Post Academic


Making Checklists Sexy

Posted in Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on June 7, 2010
Tags: ,

Okay, checklists are not sexy. But they sure are back in style thanks to Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto, which offers evidence that even the smartest people in the world forget stuff and could use a checklist to remind them.

Grad School Drama is also riding the checklist train and offers advice on how to manage a checklist:

Task Lists! Make a list. Prioritize the tasks based on importance and time constraints. Revisit the list several times during the day. And CHECK OFF THE TASKS as you go (that’s a note to self). Seriously, making the list is not enough. Let it guide your efforts. If you have a 40+ page chapter, consider writing only 3-5 pages in a single day. Consider reading only one or two articles.

See, it’s one thing to make a checklist, but that’s no better than making a New Year’s Resolution to lose 10 pounds, quit smoking and stop dropping F-Bombs. If your goals are too grandiose, you will not achieve them, and you’ll feel like a failure. It seems like common sense, but breaking up large tasks into small chunks and actually checking them off as you go can have a surprising psychological impact.

Academics in particular really need a checklist because they don’t have editors or producers calling them every few hours asking about your progress. (Yes, those phone calls from editors and producers can feel naggy sometimes, but they’re the reason people in the Hamster World make deadlines, so I’m grateful.) A checklist can fill in whenever your advisor is checked out.

Treating Teachers Well, Part 2: The Slacker Professor Straw Man Problem

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionSo why aren’t teachers treated well? The ghosts of the Slacker Professor and the Slacker Teacher have a little something to do with it. These straw men have been used as an excuse to make cuts in public education and slice and dice good teachers for far too long. Even if charter schools succeed and education (higher ed or otherwise) is privatized, the employees are still going to be there, and they still deserve to be treated well. Yet it seems that teachers are treated like crap and excessively punished for the few slackers in their ranks.

As I’ve written about before, treating teachers badly, slashing their budgets, and busting their unions is a continuation of the weird impulse to destroy a whole system to root out a few slackers. So you don’t like the fact that there’s a bad teacher who has been relegated to the “rubber room” and is still getting paid. C’mon. Haven’t you worked with someone who did a bad job but who was relegated to the hamster-world equivalent of a “rubber room” because the company was afraid of getting sued?

The simple fact of the matter is that, once you hire someone, whether you are union or not, it is difficult to fire them, and you better have a bloody good reason to fire them. It’s the law, and unions won’t make that go away. Yet politicians and parents seem to lash out at teachers when they don’t realize the exact same thing is happening in their own workplaces.

More after the jump! Image from the Bundesarchiv on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license. (more…)

Treating Teachers Well, Part 1: Why You Should Respect Teachers

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionA recent post by Teresa Ghilarducci over at Brainstorm deserves your attention because it shows how teachers are treated differently from other employees:

Let’s say you’re advising a business with varying quality and you want to improve performance. Would you ridicule the workers publicly; cut their pay and benefits; say they are the sole cause of the problem, and that you want brighter younger replacements who will work overtime and weekends? No new CEO would adopt this as a strategy for success. Attacking your workforce is not an effective way to improve quality, produce a better product, and attract top talent — a bright young replacement would notice the disrespect.

So why do people think attacking teachers is a route to education reform?

Ghilarducci goes into discussing charter schools and unions, but I’ll chime in with my own Hamster World view. Whether employees are unionized or not, you still have to treat them with respect. Busting the union does not let you off the hook.

In the Hamster World, I’ve been treated rather well. I’ve been thanked when I did a good job. In some cases, I even received a bonus, or at least some nice free meals. Nothing fancy, nothing Goldman Sachs worthy, but something that made clear I was appreciated as an employee and my work contributed to the company’s success.

Most employees just want a little respect on top of their paycheck. Most teachers do not get respect, or even decent, regular performance evaluations that let them know they’re doing a good job. Ghilarducci makes it clear–if you don’t treat employees well and fairly, they will leave.
More after the jump! Image of a teacher at work from 1917, public domain on Wikimedia Commons.
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There’s No Crying in the Classroom

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension… or in the office, for that matter.

A recent study by the University of Redlands showed that students tend to pick on young, untenured women. Unfortunately, this problem also happens in the workplace, and until society learns how to put bullies in check, this will keep happening. At some point in your life, especially if you are female, someone will feel the urge to talk shit and see if they can walk all over you. Here’s how you put a stop to it:

Do not cry. No matter what. You don’t want anyone thinking you’re emotional. Then no one will take you seriously. Also, a true bully wants to know just how far she can push you until you break.

If it gets worse in the classroom, tell the student to leave. Students aren’t forced to go to college. Someone who obviously can’t handle being in the classroom shouldn’t be there, and you can tell them to get out or drop the class. Also schedule a meeting with your teaching supervisor in case the student is such a bully that they try to whine about it to your bosses.

If it gets worse in the office, you leave the room. Take a time out. That’s what the bathroom is for. Also, I’ve worked in two offices that have “Quiet Rooms,” which have also been dubbed “Crying Rooms.” Take advantage of them. You’ll either realize that the incident wasn’t worth crying over, or you’ll come up with a new plan to conquer your bully or at least find a new job.

