A tale of three spring breaks …

On my first year as a PhD student, I took some time off for spring break and flew back home for 10 days. While it was great to see some of my family and friends, it turned out to be a bad idea. Not only, did I accumulate a ridiculous amount of work, (it took me about a month to catch up and get back on track), but I also manage to upset the rest of the people that I did not have time to visit. I learned that, it is better to go home once a year for 3 weeks than going twice for 7-10 days each.

During second year, I decided to treat spring break like any other week. Besides, the nuisance of planning around the campus shuttle limited schedule, spring break turn out to be much more productive than I expected. Comparing my experience against other grad students’ experiences it seems that what made my experience such a pleasant experience was the fact that my expectations, although ambitious, were not completely out of reach. I just put together the workload I expect to accomplish on a typical 2-3 week eriod into one week.

This year, I traveled to Seoul, South Korea as part of an IU-AGEP delegation. During the professional development tour, we had the opportunity to learn about their higher education system, share our research, meet with faculty and graduate students, and experience some of South Korea’s culture. It was a great trip!!

Life in B-town!

Every Spring semester, especially during the winter, I take time to enjoy some of the events/performances occurring throughout IU. For instance, this past month, I have seen: 1) “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, 2) “The PHD Movie” featuring a Q&A with Jorge Cham, and 3) a performance by comedian Ralphie May.

These are just some examples of the many extraordinary opportunities that you can experience here at Bloomington, Indiana. This is just one entertaining way to take a break from our busy schedules and have some fun, in particular, on those cold winter days!

Here are some relevant links:

I.U. Auditorium: http://www.iuauditorium.com/
Department of Theater and Drama: http://www.indiana.edu/~thtr/index.shtml
Jacobs School of Music: http://www.music.indiana.edu/events/

Summer Work: Paid internship or work on research?

In computer science, summer academic work usually narrows down to two avenues. On one side, grad students can go on to an industry (or research lab) internship where they can gain professional experience, as well as earn some extra money for the upcoming semesters. On the other side, grad students can spend the summer working on their research project(s) without any other academic or teaching responsibilities. Throughout my grad student career, I have experienced both and found each one to be uniquely rewarding. Previously, as a master student, I did a research-oriented internship where I had the opportunity to work on an interdisciplinary and industry-related research project. It was a great experience and I gained several skills which I would not have received any other way. Additionally, I was paid a decent amount of money, thus, I got some financial flexibility for the upcoming semester.

Nowadays, as a PhD student, I rather spend my summer working on my research projects than doing anything else. This strategy has proven to be quite beneficial as I am able to make substantial progress on my projects while still having some time to enjoy the summer.

Tips for applying to external funding

Most of my colleagues have talked about the most common source of funding for graduate students: research and teaching assistantship. However, I am going to take a different route and share some tips that helped get a highly competitive external fellowship.

Tip #1: Find someone that received a competitive fellowship and ask them if they will be open to share their materials with you. To be honest, most people will say no, but all you just need if for one person to agree. Once I got a successful application, it was not difficult to identify what I was missing.

Tip #2: Identify one of more faculty members that specialize in the area you are interested, and ask them if they will be willing to give feedback on your proposal. In my case, I approached a potential adviser and his comments played a fundamental role in improving the quality of my proposed research plan.

Tip #3: Apply to at least one fellowship that provides feedback to all applicants. Therefore, even if you get rejected, you will receive feedback on your application.

Tip #4: Keep applying until you are no longer eligible. If you applied Tip #3 you will get a sense on which fellowships to re-apply and those that you should not bother. Do not get discouraged!

Good luck!

Here is a link to some external awards: http://www.indiana.edu/~grdschl/external-awards.php

Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning

Last week, I attended a workshop for graduated students entitled “Statements of Teaching Philosophy: Critical Reflection About Teaching Practice” sponsored by the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning (CITL). The workshop was outstanding; for instance, we received strategies for reflecting on teaching as well as information about the qualities of effective statements of teaching philosophy. Moreover, we analyzed several statements and received reflection guides for getting started.

