Tag Archives: grad students

Grad School is Your JOB

Grad School is Your Job {New Faculty}


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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When Grad Students Don’t Perform: A Lesson in Patience

Lessons in Patience {New Faculty}

“I’ve got this grad student….”

If this were an academic pick-up line, we’d be on our third date already. We’ve all got at least one grad student who…just doesn’t quite understand how life works, how grad school works, or how ‘adulting’ (as i like to fondly call it) works. At all.

There’s a fine line between my expectations of myself and my expectations of my students. This grad student not-with-standing either. I’m highly motivated most of the time. Producing is like oxygen to me and I like doing things (research things) all day, every day. I also like playing games on my phone, going to yoga, going out with my friends, and rotting on my couch. But, I really, REALLY like working. A LOT.

This grad student….they don’t seem to know how to get their shit together. We’ve gone through all of the paces of “what’s the matter?” and done the dance that goes with it. I’ve been the positive boss, the patient mentor, the listening mentor, the understanding and empathetic human, but you know what? I’ve also been pissed off boss. Miraculously, both times I had to raise my voice to ‘teacher level nine’ I got results for several weeks after. I also seem to get blown off, ignored, and totally void of any kind of work for weeks on end as well. As I begin this post, I haven’t seen work for three weeks until this morning. When I emailed and asked for it. And it’s half-assed work in my opinion.

This student doesn’t blow off their work, they’re also blowing off their thesis. So, they’re equal opportunity with their assistantship and their thesis work. That’s slightly comforting on a morbid level. We invest in grad students and their potential. When we begin to get a negative ROI on that, we begin to get annoyed. Put up or shut up. Grad school isn’t just about finding yourself or extending your youth, it’s about getting your next job.

With a mere two weeks left in this semester, I kind of can’t wait for this student to disappear into the sunset. They’ve shown minimal effort, work ethic, and all of the other “soft skill” buzz words I can think of. I don’t know if they’ll finish their thesis and quite frankly, it’s not my problem. I hope they get a job. Although, I haven’t been asked to be a reference for obvious reasons.

I hate to be all ‘negative nancy’ on you grad students, most of you are just fine, but like apples, there’s always that one….that one we can’t ever seem to find, account them for any kind of work, but they’re always the first ones crying wolf about how awful their lives are. If your life is that awful, maybe you need some counseling, but in many cases, life is fine, you’re just looking for another excuse.

Working with students, especially grad students, is truly a lesson in patience for me and my colleagues. We don’t always get it done perfectly either, but we get it done. We show up, and urge our grad students to do the same.

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Every Time A Student Complains About Their Grade

Every time a student complains about their grade via email, my tiny bat like brain does the following things:

First reaction:

When Students Complain About Their Grades {New Faculty}


Second reaction:

When Students Complain About Their Grades {New Faculty}


While I’d really like to send back the honey badger or the bear, I am finding myself annoyed on the last day of the semester. My (grad) students were given rubrics, outlines, and have been able to track their grades religiously all semester. I’ve been a studious reader/grader each week on purpose. DO NOT think I’m going to change your grade because you failed to show up for the final paper (also worth the most points).

I was pleased with my class all semester. Many were able to synthesize and analyze their professional lives. As graduate students, the work becomes more reflective and I push them to drill deep and think about how to enhance their professional careers. I have to say, I am disappointed in the group of final papers I received. Many students “softballed” the assignment, doing the bare minimum and then expecting maximum credit. Half of me thinks, “what could I have done better?” and the other half thinks, “hell no.” Yes, I can always improve as a professor, I’m aware of this. However, I also know that your sense of entitlement and the way you communicate are NOT HELPING your cause. Using phrases like “my friends and I think” and “you didn’t do enough” are NOT ways to get me to respond positively to you. If you wanted more than once a week feedback, you probably need a therapist, not a graduate level professor.

