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I hope everyone had a very happy holidays and a pleasant break between semesters. I traveled home to Montana and enjoyed some quiet time with my family.

Friendly mule down the road from our house

VERY friendly deer… perhaps too friendly.

We ate a lot of food, played a lot of games, stayed up late, slept in late, and pretty much let our cares rest for a while. Since the breaks between the semesters are often a time for students and professors to catch up on work, it felt a little indulgent to relax so much.

But actually, taking breaks can help your productivity in the long-run (as I’m sure most of us have heard.) Here’s some advice for graduate students from Rachel Manes and the American Psychological Association:

First off, consider how long the designated vacation period will last.  While writing up results of a study might seem like a tempting way to spend this time during the extended break, planning non-academic related events is an equally productive way to spend time during the designated vacation period because they stand to improve productivity after the break is over.  These off-line activities could range from travel and recreation to leisure time with friends and loved ones. (rest of the article here)

So you see, there’s no need to feel guilty about your vacation – and I hope you took one! Instead, you can focus on transitioning into the new semester and having a productive start. Happy spring semester everyone!

Grades and Grad School Applications

As an emissary for IU, I’ve had the chance to talk to a lot of students who are going through the application process for graduate school. One question which almost always comes up is, “How much do grades and GRE scores matter?” This can be a tricky question – it often depends on the individual student and the program they are applying to. I’ll share my perspective, but if you are worried about your numbers you should also talk to people at the institutions you are applying to.

If you don’t have high test scores, don’t despair. Grad school applications aren’t just about GREs and GPAs.

Graduate programs care about grades and test scores, but they also care about recruiting students who are dedicated, determined, and who have well-defined research interests. In my opinion, not many programs will take on a student who doesn’t know what they want to do in grad school, no matter how good that person’s grades are. On the other hand, they might be willing to take on a student whose grades and test scores are somewhat low, provided that they have the personal drive and direction that are needed to get through grad school.

A friend of mine was accepted to IU (with funding) in spite of her low GPA, because she was able to prove her worth in other ways. After completing her undergraduate degree, she strengthened her resume through work and research experience. She didn’t apply to graduate school right away, but she used her time wisely. Eventually, she developed a rapport with professors within the department she would later apply to. When she did apply, she had contacts within the university to vouch for her, as well as important experiences which made her application strong.

Gaining research experience is an excellent way to strengthen your application and show you are dedicated to furthering your education.

While some departments might prove stubborn about their minimum test score and GPA numbers, I think you will find that many departments are flexible, especially if your application shows your ability in other ways. So if your scores are not quite what you wish they were, don’t lose hope! You may have to work a little harder to prove yourself, but it certainly can be done.

When you can’t go home…

I’m sure most of us would agree that one of the more difficult parts of graduate school is being far from your family, especially at the holidays. I’m happy to be going home this Christmas (first time in two years!), but I’m also happy that the holidays I’ve spent in Bloomington when I can’t go home have also been quite nice. This Thanksgiving I stayed in Bloomington and enjoyed a delicious potluck dinner with good friends, and the next night we went out to see the annual ceremony where the courthouse square is lit up by a canopy of lights.

The square lit up for the holidays. Photo from Indiana Public Media.

I can’t believe this is my fifth year in Bloomington and I never saw the lights celebration before! It was festive and fun, if a little chilly.

enjoying the festivities and trying to stay warm

There’s plenty of fun to be had in Bloomington when you can’t go home – especially when other students in the same position get together. Our Thanksgiving party this year was made up of a wonderful conglomeration of people from around the U.S. and around the world. I think my friend said it best when he said he was thankful that such a diverse group of people could get together and enjoy each other’s company and excellent food and good spirits. It was a very special holiday.

Tree inside the courthouse.

Happy holidays everyone! Only two weeks til winter break!




Paring down your CV…

In the past several months I’ve found myself in a new predicament: how to trim down my CV into a resume in order to apply for jobs outside of academia. For most of my graduate career, I was very focused on “bulking up” my CV with presentations, awards, outreach work… anything thing to elevate it from “wimpy” resume status to “impressive!” and “important!” CV status. If you’ve ever read one of your professor’s CVs you’ll know what I mean. But since my career interests lie outside of academia, I’ve had to reverse the process for many job applications… but without producing something that looks “wimpy” again.

Resumes don’t have to be wimpy at all. If you are selective about what you include, pay close attention to what traits and skills your potential employer is seeking, and format it carefully, your resume can be a powerful document. Here are some resources to get you started…

  • The Chronicle of Higher Education provides some excellent tips here.
  • More great advice from the University of Michigan here.
  • UCLA provides a sample resume adapted from a CV here.

