Collaboration

When it comes to graduate school, most people’s first thoughts jump to experts in training in a narrow field of study, but further consideration might reveal the truth – graduate school, in fact research and teaching in general, is very reliant on collaboration.  It is a key component that differentiates the good scholars from the best, and is a skill that is carefully acquired and refined throughout a career.  If you need further evidence of this, just take a stroll around the IUB campus – you will see a building constructed especially for collaborative work, which is even named the Multidisciplinary Science Building II (or MSB II for short).

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The recently constructed Multidisciplinary Science Building II (MSBII) on the IUB campus. Photo by Ren-Jay S.

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Piecing Together the Puzzle

Finding time for your research around your class, teaching, and work schedules may seem daunting by itself – but what about fitting your schooling and research into your long term plan, applying for jobs, figuring out a place to live, and finally starting your career?  It can all be overwhelming – but like a puzzle, once you find the corners, build the edges, and sort the pieces, everything starts to fall into place and the middle begins to fill in.

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Sometimes getting through school, job applications, moving, etc. can feel like one big puzzle. Photo by Ren-Jay S.

So don’t despair – there is hope!  No matter how despondent you may feel at times, hold the line and keep plugging along, because you will piece your puzzle together and reach your goals. Continue reading

212° the extra degree

One of my closest friends and mentors once shared a short book with me called 212° the extra degree.  He is a highly successful businessman who is an IU alumnus, former Hoosier football player, and whose dad was also a Hoosier football player who went on to play for the 1972 Miami Dolphins team that went undefeated and won the Super Bowl.  My teammates and I owe him for his continued guidance as we grow from teenagers into adults, and we are all grateful to have him in our lives.

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212° the extra degree by S.I. Parker. Photo by Ren-Jay S.

The premise of 212° the extra degree, is that “at 211 degrees, water is hot.  At 212 degrees, it boils.  And with boiling water, comes steam.  And with steam, you can power a train.”  Now this might sound like a gimmick, but over the years I’ve come to appreciate the meaning of this book and how applying its principles can help you advance in your studies, career, and life.

The book discusses how a difference of just 1 degree distinguishes hot water and steam, and goes on to give many examples of how the smallest of differences can have a large impact.  One of my favorite examples is the average margin of victory in the Indianapolis 500 (we are at Indiana University after all) between 1997-2006 is 2.80 seconds, but the first place prize is $1,497,639 whereas the second place price is $587,321.  That 2.80 second difference over 500 miles of racing makes a huge difference in the outcome for the drivers in terms of prestige and prize money.  The book goes on to give examples of where and how you can teach the 212 philosophy and how small changes in your daily life can amount to big returns, such as eliminating 30 minutes of television every day to get 182.5 extra hours (or four and a half weeks of work) each year that you can devote to something else.

I would highly recommend this book, you can read it in about 15 minutes, but the message is powerful and can motivate you to take that tiny bit of extra time and effort to differentiate and distinguish yourself amongst your peers.  So ask yourself, “what have I done today to get that extra degree?”

Getting Involved – Graduate Student Organizations

Once you get into graduate school and arrive on campus, you’ll probably take a little time to get settled into the town, your program, and your routine.  After that though, what then?  Well, fortunately there are number of great student organizations that you can choose to become a part of.

As a graduate student, you are automatically eligible to join the Graduate and Professional Student Organization (GPSO), the official campus-wide student government body for graduate and professional students.  There are also programs such as the Emissaries for Graduate Student Diversity that work in a more focused manner to promote a more specific interest, such as diversity.  Some of these organizations are specific to graduate students and gives you a chance to interact with people outside of your own department, which is always a great opportunity to broaden your horizons.

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The 2012-2013 School of Public Health-Bloomington Student Government Council

Each individual school and department is also likely to have its own student government organization, which is a great opportunity to get involved, get to know other students and faculty, and share your input on a variety of topics that are important to your experience while here at IU and for future students.

Beyond organizations such as these there are innumerable other clubs and organizations that encompass almost any interest.  Many of these are open to both undergraduate and graduate students, so it’s a good opportunity to get to know more people beyond just graduate students.

When it comes down to it, getting involved is a great opportunity for you to balance your work and schooling with something that you’re passionate and interested in.  You can also meet many great new people and develop personal and professional relationships that can last far beyond school.  So go ahead and take a look to see what’s out there for you, who knows what doors will open when you get involved in a graduate student organization.

Libraries at IU

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The Herman B Wells Library, as viewed from the West. Photo by Ren-Jay S.

The first time you see the Herman B Wells Library at IU, you may think, “wow, that’s awesome!” or perhaps, “what a strange looking building!”  Either way, you may or may not realize that you’re looking at a library that hosts an extraordinary Information Commons, multiple quiet and group study floors, and endless rows of stacks that contain tomes of knowledge that have been slowly accrued over the last several millenia.  So I encourage you to venture in, grab a coffee, and learn about the endless resources that are available to you through the IU Libraries.

We are fortunate here at Indiana University to have a library system that includes agreements with other libraries to grant us students and the faculty access to almost any resource in the world.  I have yet to find a book, journal, or article that is not accessible either online, in print, or through Inter-Library Loan.  So, it’s pretty easy to access scholarly resources here at IU, which makes life as a graduate student MUCH easier.  There are many satellite libraries here on campus housed within each academic department (for example, the Chemistry Library, Life Sciences Library, Law Library, etc.), so you don’t have to venture far to speak with a librarian to assist you with your studies.  Moreover, the library even offers live chatting to help you facilitate your research if you get stuck and need to ask a question right away.  A little known secret is that some of the satellite libraries even offer graduate assistantships to students that includes a fee remission, health insurance, and a stipend, just like a teaching or research student academic appointment would.  So if you’re still searching for funding, the libraries might be a good place to look if you’re running out of options.

