Work Hard, Play Harder, and Be Gentle with Yourself: Advice for the Beginning of Grad School and Beyond

I have a lot of thoughts on my mind as I wrap up my prosem on graduate education. I have spent a semester talking to young, hopeful, bright first-year graduate students about how to be successful in graduate school. I have also been supporting several students this semester who are currently on the job market and are having a mixed experience. I am also prepping for my PhD Job Market class for next semester and planning a series of posts here related to that course. Finally, I have read some books about productivity and academia the past few months, all of which emphasize well-being, though from vastly different perspectives. Here are some tips for new graduate students to keep in mind as they move through grad school. And some points that all of us would do well to remember.

Don’t let your self-worth get tied up in your graduate school performance

Let's all migrate here! photo credit: chuck4x5 Happy via photopin (license)

Let’s all migrate here!
photo credit: chuck4x5 Happy via photopin (license)

This is so hard to avoid. But graduate school performance is determined by many factors, a lot of them that are outside of your control. Perhaps you don’t realize going in to graduate school that your advisor rarely publishes, or no one told you to look and see if they do. Maybe you and your advisor just don’t mesh. Maybe you realize you really don’t like your research topic. Maybe a professor holds some kind of implicit bias against you. Maybe you just don’t like research and writing. Maybe you are feeling inadequate and experiencing imposter syndrome. All of these things can lead to you being less successful as a graduate student. And, going into graduate school, you may not realize many of them. Thus, just because graduate school doesn’t go well for you, or just because your CV has no publications on it, or just because you have no motivation to get research done, it doesn’t mean that you are not an awesome, smart, capable person. You are. But, maybe this is not the right environment for you. If it isn’t, I officially give you permission to quit and move on with your life. Maybe it is, but you need to make some changes. I officially give you permission to switch advisors, departments, or institutions. Make sure you remember that your self-worth is much more than your academic performance.

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Fighting Back: Implicit Bias, Micro-aggressions, and Micro-resistance

I have been planning to do a post on diversity in graduate education, but it requires me being vulnerable and I wasn’t even sure how to even do it. On Tuesday, in my first-year graduate proseminar, we had a session on implicit bias, micro-aggressions, and micro-resistance, and ironically, 2016 was the first year that I have included this session. I thought as I taught that class that the glass ceiling would be shattered that night and that the need for a class on these topics would become less necessary over time. How wrong I was. Now, more than ever, the necessity of promoting diversity, and strategies for dealing with implicit bias in the academy and life, have never been more important.

What is implicit bias?

Implicit bias is a major pathway through which privilege is enacted. Using the definition from Ohio State’s Kirwan Institute: “implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.  These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.  Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness.  Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection.”

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The One-Stop Shop for Academic Jargon Definitions

Tenure. Postdoc. Service. ABD. There are so many terms that we use in academia that beginning grad students don’t understand, and may be embarrassed to ask about. First generation college students in particular – I feel your pain! I am a first generation college student, and I had no idea what a lot of these terms meant when I went to graduate school. I somehow learned them along the way, largely informally, but the purpose of this post is to help you learn a lot of academic jargon. It is a very long post, but this is primarily aimed at new grad students, and it would be worth many new grad students’ time to read it at least once.

A few notes on this post:

  1. First, there are exceptions to almost every definition in this post. Feel free to leave a comment with some additional definitions of each term.
  2. Second, this post is really long, because every time I wrote a definition, I realized I was using jargon in the definition, which resulted in another definition.
  3. This list is not exhaustive, because there are idiosyncratic terms within every discipline and university. It is just intended as a (thorough) starting point for new graduate students.
photo credit: barnimages.com Dictionary page via photopin (license)

photo credit: barnimages.com Dictionary page via photopin (license)

How to Search This List

The definitions in this post are not in alphabetical order, but rather in the order that definitions came up as I was defining terms, or are roughly grouped according to area of academic life (i.e. grad student, tenure track). Thus, if you are looking for a specific definition, the easiest way to find it is to search the page for that word using CTRL+F.

