Finding your inner grad student foodie

Now that you’re a grad student, it’s time to eat like one. You may have spent undergrad meal times in the dining halls, but some quick math can show you that dining hall meal plans are no bargain price-wise. Cooking and eating at home will save you money and calories as you forgo the take-out menus. Besides, life isn’t really going to get any easier after grad school, so it’s time to learn how to balance work with your basic human needs – and cooking can be a fun break from work! Understandably, we have time and money constraints, so here’s some tips on how to cook and eat at home in the most efficient way:

  1. Plan meals and make a grocery list – plan your meals out one week at a time, make a shopping list, and execute the shopping list by crossing out items as you shop. This saves you from wandering and wasting time in the store, buying unnecessary items, and making multiple store trips each week.
  2. Cook meals with a purpose – it’s most time efficient to do bulk cooking early in the week so that you can have lots of leftovers. However, for people like me who can’t stand the thought of eating the same meal all week, choose the order of your meals for Mon to Fri so that by the end of the week you are using ingredients that will actually stay fresh that long (eggs, bags of frozen veggies, canned goods, pasta, etc.).
  3. Invest in some Tupperware – whatever you make for dinner each night, make enough to have for lunch leftovers the next day. I like glass containers so I know they’re microwave safe.
  4. Make quick and yummy meals – nothing kills the spirit of cooking quite like laborious meal prep, or, even worse, long meal prep followed by disappointing results. For quick, easy, and healthy meals, look for recipes that already have reviews. Here are my suggestions: The Runner’s World Cookbook, One Pan – Two Plates, Poor Girl Eats Well blog
  5. Set the cooking mood – play some music or watch TV, have a glass of wine, relax and enjoy.
Posted in advice, balance, grad student life, health & wellness | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Survive Grad School Essay Project Launches

From the project newsletter via Dean Harvey Waterman:  “The Survive Grad School Essay Project launched a year ago.The project collects essays that show how authors’ experiences prior to, or outside of, grad school helped them to develop the knowledge, skills, and habits of mind that lead to their success in grad school. Each essay, in some way, completes the sentence: “All I needed to survive (and succeed) in grad school, I learned ….”

Eleven essays are published on the project website, and more are in development. Our authors come from many disciplines: geophysics, English, meterology, neuroscience, education. They attended schools across North America. Some are still students; some have finished their degrees. All have stories to tell. And their stories offer surprising lessons and sound advice.”…

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Why attend conferences? Here are 5 reasons

I was chatting with a friend of mine who is a second year STEM graduate student, and she turns to me and asks, “This may be a stupid question, but why do we go to conferences?”

It made me pause to think for a moment. As graduate students, we get a lot of advice on making the most of conferences, and how to present at conferences, but it’s always assumed that we understand why we go to conferences in the first place. Clearly, for young grad students, this is not always the case, so I decided to make a short list of my top reasons for attending conferences (in no particular order).

1. To meet people
A big reason for going to conferences is to meet and meet up with people. Conferences bring together people from all different geographical areas who share a common discipline or field, and are a great way to meet new people in your field. At a conference you will be able to get together with people from a wide range of backgrounds or from a number of institutions, whom you may not encounter at your home institution. As you build your professional network, conferences also become a good place for meeting up with people in your field that you haven’t seen in a while.

2. For people to meet you
It may not seem like a notable thing, but conferences are also a good way for people to meet you. Yes, you, the lowly second year grad student, presenting for the first time. You may meet someone at a meal, or they may stop by your poster, and within a few minutes, you can make a connection with someone that you might not even have met if you hadn’t attended the conference. This is especially important when you are looking for collaborators, or jobs and postdocs, or, in some fields you may even be looking for committee members. Or perhaps you are just trying to build your professional network. Conferences are another way to get your name and your work out there as you begin to establish yourself in your field of study.

