Monthly Archives: August 2015

Grad School is Your JOB

Grad School is Your Job {New Faculty}

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New grad students were treated to a rare sighting last week: the real me. I tend to be work new faculty at work, but last week…oh last week got me good.

We had a half day orientation for our new students and I gave a talk about all of the amazing technology resources this gigantic university has for students. In the midst of my “brain dump,” I said the following:

“grad school isn’t just school. grad school is your job. it will lead you to your next job. if you treat grad school like a job instead of like a frat party or school, you will be more successful.”

Way to ease them in….nothing like a little velvet hammer to rain down on them at 9 .m.

Why did I take out the tough love card? I’ve seen it done both ways now. I’ve seen students who treat grad school like the job before their next job and you know what?

They finish on time.
They’re more focused.
They spend less time wasting time.
They keep their eyes on the prize.
They don’t get mired in everyone else’s bull%*^!!.
They leave their peers in the dust cognitively.

It sounds cruel and believe me, I don’t mean to be cruel (like being mean to a kitten kind of cruel), but I do believe in being honest. We have a few stragglers in our department right now and we had at least one attrition out for a job offer. They all had their reasons but the NUMBER ONE REASON they didn’t persist: they didn’t treat it like a job. They waffled, they lagged, THEY PRODUCED NOTHING for themselves or the department in terms of scholarship. They forgot that grad school was their JOB, not their giant social pool or dating pool.

We guarantee our students three years of funding for phd’s and we have one who lived out their three years, was not done, and was forced to find their own funding elsewhere for their fourth (and hopefully final) year. Instead of being an adult, (cough, cough, this person is in their mid-30’s), they have done nothing but continue to whittle that chip on their shoulder, attend department functions, and COMPLAIN non-stop. It was so bad at the welcome back cookout/picnic, that new grad students said to me, “this student complained about how awful the department was for 20 minutes, do they know how bad that makes them look?”

No. No they don’t. I’d encourage that student to brush their shoulder off to remove the chip, but I don’t think it will work. In their self-righteous arrogance, they forgot why they were here: to get their next job. I watched them get mired in drama, openly admit they’d done nothing on their dissertation, but then put their hand out expecting to be given cart blanche permission to take another year of funding away from a student who was working on the same timeline but on time.

As your new academic year begins and you’re on one side of the desk of the other, please remind your students that grad school is a marathon, that it’s the long race to their next job. If you’re the student know that we’re rooting for you, we want you to succeed. Leave the drama and hit the books. And when things don’t go your way, don’t complain (at least not in front of the people who will dictate your future), call your mom, call your dad, call your granny, call your friends, but stop complaining about us in front of us. There’s a reason you didn’t finish on time and the reason will look back at you in a mirror. (not always but a lot)

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Professional Development: It Works!

Professional Development: It Works! {New Faculty}

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As I begin this post, I’m taking a break from a three day long professional development bootcamp that’s offered by my employer. It’s called “Course Design Institute” and is three solid days of nothing but working on your classes.

I’m big on three things:

  • time
  • space
  • permission

Why? This workshop gives me all of those things AND snacks! Professional development doesn’t have to be expensive or hard. Many young faculty think they don’t have time or it won’t be productive but take it from me: setting aside three days to work on my classes is a rare gift that I wouldn’t carve out for myself. I like being able to come to a location, listen to the facilitator, and then have blocks of time to do nothing but work. No one coming by my office. No interruptions of any kind, in fact, almost no one knows where I am. It’s such a great set up that coffee and snacks are provided and so is lunch each day if I want it. It has removed all distractions and given me every creature comfort I could possibly want so I can concentrate on my sole mission: SYLLABI

I planned ahead and even signed up for a Spanish course this fall. It’s once per week, over lunch, and is not going to be a time suck. My university and very generous employer offer this to the faculty on a first-come-first-serve basis and I was super excited to get into the class. It’s an hour I can spare. I’m investing in myself, it’s adding to my CV and it will be a beneficial skill to have.