Definitions

Funding – a global term that most often refers to the money and/or tuition waiver a student receives for working for the university. In some graduate programs, all students are “funded” and in others, some students are “funded” and in still others none are and all students are paying for their degrees out of pocket, or themselves, most likely with student loans. Funding can be competitive in some graduate programs whereby only the best students receive funding. For faculty, funding can refer to money garnered for research. Thus, a funded faculty member may have money from a federal agency such at the National Science Foundation that they use to pay for their research.

Summer funding – summer funding means that you are getting paid over the summer, usually from a fellowship, research associateship, or teaching associateship.

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A Publishing Primer

One irritating thing about starting anything new, whether it is grad school or a job, is all of the jargon that no one seems to like to explain. So, in this post I  explain what publications are, and the publication process.

What Academics Mean When They Talk About Publications

A publication generally refers to a piece of writing that is published in a journal or in a book. Popular press (i.e. magazine, newspaper) and blog pieces generally do not count as “publications.”

It would be cool if we could get credit for publishing in these journals. photo credit: Moleskines mostly. via photopin (license)

It would be cool if we could get credit for publishing in these journals.
photo credit: Moleskines mostly. via photopin (license)

All Publications Are Not Created Equally

There are several different types of publications, and they are not all equally respected. And, further, the respect that each gets varies across disciplines. If you are in psychology, journal articles are generally most highly respected. If you are in some subdisciplines of sociology, books are most highly respected.

Journal Articles

Journal articles in peer-reviewed journals are held in highest esteem, and the more the journal the article is published in gets cited, the higher the esteem of the journal, in general.

Peer review means that the paper was reviewed by other scholars in the field, most likely professors or advanced graduate students, and the author had to respond to the reviews to get published.

Editor reviewed means that the paper was reviewed by the editor only, and the author only had to respond to editorial comments to get published.

There are also journals where authors can pay to have their papers published, and this are usually regarded as the lowest quality.

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Advice on Being Advised

The advisor-advisee relationship can be complicated. This post focuses on advice for new grad students on how to navigate these relationships and start off on the right foot. However, these relationships vary on so many continuums – on how friendly they are, how hierarchical they are, how useful they are. . . Thus, some of the advice below may not be useful for some graduate student-advisor relationships, and may not be useful in some fields or in particular graduate programs. If you want advice more specific to your own graduate program or field, you might identify an alumni or current graduate student who had some success in your program, and even better, in working with your advisor. What is their advice for having a successful graduate student-advisor relationship?

My former graduate student Sara Mernitz and I at her graduation in 2016

My former graduate student Sara Mernitz and me at her graduation in 2016

Ask Your Advisor What Their Expectations Are

There are these implicit rules of grad school that no one often tells you [note, that is the point of this series on advice for new graduate students], and the worst part is that some of these rules change from advisor to advisor. One rule I didn’t realize I had until I had a student who was not following the rule is that I expect my students to spend a majority of their working time on campus, largely from around 9 to 4, usually four days a week. If students want to work from home one day a week, I am fine with that. But for new graduate students in particular, I want to see their face around the office. Once trust has been established, I am more flexible. Unfortunately, I did not set up this expectation clearly at the beginning with one of my students, and this led to me being frustrated, and the student being frustrated. Some things you might want to check with your advisor re: their expectations.

  • Work schedule – Does the advisor have any expectations about when you will be on or off campus? What about over the summer?
  • Emails – How quickly does the advisor expect you to respond to emails?
  • Tasks – How quickly does the advisor want you to complete tasks?
  • Interruptions – Does the advisor mind if you stop by their office with a question?

I am not saying that what the advisor wants should always happen. I am saying that you need to have explicit conversations about their expectations so that you can either 1) meet them, or 2) negotiate with the advisor to come up with an agreement that works for both of you. My student and I should have talked and set up a schedule we could both live with. Perhaps something like – the student will spend 2.5 days on campus as long as they are achieving their goals.

Their Schedule vs. Your Schedule

Professors are busy. I know grad students are too, but in general, grad students tend to have more flexibility. If you are trying to schedule a meeting with them, defer to their schedule in general. If the advisor is an administrator, this is even more important.

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Professional Organizations: Why You Should Join Them, How to Get the Most Out of Their Meetings, and How to Avoid Going Broke Doing So

Professional organizations and their meetings are one of the best parts of academic life. You get access to important professional resources and networks. Conferences are in fun locations – some of my favorites have been Melbourne, San Diego, New Orleans, Lausanne – and once there, you get to hang out with a bunch of people who also nerd out on good research. But, professional organizations and conferences can also feel overwhelming and mysterious to new graduate students.

