Tag Archives: graduate school

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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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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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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Owning it

As a new faculty, I’m thankful for the countless opportunities I’ve been afforded since starting. I love traveling….for a while.  The place: our nation’s capital.

As I got ready to travel, I realized one thing: I was no longer a graduate student.  I know you’re probably thinking, ‘get it together’ but really.  There has been little or no time to transition cognitively.  Sure, I graduated and walked and was hooded and my family was there and PIC and a nice dinner…..BUT–I started this position before I even graduated. (did you like my giant run-on sentence?)

How did the shift happen?  It started with some clothes.  Before I bare my soul, I will also add that grad school helped me get fatter and I had some work to do.  I have shed about 20 lbs. over the past few months and was needing some things that fit a bit more properly.  You know the saying, “the clothes make the (wo)man.”

So, I took myself shopping and invested a few hundred dollars in some pants that fit (my undergrad friends would call this “diaper a**,”) a few new shirts, and a new blazer. Funny what dressing the part can do for our pride, make us stand a bit taller, and carry ourselves with a straighter back.  The weight loss didn’t hurt my self esteem either.

Second step: the hair.  Again–so vane….so superficial….I had donated my hair over the summer and had neglected a good haircut since then.

Third step: unpacking my office.  I had started in December and on Feb. 1st there was still a mountain of boxes packed full of my books, pictures in storage, and general chaos.On several occasions, even my boss had said, “you ever going to move in?”

Fourth step (maybe should be #1): owning it. No more saying, “i’m a grad student, i’m not done yet, i just passed my prelims.” No one asks anymore and I don’t introduce myself as such.  Owning it has helped me make the transition.

When was your cognitive shift?  Did it happen with the piece of paper?  I know I was ready to be done with grad school, but a bit fearful of what was next.  There are days when I’d like tto go back to the less stressful world of grad school, but as I type in an airport, I can’t help but think that I’ve finally made the transition in my head.  Now, if my student loans would pay themselves 🙂

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