Tag Archives: GRA

Grad Students-Dressing the Part

Dressing the Part | New Faculty


One of the many delights of being a grad student is being able to dress in jeans and hoodies if you’re working your data, in the lab (coat and goggles perhaps and closed toed shoes), or just bumming. In fact, dressing ‘down’ is standard practice in grad school.

Dressing the part can be tricky though. If you’re teaching (depending on what it is) it can be helpful to up your “A” game in the wardrobe department, how you present yourself, and taking a few small hints can set you apart from an undergrad mentality to a grad student and onto a young professional.

Case in point #1:

My research team and I get asked to present our research at various events, we handle requests and accept them as we have time to do so.

The grad students:

were the worst dressed.

The undergrads had even taken the time to:

wear a dress, do their hair, wear a blazer (albeit w/ nice jeans) and generally presented well. (applause….I complimented them later).

The grad students:

showed in jean capri’s, gym shorts, wore flip flops, and stood in front of the lecture hall of 70+ students holding starbucks cups the whole time.

And I think they were ok with that initially.

I think they caught on. As I observed them, I could tell they were looking at the rest of the team. The undergrads had gotten dressed appropriately and the other faculty and I had on appropriate business attire to present to the students. As the grad students presented, they continued to stand w/ starbucks,  ‘standing with legs crossed’ and  looked like they had to use the bathroom. As a researcher who studies non-verbal behaviors, this wasn’t looking too put together. Proper coaching and perhaps a gentle nudge were in order from our end and that is our responsibility.

You could argue that it shouldn’t matter or it was only an hour but here’s the thing:

it does matter

The guest talk was on a Friday afternoon, certainly not the ‘best’ time of the week for anyone, but guess what?

Nobody got time for that!

Whether we like it or not, we live in a society that what we look like sometimes does matter. I know the students have nicer clothes, maybe they were tired, rushed, or had been in the midst of a busy day.

Cae in point #2:

I had a meeting with a grad student (also a friend in real life). I had not seen him in some time (several months). Upon entering my office and exchanging pleasantries, he sat down so we could chat. He’d gained a bit of weight over the past few months, which is a common thing in grad school for many people. Hours of sitting takes its toll.

His button down was bursting. He was aware of this problem and kept trying to pull it back over.

His jeans: so tight I could see he was uncomfortable. Between him tugging on his shirt and readjusting in his seat: this guy was having a bad time.

He owned it though. About 10 minutes in, he finally stood up and said, “I’m just doing it” and untucked his shirt and unbuttoned it (he did have on an undershirt). Thankfully, we have a good enough rapport where it wasn’t a problem. We made light of it with a laugh and our conversation about what grad school does to your body followed. It only would have been a problem if he’d unbuttoned his pants. Which he did not.

I didn’t need to say anything. He knew he’d gained some pounds and his clothes were no longer accommodating his growth. He was embarrassed and knew he needed to get to a store for the next size up. Thankfully, it’s probably not permanent as many of us know.

Grad students, you’ve gotta walk the walk if you want to talk the talk. I’m not saying you have to go out and drop $500 on new suits but you can obtain a fresh set of khaki’s or dress pants and a nice shirt for less than $100. If you’re feeling even more frugal, hit up goodwill, ask some other colleagues to help you out, or put these things on your wish list for an upcoming holiday. It’s not difficult or expensive to look neat and put together for things like teaching, presenting, or networking.

Check yourself. Take note of how you present yourself physically. I realize you probably don’t have time to take a public speaking class, but the Internet is chock full of tutorials and other helpers to give you a leg up. If you have an ‘annoying tick’ like saying “like” a million times or rocking when you stand, take note. Have someone record you and play it back (or record yourself on your handy smart phone). When I taught public speaking, I recorded my students during each of their speeches and then they provided me with a 200 word critique of positives and negatives. It does help. It’s painful to watch ourselves. We do a lot of weird things, but it can help you in the long run.

The bottom line is this: you probably won’t have a fatal accident as a result of your pants being far too tight (unless the button bursts & you hit someone in the eye). You won’t lose funding over presenting in flip flops holding your starbucks, but it doesn’t do much for your presentation and it tells your audience you don’t have a lot of pride in what you’re doing.

As much as academia flaunts your identity and independence, it doesn’t hurt to look appropriate and professional when the situation calls for it. If you’re a bit overdressed, it’s still better than being under dressed in most situations. Dressing the part will also help you come across as a professional if you’re feeling less than confident at times. Sometimes, the right clothes can psychologically help you get your game face on.

Go ahead, take stock of the closet this week and get ready to knock the socks off your audience and give yourself a nice boost the next time the spotlight turns to you.

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Baby Gonna Cry?

Baby Gonna Cry? | New Faculty


There seems to be something happening around me lately. It’s the fourth full week of classes around here and I think I may have to run to the store and buy a box of: DIAPERS.

