Post Academic


Resources: Applying to Graduate School Site

When applying to graduate school, it’s easy to get disorganized. To maximize your chances, you may be applying to a million and one programs, and your advisor may or may not be helpful.

However, a University of Michigan grad student in Psychology has created a Web page that walks grad students through the application process step-by-step. You could print out the front page of this Web site and treat it like a checklist or even a substitute advisor.

Some of the best advice involves the personal statement. The Live Journal site “So you want to go to grad school?” often features students posting their personal statements and asking for feedback. Before you even think of drafting a personal statement, visit the Applying to Graduate School page on the subject, and it will save you a lot of trouble. Here’s a sample tip:

Remember, it’s called a “statement of purpose”, NOT a “personal statement.” This is not an essay about your emotional development. If something in your personal life is integral to your studies, then you should include it. However, most of the time, professors do not want to read about your personal life. The statement of purpose should read more like a professional document.

While we give plenty of advice for the “post-academic” phase, I’m sure plenty of “pre-academics” are visiting this site. If you’re one of them, bookmark this site now.

Applying to Graduate School

Science Grad Programs Start to Feel the Pinch

Here at Post Academic, I am guilty of a few assumptions, and one of those top assumptions is that grad students in the sciences have it better. Labs can get funding outside the university, and their skills and achievements are easier to quantify and monetize.

Well, I’m not entirely right based on a recent post over at Female Science Professor’s blog. FSP must be an amazing advisor because she worked hard to get a smart student into a physical sciences grad program that looked like the perfect fit. It would appear that this student did everything right and got in. And yet …

He applied and was accepted, he visited the department, and .. the financial offer was so inadequate that there might as well not even have been one. The student would have had to get a job and take out loans to make it through grad school (just as he had done as an undergrad), and no one should have to do that in the physical sciences.

FSP moved quickly and helped the student get into another group, so this student is covered. He’s lucky. Not all advisors would have been willing to help that much, nor would they have understood the financial issues.

No one should go into debt for grad school, unless that person is rich or they have a guaranteed job upon graduation. (And the contract for that job should be signed in blood.) The fact that students in the sciences are having difficulties with funding makes me wonder just how bad it is in the humanities. Anyone care to share what funding packages looked like in your departments, and how did they stack up compared to previous years?

What I Don’t Know [Female Science Professor]

Speaking of Unhappy Customers …

Posted in Broke-Ass Schools,The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on May 4, 2010
Tags: , , ,

Yesterday I linked to guru Seth Godin, who singled out colleges and universities for “amateur and bland direct mail” that encourages applications or donations.

Maybe Godin should have revised “amateur and bland direct mail” to read “mail that will piss former students off and lead to craigslist meltdowns.” One student received a brochure the student’s alma mater, where the student received an MA in public policy. Alas, the school’s timing was bad, as the student remains unemployed, despite a pricey MA:

So, what I want to know is, why are you wasting money on glossy fundraising brochures full of meaningless synonyms for the word “Excellence”? And, why are you sending them to ME? Yes, I know that I got a master’s degree at your fine institution, but that master’s degree hasn’t done jack shit for me since I got it! I have been unemployed for the past TWO YEARS and I am now a professional resume-submitter, sending out dozens of resumes a month to employers, and the degree I received in your hallowed halls is at the TOP OF IT and it doesn’t do a fucking thing.

You know, maybe if you wanted a little bit of money from me (and these days you’d get about $3) maybe you should send me a fancy color brochure admitting your role in the bubble economics that got us all in to this mess.

Note to institutions of higher education—perhaps your alumni might be willing to send you money if you printed those brochures on newsprint because full color gloss is expensive. Second, you might get more respect from your alumni if you sent them brochures about what your career center has to offer.

Best of Craigslist > Seattle > Dear University Alumni Office

Lawyers, Grad Students, and Money

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionIn the past, law students could shoulder massive amounts of debt because they could be fairly confident of getting a job. Now they are facing a situation that should be eerily familiar to Post Academic readers: Firms aren’t hiring the way they used to, and that student loan debt isn’t going anywhere.

Above the Law sums up the anger at the situation: “But do you know what the real bitch of it is? If it turns out you made a terrible investment by going to law school, it’s impossible for you to get out from under your mistakes. You can’t discharge law school debt through bankruptcy absent a showing of undue hardship.”

