found myself in a slump professionally lately. I don’t know why. I think it’s my phd crisis or something. More on that in another post.
  • Setting aside proper time to do things. Here’s my sticky one. I am really good at managing so many things in my life but not writing time. Because it’s my least favorite thing to do. I’m also very vague about it, which is my own fault. I prefer to collaborate and I hate when another faculty tries to poach me and my work. I need to make a concerted effort to write or not at this point.
  • Finding more mentors in my professional career. I need to do this desperately in order to keep working on my professional vault of resources. I have some great people in my corner, but mostly I need to keep finding folks to be on “team new faculty” more regularly.
  • Stop being so selfless. This was a piece of feedback AGAIN from my immediate supervisor just last week and I need to keep carving out more time for myself. Serving others is wonderful but has once again exhausted me and I need to continue to figure out how to say no with a velvet lined hammer.

What’s on your summer list? Taking a vacation? What would you share as a new faculty to help other young faculty members?

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Let’s Be Honest: Grad School Right Out of Undergrad

Let's Be Honest: Grad School Right Out of Undergrad | New Faculty

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I was asked to sit on a panel last week. The Undergraduate Research Division at my university hosted myself and several other phd’s, grad students, and post-doc’s to come and speak to any undergraduate who might be interested in heading to grad school. I was the last to introduce myself, give a brief bio, and then share my personal insights on what graduate school is.

I dropped the honesty bomb on these poor kids. I sat there for half an hour listening to everyone else on the panel talk about how they got to grad school, how they choose students for admission, and all of this other ideological crap about how great grad school is. No one talked about what happens after grad school. No one talked about how higher ed keeps changing and morphing. No one talked about the job forecast for people with advanced degrees. So I did.

**BOOM**

I think grad school is great but the market is totally flooded, particularly for undergrads who are finishing and have no idea what they want to be when they grow up. It’s a mess. No one is getting a job that matches their degree and yet employers keep saying things like “go to grad school” and then can’t follow through on much after that. These tender undergrads have been programmed (yes, programmed) to believe that they NEED a higher degree to succeed and that taking a year off will be the death of them.  When discussing a ‘gap year,’ I couldn’t bite my tongue:

“I think you’ll need to take some time off, go work, get some life experience, and most of all–grow up.”

I did preface that the comment was not meant to be offensive but the fact that my graduate program required at least three years of work experience was a constant advantage to me during grad school. Instead of panicking about not working, these young students should be worried about working for a while. Developing their character and identity has been pushed to the back-burner in favor of GRE’s and admissions applications. I couldn’t be more bummed about it. Some worried they’d lose momentum–I challenged back, “if you do, is it the end of the world? is it an indicator that grad school isn’t in the cards for you right now then?”

So, all this backstory for our undergraduates is for a reason and the reason is this: there is no one route or way to do grad school. You have to figure this out for yourself. The panel did do a good job of communicating that each student is different and should be treated as an individual human, not a GRE score.

  • Don’t go if you don’t feel ready. If you’re burned out, unsure, have no idea about the world, don’t go to grad school immediately. Don’t treat it like the ‘last option’ if nothing better comes up. You’ll be miserable.
  • Do go and work. Do something! If a 9-5 isn’t for you, as many of you millennials know, hit up an alternative program or negotiate your working hours with a potential employer.
  • Be accountable. To yourself and those around you. If you think grad school is your ticket, then do it, but don’t treat it like undergrad. People are paying for you (hopefully) at this point and while having fun is fun, it’s not just about you and your parents’ banking account anymore.
  • Professional school (med school, law school, vet school) is a whole other monster. 
  • Do go and do your homework on graduate programs. If you set your heart on “the one” and don’t get in, what’s your back up? What are the requirements to get in? Do you know someone you can talk with? How will your application (if submitted blind) stand out? 
  • The same for a job–we all know that “pie in the sky” firm or company that we’d love to work for, but what happens if the offer doesn’t come through? If you know you want to go to grad school, find a job–almost any job–that will relate to your field. If that doesn’t work, even the Smoothie King or Jamba Juice can offer life experience, help nurture other life skills, and will give you plenty of anecdotal evidence when you get ready to write those essays.
  • Be realistic. It’s ok if you had a pretty good time during your undergrad (I did) and didn’t rock a 3.8 GPA. You will have to be willing to figure out how to separate yourself from the pack. Whether it’s work experience or life experience, be prepared to defend yourself. An excellent dept. head or faculty member may pick you up after talking with you at a conference so you never know.
  • Always assume you’re being watched. I cannot say this enough. I know I’ve mentioned it before to my grad student posts, but always assume someone is watching. It’s amazing to me how you behave when you think no one is watching vs. when you think someone is. 
  • It’s ok to fail and not get in. Really. Trust me. If you look at the data on graduate degrees and ROI over the long haul, the figures aren’t that amazing anymore. Failure is part of growth. I can count some big failures pretty quickly and how they POSITIVELY influenced my life later on. They didn’t feel so great at the time, but we have to be willing to live and learn sometimes. I trusted my own instincts during my failures and knew it would be ok in the end. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to think big, but know yourself and be realistic at the same time. It can be a hard line to walk because it is super fine but you’re smart and talented, you’ll navigate this one just fine. 
  • What’s this advanced degree worth to you? Emotionally, physically, mentally, and yes, financially. Funding is drying up left and right and many master’s programs are not 100% funded. What are you willing to pay for this piece of paper? What about your loved ones? Some of you may be in committed relationships and have someone else to consider when making this decision. Grad school can be very lonely, it can be emotionally trying, and I have bad news–it’s not that great for your health. Hours of sitting, reading, and caffeine chugging catch up real quick. I packed on about 20 more lbs. and it was a real bitch to get off. 
  • What is the job market doing in your potential degree area? What’s it paying? What’s the forecast for jobs? What’s the trend over the last 10-20 years? How do the trends in salary look? How will this compare to any debt or lost time at work you may acquire and lose due to grad school? 