This also goes along with my  “boundary talk” because quite frankly, if another grad student looks at me and goes, “wwwaaahhhhh, i’m working so hard…..wwaaahhhh,” I might reach out and touch their life. Or their head w/ a ‘thump’ like those ‘Should’ve Had a V8 commercials.’

I’m usually pretty good at brushing them off, smiling, and saying things like, “I’m sure you’re doing great” and “welcome to graduate school,” but last week was a test for me. Mind you, the grad students that know me well know that they better be pretty constructive if they’re going to complain and at least ask for help before they begin whining, but now that I think about it, none of the grad students (or undergrads) that I have have complained this week to me. Not once. I don’t think it’s because I’m any better or worse of a faculty member or human being, but when hand selecting these students, they knew what they signed up for. There was no ‘sugar coating’ with any of them.

I had the opportunity to chat at length with a grad student this summer who thought he was pretty slick. He’d been funded but had dodged his faculty employer most of the summer with a lot of travel and not much work. He thought he was funny, ingenious, and quite frankly, had ‘worked the system.’ I saw this grad student not too long ago.


His faculty employer figured him out, paid him, and then doubled (if not tripled) his work load this fall. And you know what: the grad student is doing it because he knew he was WRONG for skirting his summer responsibilities. His over-blown ego, breezy non-chalant attitude about how he thought he was soooo smart, and sense of entitlement had quickly washed away and had been replaced by a fresh layer of work, work, and KARMA. I know his faculty member–they’re no slouch, I knew who’d win that battle….faculty: 1, student: 0.

I also love the grad students who take to social media to air their laundry. HELLO! If you’ve got time to complain on facebook, you need more work. Some of these students don’t even try to take a light hearted approach, they just complain. What did you think was going to happen? Who do you think is watching you on social media? Get it together, be professional for a moment and once again: get to work!

Dear grad students, grad school is tough. It’s going to test you mentally, physically, and emotionally. If you’d wanted an ‘easier gig,’ I’d suggest the Qwickie Mart selling slurpees. Stop complaining and get to work! The end.

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Summer With the Students

Summer With Students |New Faculty

source–my own

Over casual meals and conversation, summer is a great time to build rapport, talk shop with more freedom, and be very productive in the sense that nothing may get written, the but foundation gets laid for the upcoming semesters.

I’ve had the good fortune of working with some outstanding undergraduate and graduate students in just a few short years and while I’ll save the ‘gloom and doom’ portion of the post for later, let me share with you the story behind the young ladies in the photo above.

The student (undergrad or grad) who excels, gets asked to work the extra projects and ends up reaping the rewards. The students in the photo above were all working with me (except the guy, he’s a colleague) and two of the three have been hired for the fall. The third graduated and is off to her first FT job soon. This group of young ladies has exceled in work ethic. It’s ok if they didn’t get hired knowing everything about research, we taught them. A good work ethic will get you a lot farther in my book than a giant list of books you’ve read or an ego the size of a fire truck. Quite frankly, the ego can go anyway. The same can be said for some of the fine graduate students I have the pleasure of knowing and working with. Checking their ego at the door and buckling down for some real work is paying off for them. They’re the ones being paid for to attend conferences, going to special sessions to learn new software, and while the workload is double, the students have all weighed the advantages and disadvantages for the long haul.

These are great human beings to work with. I cannot say enough nice things about them. There’s even the middle of the road students who I enjoy who work really hard but have other things in their lives (partners, young children) that impede them from being a ‘rock star’ but they also work extremely hard and will finish with ease.

Now to the other side of the coin: In talking w/ several unergrad researchers and grad students, I shared my experiences of how I’ve observed departments take students off of funding/benefits as a way to gently nudge them. The student may not have realized it, but was quickly becoming a career student, something the dpeartment was trying to avoid. The student persisted, running from small grant to small grant, running out of funding, going through lapses with no funding, but yet, would not finish their dissertation.

What does this say? What do you say to that student (besides my friend HONESTY that says, “hey, read the writing on the wall & get your shit together”)

I keep repeating and sound like the broken record to grad students, but I keep saying the following:

it sucks. work hard. your faculty notice. you get picked for things b/c we know you’ll do the work correctly not b/c we’re trying to punish you. when we give you the whole summer off unpaid, (and not by choice, when there’s ZERO offer for summer funding) it’s b/c we know you won’t produce during the summer b/c you didn’t produce much during the year.

If you’re the student who’s getting cut from funding completely–wake up, make some coffee & smell it. Unless there are catastrophic cuts somewhere (beyond control) it’s b/c we want you done. We want you out. You hanging on only makes you look desperate, not scholarly. Do circumstances arise? Yes, but departments are masters of moving money when they feel the investment will be worth it. Be worth it to your department to move money (and mountains) for you if need be.