It’s a, uh, crying shame that women still get picked on and that showing emotion is a sign of weakness, but the simple truth is that you can gain the upper hand by reining in your feelings. How have you handled situations with workplace or classroom bullying? What advice would you have?

Image of Berlin-Niederschönhausen from Deutsche Fotothek by Abraham Pisarek, on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Taking Time Off Before Grad School: Part Two, the Practice

Image SourceI knew exactly what I was doing when I applied to graduate school in English during my senior year of college. First, I wanted to get my letters of reference squared away before my advisors forgot me. Not that I would blame them for doing so. Professors are busy people who are always being asked for references. They’re bound to get people mixed up at some point.

I also wanted to get the testing over with. I took the GRE and the LSAT at the same time while I was in a studying mood.

Sure, if I had taken a year off, my writing sample would have been much better. I know my statement of purpose would have been better. But it’s hard to argue with momentum.

I didn’t want to go to grad school because I had hazy aspirations of a sheltered life in the academy. I wanted to get a job and move somewhere new. I had the test scores, the papers, the references, and a few years of tutoring under my belt. It made sense to go to grad school in English, not to go to some random city where I didn’t have a job and flounder a while until I found myself.

My undergrad advisors had warned me the job market was tough. They warned me not to stay in the same place where I did undergrad. One of them even told me straight-up not to go if I didn’t get funding. That advice was a real jolt, but it was the best advice I ever got. A program accepted me, I got funding, and I started my MA in the fall.

The point of all this? Undergrads are not necessarily lost if they tell you that they want to go to grad school. Many of them have thought out a plan. Many of them have back-up plans. Just tell them the truth about the market, the funding, the job prospects, and the placements–especially the placements. If you tell the truth and they go anyway, they can’t blame you if they don’t get a job in the end. I sure don’t blame my undergrad advisors for the fact that I decided I didn’t want to be a professor after all.

An image of the game Irides, an abstract strategy game designed by J.C.Tsistinas. Image from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Taking Time Off Before Grad School: Part One, the Theory

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionTenured Radical champions the notion that undergrads should take some time off before entering a grad program. They’ll gain focus and experience, and maybe they’ll find a career so swell they won’t need grad school:

Regardless of whether you like this or not, or whether it seems fair, it is simply a fact that actual graduate school admissions committees at select schools will regard your application more favorably if you take a significant amount of time off. Two to five years, I would say. Want to do labor history? Be an organizer; spend one of those years as a day laborer or a factory worker. An anthropologist? Leave the country and learn a language. Learn two. Cultural studies? Try an advertising agency or tending bar on the Lower East Side of New York.

This makes perfect sense. Life experience can add dimension to a dissertation, and students will professionalize themselves in ways that will help them on the market. But I almost wish that Tenured Radical just uttered the Pannapacker Doctrine: “Just Don’t Go.”

Saying “just don’t go” sounds extreme, and it is, but at least it admits there’s a problem with the grad school system in general.

Maybe the real message is that people shouldn’t go to grad school until the big problems–namely the lack of jobs and the unwillingness of the program to help current students with back-up plans–are solved. If that’s the case, then people are going to need to take a whole lot more than two to three years off.

So, tomorrow … why didn’t I wait a few years to go to grad school?

Student teachers practice teaching kindergarten at the Toronto Normal School, Canada, 1898. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Don’t Be the Van Wilder of Your Grad Program

Posted in Housekeeping,Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on May 12, 2010
Tags: , ,

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionI recently met a PhD student from a large, well-respected program. He stands a good chance of getting a job, and I asked him what his program was like. He said that the program has started pushing people harder to finish on time.

While there are definite financial benefits to lingering in a grad program, which Arnold has mentioned, grad students can gauge the health of a program not only by how many people get jobs but also by how quickly people get done. Shorter time-to-degree indicates the following:

1. Advisors that help move you along.
2. Enough financial support so you can focus on your research and finish the dissertation.
3. Respect for the future, not to mention the sanity, of grad students.

More after the jump! Image from the 1909 Tyee (yearbook of the University of Washington), public domain, Wikimedia Commons.

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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]

Resources: LiveJournal’s “Applying to Grad School” Group

LiveJournal may not look like much, and it lets its users put in way too many distracting GIF animations, but don’t let the appearance fool you. It has some of the best communities on the Web, and one of them is the community “Applying to Grad School.” The group gives people a chance to vent, to get feedback on statements of purpose and get random tips about finding an apartment.

The fact that this group isn’t heavily moderated is a bonus, as many of the responses are candid, but not as harsh as what you might see in other online forums. A recent poster asked how to handle grad student anxiety, or the fear of being exposed as a fraud, and the comments in return would have bolstered anyone having doubts about his talent. Other questions are more straightforward, such as “Moving from Alaska to DC” and “Calling a program to see when they plan on sending decisions.”

The Grad Café also has similar forums, with equally helpful and supportive answers, but if you have a question and need it answered in a jiffy, consider posting it in both places to get as much advice as possible.

So You Want to Go to Grad School? [LiveJournal]

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