Color Run! And jogging around Bloomington…

Starting line at the Jill Behrman 5k – photo from IU Rec Sports

Last weekend I participated in my first ever organized run – the Jill Behrman 5k. It’s an annual race in honor of an IU student who was killed in 2000, and it is part of a variety of activities that raise awareness about assault, teach self-defense, and raise money for a scholarship fund. This year the event was a color run – meaning at every mile mark you were showered in powdery dye, with a sort of color free-for-all at the very end.

An explosion of yellow as runners unleash extra dye packets at the end.

I had an amazing time! The 5k was a great motivator to get me jogging regularly, and everyone’s positive energy on race day made for a wonderful experience. The race wasn’t timed, and it really seemed to be more about community, health, and fun than competition.

Roommate, husband, and me. If only we could always get our exercise this way!

Now that I’ve experienced one, I’m eager to participate in other races around Bloomington – and there are a lot! Almost every weekend you can find a way to get active. Here’s a sample:

In the spring (date to be determined) you can run a 5k at the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Center Point, Indiana. Run alongside the tigers? Count me in for that. And if you’re a serious runner who wants to know more about what Bloomington has to offer, check out this article from Runner’s World Magazine.

Getting into Grad School – Letters of Recommendation

Don’t forget to give your writers PLENTY of notice.

I’ll just go ahead and say it, asking people to write me letters of recommendation is one of my LEAST favorite things to do. Asking for letters of recommendation can be stressful. You have to find the right people to ask, hope that they are willing to do you the favor, and then relinquish a little control over how you will be represented to admissions committees. Yuck yuck yuck. The whole thing makes my stomach churn a little, every time I have to do it. Unfortunately, this process isn’t going away any time soon, so here are my tips for making the process less painful.

Ask right away.  As soon as you know who you are asking, don’t procrastinate. Give that person as much notice as possible. It’s the courteous thing to do, and it leaves you room to send reminder emails later.

Provide all the info upfront. – It’s best to provide all the information you can in that first email where you make your request. That way, the person writing the letter doesn’t have to go searching around last minute for all the details and instructions. Things you’ll want to include:

  1. Where you’re applying
  2. Why you’re applying there and why you’re a good fit – A  brief summary will help your “recommender” construct a more detailed letter.
  3. Your current CV and any other application materials you’ve completed – Your recommender won’t be able to remember all your qualifications off the top of their head.
  4. Logistical info – where the letter or email should be sent, who it should be addressed to, when it is due, and any other relevant information

If you don’t hear back, follow up. – Once someone has agreed to write you a letter, check in with them when the deadline is drawing near – I would say somewhere between one to two weeks before the letters are due. A gentle reminder might be necessary (students aren’t the only ones who procrastinate).

Say thanks! – Yes, it’s kinda in the job description that professors have to write recommendation letters, but it’s also nice of them to take time away from their other responsibilities to construct a thoughtful letter on your behalf. So show your appreciation with an email or better yet a thank you note.

The worth of a ranking…

I think the emissaries have given some excellent advice on school rankings this past month. I’ve found it a very interesting discussion because I know very little about rankings myself. In fact… I’m a little embarrassed to say that I didn’t look at rankings at all when I applied to graduate school. So I decided to look up the Anthropology program and see what the numbers said. I used which provides data collected by the National Research Council.

IU’s Anthropology graduate program fell a little short of the middle of the 82 programs that were ranked. Like other emissaries have commented, however, this is only one measure of a grad program. By itself, it’s not very useful information. Perhaps if IU was dead last on the list, it might make me reconsider applying. But there are many other factors to weigh in, including the strengths of individual programs, faculty’s research interests, location, funding, and so on.

What I did find useful was all the information which followed the ranking. For example:

The numbers for “time to degree” and “completion rates” can be very telling. On this website you can also find numbers on job placement after graduation, average funding received, debt after graduation, and so on. If you are in the application process, it is definitely worth your time to compare these numbers between schools. If any numbers seem particularly low or high, consider talking to department staff and faculty to find out why. Of course the numbers can’t tell you everything – it’s hard to quantify how “welcoming” a place is – but they do provide some useful data that may influence your final decision.

Studying and Sustenance

You may have heard that Bloomington has a fantastic restaurant selection, and it’s true. However, we students often don’t have time to sit down a leisurely lunch, so today I’m going to highlight some of my favorite places to grab a quick bite near campus. Here’s a map to get you oriented…

#1 – Bloomingfoods Co-op

To get to the Co-op, head down the alley on Kirkwood next to Tracks. Careful! It’s easy to miss.