3. To present your work to others
This is one of the more obvious reasons for attending conferences: to present your work! It’s good practice in talking about what you do with a variety of people from similar, related and/or completely different areas of study. Presenting will make you more confident about the work that you do, and gives you new perspective about your work as people may ask questions that make you think about your project differently. At a conference you have the opportunity to get feedback on your work from people who have never seen it before and may provide new insight, as well as from people other than your graduate adviser who are experts in your field.

4. To learn new things in your field
As you view different posters or attend different talks, you hear a lot about things in your field that may be new to you. These could be new techniques, new types of equipment, data that is yet unpublished, or investigators that you may not have heard of. Conferences allow you to get a good sense of what’s going on in your discipline that you might not be aware of living in your neck of the woods. You get to hear about the research of some of the biggest names in your field and of some of the newest faces in it. In addition, conferences give you the opportunity to talk to these people one-on-one about what they are working on, and they may even give you advice on how to develop your project. You have the opportunity to ask presenters questions about their work and the rationale behind it, which you can’t do when reading journal articles!

5. To learn new things outside of your field
This is a two-fold benefit of going to conferences, since not only may you learn things outside your field about other areas of research in your discipline, but conferences also have many sessions for professional development and career advice, particularly at large national conferences. Chances are, when you go to a conference the attendees are united by a single broad topic, such as immunology, but they have many different sub-fields of study, and many projects will be multidisciplinary. Thus you have the opportunity to learn about a different area of your field as a way to develop your dissertation project, for your own personal pursuit of knowledge, or if you are looking to change your research focus. Moreover, conferences (especially the big ones!) have many professional development workshops and seminars for graduate students, where you hear from career professionals about skills such as networking, creating a CV or resume, different types of careers, and interviewing skills.


So why go to conferences? I guess a short summary reason would be: for your continued personal and professional development. Take advantage of these opportunities, even if you can only attend smaller local conferences. Meet people. Network. Learn new things. Who knows, you may even end up leaving a conference with a job offer!

What are some other reasons that you might have for attending a conference? Share them in the comments below!

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Workshop: Faculty Careers in Community Colleges

Last Friday, I attended a workshop titled, “Faculty Careers in Community Colleges”, where several former Rutgers alumni and current faculty members from local community colleges gave some perspective on their experiences. I’m considering the field of academia after graduation, and more recently have given some thought to the prospect of teaching at a community college, so I was curious to hear from them.

If you weren’t able to make it to the workshop, based on the panel of 4, here were some of the interesting comments.

  1. There are some community colleges that mandate research and publications from their professors. The environment described actually sounded closer to the expectations of a faculty member of a standard 4-year institution. This is important to note as these community colleges would likely care more about your research plan in cover letters and applications, than schools where research is not expected.
  2. Teaching loads vary from about 4 to 5 classes a semester, which wasn’t that surprising to me, however the class size of some of them are capped at 40 students which means you are only teaching 120 students a semester. Quite the jump from teaching as a TA!!
  3. As with most job markets, positions to teach at community colleges are becoming increasingly competitive, sometimes receiving up to 120 applicants for 1 position which have increased the qualifications of the candidate pool.  It’s becoming more and more common for the Ph.D to be “preferred” which actually means it’s a requirement, especially for the tenure track positions.
  4. Just like at most colleges and universities, the student body of community colleges is becoming very diverse. However, at community colleges it’s more common to find a wide array of experiences and backgrounds, ranging from the exceptional high school student looking to get a head start on college to the working full time adult looking to get to the next level of their career. I’m sure preparing content to fit all students would be quite the challenge.

And importantly, community college job announcements may not be listed in the same places as those for other faculty positions, so if you are interested, you might need to peruse their respective websites. Good luck!

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October Blues

The beginning of every academic year of my graduate school experience always comes with much excitement. Whether it’s taking or teaching a new class, or maybe just as simple as having new found motivation after a short summer vacation, September always flies by. But each year, I often find myself in a rut in mid-October. In September, I have my “honeymoon” phase with my semester, finding ways to adapt my schedule as best as I can, enjoying jumping back into the swing of things and meeting new students. But by October, I’ve realized that the one day of the week that is the most mentally draining (Thursdays for me) or the day with the busiest lab schedule (Mondays due to shared time on an instrument), feel like more of an obstacle than a responsibility.

