Do you have kids? Finding childcare and schools in Bloomington

Once I was admitted to IU, there seemed to be an endless list of tasks that needed attending to before my family and I made the physical transition to Bloomington, such as arranging housing, setting up utilities, finding the grocery store and opening a bank account. For me, one of the foremost tasks on my list was arranging for childcare and school for my daughter and son, respectively.

When we moved here, my daughter was only 2 years old. As I quickly learned, finding childcare in Bloomington for an infant or toddler can be a challenge. This is not unlike many cities were infant care is in short supply, but if you have a young child, you should be warned that you will probably end up on several very long lists with other parents who are also looking for care for their young children.  As a result, I ended up looking for alternative sources of care for my daughter. As a grad student I could not afford an in-home nanny, but I was able to find an in-home group care setting for her. To do this, I used the following website to help me with my initial search for reputable, licensed daycare providers: http://childcareindiana.org/childcareindiana/ptq.cfm. This website allows you to search by zip code and also find out what violations of state regulations, if any, a licensed provider has had in the recent past.

When my daughter turned 3 (and was potty trained), we enrolled her in the local school district’s preschool program called Ready, Set, Grow. She really thrived there. The teachers were terrific, many of which were certified in early childhood education. The program has a curricula that includes academic and social skills development. My daughter not only learned the alphabet, but also built relationships with other children with whom she attends school today.

When we moved here, I also had to enroll my son in elementary school. The local school district, Monroe County Community School Corporation (or MCCSC for short), provides lots of information on their website, including how to register your child in a school: http://www.mccsc.net/subsite/dist/page/title-raw-nid-3. You will need to determine which school covers the neighborhood in which you live using the District Boundary Map and then go to that particular school to enroll your child. Although it depends on who you ask, the public schools in the area are good quality, and I have found the teachers and administrators to be very caring  and interested in the welfare of students.

In sum, if you have children, get started early arranging for their day care. Although Bloomington has many wonderful options, it takes a while to find the right place for them.

Bloomington is for (Slow) Foodies

Stranger's Hill Organic's stand at the Bloomington Farmer's Market.

Bloomington is a special place. Really. I mean it. There are so many good things about living in this town. The visual and performing arts scene is happening. There are fantastic ethnic restaurants. You can get a great cup of coffee in many restaurants and coffee shops. There is a community-supported cooperative grocery store called, what else, Bloomingfoods (http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/).

One of the things I have come to appreciate most about Bloomington is the commitment of its citizens to the community at large. For instance, there is a significant constituency who is committed to supporting local farmers and sustainable agriculture.  The size of the Bloomington Farmers Market is evidence of this (http://bloomington.in.gov/farmersmarket). The market runs on Saturday mornings nearly year round (yes, even in the winter!) and provides access to locally grown produce, grains, meat, eggs and cheese. In the spring months, you can also buy heirloom seeds and seedlings to plant in your own garden, and many vendors sell landscape plants. Several restaurants in town are even committed to purchasing food from local farmers: Lennie’s, FARM bloomington, Laughing Planet Cafe and Upland Brewing Company are just a few.

Having access to locally grown food has fundamentally changed the way my family eats. Now when I go to the grocery store, I don’t have to buy produce flown in from thousands of miles away. And I am more comfortable with the quality of the meat we eat because I have visited the farm (just 3 miles from my house) where the animals are humanely raised. My family eats more in tune with the seasons…this means no watermelon in January; we eat that in the late summer months when it’s offered by local farmers. It might seem that we have to sacrifice to eat this way, but in fact I have found the seasonal, local produce I do buy is more fresh and flavorful. My kids are even eating more veggies with less complaint.

If you are interested in local and sustainable food, it’s easy to get connected in Bloomington. There’s a Local Grower’s Guild (http://www.localgrowers.org/) and you can also find a number of community supported agriculture (CSA) groups that provide weekly deliveries of fresh produce, grains, and animal products. Initially, I found many CSAs through http://www.localharvest.org/, but I have been a CSA member of LIFE Farm (http://lifefarmcsa.com/) for the last three years. They provide a weekly basket of freshly picked, seasonal produce from mid-April through the end of October.

If you love food, Bloomington is a great place to live!

Funding your graduate program

When I applied to graduate school, I was really surprised by the differences in the ways universities handle funding and appointments for graduate students. In many cases, applicants have to be more than a little savvy and be willing to ask potentially uncomfortable questions about money. Some universities (or schools within a university) require prospective graduate students to fill out applications for assistantships, that is, an application separate from the application to admission to the program or school. Many programs, however, will automatically consider you for a research or teaching assistantship based on your program application materials. Some programs/schools have competitive fellowships for applicants, so be sure to call the programs to which you apply and ask explicitly.

