5 Ways to enjoy the (campus) Staycation


Who isn’t excited to have a little time off? But often as graduate students we don’t have the option to bail on teaching and graduate responsibilities during breaks. Whether it’s because traveling is too expensive or have an approaching deadline for a project you will, on occasion, find yourself in town during a school break. Staying in town when the majority of the student body vacates can seem disheartening, but have no fear, here are five hidden ways to enjoy your campus staycation.

1) First, appreciate the silence. Ok maybe not complete silence, but the bustle of cars, buses and people everywhere tends to settle down during long breaks.

2) Remember that you’ll have a more flexible schedule. The demands of seminars, attending meetings and/or teaching courses are reduced (if not eliminated) thus allowing you to be more flexible with your days. Perhaps you can take the opportunity to sleep in or leave campus early.

3) Get out and explore the town! Our schedules are always jam packed, so we rarely have free time to explore. Go ahead and try a new restaurant. The wait times are usually non-existent during long breaks, so treat yourself to that new place you’ve been wanting to try. This is also a great time to catch a movie, go to the gym, library or other campus hotspots that can feel overpopulated during regular semester hours can be easier to manage during the breaks.

*FYI* Check operating hours as businesses may adjust times or close for repairs due to fewer patrons.

4) Resources are abundant, whether trying to use the campus printing, valuable office space, or the machines that always seem to be taken. It is highly unlikely you are the only one around, but there are far fewer people everywhere making it easier to access shared equipment.

5) Lastly, you are not alone. There are tons of other grad students in the same boat. Plan to meet up with people you don’t get to see regularly because of your busy schedules. So use the time to reconnect with old buddies or if you’re new to campus, use it as an opportunity to make new friends.

Self-Care in Nature around Bloomington

Sometimes grad school can get tough sometimes and it happens to everybody, no matter what they say otherwise. Everyone has felt a little overwhelmed or out of place during their time in grad school. In order deal with this, it is important to have self-care for yourself. Self-care can mean many things to each individual person.

I recommend spending time outdoors. Here are some of my favorite places to go.

Leonard Springs

It is nice to go at different seasons because you can see the landscape change especially in Fall, Autumn, and Spring.

Griffy lake

There are easy to moderate trails available at Griffy Lake. There is a very popular trail by the parking lot that is a good trail to do for your first time. If you want a more solitude trails I recommend one of the shore trails (look online for map). I recommend hiking in the Fall and the Spring.

If you are not a hiking person then I suggest renting a Kayak or canoe to spend some time on the lake. I think the rentals are closed for a portion of the year, so check online.

Brown County State Park and Nashville

They are right next to each other. Start your day with a small hike and finish it off with half a day walking around the small town. It has a lot of tiny shops of almost anything you can think of.

Dealing with Haters: What to do when you get negative evaluations

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.


10 things about the 2017 eclipse you must know

Hello, Readers!

Firstly, check out IU’s plans for the eclipse right here: go.iu.edu/solareclipse Everyone in Indiana will see a partial eclipse.

Map of the Eclipse, Courtesy: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/eclipse-maps

(1) Do not look at the Sun during the partial eclipse, UNLESS you have the right solar eclipse viewing glasses. Check here if you have the right glasses: https://eclipse.aas.org/eye-safety/iso-certification Look at the map above to find out if you are in the totality or not.

(2) You can look at the sky during totality. If you are under the path of totality, you still CANNOT look at the Sun at all times, except for the duration of totality. The totality is when the Moon completely blocks the Sun. In 2017, the totality may last from 1 second to up to 2 minutes 40 seconds.

(3) About Glasses. Trivial but important: do not look up and then wear glasses. Always wear glasses with your head down, and then look upwards toward the sky and find the Sun.

(4) Eclipse without glasses. If you don’t have glasses, here is a way to make your own pinhole camera:
Leaves act as excellent pinhole cameras.