And, being a graduate student never helps manage these feelings.  We are so reliant on others (the A- and C-words) to help us achieve our ultimate goal, which I think is often misunderstood by graduate students. It’s not to get a degree or find a job.  The goal of graduate school is to develop, intellectually and professionally. I’ve actually always looked at our low salaries as TAs and GAs as an invisible tax we pay to help avoid or get away from the “real world” after college. That our time here, despite us not seeing it during our day-to-day grind, helps us grow into the potential leaders and executives we will be once we leave.

And, when you think about it, it makes sense that way.  Time in graduate school is strictly achievement based; law school and medical school are 3 and 4 years respectively, but graduate school can take much longer. When I think about how I process information from a lecture or guest speaker, or how I explain information to a confused undergraduate compared to how I did when I first started my time here at Rutgers, I’m astonished.

So this October, take some time to reflect on YOU. Not qualifying exams, tests, experiments, or manuscripts, but how have you grown from last October to now. You may not see tangible results, but I bet you’ll be able to feel them.

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5 Teaching Tips for New TAs

A year ago, I was starting my first semester as a TA in the new Biology Workshop set-up. This change was going against decades of pedagogy as TAs were asked to act as facilitators rather than re-lecturing content that professors explain in lectures. Now, I had taught some informal pass/fail classes before, as well as done some science outreach teaching middle school students (Rutgers Science Explorer Bus), but this was my first experience teaching course content to college students. To make matters worse, I hadn’t taken biology since my first year of college! But over the past year, I’ve not only learned more about biology than I ever thought I would need again (as a chemist!), but I’ve learned even more about teaching and controlling a classroom.

1. Learn Student Names

After my first year teaching, I was appalled at how few TAs actually took the time to learn student names. I’m actually very poor with remembering names but as an instructor I think it’s important to know who your students are as it makes you seem more personable, as well as holds students accountable for their actions. If you have a Sakai site, getting photo rosters from them is extremely easy. I’ve actually made use of seating charts to help me early on each semester. From a student’s perspective, it might be the only time during their first year that an instructor of a class knows their name.

2. Be Yourself

Whatever your personality, find a way to integrate that into your teaching style. I feel most first year TAs try to portray an image of them acting like a professor, I know I did when I first started teaching, but I often find imitating the intimidation of a “scary” real-life professor can sometimes curtail questions from students. If you like to joke around, find ways to connect to your students that way. If not that is fine too, but students need to see you as knowledgeable AND approachable before they’ll feel comfortable in your class.

3. Be Prepared

I try to account for every situation imaginable but I’ll be the first (hopefully!) to tell you things will go wrong sometime this year. You will make mistakes, but that’s okay!! As great as technology is, it can lead to problems. This happened to me this week as 35 minutes wasn’t enough time to prevent tech issues from showing up 1 minute after class started. As someone who has a strict routine in almost all aspects of my life, teaching helped me think on my feet and innovate on the fly! You’ll need this in any job, especially teaching.

4. Grade as You Go

If your students are handing you work that needs to be graded, don’t take any new assignments until you hand them back. If you are expecting students to generate content, you should be generating feedback. As a side bar, hand out previous assignments/quizzes at the end of class as low grades can increase side chatter as well decrease motivation to listen during class.

5. Don’t be Afraid to say “I don’t know”

There have been times when students have asked me a question that I couldn’t answer. These are maturing adults. Copping out with an answer like “That’s a good question, look it up!” or merely avoiding makes you seem like you don’t know the answer AND you don’t care if the student finds out either. Try looking it up yourself, asking another TA, and if necessary follow up with the student the following week. It’s actually a nice way to review content and build connections from past material to what you are covering that week.

Most importantly, if this is your first semester teaching, good luck and I hope you learn from your students as much as they do from you.

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