Tag Archives: graduate student

Excuse Me, Your Ignorance is Showing

Ignorance in Academia | New Faculty

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I never fail to be surprised by the things that people and colleagues say to me without thinking. Admittedly, I’m also guilty of living in my own little world, so fear not, I’m not without my own judgement of myself from time to time here. I share the three antecdotes below as a lesson to my peers, my graduate school readers, and my colleagues. Don’t be like these people. ūüėĬ†

I deliver lots of professional development (PD) as part of my job. I love it (truth). We bring in folks to help us out, sort out curriculum, and get all the teachers ready to deliver. It’s a fun part of the job (truth). The last set of PD was equally good and I’m excited to implement a new curriculum to the middle school students.

Someone who had come in to help out with the PD had forgot several (and key) things. She looked at me and asked if I knew anyone who could ‘do all this stuff for her in the next hour?’

Uhhh….

My reply was simple, “no, b/c everyone I know is at work.”

I told her I could do it during the lunch break if she could be patient. She could not be patient.

Her reply, “you don’t any friends who don’t work?”

“No.”

“No one who could just run out and do this right now?”

Whelp….NO!

What assumption was she making? Do we all have people who stay home? That’s ok, but guess what? Everyone in my age demographic is working their ASS OFF in this game and I’m really proud to say that! Friends who don’t “work” are running their house holds and asking them to pack up kids for a few items was not the kind of favor I was going to ask.

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Fast forward another week. A grad student stopped me in the hall as I was closing my office door on a Friday afternoon. “Hey doc, you heading out for the weekend?”

“No, I have meetings for the next four hours straight dear grad student.”

“You guys (the faculty) are never here, are you working?”

“Yes, we don’t like interruptions….”

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The same grad student about 3 days later sent me an email requesting a meeting “as soon as possible.”

My reply, “I’m free on Monday at 7 p.m.”

“7 p.m. is too late in the day for me.”

“7 p.m. is my earliest appointment as I finish my other commitments around 6:30, it’s the best I can do.”

“Ok, i guess so…..”

In academia and in life, we often draw a mass set of assumptions about people, circumstances, and life. Even if that’s not our ‘reality’ at this moment-it’s important to take it into account, even if it’s not YOUR experience at this moment. I’m not upset that my colleague assumed I knew people who were at home eating bon bon’s, waiting for me to call them, I grew irritated because she kept pushing the issue and started to behave poorly when she wasn’t going to get what she wanted immediately after realizing her mistake. I grew impatient with the grad student who thought that the faculty aren’t working if we’re not sitting in our offices and that my schedule was so massively inconvenient for him.

A little tolerance anyone?

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Stop Being so Nice

Stop Being So Nice | New Faculty

 

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I’ve got a grad student who is a real tool. He’s not mine (thankfully) but someone¬†else’s¬†who I take to collect data. The super glamorous part of my job, NOT. This student has had a problem with me since day one. For reasons that I cannot fathom, he doesn’t seem to like women. No, that’s not an assumption, he’s got the balls, and was so bold to say it out loud. Then, he got pounced on by the other faculty. ¬†Hello 1900, welcome back, I’ll go and bake some cookies…

I did the ‘wrong’ thing first. I tried to be nice to this character. DON’T MAKE THIS MISTAKE!! I didn’t know what his problem was so I tried to talk to him, make conversation, ask about his research. That got me no where. Then, I discovered that he didn’t like me due to the fact that I had ovaries. Now, if you want to hate on me because you don’t agree with my research or opinions, fine, you’ve got your platform, but because I’m a female–suck it kid. Suck it hard.

This fall (I took the summer to reflect and strategize), I quit being so god damned nice to this succubus of human. I greet all of my students, I mildly say hello to him. He needs things from me, I deliver minus the smile and warm pleasantries. He wants curbside service to his car from the van we drive, I dump all of the students closest to the dorms, where MY students typically reside and farthest away from HIS car in the commuter lot. He starts in about how great his program is one week and two weeks later he’s saying he’s going to be here another year because he is two years in with no prelims or data, I smirk from the drivers seat. My favorite interaction with him from this semester:

him: “can you drop me closer to G lot (parking)?”

me: “nope, i’m making one drop tonight, i have another mtg in half an hour & still have to return this vehicle.”

him: “i’m going to be late for a meeting if you don’t.”

me: “well, i guess you’ll just have to move a little faster then, thanks for your patience.”

It’s hard sometimes to be nice. I like students, I like kids, I like teaching, but I really detest assholes. My morning advantage from HBR came through and the short graphs hit a high note with me:

“Being liked is overrated,”¬†writes Jessica Valenti¬†in¬†The Nation. She’s primarily writing about women ‚ÄĒ for whom likability is negatively correlated with success ‚ÄĒ but her advice is useful for the yes-men out there, too. Valenti, the founder of the blog Feministing, admits to wasting hours online responding to every commenter, giving equal time and attention to both the thoughtful people and the snarkiest trolls. “It pains me to think of what I could have achieved if I had that time back.”