The bottom line is that the extensive resources and expertise that are available through the IU Libraries exist to facilitate the work of graduate students and faculty, which makes life much easier for us.  So go ahead and stop in one of the libraries sometime and get to know your friendly neighborhood librarian, because they might just get you out of a bind when you’re burning the wick at both ends trying to finish up an important project.

To Go? Or Not To Go? Departmental Seminars

Let’s face it – as graduate students, we are saddled with juggling the classes we’re taking, the research we’re conducting, the classes we’re teaching, and then all the other things we’re involved in (voluntarily of course, since we are choosing to be here!).  Time is clearly a precious commodity in the life of a graduate student.  So when your home School or Department hosts a seminar, lecture, or other event, the debate is always whether or not it’s worth your time to attend.  Most students consider such things as:

1) Is the topic of direct interest to me or does it impact my area of study?

2) How long is the seminar/lecture?

3) Does it fit in my current schedule?

4) Who else will be there?  Will I be expected to be in attendance?

and most importantly 5) IS THERE FREE FOOD?!?!?!?!?

It’s kind of like betting in a poker game…

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To go, or not to go? To check, call, bet, or fold? See the analogy?

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Learning from a Leader

Over the past couple of months, I have spent some time learning about former Indiana University President and Chancellor Dr. Herman B Wells.  Despite having a hectic schedule, I have found it relaxing to take a little time to learn about things outside of the rigors of my studies.  Chancellor Wells was a visionary leader who guided Indiana University through a period of tremendous growth, with the student body expanding from roughly 3,000 students to almost 30,000 students by the time he left the presidency.  While I won’t attempt to recount everything he achieved (that is done much more eloquently in his autobiography, Being Lucky as well as his biography by James Capshew), I would like to point out some things that resonated with me.

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Former IU President and Chancellor Dr. Herman B Wells (photo courtesy of http://indianapublicmedia.org/about/wells-profiles/)

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Navigating IU

Let’s face it: the IU-Bloomington campus is huge.  At almost 2,000 acres, it can be quite a challenge to navigate, even for those of us who have lived here for over a quarter of a century.  To ease the load a little, here is a quick guide to navigating IU:

First, it’s OK to walk around with a campus map.  Yes, people will probably laugh at you as they walk by, but they were in your shoes once too.  I’ve lived in Bloomington my whole life and despite that I still get confused as to what the building codes mean.  After 25 years, I still look at the map – it’s OK!

Second, explore the town!  I know graduate school life is busy (especially your first semester), but take the time to get to know Bloomington – it’ll save you time in the future when you need something specific AND you can be the one to suggest that awesome burger joint or cocktail bar when your friends are looking for a cool place to hang out.  Bloom Magazine is a great place to find information about local restaurants, shops, and more.  Conveniently, it is free and can be found at many local establishments (I usually get mine from Bloomingfoods on Kirkwood).

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A must see for any IU student/alumni. Photo by Ren-Jay S.

Third, ASK!  I personally love to share my own personal taste and insights about IU and Bloomington – whether it’s about a good place for lunch or where to find information about how to find classes.  I can’t think of anyone whom I’ve asked for help who hasn’t been excited to share what they know.  When it comes down to it, people love to help (especially Hoosiers!).  So find someone who knows their way around the university and the town and let them be your guide and encyclopedia.

Finally, watch Breaking Away!  I would venture to say, it’s an unspoken requirement for any IU alumni to have seen that movie.  It will help you appreciate the university and the town, and see what the campus looked like over 30 years ago.  The film is delightfully entertaining and full of little bits of wisdom, and I guarantee it’ll make you appreciate the pains of growing up.

Navigating IU may seem like a daunting challenge at first, but as you grow to know the campus, the people, and the town, it’ll gradually feel like home.  Just keep seeking out new places, things, and people to explore and your appreciation of IU and Bloomington will deepen.  The best advice I can give you about navigating IU is how former IU Professor Oliver Field often concluded his letters: “Onward!”

Fall in Bloomington

Fall is finally here in Bloomington!  So far the season has brought the usual cooler temperatures, changing leaves, mid-term exams, and darker beers.  I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m enjoying every bit of it.  Fall is definitely my favorite season.  I always found it paradoxical that as the leaves on the trees fall and much of the plant life fades, the students at Indiana University are just getting their feet under them, settling in, and discovering all the new wonders of Bloomington.  It’s a strange juxtaposition how student life blossoms as much of the natural world fades and slows to prepare for winter.

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Hiking in Brown County. Photo courtesy of Amy D.

It is an appropriate contrast however, given the wealth of opportunities that each new academic year brings.  This is truly an exciting time of year when the outdoors is beckoning for us to enjoy it and new avenues of involvement, study, and leadership open up as we roll into a new school year.  I was fortunate this past week to have to chance to meet several promising prospective students at the Getting You Into IU event hosted by the University Graduate School.  Over the course of dinner at Uptown Cafe, I heard many inspiring stories from students across the country that truly touched me and for that I am grateful.

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Dinner at Getting You Into IU 2013. Photo Courtesy of Aminta M.

The tales that some students shared truly humanized some of the challenges that are faced by first-generation college students and highlighted the hard work that students across the country are putting in to set themselves up for success after their undergraduate studies.  While they were thanking me for showing them around, I was bursting with thanks to each of them for inspiring me and renewing my enthusiasm for graduate school, helping others, and sharing stories and experiences with others.  I am excited at the prospect of having some of these students join our ranks here as graduate students and wish all of them the best as they continue to consider their options for graduate school.