Grade grubbing isn’t a new thing and it’s not my first rodeo but I’m a little disgruntled at the number of emails I’ve received from graduate students who think they’re entitled to a better grade. I can always do better as a professor, but I implore my GRADUATE students to STOP GRADE GRUBBING. Stop complaining because you LOST POINTS and change the conversation into “HOW CAN I DO BETTER NEXT TIME?” You will have a thesis, dissertation, or final project of some sort and instead of putting the blame back on ME, change the conversation to IMPROVE for next time.


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Conference Submissions: Stop, Collaborate, & Listen

Submission season, it’s like road construction in that it never seems to end! I’ve been working on several deadlines lately, pumping out the writing, contributing to things, being a good colleague and mentor, editing like a maniac, and clicking submit with hours, days, and sometimes minutes to spare. Ah….submissions.

Submission season got me thinking about being a good collaborator on interdiscplinary work and how we can manage it. The academy says “you must/should do this” but it’s not always so smooth looking of a process. It’s more like watching sausage get made in most cases, particarly on long research projects. Submissions are a bit different though.

The clock ticks more rapidly.

You have to decide which data to disseminate, what will catch a reviewers eye.

Be mindful not to double dip on that data.

Who to submit with? Did you forget someone?

What role do you take in all of it?

As a grad student or a younger faculty member, it can be daunting to saddle up your horse and get on with submissions. It can be made easier, albeit more pleasant, of an experience if you look after yourself and openly communicate.

  • Who’s doing what?
  • Who’s responsible for final edits?
  • Who’s submitting? Receiving emails, etc….keeping track of it.
  • What’s the time frame? I was editing a paper for a grad student at 10:30 p.m. for an 11:59 p.m. submission. RUDE. The grad student was not on top of it.
  • Who’s on the author list? What are they contributing? Are you leaving anyone out?

There’s a lot of moving parts when you’re trying to submit on a deadline. The best way: get ahead of it early. But since academics seem to be notoriously bad at that, keeping a checksheet or some type of organizer around isn’t a bad idea.

Stop. Collaborate and Listen.

It’s submission time!

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Academic Self Care Isn’t Selfish

Self Care Isn't Selfish | New Faculty


Summer slipped away in the blink of an eye and I’m currently battling the cognitive battle of “no, don’t you dare go into that office on sunday’s” and “but you have grading to do.”

As the academic year rears it’s glittery, sparkly, and slightly pretty head, all kinds of good and very bad things start to happen.

I begin to neglect. Everything. Including myself.

I stop cooking. Popcorn for dinner anyone?

I spend too much time at the desk.

I spend too little time doing all the things away from my desk that need to get done.

I know these things. I’m not proud. But, I started to employ a new system for myself that began in May. While we can’t go back in time, summer was a great transition time for me to get some things in life in order so when the academic year began, taking good care of myself would be easier, more normalized, and dare I say it, enjoyable?

1. I take care of a lot of appointments during August before classes begin. Dentist, annual physical, car inspection, etc….While it does take time, I still have some time in July/August. It was a few weeks of adult problems everywhere! It’s a rare gift to get your oil changed and have 30 minutes of unrequited time to read things online. I take care of these things so I don’t feel guilty for NOT doing them during the semester. I get any prescriptions filled and buy OTC things in bulk so I don’t run out in October and ask my doctor to do a 3-4 month prescription, if possible, so I don’t have to worry about the Target bot calling me 2048 times to let me know I’ve once again forgot to pick it up. I set up any auto pay accounts and revisit financial matters in the summer. The people usually have a little more time to talk to me and answer my questions. While it’s sometimes not the most optimal time to move my retirement accounts around, it’s necessary.

2. I make moving my body a priority. I stopped fooling myself a few years ago and embraced the fact that I have to move regularly. I have a standing desk, but there’s nothing like dropping 300 meters in the pool a few times a week. Going for a 2-3 mile walk or fitting in a good 75-90 min. yoga class are also excellent for me. Since I’m largely sedentary most of the day, I have to find a way. My old faculty appointment had me working very strange hours, but this new one is more normal and therefore, it’s been easier to get into a good routine. The pool is open for open swim from 5:30-7 p.m. each evening and I can often clear myself of responsibility easily for this, yoga, walks, or whatever else there is.