You sure can’t. But, chin up, o lawyer friends. Post Academic can help you look on the bright side! You still have it better than grad students! Here’s how:

Going to a big-name school can still help you. In academia, there are so few jobs that an Ivy League PhD can only get you so far. In fact, it might not get you far at all. A JD from an Ivy or otherwise big-time school still means you’re hot stuff, however, or at least you’re well-connected.* Even if you don’t have a JD from a top-tier school, you have a better shot at a job than your peers in the humanities.

More reasons for lawyers to feel a little better after the jump! Image of The Illustrated London News – Tichborne Case (1874) from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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How to Make the Most of Working Part-Time in Grad School

Image SourceIf you’re planning on going to grad school, unless you’ve been blessed with some incredible funding, you should plan on taking a part-time job. In most cases, having a part-time job is pure goodness: You avoid going into debt, and you’re building up extra skills in case you have trouble getting an academic job. We gave you some tips on good part-time job options, but what happens once you get the job? As long as you follow these three tips, you can get the most out of your side gig:

Ask people in your program what they’re doing first. You’ll save time and get a crash course in networking if you use your fellow grad students as a resource. They’ll know who is hiring and might be able to refer you.

Choose a job that complements your grad school work, if possible. It all depends on what you’re studying, but the ideal job suits your current skills while letting you build new ones. For example, teaching an SAT course can help new teachers polish their classroom skills. Or, building Web sites on the side can help you prepare interactive classroom materials.

Avoid taking on too many hours. If your boss likes you so much that she offers you more hours, you are already doing something right. But don’t immediately say yes. Check your budget first because you want to avoid debt, but you also don’t want to cut into the time you need to finish your graduate degree on time. Your degree should always come first.

Image from the German Federal Archive under a Creative Commons License, Wikimedia Commons.

“Howling Mad” Murdock Was Totally a Liberal Arts Grad Student

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionSo McSweeney’s has had a field day with liberal arts majors lately, and a recent satire re-imagines the stock “Team Assembly” scene so popular in action flicks. Usually, action-movie “Team Assembly” involves gathering individuals with special skills that are deployed at just the right time. Blame the “Seven Samurai” for this plot.

Every action-movie team has the brains, the muscle, the sex magnet, the leader … and of course the Batsh*t Insane one. For you pop-culture buffs, that’s “Howling Mad” Murdock from the “A Team.”

Well, who better to be the crazy person on a team than a liberal arts major? Who else is more nuts than that? The “team leader” in Michael Lacher’s satire says,

Your midterm paper on the semiotics of Band of Outsiders turned a lot of heads at mission control. Your performance in Biology For Non-Science Majors was impressive, matched only by your mastery of second-year Portuguese. And a lot of the research we do here couldn’t have happened without your groundbreaking work on suburban malaise and its representation and repression in John Hughes’ films.

Yup. That’s a sign of a nutty mo-fo who has just the right spirit to lead a team into workplace battle. Remember that, hiring managers. Don’t dismiss the resume of a liberal arts major. You might just need a crazy visionary on your team some day.

The Only Thing That Can Stop This Asteroid Is Your Liberal Arts Degree [McSweeney’s]

Image of A Team van graffiti by Hannu from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Part-Time Job Ideas for Grad Students

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionHaving a part-time job as a grad student can help you in several ways. First, you make a little side cash so you don’t have to live off Ramen noodles. Second, you can learn skills outside of academia that you can apply later on. Here are a few ideas that I’ve actually done:

1. Catering
Pros: Fairly easy work if you don’t mind heavy lifting, and the hours are flexible. Good tips most of the time. Leftovers.
Cons: The occasional bad tipper. Drunk guys patting your butt. Smelling like BBQ for weeks after an assignment.

2. Teaching SAT/PSAT/Etc.
Pros: Good pay. Low amount of prep since the teaching is cut-and-dried.
Cons: Not much room for creativity. Overambitious students whose mantra is “Harvard or Die!”

3. Freelance Editing and Copywriting
Pros: Many people automatically think your grammar is awesome if you tell them you grade papers. You gain experience with client management.
Cons: Some of your buyers are deadbeats. (To handle these people, visit our article “Kneecapping 101.”)

4. Programming and Computer Repair
Pros: Once you know how to fix someone’s computer problem (hint: it usually involves a reboot), you can charge more than you would for editing. Departments will want to hire you because you can fix their busted home page.
Cons: Not all clients understand the amount of work required. You might not have time to keep up with the latest technology.