No matter what avenue you pursue for funding your graduate program, don’t be afraid to ask questions. I think the most appropriate times to ask is both before you apply to the program/school (scholarships/fellowships – some have early deadlines) and then once you have received a letter of admission into the program (assistantships). If the program or school doesn’t send information with your acceptance letter, pick up the phone or send an email to the contact for your program and ask them about assistantships and fellowships.

Most assistantships come in two forms: research assistantships (RA) or teaching assistantships (TA). For RAs, you will probably be expected to help a faculty member with some aspect of a research project(s): doing literature searches, conducting lab or field experiments, collecting and/or analyzing data, and in some cases, writing. For TAs, you will teach one or more sections of an undergraduate course in your program or school. If you don’t have previous teaching experience, this can be pretty intimidating. Most universities now have supports in place to help TAs get oriented to teaching, but honestly, your best resources for teaching are faculty members and the seasoned graduate students in your program. No matter what type of assistantship you receive, you can expect a tuition waiver (partial or full) and a (very) modest stipend for teaching. Most graduate students find it difficult to live on the stipend they receive, but to me, the tuition waiver is what makes the assistantship fiscally valuable. Without it, many graduate students would be strapped with monumental student loans, especially if you are coming to the program as an out-of-state resident. So you will find that you probably will have to take out some student loans, but having the tuition wavier makes the amount of loans more reasonable. Finally, from a professional standpoint, assistantships are valuable because they provide you with experience with teaching and/or research that becomes invaluable as you enter the job market.

With the end in sight

This is my last semester of grad school. Although it has been five years, it seems like a very short time ago since I began my doctoral program. In that five years, I have taken numerous classes, attended local and national conferences and engaged in some really interesting research projects, including my dissertation project.

By far, this has been my busiest semester. Not only am I writing my dissertation, but I am also interviewing for faculty positions at different universities and preparing presentations for two national conferences scheduled in March.

Luckily, my experiences as a doctoral student at IU have prepared me for what lies ahead. My advice for those beginning their graduate program is to seek out experiences that will make you well-rounded and agile in your field. Sometimes it means taking on projects that don’t pay much, if at all, but provide experiences that will make you stand out as a job candidate. Sure, it’s good to have a clearly defined research agenda. But as I’m learning from my interviews at other institutions, it’s not enough to be the foremost expert in one area. You also need to know how to teach (often using cutting-edge, innovative methods), develop collaborative working relationships with colleagues and  community partners, and be able think beyond the nascent line of research you’ve developed as a grad student. Search committees want to know not only how you’ve contributed to your field of expertise, but also how you could make a substantial contribution to their institution.

End of the semester blues

Grad student motivationFinals week is definitely when students are particularly stressed out. As a grad student, we often have final papers or projects to complete for our courses — and I don’t mean the short little “research papers” we had to write in undergrad, either. I mean papers that often take weeks, not hours, to compose and require comprehensive synthesis of major ideas within our field of study.  In addition to completing our own coursework, we often have finals to proctor, and then grade, for the courses we teach. This adds up to a really hectic and often very overwhelming week.

Luckily, once it’s all said and done, we have a few weeks to rest, relax, and spend time with family over the holidays. This doesn’t mean there is no work, just less of it. Many of us will be studying for comprehensive exams, writing dissertation proposals, preparing for dissertation defense, etc.

In the last few years, winter break has been a time of rest and relaxation with my family. But this time I will continue to write my dissertation and prepare for job interviews in January. No rest for the weary.

On the bright side, I hope to complete my dissertation this spring and defend in May. I can see the light, but to reach it I have to keep working.

Use Your Time Wisely

Calendar with Schedule

If there was one piece of advice I would offer new grad students, it would be to develop good time management skills. As adults, grad students often have numerous personal and professional commitments that compete for time in their daily routine. The most successful grad students I know set a weekly schedule for themselves and stick to it.

A friend of mine who recently completed her doctoral program kept a weekly calendar where she scheduled her classes, time to study and complete assignments, work out, run errands, spend time with family and pursue her hobbies. Yes, that’s right. She even scheduled her personal time. While at first this might seem a little obsessive,when you think about it, it’s a really effective way to keep track of how you use your time. And time management becomes even more important as you approach the dissertation phase of your grad career, when you have lots of “free” time that is quickly eaten up by the mundane events of daily life, leaving you with little time to work on your dissertation.

Making a schedule and sticking to it is a great way to ensure you use your time wisely.