Monthly Archives: May 2013

Failure is an Option

The Importance of Failure | New Faculty


It’s been a rough spring,  personally.  Professionally, things are going well. I’m doing what I’m supposed too, thinking outside of my own comfort zone, and trying to set myself up for the future. I’m comfortable but looking, as always and keeping my eyes open to opportunities that may knock at the right time. As I read and hear all of these graduation speeches and commencement addresses, I can’t help but think about failure and how it impacts our lives as academics and as human beings.

Personally, the spring has been a battle and only recently have I begun to dig myself out. I have failed personally this spring. I have failed myself. I allowed my judgment to become clouded by emotions and now I’m paying the price of my own mistakes. I ignored my intuition for far too long and now I’m picking up the pieces.


I think it’s important to talk about failure in academia. Too often, we hear about someone’s 9384 article as they get promoted, we see their ginormous grant in the university news, and we see their photo splashed across a piece of online advertising throughout the year, serving as the ‘poster child’ for the college. What we don’t see is their struggle. We don’t see their lonely work time. We don’t see how many times they failed before they were successful.

I’ve been thinking a lot about failure this spring due to my own reflective state and how I’ve used it to advise students, mentor fellow teachers in the field, and use it as a powerful tool to bond with people who I’m close too. Failure is a real option in life, it’s one that happens more often than not, and we’ve trained our students that failing is bad, failing them by doing this.

  • Failing makes me relatable. I tell my students of my failures. I tell them of my poor GPA in my undergrad (it wasn’t all that pretty quite frankly) and how I turned out just fine with a phd and some good common sense. Sometimes, I share some of my ‘finest’ teaching moments with other teachers so they can think, “oh yeah, she’s done it too!”
  • Failing makes me “real” or “approachable.” I’m not one to sugarcoat my life and by sharing when I’ve failed, people perceive me as a real person who is approachable, not some research robot that has the sole mission of publishing like a monkey in a cage. Yes, that’s part of my job, but sometimes, I fall asleep reading articles for no reason too. Failing has opened me up to positive relationships in my life that I’m so thankful for. By sharing a piece of myself when I wasn’t at my best, it helped set the tone for a positive relationship with another person.
  • Failing makes me emotional. I know you’re probably thinking, ‘pull out the tissues’ but it’s not emotional like crying, it’s the emotional bond when you have a shared experience or when you listen to someone else share their emotional experience. It’s never meant to be used as leverage against the person later, but rather to help be sensitive to their needs.
  • Failure adds value to the authentic experience. Failure has turned me into the person I am, shaping my character, my responses, and my arsenal along the way. Failing has added so much value to my character, that I would not be half the person I am without failure in my forefront and background at various times. I remember failing in high school, crying, and hearing a trusted mentor say, “pick yourself up, there’s always next year.” Success looks effortless, failure is often dirty, emotional, and hard to get through. One of the lowest times of my life was when my marriage was unraveling around me and I did get through. It wasn’t pretty, it was emotional, but it has led me to trust my intuition this spring, it has added value to me as a person, and has made this process more authentic and ‘real’ to me and those around me.
  • Failure has challenged me and my failures will challenge others. When I share my failures, hopefully it gives the listener the insight that it’s a challenge to overcome and that they can do it as well. I don’t share my failures on my fb wall every day, but when I think it’s appropriate, I will delve into my own list of failures to try and capture the tone of a conversation.

Not every occasion is as well received when discussing failures. I’ve gotten the “bueller? bueller?” response before and other times, it has sparked another train of conversation that has been productive and helpful for everyone. In the end, reflecting, discussing, and reminding myself of my failures is a great and humbling way to help me stay grounded. For every article I publish, I’ve been rejected twice as many times. For every success I have with a student, I see that many students lose interest.

My true strengths have been revealed during my weakest moments and over the years, I’ve learned my own life ‘truth’ for myself. It may not always align with others, but I know it’s there. As a new faculty and more importantly, as a human being, failure is something I could not live without. I wouldn’t want to always know the sweet smell of victory because I know it would get boring. Some of my own personal victories were often the ones I worked the hardest at. They were fraught with struggle and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

What advice would you give grad students, undergrads, or other young professionals about the importance of failure?


