Although there are a many ways to fund grad school, most often your graduate stipend will come from a teaching position. For some this will be a one-time gig, but for many it’s an every semester commitment. During your time as an Associate Instructor (AI), often referred to at other universities as a Teaching Assistant (TA), you will be faced with the end-of-term evaluation. This is an important assessment from the students you are teaching solicited by the department to garner feedback about the course to make it better. Often, these are also ‘free for alls’ for students to tell you how they really feel, for better or worse.
The reality is whether you enjoy being in the classroom or not, negative critiques can hurt because it can feel (or be) a personal attack on your character. During my first year of teaching it was like night and day between the fall and spring semesters. Whether it was the number of students doubling or the personality of the group of students, I know that reading my evaluations made me question whether academia was the right fit for me. After reflecting on my personal classroom experience, a few pieces of advice:
Fix the things you can Ultimately, teaching is a skill like any other and needs to be continually developed. No one is perfect, and what worked before may not work the same way with this group of students. If your students make recommendations within the evaluation forms, see if there are reoccurring themes. Use these areas to focus on and improve your teaching style. For example: Do you speak too softly? Are lecture slides too busy? Have your office hours been held at a difficult time? Use these recommendations as small fixes that can improve the overall classroom dynamic. Universities often offer teaching pedagogy courses or have centers that host workshops to help improve teaching and learning. Making one or two improvements may increase the overall experience for both you and your students.
Recognize there are things you can’t change Understand that some critiques will be beyond your control. Whether it’s the amount of work required for the course, content to be covered or assigned projects, most of these are established way before you’re assigned to teach a course. Sometimes addressing it on the first day of class is helpful (and sometimes it’s ignored). Reflecting on why some comments are made, rather than the fact that they’re targeted at you can help illuminate that the issue may be less about you and more about their feelings.
Keep Calm and remember to breathe. Whether you’ve been teaching for 25 years or this is your first semester, take a deep breath and try to relax. At the end of the day everyone has good semesters and bad ones, but if you want to pursue teaching at any level, you will be bound to receive some negative feedback. Don’t let it break you.
As I move into my 3rd year in the PhD program in Sociology, it is becoming more and more evident that I am no longer a student, but a scholar. This is my last year with courses, so very soon there will be a great deal of freedom in terms of time, with which I will be expected to develop my own intellectual identity. And this is not easy.
The first year in my program I was really just surviving because the work and the local culture was very different for me. My second year was somewhat easier as I began to get the hang of things and learned to use my time more strategically. As I enter my 3rd year there is pressure, but now you place most of it on yourself. Ultimately it is on you to pace yourself, gain great mentorship, and more importantly BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. This is all a process and at times grad school can feel very unproductive, but remember every aspect of your graduate education is there to provide you value. You are not only gaining intellectual and discipline specific training, you are also learning life skills. Think about it!
As you continue to present your research, you gain more comfortability in receiving and incorporating feedback. The more responsibilities you take on, the greater understanding you gain in what you are actually able to handle.
The moral of this post is you have no idea what grad school can do for you outside of the obvious training. But grad school, like life, is a process. And if you embrace what you can gain, rather then what you are giving up or missing out on, your journey from student to scholar will be as much a life transformation as it will be a journey in professionalization.
This morning at 8am, I joined my U215 students (freshmen Hudson & Holland Scholars) in our discussion section where we engaged in a very robust conversation regarding the “college for all” crusade and the question of whether or not a college education is really the “golden ticket” to success. My students, who are extremely bright and vocal, shared their various opinions, but by the end of the conversation, they all reached the same conclusion: college is definitely worth it.
As a graduate student, there are times when I ask myself, “Is this thing called graduate school really worth my time, effort, sleepless nights, MONEY, and all of the other sacrifices I have given and continue to give for this PhD?” Even though I have these moments that sometimes manifest themselves in the form of griping and complaining, I still manage to draw the same conclusions as my students: It really is worth it!
If you are grappling with the question: “To go or not to go to graduate school?'” because of the major costs involved (in terms of dollars and cents and the intangible things like time), do not let those thoughts deter you from pursuing a graduate degree. Yes, it’s important to count up the cost, but do not get so wrapped up in the costs that you negate the benefits, both tangible and intangible. Be your own cheerleader and encourage yourself as you prepare your application. Speak to mentors, faculty members, others in your field about your decision. Extra affirmation is always a good thing. It’s simple. If you really see yourself conducting research, diving deep into areas of interest and informing the work in that field, go for it!
As we are crossing the halfway mark of another semester, we are “knee-deep” in our studies. We usually began stressing over assignments/project deadlines coming up, wondering if we’ll pass that class or get that much needed C, B or A in another one. In the midst of all of this, I want to encourage you with these quotes:
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” –Thomas A. Edison
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” –Vincent Van Gogh
“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” –C.S. Lewis
Keep your head up, you’re more than halfway through!
Sometimes, writing a dissertation can be exhilarating. There is nothing like that day that you check something major over the ToDo list. On other days, however, it can be lonely and/or boring. On those days, it really helps to reach out to others who have been where you are. Here are links to a few of those blogs:
I hope they help you remember that you are not alone.
As a doctoral student AND someone who struggles with maintaining a fitness routine, one of the things that I love about IU is the IU Recreational Sports programs. Continue reading
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.
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
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.
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?”
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.
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.