Bloomingfoods is a cooperatively owned grocery store that specializes in organic food. They have several locations, including this smaller store right near campus. They have a soup and salad bar, sandwiches made to order, coffee, pastries, and pre-made items that you can grab and go. Very convenient!

Interior of Bloomingfoods, photo taken by me

#2 Sweet Claire (no same-name bias here!)

Sweet Claire’s on 3rd Street

I love this place for several reasons – great iced tea, great sandwiches (with vegetarian options), quiet atmosphere, and free wi-fi. It’s location on busy 3rd Street means that many people zoom right by it, especially since parking is hidden in back. But it’s an easy walk from campus, and a good place to either take a study break or bring your laptop and get some work done.

#3 – City Bakery

The City Bakery, tucked into the corner next to Bear’s Place

City Bakery is also easy to miss because it’s a tiny corner shop, but once you’ve discovered it you won’t forget it. The pastries – some sweet, some savory – are made from scratch every day, and they are delicious.

Spinach feta croissant? A chocolate chip scone with hints of orange?

Maybe it’s not the healthiest place to grab a snack, but their prices are very reasonable. And you can even get a super-speedy breakfast of eggs and toast – they steam their eggs with the wand on the espresso machine. If that sounds crazy, you’ll just have to go and see!

Summer daze…

Where did the summer go? In academia, summer is usually a time to catch up on work. During the school year, it can be hard to set aside time for all those side projects (publishing an article?) or long-term projects (building a teaching portfolio?) that get pushed aside during the school year. Hopefully, a little relaxation sneaks in there too. This summer, I did an internship with the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, developing an audio tour focused on musical instruments from around the world.

Rhythms of the World audio tour at the Mathers Museum

This internship was actually not my first choice of opportunities for the summer, but when the other options did not pan out I was very happy to have the chance to work with the Mathers again. The project turned out to be a lot of fun and a great learning experience. It also taught me the importance of having a backup plan and making the most of the opportunities you are given.

And for fun… my husband and I finished out the summer with an amazing road trip to Maine, complete with waterfalls…

Waterford Glen State Park (NY), Moss Glen Falls (VT), and Taughannock Falls (NY)

ice cream…

roadside ice cream in Vermont, ice cream at a harbor in Maine

hikes, sailing, and historic sites.

the shoreline at Hermit Island, sailing off coast in Maine, and Fort Knox (Maine)

We love to camp, and it was a wonderful away to get away from school, work, and email. We traveled through some amazingly beautiful parts of the U.S. that neither of us had visited before, spent time with excellent friends, and ate a LOT of lobster. All in all, a perfect vacation. Of course, I don’t expect that kind of trip every year, and next summer we might stick around Indiana. But don’t worry – there’s plenty of relaxation and outdoor enjoyment to be had quite close to Bloomington…

floatin down the river at Turkey Run State Park

Competition and Graduate School – Or, How Grad School is Like the Hunger Games

This semester I’ve been thinking a lot about competition and grad school. Every time I submit an application for an internship, job, or dissertation funding, I am aware of the fact that I am going up against many other students, all of us competing for a limited number of prizes. Graduate school, I’ve decided, is like the Hunger Games.

(Did you know Suzanne Collins graduated from IU? Maybe that's where she got her inspiration. Nah, just kidding!)

If you’re objecting already, hear me out! No, graduate students are not engaged in a fight to the death, but we are fighting for our academic careers: vying for this or that fellowship, struggling to win the attention of Dr. So-and-So, waging an uphill battle against the referees who review papers for publication. Our competitors in all of this are our fellow students, and they want the prize just as badly. For the most part, they are nice, innocent, and hardworking (Rue) but occasionally they can be ruthless jerks like those people from District 1. And just to complete the analogy, let’s say that the library (or lab) represents the arena. Recommendation letters and bits of helpful wisdom from our advisors = gifts from sponsors (obviously).

Graduate school can definitely take on a competitive atmosphere, but since I’m a glass-half-full kind of person, I want to point out another parallel between the Hunger Games and grad school. The people who win in the end are those who figure out how to work together.

I’m happy to say that the cooperative atmosphere in my department overshadows the competitive one. People are quick to alert each other about potential opportunities, and they are happy to share ideas and collaborate. Three times in the past year I’ve applied for the same grants that other students have their eyes on. Instead of hiding our work from each other, everyone has read each other’s applications and offered ongoing advice and support. In the end, we will all benefit from the experience – much more than if we had tried to tackle this particular battle alone. We’re like Katniss and Peeta! (minus the smooching)

And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, I hope you put down the academic articles for a few hours this summer and indulge in the Hunger Games.