Don’t be the career student who sucks everyone dry.


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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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I Once Knew A Guy Who Failed His Prelims

Prelims | New Faculty


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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The Jar Labeled: Grad Student Tears


I was discussing my experience with a colleague recently about being a grad student and how I cried. I then told her about a recent meeting with a grad student bursting into tears during her monthly mentoring meeting with me. I joked that in grades 6-12, my former students would cry once in a while (which is fine btw), but a grad student bursting into tears was a new phenomenon for me (this was also fine, keep reading, i’m not making fun or her or any grad student).

Not too long ago, I was a grad student and in case you were wondering YES I CRIED. I cried to my mom when I was so unhappy. I cried to her on the phone in the stairwell of my office building because I was frustrated. I cried to my ‘work husband,’ another grad student when I was losing my shit. I cried with my advisor when I was beyond frustrated about a situation that had turned from bad to worse by lies. In fact, I can clock my meltdowns on the calendar since they usually fell at the beginning/middle of each semester when I felt like I was getting buried. Grad school is an experience that can only be described by fellow graduate students and the range of emotions will often leave you exhausted and yes, even crying.

So, here we go grad students. If you’re reading this, you should know that I completed my graduate program a year ago and got hired (it’s possible and good luck!). This being said, I learned some hard lessons in grad school and would like to share them with you here so you may or may not do some of these things. I wish you the best in your graduate program and continue to feel humbled by the experience and am using many of the valuable skills I learned in my graduate program.

It’s simple. We want you to learn, to work, & learn how to do research. You don’t feel like it? Have a chip on your shoulder? Think you can slink through? We’re not dumb. We will figure it out. We know the language you speak because we also speak it fluently. Stop. Get to work. Get off your ass and get to work.

There is no road map to graduate school so quit trying to download it on your smart phone. Quit trying to control and micro-manage all of it because as soon as you think you have a hand on it, life will toss you something super fun (insert sarcasm).

Grad school is an experience. Experience it. Go to the socials, meet other students in your classes, get involved in something besides school, research, and going home to your couch. Scrape your ass off the chair and go out. You don’t have to party like an undergrad to form relationships with people. Find a core group and go out with them. Make it a standing invitation. Sometimes you want like minded people around you who understand what you’re talking about when you’re at your best and worst.

Get communicating. NOW. With who? Everyone. Set weekly check in’s with your advisor if you can. Make a list of questions. Get a mentor. You’ll need someone on your side who will lead you and guide you along your way. Break it down with your spouse, significant other, kids, and family. Odds are, these folks won’t understand why in the world you’re in grad school so you better rally your troops so they respect your decision, even if they don’t understand it. Communicate with the other grad students around you. Coursework, job prospects, life, hobbies, weird ingrown toenails, whatever it is, it’s ok. I can’t stress how important it is to communicate. As you get deeper and deeper into your program you will continue to withdraw due to work and research so start reaching out early.

Plug your sense of humor in and turn it on HIGH!!! Being so tired you’re giggling like a four year old, being so frustrated that you begin to laugh uncontrollably, or just being giddy on too much bad coffee while you race to find free food are all good reasons to laugh. So, get ready. Perhaps you need to check out phd comics or the grad school tumblr if you need help finding your chuckle because there will be days when absolutely nothing else is funny, including you.

Grad school is your job, not your life. Did you hear me? It’s your job. It will lead you to your next job so make sure you do a good job but remember it’s not forever.

Grad school is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Get some good shoes, a good laptop, a thick skin, and prepare to gain 10 lbs. from all of the sitting.

Grad school can be isolating and very lonely. I cannot stress how terribly isolating the experience can be because you’re often the only one working on your research. Go get those experiences and reach out so you don’t suffer from grad school loneliness.

Grad school guilt. Turn off grad school sometimes. You will need time off. The blessing and the curse of grad school is that it’s always there. With more mobile options available, that nagging feeling that you should always be working will eat away at you and the ‘grad school guilt’ as I like to call it, will make you feel like you should be working 24/7. In truth, you shouldn’t have to work all of the time. If you are, you’re not being efficient. Pick a start time and an end time and base those on your circadian clock. Make a point to do things you enjoy; working out, playing music, movies, outdoor activities, reading other things, whatever it is, pencil in the time to do it. Make time for regular tasks too like paying bills, it’s amazing how pleasurable grocery shopping can be when you’re not racing through the store like a maniac. Taking delight in some regular activities will grow on you. I promise.

There you have it. It may seem like a lot or a little. No matter where you fall in the spectrum, take it from a first year faculty. As I get ready to celebrate my first year on faculty, it’s passing quickly and the lessons I learned in grad school I still reflect on. Your program and experience will be unique so don’t spend time comparing you vs. whoever. Just go in and kick some ass.

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GRA hiring–like the NBA draft (NOT!)

photo from

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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