3. Working on the weekends. I’m on the struggle bus about this one. As deadlines loom for submissions and grad students send things at all hours of the day, I’ll keep plugging away. It’s a few weeks into the semester and I’m still happy to report I’ve not had to go in on the weekends. Home football games have also kept this “bad” habit at bay since the university sells every spot for tailgating and tows you away if you think you’re going to park your car anywhere near campus.

4. I prep food for the week on Sunday’s. Boiling eggs for quick breakfasts, making larger portions for leftovers, portioning out leftovers right away so I can grab one container and get out the door, and reviewing my calendar have all helped me eat better. I will usually spend 1-2 hours on the weekend prepping food. It’s not anything “extra” as I usually try to make a decent meal for myself on the weekends. Cutting up veggies so they’re ready to cook, boiling off a batch of rice and freezing it for quick meals, or defrosting meat to throw in the crock pot are all part of the routine for me now. During the days of weird faculty hours, food prep became essential when I was eating around 9 p.m. at night. The last thing I wanted to do was actually cook.

5. I continue to guard my time like a hawk. Writing group each week moves me off campus. Closing the door without fear leads to quiet time to work, and being strict with others and myself about when I can meet is key. I’ve set all my meetings with students this semester on Tuesday’s. If I have to go to one meeting, I might as well have three. I may not get a lot of work done on that day, but it’s not peppered throughout the week, losing an hour here or there. I schedule my weeks top heavy on M-W and have left Thursday’s open to get MY WORK done. I’ve also accepted that by Friday afternoon, I’m exhausted.

Self care isn’t selfish. There’s nothing wrong with voicing to yourself or those around you that you have to take a little time for yourself. There’s nothing wrong with making your calendar to be done by 5 p.m. so you can manage your personal life. There’s nothing to feel guilty about if you’re not a night owl or a morning person, as long as you get to work once you get to work. Academia is such a self-motivated industry, that you have to figure out what works for you. I have friends who work most of the night due to their own circadian clocks and the fact that that’s the time when the kids are asleep. I have friends who work regular days so they can spend time with their kids once they’re home and get them to school in the mornings. Optimizing what you’ve got to work with is key. Taking good care of yourself is not selfish and even if you want to hole up in a dark room with your apple tv, you shouldn’t feel guilty about doing so.

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Grad Students: Über Confident Isn’t Winning

Grad Students: Über Confident Isn't Winning | New Faculty


I’m always intrigued when I talk to grad students in general. I always like to hear about how their experience with grad school is going, what they like to do when they’re not doing grad school things, and then I like to run into the major advisors at meetings, workshops, and conferences.

Students in grad school tend to go one way or the other: uber confident to the point of arrogant OR the “zero” efficacy zone with so much humble pie, you would have thought they crawled out from one that very morning (also called bed).

I was out with a grad students who’s ABD and he gushed on and on about “how great things were going” and “i’m so far along” and “i’m killing it, i’m just killing it.”

Incidentally, I’d just seen his advisor about a week prior and they had something quite the opposite to say, “underproducer 100%,  a year or more behind.”


Where does this happen? Why does this happen? The Professor is In discussed grad student grandiosity and how it spills over into packets for jobs and it got me thinking about grad students I work with and pointed inward to the kind of grad student I was. This behavior begins long before a student begins putting together packets and the illusion that they’re somehow “doing great and killing it” is something that has always made me curious. I believe it’s a pretty fine line between doing great and doing terrible. It’s no secret that grad school is the destroyer of self-esteem in general so it never hurts to have a healthy ego, but at what point does that ego get the best of us and put us in the “a year behind” category without us even realizing it.

While it can be hard, open communication among the student/advisor is 100% necessary. Each party can only do so much to meet the other half way. What’s important to remember is this: your advisor already has his/her phd and you don’t. You can say that the advisor is awful or that they’re not helping you all you want, but they don’t need another degree and you do. If you think your advisor only has you to worry about, reframe your thinking: your advisor has more work that he/she will ever know what to do with and you’re about 1/48 of his/her plate of work on any given day.