Sun during a solar eclipse through the leaves of a tree. By User:Ellywa (Self-photographed) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Sun during a solar eclipse through the leaves of a tree. By User:Ellywa (Self-photographed) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

(5) This eclipse is the first Transcontinental Total Solar Eclipse in the USA in 99 years. Interstate highway system didn’t exist the last time.

(6) Largest Organized Mass Transportation. The eclipse will be the largest organized mass transportation in the US history. Expect the traffic on all major highways to be crazy. Plan to have sufficient gas. Carry extra food. Finding restrooms will be hard.

(7) Eclipse in 2024. Another total solar eclipse will come to the United States in 2024.

(8) Total solar eclipses are rare for a given physical location. Los Angeles will see the next total solar eclipse in the year 3290. On April 1st.

Total Solar eclipse 1999 in France.  Credit: Luc Viatour / https://Lucnix.be via Wikimedia Commons.

Total Solar eclipse 1999 in France. Credit: Luc Viatour / https://Lucnix.be via Wikimedia Commons.

(9) The eclipse is evidence that the Earth, the Moon, and the Sun are round. The event is an appreciation of the astronomical size scales, the Sun is so far away (~8.5 light minutes) that it appears to be the same size as the Moon. The Moon is so little that about 50 of those can fit inside Earth, and the Earth is so tiny that more than a million Earth can fit inside the Sun.

(10) Eclipses have occurred since the formation of the solar system, but total solar eclipses will stop happening after a long time, once the Moon recedes sufficiently father away from us. Yes, the Moon’s orbit is getting larger, at a rate of about 38 millimeters per year. At this rate, the Moon’s distance from the Sun will always be astronomically high.

Courtesy: https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/in/usa/bloomington-in?iso=20170821

Courtesy: https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/in/usa/bloomington-in?iso=20170821

Image Caption: Eclipse in Bloomington, Courtesy: https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/in/usa/bloomington-in?iso=20170821

A new paradigm – How to sustain focus ?

There were a couple of people having a boisterous conversation in the lobby just outside where I was working. My laptop fan was whizzing like a jet engine due to the intensive task it was carrying out. All those sounds reached my ears but my mind was concentrated on the task as if it was in Microsoft’s Anechoic Chamber. Although my mobile phone is in silent mode, there were many incoming messages, notifications, and emails to my mobile phone. Aroma of the flavor from the food which was being reheated in the Informatics kitchen was very much distracting. Though I had not eaten any food in the last 6 hours, I was indifferent and was focussed on the task at hand.

I did not bother about whether I am going to finish the task that day or not. I could not care less if I would get any reward or appreciation for it. I did not think, nor plan any contingencies in the case of a failure of the task at hand. I did not know that it would benefit or harm anyone at any point in the future. I had not blabbered about the task, neither complained about it to any of my friends. It may not be super interesting task to most people in the world who were doing such tasks daily neither for those who were starters.

I was simply making my computer crunch a bunch of numbers and perform some large computations. It is neither a humungous task nor a minuscule one. I simply did not care about its size. I was super interested in performing it, though. I felt like I was swimming in the middle of an ocean by myself. I did not know whether I would be rescued, reach the shore, be eaten, or just die of exhaustion. I was not hungry, neither thirsty. I was swimming for the sake of swimming because I enjoy swimming.

Now, this may sound a little extraordinary. One may argue that one cannot be this focussed every day. Trust me this is what I had been learning in my grad school and I have been very fortunate to have discovered the secret to such unadulterated concentration. From the moment I had known the secret, I have been creating wonders. Whatever the task had been, I have been learning to focus and enjoy doing it.

“One has to learn that the result is not important”

Krishna in Bhagavadgita (A mythical God)

The secret is that one should not have the desire for the result. The motivation you may get from the result is temporary or misleading. But if your love for what you do is genuine and unadulterated, not even a tornado can distract you. Of course, each and every task we do would not be so lovely. But, one can develop a genuine relationship with anything in this world. All it takes is practice and giving.