5. Donating Plasma
Pros: Minimal effort required. The Red Cross will let you watch movies while you do it.
Cons: You don’t learn any new skills. Feeling like a desperate undergrad who needs beer money.

Any other ideas you’d like to contribute?

Image of woman in Esso office in Baton Rouge in 1950 public domain, Wikimedia Commons.

Interview With Adam Ruben, Author of Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to Go to Graduate School: Part 2

Yesterday, PhD, comedian, and recovering grad student Adam Ruben, author of “Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to Go to Graduate School,” answered our questions about how grad students can stay sane in their programs. Today’s questions focus on what happens after the program, specifically on how Ruben got his book published and on why he decided not to become a professor after earning his degree.

1. Your bio says how popular your stand-up comedy classes were at Johns Hopkins. Did your advisors or your grad school peers ever catch your show? What did they think? Was anyone offended, and how did you get around it?

Some of my grad school friends did attend the final show for the stand-up comedy class I taught, but that show mostly consisted of performances from the students in the class, not me. For other on-campus shows that peers and advisors might see (though I don’t think my advisor ever saw a show), I made sure that the things I made fun of were more universal and didn’t pick on anyone in particular. For example, I talked about the difference between conceptions of science when you’re in grade school (You get to make a volcano out of baking soda and vinegar!) and in grad school (You move small amounts of liquid from one place to another) and why such a large percentage of the students’ lab reports included the sentence “Overall, this lab was a success” even though they didn’t understand anything in the lab. Actually, I’ve never really offended anyone with stand-up, though I did get a few angry letters when I edited the grad student newspaper and introduced columns like “Undergrads Say the Darndest Things.” Some people didn’t like that.

2. Obviously, you have made the move from academia to the working world. We were wondering a) how did you launch your stand-up career and b) how did you land a book contract?

I began doing stand-up in college, and I started performing in the real world when I started grad school. A couple of comedy clubs in Baltimore had open mic nights, and I’d perform there when I could–and I’d meet other comedians, and some of them told me about other clubs, and things kind of grew from there.

As for the book contract, I was writing some freelance pieces for National Lampoon, and one day they contacted all of their writers to see if any of them would be interested in submitting book proposals. I came up with the idea for this book, and I wrote up the proposal, and they promptly rejected it, since grad students weren’t exactly National Lampoon’s demographic. So since I had the proposal anyway, I started sending it to literary agents. The most common response I got was, “I love it! I don’t want it!” Apparently it’s not a good idea to try selling a book to people who are notoriously cash-strapped. But a couple were interested, and I signed with Laurie Abkemeier at Defiore & Co., and she sent the proposal around to publishers. The process began again, and I received lots of very polite rejections, all claiming that impoverished grad students won’t buy books. Broadway Books turned out to be interested, though, which was great news.

More after the jump! Image of Adam Ruben courtesy of Broadway Books/Crown Publishing. (more…)

Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to Go to Graduate School: Video 2

Posted in Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on April 21, 2010
Tags: , , , , ,

Post Academic’s interview with Adam Ruben, PhD, comedian, and author of “Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School” will start tomorrow, April 22. Yesterday we shared a video about how to deal with certain types of advisors, but we saved the best for last: Dealing with undergrads.

Most undergrads are decent sorts, but there’s always one, uh, let’s just say “memorable” undergrad in every class. Feel free to share memories of those unusual undergrads such as the ones who appear below:

Time-to-degree, real and reimagined (with poll)

Yesterday, we covered the New York Times covering the take-your-pick-of-crises in academia.  The most stunning thing the NYT reported was that the average time-to-Ph.D. in the humanities was calculated at 9.3 years!  That figure strikes me as a little too high as an average, but, whatever the actual number, the point is well-taken that getting your Ph.D. takes way too long, whether it’s the nature of things or that there’s a certain kind of less-time-constrained personality better suited to academia.

So one of the solutions to the problems facing Ph.D. students, whether it’s with the day-to-day experience of getting by or longer-term issues of an ever-declining academic job market, that’s being floated is shortening the time-to-degree.  One of the most prominent proponents of this idea is Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard Prof Louis Menand, who outlines in his book The Marketplace of Ideas some reasons for rethinking the Ph.D. and shortening the time-to-degree, as well as a structural argument on how the long apprenticeship has broader impacts on the humanities.  (Much of what I discuss is reprinted in this Harvard Magazine excerpt.)

Continued, below the jump..

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