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Summer Writing Schedule

Summer Writing | New Faculty


Summer break is here and while I know most grad students WANT to be buried under the covers lying on the beach, the never ending cycle of reading/writing/research will ultimately call you back. I haven’t met a single grad student who “took the whole summer off” from anything and those that did had the pleasure of adding an extra year to their PHD programs. Yes, you can tell me that YOU didn’t have to work over the summer and I’ll congratulate you, but most of the grad students I’ve ever met, including myself, took some well deserved time off and were back into the books on a schedule or by Aug. 1 to maintain the pace needed to finish with sanity.

I mentor several students, informally and mostly in my spare time. It makes me feel good to work with graduate students and listen, mentor, nurture, and help them navigate grad school without getting too many (more) gray hairs. I will admit: I HAVE MY FIRST GRAY HAIRS. I pulled the first few, clearly living in denial, but I embraced a really long one I found today and let it stay in my head. Perhaps I’ll stop looking like a student soon with the addition of some gray’s in my mane of black, wavy hair…..perhaps I’ll just look silly 😀 I have received the SAME question from EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM this spring: what should I do about writing over the summer? what do you suggest?

Funny you should ask.

I met w/ each of them one-on-one to ‘celebrate’ surviving what I like to call “The Academic Hunger Games” fully knowing that the odds are never in our favor and Elizabeth Banks won’t be showing up to wish us good luck.

Below is a note that I’ve sent to several grad students I work with who have asked about summer writing/research schedule. It is hard to ‘fit it in’ when it’s not a habit and summer is often busy with other work, as well as taking some time off. In terms of writing and reading, here are my thoughts:

While there is no magic formula and everyone is different, it’s important to:

  1.  go w/ your circadian clock, write/read when you’re at your best time of day
  2. set aside time in your schedule, block it off as if you were going to be in a mtg & try not to deviate. whether in a 1 hr. block or a whole morning, try to be diligent.
  3. don’t make excuses. if you find yourself waning on actual writing & it’s not going well, switch to articles or updating your citation manager. make it productive time related to writing/research, even if it’s not necessarily putting 1,000 words down.
  4. it’s ok if every writing session isn’t your best. some days really are better than others.
  5. stay organized, whether you rely on web tools or binders, or whatever, try to keep things organized. as you progress, you’ll need to recall things you might have done in your first semester.
  6. work in chunks. the brain can only concentrate well for about 45 min. the same for writing. you don’t have to start w/ the introduction, break it into manageable chunks for you. you may write the conclusion first if it’s the last piece of data you analyzed & it’s fresh in your mind.
  7. talk it out. lots of academics get ‘stuck’ w/ the ‘blank page syndrome’ & just stare…try talking (& recording if you think it will help) to a colleague or friend about what you’re struggling, listening to your own conversation later may help get some things down and organized on the paper.
  8. great writers are far and few between. multiple iterations are common so don’t be discouraged.most articles you read in journals have flaws and when the author gets accepted, he/she may do 2-3 more rounds of edits & still not meet every request of the reviewers.
  9. it will be good enough. get it on paper b/c you’ve got to start somewhere.
  10. yes, go on vacation. take some time off. you’ll need it come mid-august.

I also received some requests for my personal favorite tech tools for staying organized w/ research and writing. I would suggest a citation manager such as Zotero or EndNote. EndNote is free here at my university and Zotero is free to everyone.

Evernote can be a really helpful app that integrates with all platforms and all devices to help you out. Whether it’s for academic use or to remember you need to get a bunch of groceries so you don’t have to keep eating ramen, Evernote can help you out if you let it. It’s free. What’s the worst that can happen? 

Finally, there are a couple of pieces that I enjoyed and wanted to share. Gradhacker discussed summer writing or as I like to also call, “dissertating.” PhD Talk blog ran a nice piece on getting into good writing habits and PhD student discussed getting on a writing schedule.