As you begin a new academic year, take a few minutes and invest in yourself. Professionally speaking, some extra development can be useful to build your skill set, meet new colleagues, and doesn’t have to be expensive or painful.

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Reviewing & Reflecting on My Summer Writing Goals

Summer Writing Goals Revisited {New Faculty}

I set some lofty goals at the beginning of summer. I was diligent in my writing, but also managed to keep time set aside for some summer enjoyment: vacation, the great outdoors, and seeing friends near and far.

I joined a summer writing group in my department that another pre-tenure colleague graciously organized. This helped me get organized, put my thoughts and goals on paper, and then helped me stay accountable. I could reference my sheet anytime to refocus my attention. It was a worthy and successful endeavor.

How did my summer shape up? As I write this, one article has gone out and come back: rejected. Another out and come back: edit. The third: out for review. The fourth article: waiting to be sent due to some politics that were beyond my control (it’s finished, that’s what matters).

Not a bad summer and one I’m quite proud of. It would have been easy to falter, to take lazy afternoons, or to just ignore things altogether, but it really helped me to have it out on paper to see and to check in weekly with the writing group (whoever was available) to say “What did I do this week? What am I doing next week?” I didn’t realize how useful it would be to have to answer those two questions on a regular basis. I see how valuable they can be knowing that someone will be looking at you and asking those things.

The rejection was hard to swallow. It was my first since joining faculty in 2011. It had to happen sometime, but it’s always a bitter pill. I did a lot “right” on that paper but the data just wasn’t good enough. I’m ok with the outcome at this point and am working on the “positives” to keep working on the final manuscripts.

As I print out my syllabi and prepare for the upcoming semester that will bring back teaching, advising, meetings, and committees, I’m going to reign in my writing a bit. I won’t push for four manuscripts over the semester, that’s an unattainable goal at best. We collected some data at the end of July I’d like to get written up and sent out this fall. That seems much more manageable. I’ll also edit and resubmit the article that’s been accepted.

I hope to continue with a check-in group as well. It’s going to be a good challenge for me to see if I can continue with the good habit and see how I can grow it. I have colleagues and friends who are trying to set anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours aside each day for writing. I’d like to start that practice as well to see if it can become a habit. I’m worried that my time will get sucked in other places but will give it a good try. I may opt to stay home to try and write as well. While not as convenient, there’s no one here to bother me. I’ve been sprucing up my place as well, making it more attractive/livable/making use of the space I’m paying good money for. I don’t have an office because I refuse to buy anymore furniture, but I do have the luxury of a quiet space, plenty of coffee, and ambient noise.

Learning how to become a prolific writer is a process for any faculty member, young or old, fresh out of grad school or seasoned veteran. I’m proud for committing to it this summer, following my lofty goals through, and now am excited to make my calendar for fall to do it again.

Have a great first day of class!

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Vacation: A Hard Reboot

Vacation for This Academic {New Faculty}

I took (almost) two weeks for vacation this year. It was great. Seriously.

I went home for a full week. I even extended my stay after being bribed with a Friday night fish fry (duh, easy decision) and stayed another day. The pace of the farm is totally different than the pace of academia. The cows need to be fed, milked, and cared for. The garden needs to be picked, the corn needs to be checked. The hay needs to be mowed, tedded, and raked before being baled, and everything runs on the weather. If it’s going to rain, you work like hell. If it doesn’t rain, you still work like hell. If it’s actually raining, you work on other stuff like there’s no tomorrow. It’s all immediate during the summer. It’s never a waiting game (unless it’s raining).

The pace of the farm suits me. I like the immediate gratification, the constant pace, the feeling of happiness fed calves have, the quiet of the cows when they’re out to pasture and everyone is happy, healthy, and grazing.