Graduate school right out of undergrad is a deeply personal decision. Don’t feel like you “have to do it” because someone thinks you should. If you don’t feel ready: don’t do it. Simple as that. If you want to and the funding is there: go for it. Be willing to be HONEST with yourself first about what you want/ need and the folks on your team will support you too.

What advice would you give undergrads thinking of immediately jumping into grad school?

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What’s Your Back Up Plan?

What's Your Back Up Plan? | New Faculty

I hate being “that faculty” but lately, I’ve been asking my students and friends still in grad school “what’s your back up plan?”

The conversation always starts out with something like, “what do you want to do when you’re finished?” and most students give me some ideolgoical crap speech about joining faculty in a tenure track job. I usually follow with “what’s your back up plan?” and many of them are thin on the response. I was texting a friend who is still in her program and her response (see photo above, it’s my screen shot),

“my adviser seems confident i’ll be fine.”

OK……that’s great…..but that’s because your adviser is already set up in her TT job. Your adviser won’t be hitting the job market like a ton of bricks. Your adviser won’t be too invested in where you land when you’re done because she’ll have tenure by then and is secure in her position.

I hate to be all ‘negative nancy’ on the subject, but it’s becoming more and more rare that we land in our ‘dream job’ right away. Not that I haven’t been super lucky in my life, but I’m also a super realist. Realistically, it’s not going to be exactly what you want. It’s going to be super sucky for a while, and you’ll probably be making some big geographical and intellectual moves for years until you get settled. Realistically, you’ll take whatever you can get your first job out of grad school to stretch your legs and recover grow from grad school.

Why are advisers doing this mass disservice to grad students? Why are they setting them up to be dissapointed? The same thing happened to me and while I do believe that ‘life works out’ I also know that sometimes: you’ve gotta get real. Dream world is really fun. It’s fun to dream, it helps us set our own personal goals, but when we land back in ‘real time’ we often get dissappointed by what HASN’T happened to us. That’s when we start getting let down.

The data in higher ed isn’t lying and the truth is this: fewer TT jobs, fewer resources in states, fewer resources from the fed, and more competition for coveted grants that will often drive a T&P packet at any R1 university. You don’t need a phd to see those numbers and trends. Many institutions are also cutting corners by cutting jobs, adding instructors, adjuncts, and other “fancy named” faculty to avoid paying benefits, retirement, and anything outside of a mere couple grand (if that) to administer a class. The whole thing sucks. However, it’s reality and it deserves some attention.

I sent this to three of my former grad school cohort survivors and all three came back with different responses:

“some things never change.”

“Yes, because when someone is “confident” it means that you will get the jobs that are there.  Seriously.  I would recommend NO ONE to go into their masters or PhD program.  They are big on selling you and getting you there but once you are there, they could care less about you or if you are successful after you leave.  For her sake, I hope she does have a backup plan because with the job market how it is, she will need it!”

“Ahhhhhhh. They were all confident that we were getting fab jobs. The market is getting better,  but sheeeeesh.”

Three very strong responses from people who all completed their phd’s and NONE OF US are in TT jobs. Which is ok, we have jobs, but let me repeat that for my GRADUATE SCHOOL STUDENTS:

NONE OF US LANDED A TT JOB AND IT’S BEEN AT LEAST TWO YEARS

So, without sounding like the world’s biggest party pooper, I’m going to relay this this week: HAVE A BACK UP PLAN. Have two. Maybe three. Yes, the market is recovering, yes the economy is picking up. No, the trend in higher ed is not changing.