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. It’s the last week of the semester and I want to stab my eyeballs out….Instead, I’ll leave it at that and say this: get writing grad students!!!!! Figure out what works, be disciplined, and get moving!

What advice would you give to grad students on summer writing/research?


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TED Talks Education







TED Talks Education | New Faculty


TED Talks Education | New Faculty


PBS ran TEDTalksEd last night. It got me all fired up in so many good ways. I simply love education and have had the good fortune of fantastic teachers and mentors in my life. None of these folks stuck to the curriculum. None adhered to the test or mandates. All of them made a profound impact on me. I was blowing up twitter last night too while I watched this. I share the collective thoughts of the show in tweets.

TED Talks Education | New Faculty


For the first time in my career in education, I would not want to send my own child to public school and it’s not the fault of the teachers in that building, it’s the mandates from state and government that keep coming down, testing them to death. I work with phenomenal teachers every day who want to throw the test out of the window and go back to problem based, inquiry based, and learning through ‘failing’ in the protected sense that it’s school, the perfect place to make mistakes. By teaching our kids they can’t fail in school, we are teaching them NOTHING about real life. We are FAILING THEM every day.

TED Talks Education | New Faculty


Learning doesn’t end when the last bell rings. Learning should extend into the afternoon and evening. Our culture has grown to say that “school should take care of everything” and it SHOULD NOT. Is everyone doing a “bad job?” Hell no. But being a slave to a test, living in fear of getting fired based on a test score, and working on raising young adults is too much for our teachers as a whole. The retention rate has decreased from seven to five years for a reason and it’s not because the health insurance benefits have changed.

TED Talks Education | New Faculty



As part of teacher appreciation week, this was well timed and poignant to me as an educator, especially since I finished meetings at 9:30 p.m. last night and got home right as this program began. It had me all excited and I didn’t sleep well, side effect of passion I suppose! 😀 Below is my list of educators and mentors that have nurtured me along the way.

My parents: the people who taught me what love and discipline are. They taught me how to give selflessly to others (and other things like animals) before I gave to myself. This quality has served me well until recently, when my boss keeps telling me to be less generous with my time. They raised me to be tough, to not take shit from anyone unless I was being a shit first, and to think clearly and carefully about my choices in life. While I haven’t always done this, I usually have gotten around to it at some point. I remind my parents that I won’t “get rich” with money by being in education, but the payment of hearing and seeing my former students live, learn, make mistakes, and accept challenges is a pretty amazing reward.

My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Bandlow. Half day kindergarten was amazing. I remember playing, using my imagination, and learning how to read, count, and socialize with my peers. I remember cookies and milk were always the snack and if I played my cards right, I got chocolate milk. Mrs. Bandlow was always so kind, she taught me how to read, how to use phonics, and how to play the best ‘play house’ anyone could ask for. Half day kindergarten was where it was at circa 1985. And don’t you forget it.

My former teacher, Mr. Osterhout. He and I spent some time together. He was always there with the peanut m&m’s and a coke if the day had gone poorly. As an FFA advisor, you spend time with this person. You shape each other and they stay with you for life. Mr. O was a former football player with a temper, but also had a kind heart. His gentle pushes nudged me into leadership, teaching me how to command a room with my voice and presence, increased my knowledge and awareness of the world around me, and he helped me travel. By winning and competing in the FFA, I was afforded countless opportunities to travel.  The contributions he made to our community surpassed anything that could have been done by one human and for all of his flaws, he never stopped caring.

The JOUR faculty at Morrisville State College. I also like to call this: “where I got a REAL education” because it was all hands on, classes were tiny, and you bet that these faculty got up in your grill if you weren’t walking the line. Brian, Neal (mrs. bandlow’s husband incidentally) and the rest of the crew pushed me to be a better writer, helped me land jobs, and gave me the practical education that I rely on almost every day. My AP style is probably still off and my editing skills are lacking, but the intangibles like watching the “breakfast club” and hanging out in the studio were priceless.

Finally, my phd adviser, who became my friend in real life. Boy, she put up with a lot from me and I still call on her to this day for her friendship.

Who would you give your appreciation to this week?

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