“The mind is restless and difficult to restrain, but is subdued by practice”

Krishna in Bhagavadgita

I was not a great coder, nor was in love with it on the day I started coding. It was intimidating and It took me a lifetime to be a decent coder. I have been understanding myself and coding every single day. Although many situations stressed me, I had been learning to never feel any pressure of becoming the best, nor show any genuine interest in any results from it while enjoying it. When you associate yourself with either an art, a sport, or a person, or anything in the world, without any desire, such relationship would be so pure and would prosper for a lifetime! Not convinced yet? I am attaching a magical video about how a small kid with a growth hormone deficiency from Argentina changed the world of soccer for good. Hi is my living legend, my idol, and one of the greatest Soccer players of all time: Messi. Watch him, till the end to experience a paradigm shift. Now go create wonders every single day!

Please let your thoughts flow in the comments below!

A Better You Meets a Better Graduate Student

Wake up. Go to school. Go to work. Go to the library. Go home. Study and write some more. Wake up the next day. Do it all over again. Food? Sleep? Who needs those, right? WRONG! With the scholar grind at an all-time high as a graduate student, it is easy to get so lost in the hustle and bustle that we forget to look out for someone very important: ourselves. No matter how overwhelming the challenges, always keep YOU in the front of your mind. Sometimes, ok most times, this seems impossible to do, but it can be done! How…you ask?

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“Out to lunch”

Bloomingtonians seem to have an almost pathological love of lunch. Between noon and 1:00pm every day, a huge proportion of the campus shuts down as the staff heads off to eat. It’s like the nostalgic, small-town satire where literally everything in town (even the stray dogs) hangs out an “Out to Lunch” sign as soon as the clock strikes noon. I know that’s the traditional lunch time but 1) who actually gets an hour  for lunch? (The answer: IU Bloomington), and 2) I worked at the University of Minnesota for about 7 years and never saw anything like this! Bloomington is very weird in this regard.

So, this massive lunch-hour exodus has two important implications for graduate students. The first is obvious: don’t try to get any university business done between noon and 1:00pm. Don’t try to sort out a registration anomaly, file paperwork for a research grant, or contact the department of your minor advisor to get a form signed. Don’t!

The second implication is less obvious. Since 90% of the population of Bloomington, IN goes to lunch at the same time, this means the restaurants are clear and accessible at every other time in the afternoon. Beyond that, you will find that a few establishments even have discounts if you go for lunch after 2 or 3pm.

What does this have to do with you? Well, as a graduate student, you probably do not keep regular 9-5 hours. If you are like me, you are working from like 7am – 3am most days. As such, “lunch time” need not be at noon. It’s not like you’re punching a clock or staying compliant with  federal labor laws: you can eat whenever you want to! Sure the little Blooming Foods deli behind Nick’s English Hut is pretty crowded at 12:18pm but, if you go in three hours later, you will find it nearly empty and that  many of their pre-packaged deli stuff is on 30% discount.

Playbills and Ticket Stubs !

Photo from business week.com

Photo from www.businessweek.com

Putting down my books on a weeknight can be difficult and turning off my laptop on the weekend can be even harder. Breaks are necessary for a graduate student in coursework, studying for qualitative exams, writing proposals, and dissertating. I wrote a previous blog about the Musical Arts Center and the performances featured there, which are usually student centered including ballets, operas, and orchestral concerts.

It wasn’t until 2013 that I discovered exactly how amazing the IU Auditorium is. Working as a Co-Chair of the Committee for Fee Review (a committee of students across IU Bloomington campus that reviews the fee allocation for all student groups and auxiliary units on campus) I met Doug Booher, the Director of the Auditorium and learned some very important things about this institution on campus. It is an award winning and nationally recognized university auditorium, as well as being a top student employer on campus.

The yearly calendar of events and performances is impressive to say the least and student pricing is pretty great too. I’ve seen Bill Maher‘s stand up and most recently the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform at the IU Auditorium. There are even season ticket options to make sure you take those necessary breaks and enjoy a play, musical, dance concert, or public lecture!!