I came back to my house and spent a solid day cleaning. Not just cleaning my house, but looking after tasks that have been neglected: cleaning out closets, sorting things, organizing things, and making runs to the local YMCA to rid myself of some of my physical clutter, which made my mental clutter also improve. I had things in piles, but the piles were becoming burdensome to look at. It forced me to look at “my stuff” for a few hours and realize: I have enough. More than enough. Like most Americans, I had more than I needed. I even spent a little time decorating my place. I’ve only lived here for four years and a friend gifted me some corner shelves when he moved. I had put nothing on them, I had not dusted them, they were simply sitting there. I puppysat my friend, Henry, and his puppy mom gave me some beautiful gifts as a “thank you” which went perfectly on them. It motivated me to pretend someone actually lives in this home for more than showers and TV time.

I have made a habit of having a “eat out of my cupboards” every few weeks. Instead of keeping an overstocked pantry of dry/canned goods, I would eat only out of them and not buy any other dry goods. I would allow myself to buy things like fresh eggs and milk because I do consume them every day and in larger quantities. I need to remind myself of the same for my “stuff” in life too: visiting what I do have. I purchased only one “thing” to decorate my shelves, a new flowerpot for some cuttings I brought back from NY, so it’s a useful purchase, not a frivolous one and the cuttings are in it on the shelf.

The same can be said for academia (getting to my long winded point now). I have a skill set. I have a really good one, but it’s often forgot because many of my colleagues share a similar skill set and some have had more years to work on it than I have. I like the gratification of helping, of serving, of observing good things happening. Sometimes, I get bogged down in the tedious waiting game of academia (I have NO patience people) but know it’s a necessary part of the game. The two weeks I spent on vacation satisfied so many levels of my psyche that I was actually sad to go back to work. I spent a whole day in my house not leaving for anything. I colored (you’ve got to get yourself a Johanna Basford coloring book stat), I watched endless things on my apple tv, I actually relaxed. It was a good counter day to the week of busy, the days of cleaning and organizing, and the lull was welcome because the next day, I was back at it. I left the house anyway 🙂

I could have gone with friends to their lake house during my second week of vacation, but it would not have been good for me. Great people, but 10 kids and six adults for a week would have over stimulated me into a frenzy. Not to mention the additional hours of driving (20+ over a week) were not what I was looking for. I “staycationed” like a boss. I needed the continual schedule disruption and it soothed my soul on many levels. I love the quiet but I covet some good social interactions. I needed a break, but I needed to clear my plate and my head.

I hope you took some time off this year too. I’ve printed my syllabi for fall to begin the process of updating them and grad students will be on campus beginning next week. Summer is OVER, time for the GRIND!

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REJECTED: Coping With a Manuscript Letdown

REJECTED: Manuscript Rejection

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It happened. I got rejected. Flat out, on my ass rejected. From a journal. With a resounding “hell no” from all three reviewers.

OUCH.

How to handle? Ice cream. Wine.

How to respond? Get back in the saddle and get writing.

It just so happened that when I forwarded the reviewer comments to my co-authors, one replied with the word “ouch” as well. It always hurts. Whether you’re a new faculty like me or a seasoned veteran (like one of my c0-authors), getting flat-out rejected is kind of like getting kick in the shin by a small child when you weren’t expecting it.

However, here’s the big idea: rejection happens in academia.

I’d been very lucky. I’d gone four years without a single manuscript rejection so I knew I was running on borrowed time. If I get anymore this year, my tiny ego might actually need some melted cheese, but I can handle anything else, even if it’s rejected but make edits and we’ll accept it. I’m not a perfect researcher, it’s an impossible goal, but I know I can always get better. That’s the goal, to get better.

So, while I’d like to give you some resounding nugget of advice here, the best I can do is tell you to try not to get too sensitive about it, read the comments, find the good things, and move forward.

My positive comments were about my APA citations, something I had been working on, and the tightness of my writing. Both things that I work hard at. The things they didn’t like can be fixed for future submissions. Maybe the data wasn’t appropriate for their scope, maybe I did do it all wrong, but I can’t keep crying over that spilled milk, especially when there’s two more manuscripts on my desk that need to go out before classes begin.

Cheer up! The old saying may be “publish or perish” but I haven’t died yet, just put one manuscript to bed. FOREVER!!

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