As a new faculty or phd who did or did not land a TT job, what advice would you give?

**Steps off soapbox**

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I Once Knew A Guy Who Failed His Prelims

Prelims | New Faculty

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Back in grad school, I settled into my 7-10 p.m. class on a cold February night in a drafty classroom that had most of us in our winter jackets. The prof started out by asking how everyone was, how their week was, etc… to get warmed up and a guy in the class raised his hand. The prof gestured to him and he said, “I failed my prelims today and my committee recommended I find something else to do, what does that mean?”

And then there were crickets. I think even the prof had to take a few seconds to gather some thoughts. Not expecting a bomb like that, but rather something like, “my kitten climbed the curtains” or “i saw that new movie” took a moment for everyone. The prof gathered up his gumption and said he was sorry and that perhaps, grad school isn’t for everyone. He then asked the man to meet one-on-one during the class break so as not to totally traumatize anyone (including the prelim bomber) anymore. The guy was totally devastated. He was on the verge of tears.

It came out later on that several things had led up to this time and place: his adviser had warned him that he was NOT ready to take his prelims. His adviser told him if he pushed and insisted, the outcome would ultimately not go on the ‘passing’ side of the fence and he would be setting himself up. The grad student felt pressure because his wife was moving along in her program faster and in his culture, women were NOT to outpace men at ANYTHING. This led to major insecurity on the grad student’s part and hence, the big push. The adviser told the grad student that if he insisted on pushing his prelims and failed, he would likely be asked to reconsider his life choice and re-evaluate grad school as a whole. The grad student was given warning.

As a faculty, it can be hard to contain you, oh noble grad students. You are beyond intelligent, but also beyond ignorant. You have this chip on your shoulder that we do not understand, no matter how hard we try. We were even you, but yet we do not understand. And that’s usually ok. Until you act like this guy. Then, we run out of empathy, understanding, and patience very quickly.

LISTEN TO YOUR ADVISOR. Even if you don’t like it. Especially on things like this. We’re usually not wrong. We’ve worked with your committee members. We know your skills and writing abilities. We know if we’re going to have to carry you like an infant child in one of those backpacks or if you’ll bust out and shine. Don’t do what this guy did. Even if you’re thinking, “my adviser cancels our meetings and it doesn’t look like he/she reads my stuff” we at least are skimming enough  and talking to you to know whether or not you’re ready to talk the talk and form some ideas and opinions on what we’ve asked of you. We’re not trying to be the “big, bad wolf” to your “little red riding hood” grad student nature, we’re trying to help you NOT set yourself up for failure. Promise.

Trust us enough to not be too pig headed and stubborn. Don’t be like this guy. I never heard or saw him anywhere after that course ended and I think he dropped it before the end of the semester, although I can’t remember anymore. No matter what his reasons were for pushing so hard to take his prelims that he failed himself by not being prepared and listening to adviser, he should have known better.

Is grad school for everyone? Absolutely not. He might have not finished for 100 other reasons and this may have been his advisers nudge. We will never know. The big take away here: listen, trust, and sometimes, it’s ok to know yourself well enough while other times, put your grad school faith in your adviser. There are cases when the advisor/student relationship is also bad, leading to conflict in many areas, and an unhealthy ending to grad school. Know yourself. Sometimes, grad school is not your calling and that’s ok too. I know you’ll be successful, even if it’s not in the world of academia.

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Dear Grad Students, Let’s Try to Be Professional, Shall We?

Surviving Grad School | New Faculty

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I received the following email not too long ago:

“i’m totes overbooked this week w cray tests dr. newfaculty. can i reschedule?”

from a grad student.

who’s around 30 years old.

apparently trapped in an 18 year olds body.

I know that I was once a grad student and I’d like to give a public thank you to my former adviser. She didn’t kill me. And I’m grateful. I also know for a fact that I never sent her an email like this. It may have been poorly organized and had a spelling error or grammar error, but it NEVER used slang language and I rarely used it in her presence.  I quickly have come to know that any faculty who puts up with a mass of grad students is pretty much a saint since I was also granted several upon being hired to collect data and collaborate. I didn’t get to choose these precious students either. It’s been a true lesson for me as well.

So, today….I’m going to take a break from thinking about my experience as a surviving, struggling, barely keeping my head above water “new faculty” and give some time to those of you in the trenches: grad students.

If you’re already in grad school, keep on reading. If you’re thinking about grad school, keep reading, although you may not understand every tidbit. I’m happy to provide a post on things to consider if you’re thinking about returning for a graduate degree. It might not be pretty. That’s for another day. I know we’ve talked about grad school once before, but hey–what’s another post?

