Wake up Call for Workaholics

Recently, my fellow blog writers have talked about ways to stay motivated, keep a sense of humor, how to better manage time and even how to manage depression.  Almost all of us have mentioned taking some time to yourself.  I was struck that we have to specifically call out taking time for enjoyment.  We each have our own goals in life – earn lots of money, obtain influence, help others, enjoy the world.  But on each path, an individual will feel unsatisfied if he/she is not committed to, and happy with, the chosen use of his/her time.  For example, if I am interested in helping others, I may feel extremely dissatisfied with spending all of my time alone staring at a computer screen or 96-well plate.

While I am certainly committed to and happy with my choice to pursue a PhD and what follows, I also am committed to having a rich family life and community and challenging myself both physically and intellectually.  Yet, with one-mindedness I pursue my research and teaching activities, leaving out the other parts that I want in my life.  Is this sacrifice temporary and necessary for the degree or am I pursuing my degree in a way that is harmful to my life goal?  This article about graduate student workaholics tells me it is the latter.

In this article, the author describes a university environment that encourages students to work ALL THE TIME.  When we are not in the lab or classroom, we are glued to our computers grading, reading, writing, analyzing data, etc.  While we are all in a rush to make the most of our time, we are burning ourselves out.  There should not be guilt associated with having a nice dinner with family or drinks with friends. Rather, taking that time will provide stress relief, happiness and will inspire productivity and creativity.

So, I am sharing this article as a wake up to all those who may be closet workaholics.  I certainly wouldn’t have called myself that before reading it. However, I have certainly taken work with me on vacations, cancelled personal appointments to finish work and worked in the evenings and outside of office hours.  These workaholic behaviors are listed in The Artist’s Way at Work which is referenced in the above article.  The realization that I need to set up  boundaries to fit in all that is important to me in life is empowering.  I encourage you to make a list of things that are important to you and prioritize them, not just your graduate work.  Because the work will still be there for you in the morning.

-workaholic in recovery

Posted in advice, balance, grad student life, health & wellness | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Dr. Jekyll v Ms. Hyde – The truth about picking an adviser

The truth is picking your adviser is one of the most important decisions you will make in your graduate career and also one of the least informed.  While you may spend hours deliberating topics and personalities, it is unlikely you will make your decision with a full picture of who that person is or what your research with them will be like.  It’s a gamble.  Your assessment of that person and their lab may be entirely accurate or incomplete when you choose to work with him/her.

If you are entering a program that doesn’t automatically pair you with your advisor (like many at Rutgers, including Nutritional Sciences), you are tasked speed-meeting the potential mentors.  You may narrow down your choices and spend a little time in 2 or 3 different labs.  Then you have the monumental task of choosing the person who will be your mentor for the next 4-7 years.  So how do you choose?  What should you consider?

Brandon wrote a post  in the fall about his choice of adviser and provided great advice on picking “someone you are comfortable becoming yourself.”  I can personally relate to this comment, seeing now how I have learned habits and behaviors from my own adviser.  In addition to picking a mentor who you admire, here are a few other reasons you may select an adviser:

  • The lab is Amazing! – Possibly the lab has all of the equipment that you have dreamed of.  Or the people who work in the lab are your soon-to-be best friends.  Consider that you will spend a lot of time in the physical lab and working with the people.  Pick a place you feel comfortable.
  • The schedule is Amazing! – Maybe you are trying to figure out the 4-hour graduate work week.  If so, you probably don’t want an adviser who expects you at your desk or in the lab 8am – 5pm every day.  If you hate trying to communicate via email and want to see your adviser everyday, picking one who travels a lot may not be the best option.  Pick someone whose work style aligns with your own.
  • The research project is Amazing! – You may have your heart set on studying earthworms.  If so, definitely find the adviser who will nurture your passion and combine it with his/her own.  Remember, research projects always go in unexpected directions.  So if the initial project isn’t exactly what you want, you may later be able to incorporate the things that interest you.
  • The funding is Amazing! – It’s a tough market for graduate students.  If your primary objective is a study support stream, go towards the gold.  Even if this adviser doesn’t have his/her own funding, he/she may be your biggest ally in securing funding through fellowship, grant or teaching assistanceship.  Make sure they are invested in supporting you.
  • My CV will be Amazing! – This adviser may not be your cheerleader, may not be around much, may not be super interested in your project.  However, he/she knows how to get you publications, books, presentations, fellowships, etc.  He/she will drive you to your full potential as a graduate student.

As I consider my experience and other newer students’ experiences choosing an adviser, I realize that you have to gamble.  Decide what is important to you first so you are collecting relevant information.  Within your program, ask the advanced students more details about your options.  Ask your program directors for advice.  Make the most informed roll of the dice that you can.

What other factors did you consider in picking an adviser?  Was your gamble a good one?  Please share your stories on this subject!