CITL mission is “to provide leadership and expertise that support efforts to innovate in the curricula, to implement effective pedagogies in and beyond the classroom, and to enhance student learning and engagement”. I encourage all graduate students interested in academia, or teaching and student leaning to check the center out.

For more details about Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning visit: http://citl.indiana.edu

Doctoral minor and Pedagogy and Professionalism Requirement

Many, if not all, Ph.D. programs offered at IU has two refreshing requirements: doctoral minor and “Pedagogy and Professionalism” course. To be honest, I find each requirement quite useful, rewarding and unique, specially if your degree is on an highly interdisciplinary field.

For instance, I am a Computer Science PhD student, and my Bioinformatics minor enables me to gain additional expertise on a relevant area to my research interests. Complementary to the doctoral minor, we have the Pedagogy and Professionalism course requirement which provides doctoral students with an overview of teaching philosophies, teaching portfolios and other teaching resources. This is a great opportunity to get formal training in college-level teaching. Therefore, the doctoral minor and pedagogy and professionalism course requirements give an edge to our graduates which might prove to be the difference in the current job market.

Should I visit or not?

You got an invitation to visit one of those schools that you applied to. Before I go any further, I am assuming that you only applied to those schools that you are serious about attending! Well, if you can visit them all, then do so! You are about to make a decision that will directly impact your professional, as well as personal life for the next 5-7 years, thus, any effort you put into your decision is worth it. During your visit, make sure to talk to current graduate students to get the full picture, ask what equipment and resources are available to graduate students, check out potential housing options, as well as the community around campus. Finally, like Viridiana said “enjoy the visit”.

However, if you are like me and cannot take any time off to visit prospective schools. Then, I recommend that you email current grad students in order to get some feedback. Also, something that worked great for me was to track down someone (e.g. a friend of a friend) in my current institution that did their undergraduate studies at the institution I was invite to visit and get their input.

New year resolutions!

This winter break, I only took a week-off to go home, visit my family and friends, and eat all those delicious home-cooked meals! Anyway, a new year has arrived and here is my list of academic and personal goals for 2012: 1) improve my scientific writing skills, 2) select my dissertation committee, 3) publish at least two papers, 4) learn a new language, 5) incorporate a workout into my daily schedule, and 6) present my dissertation proposal . Some of these goals are more ambitious than others; however, I consider them to be quite simple. The key thing is to celebrate every step because those little victories are the ones that give you the strength to keep moving forward and closer to your ultimate goal.

If I only knew then …

Graduate school is all about research, so if you are planning on going to graduate school then you should get involve in research as early in your undergraduate career as possible. You can do so by taking an independent study with a faculty member at your institution, or by attending at least one summer research program. Research experience will: 1) give you a taste of grad school, 2) improve your chances of getting into your top choices, as well as, receiving fellowships and scholarships, and 3) develop scientific writing skills. In summary, if you are not currently doing research, then you must do something about it.

John Waldron Arts Center

In a previous post, I blogged about the many extraordinary events/performances occurring at either: IU Auditorium or IU Musical Arts Center. This time, I will describe an additional source of entertainment in Bloomington: John Waldron Arts Center. The center provides a space for theatrical performances, juried gallery exhibitions and classes (including art classes!).

Photo above taken from John Waldron Arts Center homepage

Also, I recommend everyone to check out: Cardinal Stage Company, founded in 2006. They produce a wide range of material, with the goal of “establishing a professional regional theatre in Bloomington”. They have several performances at John Waldron Arts Center and I encourage everyone to catch one of their plays.

Here are some relevant links:
John Waldron Arts Center http://www.ivytech.edu/bloomington/waldron/index.html
Cardinal Stage Company: http://www.cardinalstage.org