Dear current grad students,

I’m so happy you’re upright, no doubt with a steady stream of coffee, pandora or spotify, and cheap ramen noodles searing through your veins. I know that seminar will probably have some free snacks for you this week and hopefully whoever had to bring those snacks won’t be the jerk who shows up with a lousy container of hummus and pre-cut carrots for 20 people. Unless he/she also has other fun things to go with that choice….Have you ever tried to split one container of hummus 20 ways?

As someone who was in your ranks not too long ago (merely 1.5 years), I’ve taken some time to reflect on what it was like as a grad student (totally sucky) to now. My personal evolution to becoming and FEELING like an equal on faculty took me some time and now I think like a faculty, not a grad student. I’ve got some words for you. Love ’em or hate ’em, they’re just words. It’s mile marker 24 out of a marathon and you’re exhausted. With exhaustion, we also tend to get careless and that can spell bad news later on. Read this, share it, take it with a grain of salt, but learn from me for the next few minutes.

1. Be professional. I know you ‘think’ you’re being professional but sometimes, you’re just acting like a jerk. Being overly arrogant isn’t being professional. Being professional doesn’t come dressed up in yoga pants with the word “sparkle” across your back side. It comes in clean pants. Usually with some type of zipper/button closure at the top. Not adidas tear-away windpants. This isn’t Magic Mike. No one has any dollar bills for you. There is also some solid research on dressing the part. Just gonna throw that out there. You can throw it back.

2. Watch your language. Not English. But, what and HOW it comes out. Are snafu’s and Freudian slips inevitable? Yes. Heck, I’ve probably made 14 mistakes thus far, but I’m talking about how you say it. In person, in email, to someone who may know me (or another faculty), to someone on the bus. Don’t be “that guy (or girl)” in grad school. It’s tacky. You can drop the F-bomb in the privacy of your office but leaving class and saying loudly, “what the F*%K was dr. so and so talking about today?” is not appropriate. Be better than your undergrads. Don’t send emails like the one that opened this post. I’m totes serious, it’s cray how many unprofessional correspondance messages I get from grad students. We’re not equals yet. We’re not “friends” in real life (very often) and even then, err on the side of caution.

3. Be humble. You’ve got on your big boy & girl pants that button, you’re saying smart things, but don’t get ahead of yourself. I’ve seen it about 238485 times now. The cocky grad student who thinks their shit doesn’t stink–gets pushed back another year on their work because instead of reading their ass off or getting to the lab, they were gloating in some kind of minuscule glory over a tiny test that was actually only one of 3048585 that they needed to run. I had a grad student my first year who was a big talker. He talked all. of. the. time. He never shut up. Karma smiled on him (and me when he shut up) when he told someone that he was being held another year because he failed to produce any data during the previous year and was in jeopardy of not getting funded for the next academic year. He hasn’t talked nearly as much this year. My ears are so grateful.

4. Your faculty members talk to each other when you’re not around. I know you think we all climb in a hole under a bridge after 5 p.m. but contrary to what you think, we see each other. Quite a bit. It’s weird, that even on this campus, which is pretty big, it doesn’t take long to learn people’s names, advisers, lab techs, other faculty within those departments, and start associating names/faces. It’s like the worlds biggest game of telephone. With cocktails or kids playing soccer at weekend league, sometimes, we talk about you. Sometimes the things you do that are awesome and say when you think no one is watching are recorded (in the mind, not on camera) and broached when we see your adviser out and about. Somtimes, you’re not doing or saying the most flattering things. We understand your need to blow off steam and have a good time, but we’re also professionals who are often funding you, advising you, and trying to mentor you to a job post-graduation.

5. We hear you loud and clear. We know that grad school is really frustrating. We were all grad students too. Maybe not as recently as you’d like, but let me share something with you: grad school has sucked for 50+ years. From my own research, not much has changed. You’re not the only one so when you need to have an emotional meltdown, do it wisely. We know the system isn’t perfect and neither are we. We know that we let you down sometimes and put our own families needs’ over yours when you think we should be reading the pages you sent us, we may be watching our kids music concert or having our own down time. You’ll get done. We promise.

6. Enjoy the ride. This is not a sprint and it’s not the log flume at a water park. It’s a long lesson in perseverance. As a student I met with said, “some days are fine and others I want to cry because everyone is harsh.” Being on faculty is more exhausting, more work, more demanding, more everything and you know as well as I do that we’re not making that much more money for getting famous on the Internet. You’ll be ok. I promise. It sucks now but suck it up, put on your nice pants and watch your mouth.

7. We support you. Even if we’re so busy we fail to reply to your 384 emails at 4 in the morning b/c you drank 8 redbulls to pull an all nighter. We are on your team.

Now go, do good things. Keep reading, keep trucking along, and enjoy the ride. If you’re not enjoying it sometimes, why are you doing it?

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