Being self motivated is the only way you’re going to finish. You can have the best support group, most outstanding advisor, and amazing research, but the only thing that will get you to completion is YOU. Compensating with ego will only get you so far, the jig won’t last long when no words come out on the paper. I watched this happen several times during grad school and several more on faculty. You can only go so long without doing the readings, you can only last so long by not buckling down.

As you begin a new academic year, I implore the faculty and the students to communicate. Managing expectations will help everyone and being clear on those in advance can only turn this into a positive outcome. I’m not going to pretend that grad school is full of magic and unicorns, but you can get out with some slice of dignity left by pacing yourself through the marathon, being humble, and working through the process.

I bid you a productive and steadfast academic year.


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Beefing Up the Boundary Talk

Beefing up Boundaries | new faculty


We’ve discussed boundaries with grad students before and kicking grad school mentality. It can be really difficult. Sometimes, no matter what we do, we always end up with a grad student (or two) that is really good at over sharing, over doing it, or just sort of being obnoxious. We’re also to blame as we sometimes let it go too far. If we want respect from our grad students and vice versa, we need to:

  • respect ourselves
  • set some healthy boundaries
  • live and learn

I got a note last week from a friend who is also a newer phd and is in a faculty position at a university. She is doing great.  She finished her note to me with, “when you have a chance, can we talk? i need to talk something out, nothing scary, but it’s been bugging me.”

**ring, ring**

We set up a time to chat on the phone as she’s hundreds of miles away and had a big old catch up over the weekend. It was truly great to talk to her. There’s some things that email cannot convey emotionally and honestly, it was just a lot of fun. After ‘catching up,’ the conversation turned a bit more serious and I probed about what was bugging her.

“I don’t feel like my grad students respect me.”

When I asked why, she had the following (shortened) things to say:

“I see them in class but then I will sometimes go out with them. I also play on a kickball league with them and do some other things. It’s hard being here, my partner works a lot and we’re always running opposite schedules. The students are great so it’s easy. I might have taken it too far once or twice when I was out with them (drinking) but I just don’t understand why they see me as equal and not their professor.” 

**big sigh**

I love my friend. She is a truly talented and gifted woman, and I truly empathize with her loneliness. As human beings we want to BELONG, we want people around us who make us feel good and no one likes being lonely, but she’s in a situation that she CAN get out of.

I asked her some probing questions:

  • what other activities do you find yourself engaged with them regularly?
  • what activities are work related vs. pleasure/outside of work related?
  • why don’t you think they respect you?

Our gut usually tells us what the problems/answers are, but sometimes, we need to talk it out with a trusted friend and that’s what she was doing. I was not going to tell her any golden nuggets of wisdom because she already knew the answers. What she wanted was someone to work through some plausible and reasonable solutions and to affirm her decision making, serving as the ‘voice of reason.’

Upon asking her those questions and going back and forth with some dialogue, conclusions were made.

If you want your grad students to respect you, you need to earn it. I do not blame grad students on this one. My friend was clearly engaging in some poor choices and was making herself wide open to such criticism and LACK of respect.