Posted in academics, advice, first year grad, getting settled, mentoring/advising | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Waiting Game

I’m also looking for academic positions and there is so much truth in Rebecca’s post from a couple weeks ago, that I highly recommend reading it.  I also wanted to speak a little bit about my experience, specifically in relation to the interviews.

In addition to making (small) steps towards graduating and enjoying the NBA playoffs, this past month I’ve had two different types of interview experiences and wanted to shed some light into what to expect. Disclaimer, I’ve only focused on applying to positions that focus on teaching, specifically at smaller PUI schools and community colleges.

Phone Interview

I’ve had two phone interviews which were very different from one another, both in the types of questions and tone. However, count on several different people being there, usually at least 3-4 different faculty members, with the interview being led by the department chair.  For one of the positions, it was a tenure-track position and questions were much more direct and specific, such as “Please provide some ideas on how you would use research as a learning tool” with the committee looking to gain insight into my expectations with working with undergraduates.  The other phone interview was for an instructor position and felt more like a conversation as opposed to an interview. Here, I was asked more broad questions like “How did you first become interested in chemistry?”  Like I mentioned, I’ve focused on positions with primarily teaching responsibilities, so I did not get asked any questions about my research and would imagine this would be different for research oriented positions.  I was somewhat surprised by this, but I can say that having seen faculty hired through our department here at Rutgers, final candidates were asked to come and give a short talk about their research, so it’s possible this was the next step in the interview process.

In-person Interview

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to an “Adjunct Invitational” at a local community college. I’ve spoken to some other colleagues about what this experience would be like, but it seems like most community colleges do this process slightly differently. About 4 weeks ago, a representative from Human Resources contacted me about selecting a time slot for their Adjunct Invitational giving me options of 2 hour-long slots.  When I arrived at the college, there was a large waiting area with tables surrounding the waiting area in a large circle, similar to a Career or Involvement Fair. At each table was a different academic department, and when your name was called an HR representative would come and escort you to your “interview” with your respective department.  I use interview loosely here as it was more of an informal conversation asking about my teaching experiences and philosophy only lasting between 10-15 minutes for myself in both circumstances.  I interviewed with two departments and spoke with 2 and 3 faculty respectively,  so despite signing up for an hour long slot, I was only there for about a half hour, but that could change depending on how many candidates are interviewing for your position.  Some of the other people in the waiting area spent more time waiting to be interviewed than the actual interview.

While I haven’t heard back from either yet, getting these “reps” and practice for these positions was really important helping calm my nerves a little bit, so the only thing I will add to Rebecca’s post is that not getting an offer is STILL progress. Good luck to anyone else on the job hunt!

Posted in academic careers, advice, career planning | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A few things I wish someone had told me before I went to my first conference

As conference season approaches, I always have mixed feelings about going. I feel like I’m going to be missing a lot of work time and giving a big presentation can definitely be daunting. Honestly, however, attending conferences and presenting my work have been some of the most important factors in shaping my research.  After chatting with other conference goers and getting feedback on my talk, I came back from a conference last fall with an entirely new game plan for tackling my next research phase. There’s a couple of great previous posts on why to attend conferences and how to get the most out of going to conferences. Here’s my two cents on some things I wish someone had told me before I went to my first conference:

  1. There’s going to be A LOT of talks and posters to see: choose wisely, make a schedule. One of the first things you should do is open up the abstract booklet with the conference schedule (or download the online version). Make notes of which talks/posters to see and have a schedule for where to be and when.
  2. Go to some talks outside of your expertise. Find something that genuinely piques your interest. You never know where you might find inspiration or what you might learn from seeing how work is done outside of your personal research bubble.
  3. Bring business cards. Check out Rutgers Visual Identity website for a downloadable template for designing business cards. I got 250 cards printed at Kinko’s for cheap and they look good.
  4. Have an elevator speech ready for explaining your research. One of the most common ice breakers when you meet people is, “So what do you do?” Be ready to concisely explain what you do and why it’s important at the level of an educated person who has no idea what you’re talking about. Don’t use jargon. Make it quick; up to 30 seconds is fine and if they want to know more, they’ll ask.
  5. Dress nicely. Talk with people who’ve attended the conference before and ask about recommended attire. If in doubt, it doesn’t hurt to directly email the conference organizers. Always air on the side of dressing up than dressing down. You want to make a good impression – you’re probably presenting yourself and your work to almost everyone in your field.
  6. Make a summary of your conference experience. After you return home, go through the notes you took during talks and type them up. Reference the papers you meant to look up. Organize the business cards you got and follow-up with people you said you’d contact. Talk to your adviser about your experience and compare notes with any other fellow students who attended too.
  7. Try to see the city a little bit. You’re there to go to a conference, but why not plan ahead to see some sites while you’re there during break times? There’s typically group dinners organized at local restaurants, like for a school’s alumni or hosted by a sponsor company – check with your adviser on which ones they recommend you seek out. Maybe you could even extend the trip through the next weekend and do some touring!
Posted in advice, career planning, conference attendance, conference presentations, professional development | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Job Search. Gulp.