When we adjust our behavior to be more likable ‚ÄĒ withholding our most deeply held opinions so as not to offend, agonizing over every bit of negative feedback, eventually “tempering our thoughts” as well as our words ‚ÄĒ we stunt our selves, our careers, our impact in the world. “The truth is that we don‚Äôt need everyone to like us,” she writes, “We need a few people to love us.”

I’ll give Valenti the last word: “Yes, the more successful you are ‚ÄĒ or the stronger, the more opinionated ‚ÄĒ the less you will be generally liked. All of a sudden people will think you‚Äôre too ‘braggy,’ too loud, too something. But the trade off is undoubtedly worth it. Power and authenticity are worth it.” It’s a piece worth “liking.”

I’ve had to work at being mean in general and I feel bad because my behaviors toward this student make the others suffer. I go out of my way to ask specific students how they are, what’s new with them, and generally work to avoid this student. The other thing that really annoys me, he doesn’t seem to grasp my name. I have a first name. I generally ask people to use it, the WHOLE name. If I wanted someone to shorten it, I would say, “just call me ______.” Generally, I say, “please call me_______ and what name do you like to be referred too?” It’s a pretty standard exchange. This dude, he just doesn’t get it. I’ve had the “please call me ______” talk with him about a half dozen times and out of pure spite, he can’t seem to muster my three syllable name. Not because he doesn’t know, but because he lacks the ability to see beyond his¬†misogynistic¬†ways. The best part is that I’m the phd in the crowd and he’s the one lamenting that his program will take a year longer because he produced so little his first two years as a grad student. Jokes on you dummy (channel Dennis from 30 Rock)!

So, this new faculty is seeking advice. How would you handle the current state of idiocy that is in front of me each week? Thankfully, it’s only one day a week, and each week I practice being as un-nice as possible. The correct people have been notified, the student was warned last year, but he still fails to see the big picture. Thoughts? Suggestions? Coping mechanisms? I’m done for the semester looking at him, but usually just have to smell his heavy cologne when he’s in the building ūüôā

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The Jar Labeled: Grad Student Tears

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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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The value of mentoring

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As I looked through the previous posts on the blog, the last few were a bit stressful so I thought I’d lighten it up with a less cynical post about something I really enjoy and have learned so much about over the past year: mentoring. ¬†I have grown to see mentoring as a positive and very necessary thing for both undergraduate and graduate students. ¬†From prior work in research to actual mentoring with both sectors of students, mentoring is something that is near and dear to my heart. ¬†It helps my students understand themselves and what they want to be when they leave the comfortable walls of the university and it shows me what I am and reaffirms my passion for working with students.

Mentoring is truly a harmonious balance between people. ¬†I’ve been fortunate to have great mentors throughout my life and career and have worked hard to model these people and find balance in that task. ¬†I attended an all-day mentoring workshop a few weeks ago and the keynote speaker did an excellent job of working through the process of mentoring undergraduate and graduate students in the sciences. ¬†He used a nice mix of humor throughout his presentation and I found myself nodding in agreement when he was speaking. ¬†I was truly engaged in what he was saying, not just because I agreed with it, but because I knew how to implement the words of wisdom he was sharing.

As I stated earlier, I’ve had some great mentors and role models. ¬†My first role models were my parents. ¬†No two people could have given me a better combination of love and discipline. ¬†My mom assumed the main role and my (step) dad was the supporting cast. ¬†This taught me that in mentoring, you need balance. ¬†Never being the ‘heavy’ all of the time and sometimes only speaking up when it most important is a tightrope walk in mentoring. ¬†I have found myself holding back with my students to see how things play out and then choosing what is hopefully a key moment to speak up.

My former FFA Advisor taught me that sometimes speaking up is important and that confrontation is a necessary evil in life. ¬†I reserve this as a last ditch effort and am working on the art of confrontation because it’s never fun and I have yet to meet anyone who thrives on it. ¬†He also taught me the art of peanut M&M’s and a soda. ¬†While food is not the way to fill an emotional void, there were times when it was a comfort to sit down and snack. ¬†This also allowed us to be more informal. ¬†Today, I try to take each of my students to lunch or coffee early on in our mentoring partnership. ¬†It helps break the ice, chat about less formal things, and get to know each other.

Finally, my phd advisor. ¬†I have known this woman since I was in high school and she showed me that it’s important to let people get to know you. This helps build rapport and sets the stage for expectations. ¬†By showing others that you are indeed human and that every day might not be good but there is good in every day, you can be a better person. ¬†My phd advisor also has a great amount of empathy towards others, something I hope to be able to find more of in the future. ¬†The unique combination of care and support are necessary to the completion of any grad student.

As a new faculty, it’s tough to find students that are interested in your research, are willing to put in the time and work, and see a project through. A good mentoring relationship is an excellent way to recruit and retain students for the long haul. ¬†As I have been taught, I try to balance my time with my students, form a good rapport with them, and am working to give that unique combination of support and care that they require. ¬†Whether it’s an undergrad or a grad student, they each require a similar and different skill set. ¬†How do you mentor students?

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GRA hiring–like the NBA draft (NOT!)

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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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