Wake up Call for Workaholics (Throwback Thursday)

Series note:  The following post is part of the Rutgers Graduate Student Blog Throwback Thursday blog series, in which we will repost one of our most popular blog posts from years past.

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. Continue reading “Wake up Call for Workaholics (Throwback Thursday)”

Your job, found at iJOBS

Whether it is a sad or happy thought, it is true that a PhD or MS program has an end.  So what does one do after?  The number of academic jobs decline each year, and the future state of higher education is very unclear.  So what other opportunities are there for newly minted graduates?

This is exactly the question that a new Rutgers program is addressing.  iJOBS, Interdisciplinary Job Opportunities for Biomedical Scientists, provides opportunities for current graduate students to network with and learn about relevant industries beyond academia.  Implemented with Biomedical Science students, iJOBS is expanding to include students in many other academic fields.   It is a multi-year program for students, with phases of participation.  In Phase I, students participate in career fairs, workshops on skill development and similar events.  Students must accumulate a certain number of participation hours to apply for Phase II which includes more personal training and shadowing opportunities.

Why should you consider it? Because this is an opportunity for you to begin developing skills and contacts that will help you pursue a career beyond a tenure track position, such as science and health policy, business management and data analysis. The workshops alone are worth a look, including resume/cv development, interviewing skills, communicating science to politicians and networking skills.

There are certainly interesting topics for any graduate student, and I encourage everyone to consider participation in the program.  Find more information at http://ijobs.rutgers.edu/

Career Advice For PhDs

Inside Higher Ed Q&A with the author of a new book on career advice for faculty members and grad students.  The article is HERE.

Sacrifices

In the past month, two of my three closest friends from high school have either gotten married or placed a down payment on a house. Two weeks ago at the wedding, the single one, whose house is still currently in the process of being built, showed me pictures of the structure and mentioned how real it felt as they began to put the windows into place. Being stuck in grad school while close friends make these huge commitments is less than ideal to say the least. As their future gets clearer, they pose questions about the cloudiness of mine and as I’ve posted on the blog before, my aspirations of going into academia don’t necessarily impress my trio of friends: The Dentist, The Surgeon, and The Homeowner.

Seeing their lives progress while much of mine has remained at a stand still somewhat made me question my chosen path. These interactions combined with the barrage of academia job applications I’ve sent out without much any response hasn’t been positive reinforcement that this is going to be my career.  Even if I thought industry was a good fit for me, I haven’t had any sort of formal experience since my internship in 2009 and wouldn’t really know where to begin to make the switch. Most of my professional experiences the last 4 years have been so focused on teaching, I’ve been honing skills that I’m not sure how valuable they would be in an industry setting. Sure, my public speaking is much better, and I’d argue I can communicate science better than most of my peers, but even students from my department who have much more impactful research and leadership experiences than I do have struggled finding a job.

About a month ago, I set a deadline of June 1st as when I’d start looking for positions in industry,  just to see what was out there and if I could find a position that would work for me.  That was Monday.  However last week, the instructor for the summer course I’m TAing for had a conflict and needed me to cover her lecture.  I’ve given talks at conferences and departmental seminars, but this would be the largest crowd I’ve ever spoken to probably outside of my high school graduation.  It was an introductory lecture, Biological Molecules, teaching the building blocks of proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, and nucleic acids, something I had no problem teaching but given this was my first time, I had this odd feeling of nervous excitement, similar to Christmas morning as a child, heading into the lecture. 2 hours later…okay, you caught me, I let them out early. 1.5 hours later, I felt inspired and confident that that all the sacrifices I’ve made to be here have been worth it, and that the wedding and the house are still in my future and I’ll get to them.  First comes the hard part, finding someone to let me teach.

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

“Teaching Assistant” is a state of mind

Working as a teaching assistant implies a very wide variety of experiences. For some, it’s a full semester of two hours sitting in a lonely office every week and very little else. For others, it requires two new lesson plans every week, with staggering piles of homework and tests to grade. For me, being a TA has landed somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. I’ve had my hours of boredom in the office and I’ve had stacks of grading to do.  The most notable thing about my experience as a TA is that I’ve mostly worked with graduate students, who claim to be a different breed from undergraduates. In that sense, I feel like my experience has been a little atypical, devoid of the frustrations usually referred to by popular representations of academia (I’m looking at you, PhD Comics).

Despite the atypical nature of my experience, there are at least a couple things that I’ve come across that seem to be common threads for TAs. First is the frustrating duty of enforcing the rules set down by the professor and the University. There always seems to be at least one person that neglects or ignores his responsibilities as a student. TAs are usually not the ultimate authorities but they do bear a responsibility to keep people honest. It’s frustrating to work with people who are unwilling to make the effort to engage, or are blind to the effect their ambivalence has on those around them.

That being said, there are significant upsides to being a TA which often outnumber the negative aspects. Being a teaching assistant always brings the potential for engaging and educational interactions with students. While these interactions are often superficial they also contain the potential to be meaningful for both the student and the TA. On the student side, engaging with the TA shows dedication to learning and succeeding in class. It also gives undergraduates an opportunity to speak with someone that has taken a deeper interest in academics and may have some advice about careers. For the TA, speaking with students can deepen their understanding of the class’ subject. Being responsible for someone else understanding difficult concepts can clarify and sharpen one’s own understanding.

Working as a TA always reminds me of a saying I once heard: ‘you can’t truly understand something until you can bring about that understanding in others.’ That is more relevant for some TAs than others. Teaching an entire class on the history of planning in the United States is probably a bit more revelatory than helping half a dozen students with their GIS problem sets over the course of a semester. That being said, I think working as a TA has helped me refine not only my professional interests (do I want to be a teacher?), but my pedagogical interests as well (what do I want to teach and how?). It has made me a better student, a better teacher, and a better person all around.