Of late the job search within academia has been popularly compared to the Hunger Games.  It would be funny if it weren’t actually true.

Having worked for two years between my completing my Master’s degree and entering the Ph.D. program in art history, I’ve had the benefit of going through this ringer before.  While I have no idea if my experience was typical, it was definitely a trial, and I suspect that writing about it can only help anyone else going through this phase of graduate school.  Either you’ll relate, or you’ll enjoy a bit of schadenfreude.  Without further ado, What I Learned About the Job Search:

1. Don’t take it personally.  If you didn’t get the job, or even an interview, it sure feels like the hiring committee has weighed you, measured you and found you wanting. But having been on the other side of the hiring process too, I think I can say with some certainty that nobody was sitting with their feet up on a conference table, throwing darts at a copy of your CV tacked to the wall and joking that you must have been mad to apply in the first place.  I have been in the room when hiring decisions were made, and no one cackled like a Bond villain over rejected résumés.  A rejection letter often has nothing to do with you.  In my field of art history, for instance, perhaps a museum’s upcoming exhibition schedule dovetailed beautifully with another applicant’s thesis on Rembrandt.  It didn’t mean other applicants couldn’t do the job.  So it’s not you. You’re lovely.  And qualified.

2. It could take awhile.  After my M.A. program, I spent about six months sending my CV to anyone who would take it, applying for anything remotely within the realm of possibility.  In all, I sent out 52 applications and got two interviews and one offer.  A few months later, I was chatting with a senior member of the museum staff at an office happy hour, comparing war stories.  After his Ph.D., he’d sent out 125 cover letters.  Maybe you’ll find something immediately, but be prepared for a marathon, not a sprint.

3. It’s not the end of the world.  It just feels like it. Every day I made a point of checking the same sites and searching the same fields – and then trying new ones just in case they yielded anything.  Most days, it came to nothing, and it was so very easy to be glum.  But chin up.  Sometimes things get worse before they get better – it’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason.

4.  Network.  Eat something.  Network.  Coffee break.  Network.  Then network some more.  I have to admit, I’m not so great at this, since networking in academia can entail attending conferences, which in turn entail registration fees and travel expenses. While they may not amount to a fortune, a small pile of coins can be a fortune in grad school.  But things like alumni associations can be useful as well, along with social media such as academia.edu or LinkedIn.  And not all functions are pricey – be on the lookout for things you can afford to do.

I’m no expert, and for all the advice I’m dishing out, I will probably let the job search get to me every now and then.  It’s hard out there for a prof, especially if you have to take a series of adjunct jobs to string together a meager income.  (It happens.  A lot. When even fashion magazines are talking about this, you know it’s officially a thing.) But armed with the knowledge that hiring decisions, while not always in my favor, are often the result of a perfect storm of events having little or nothing to do with me, maybe I’ll have fewer sleepless nights.

What advice do you have for people entering the job search?

Posted in academic careers, advice, career planning, health & wellness | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Teaching Assistants: Teachers in Training

Serving as a graduate Teaching Assistant or “TA” provides graduate students with opportunities to experience and learn what it is like to teach. The role of the TA often depends on her/his subject matter expertise for the course. Whether serving as a professor’s assistant or primary teaching support, teaching class part-time, or as the primary teacher for a course, a graduate student TA experiences firsthand the joys and challenges of teaching. Serving as a TA is often the first real teaching experience for those aspiring to become a faculty member. Although TA’s usually have experience performing research, writing, and working with colleagues both faculty and graduate students alike, they often lack real teaching experience. Serving as a TA helps them understand the important difference of being in front of the classroom and sitting within it.

TA’s are compensated. TA’s receive a significant stipend plus payment of their tuition and fees. In return, TA’s work 20 hours per week. TA’s usually have some background in the course or courses for which they serve as a TA. TA’s often have taken the course or related courses for which they serve as a TA. In return, TA’s often have office or lab hours in which they work with students. TA’s help grade exams and papers subject to the professor’s judgment. Also, TA’s may lead exam review sessions. Most importantly, professors often assign TA’s to work one-on-one with students having difficulty with the course.

All of the TA’s roles and responsibilities not only assist the professor, help students learn the course’s content, and build a sense of classroom community but also provide the TA with valuable training. How well a TA benefits from this training is directly related to how well s/he teaches when s/he becomes a professor. This training enables a TA to better communicate her/his expertise to her/his students when s/he becomes a faculty member. Serving as a TA is integral to a TA’s success when s/he becomes a professor because the experience will enable her/him to teach more effectively and enhance students’ learning.

Posted in teaching | Tagged | Leave a comment