  • Getting drunk with them is not going to earn it. EVER. Drinking too much with them on a regular basis is setting you up for failure every time. While super fun, it’s not going to get you real far. I’m avoiding a huge beer festival because I know it will be chalk full of grad students and of age undergrads. I realize I’m 21 and a mostly formed adult, but I don’t need to subject myself to their criticism later or comments that are unprofessional at a meeting. Drinking is part of our culture and I’m not afraid to be seen out having a good time, I just choose who I have a good time with VERY WISELY these days.
  • Socializing with them exclusively is not going to earn it. EVER. There is a fine line of ‘getting to know each other’ and ‘whoops, there it goes’ in terms of respect.
  • Social media-facebook, twitter, fantasy leagues, vine, snapchat, instagram, etc…. (the list is ridiculously long) are fine, but you need to censor that. Taking my own advice, I put all of my ‘grad student type friends’ on a restricted list. It is a case-by-case basis as some of my students CAN handle the professional relationship and separate the personal vs. the professional aspects.
  • Force yourself to find one or two colleagues to interact with OUTSIDE OF YOUR DEPT OR SOCIAL CIRCLE. I know it’s hard, everyone is married, everyone has a life, but I bet if you look, you’ll find at least one person who is also a newer faculty. Maybe a writing group, maybe someone who goes to your gym, maybe someone who’s always at the same coffee shop. I’ve written about finding friends in the faculty sandbox. It takes time, but it’s worth it.
  • Ask yourself: would i be friends w/ this person (these people) if we weren’t in this bubble? do we ever do anything that doesn’t involve_____ (drinking, kickball, etc… if we’re following my conversation)? could i sit down with this person without any distraction and have a quality conversation? if the answer is ‘no’ at any time–re-evaluate. kickball and beer is only going to take your friendship so far. if that’s as far as you want it to go, then go forth, get wasted, and kick a rubber ball.
  • Understand the FUNDAMENTAL difference between friends and professional friends. If you only feel comfortable in the confines of drinking and kickball, you might want to check yourself before you wreck yourself.
  • “But New Faculty, I love these friends, they’re great for having a fun time.” Yes, I hear you. Loud and clear. I have friends that are amazing fun-havers, but maybe it’s the introvert in me or the Virgo–I like to be able to have friends that are multi-purpose, just like my spray cleaners….judge me later.

Find people outside of your department/area. The best thing I ever did was make friends with people I didn’t have to see at department meetings. I have no problem talking to smart, intelligent people–grad student or not and you can tell by the flow of a conversation if it’s going to be a positive relationship, even if it’s strictly professional. You can also tell if a grad student can handle a little bit more exposure. I have a friend who’s a grad student and he’s completely dumbstruck when I talk to him. Good guy, a great human being, not ready to be my ‘friend’ in a lot of ways. Yes, he went on that restricted list. I have another friend who’s a recent post-doc. Great human being, very smart and friendly, but you will always find him drinking/socializing with grad students still. Not ready. And that’s fine. Also on the list.

On the flip side of the coin, I have a few close friends who are grad students because they worked for years before returning to academia for their degree and they understand the boundaries.  Our rapport has been positive without going overboard or ‘too far’ in any situation. The mutual respect we share is understood and not taken advantage of.

Staying in grad student bubble is easy. It really is. But, as young(er) professionals, we NEED TO STOP if we want to be taken seriously. This does not mean I’ll be riding my broom around campus or anything extreme, but it was great pause for me to think about beefing up my own boundaries with my students. I stopped living with grad students this year. It’s been great. My housemate is also on faculty/staff at the university and is a real, living, breathing adult who has to be up and out the door at 8 a.m. every day. No “big time” on Thursday nights so he’s too hung over to function on Friday kind of stuff anymore (i’d really like friday’s off FYI 😉 ). I don’t begrudge the grad student lifestyle. Honestly, I’m a bit jealous of it most days, but at this point in my life, I’m ready for whatever is out there and so is my friend on the phone.

She didn’t need me to lecture her, which is a good thing because frankly, I’m no good at it. She just needed an empathetic ear who understood. We set some healthy boundaries (I mostly listened) and it gave me the opportunity to also think about my own boundaries with grad students. I’m thankful that I truly have wonderful grad and undergrad researchers with me this year, but I also hand picked them myself, which was something I had not had the luxury of doing in prior years.

Beefing up my boundaries has helped me frame my own context for who I am as a professional and where I’d like to head (or at least a general direction). Now that we’re in the semester, it might be worth a quick ‘check in’ with ourselves (not all warm & fuzzy like a self help book either) to evaluate where we are as well. It took my friend months to get entrenched in her not-so-awesome situation and she will easily rebound. When we set realistic and attainable expectations for ourselves, we are usually rewarded ten fold. And yes, we even learn along the way. If you’re being mentored, talk to your mentor to help you kick that grad school mentality! It can’t hurt to have another pair of ears on your team helping you along the way!

How do you set boundaries with your grad students? Tips you’d like to share?

*i refer to most people w/ a ‘he’ or ‘masculine reference’ – it just makes life easier…

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