Why join a professional organization?

The big question is – why join an organization in the first place? They are expensive to join, and once you graduate, they are even more expensive to maintain membership. But, they do offer a host of benefits.

Me, Kelly Musick, and Tasha Snyder on the Lavaux Vineyard walking tour outside of Lausanne, Switzerland. We were attending the Society for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies conference.

Me, Kelly Musick, and Tasha Snyder on the Lavaux Vineyard walking tour outside of Lausanne, Switzerland. We were attending the Society for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies conference. Kara Joyner was behind the camera.

Resources

Professional organizations often sponsor journals. You will have access to the journal through your membership, and often can even get print copies of journals if you prefer. But, you can probably get the journal through your institutions library, at least at most universities with graduate programs. You also get access to other professional resources, such as the mentoring program that the International Association for Relationship Research (IARR) offers. Junior scholars are paired with more senior scholars, and these senior scholars offer advice, networking opportunities, and support. Many organizations have teaching resources available, and others have professional development resources, such as example conference submissions.

Some organizations have member profiles on their websites. The Council on Contemporary Families (CCF) has a database of members that reporters can search for experts related to their reporting. The listserves maintained by professional organizations are also very useful. They are used for disseminating information such as job opportunities and as recruitment tools for studies. Some disseminate teaching resources or media articles related to the organization’s topical focus.

Most departments post their job ads to professional organization websites as well as the Chronicle of Higher Education. It is much easier to find jobs that are related to HDFS on the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) website that to try to search the massive Chronicle database.

Finally, organizations often publish newsletters with useful articles and updates on issues of relevance to the organization, such as the funding situation at NIH or a policy brief that was recently published. You do not always need to be a member to receive these emails, so check the organization’s website to see if you can sign up for the emails even before you are a member.

New research ideas

Professional organizations, particularly through their meetings, can spark new research ideas. Consuming the latest research at conferences can help you identify exciting trends coming in the field before they even appear in the journal.  You might learn about a dataset that is publicly available that you did not know existed. You might come up with a novel research idea that you hadn’t previously thought of upon hearing a question at a talk. Thus, professional organizations can help you push your research forward.

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How to Take Graduate Courses, and Use Them to Advance Your Career

I have been on a grant writing hiatus from my blog, but this semester, I am back! I am starting a series designed for graduate students early in their career based on the first-year proseminar I teach to our human development and family science graduate students. When I designed this course, my hope was to reduce the variation in graduate student achievement that is attributed to the advisor. Thus, I wanted all students to have a good, solid base of information and advice that would benefit them in the coming years. This first post is on taking graduate courses.

Undergrad is very coursework focused. Most PhD programs are not. That said, it is important to do reasonably well in your graduate coursework. Graduate courses require a different set of skills that many students easily catch on to.

It's your first semester of graduate school - do you feel like this? photo credit: Buried Alive via photopin (license)

It’s your first semester of graduate school – do you feel like this?
photo credit: Buried Alive via photopin (license)

Skill 1: Be engaged. Many graduate seminars are discussion-based, and to be seen as an engaged graduate student, you need to be asking questions, and answering questions. Some courses will even require you write discussion questions each week. When you are in class, look at the person who is speaking, or the professor. Make eye contact with your professor and classmates. Comment on readings and answer questions. Talk at least twice during a 3 hour discussion based seminar. Use the readings as your resource, not your own personal experiences. And, do not talk just to talk. If you are an extrovert, make sure you are not dominating the conversation with another extrovert in the course. One way to be sure you are not dominating the conversation is to keep a tally of how much you talk compared to the other students. Try not to double or triple their talking turn count. Do not interrupt the speaker. Treat the other students and your professor with respect.

Skill 2: Be professional. Show up to class on time, or even better, 5 minutes early. Don’t look at your phone or websites that are off topic like Twitter. I often let students have laptops in seminars so they do not have to print the papers, but I have had graduate students shopping on Amazon when they were supposed to be engaged in class discussion. I have also had graduate students scrolling when we were engaged in an activity that didn’t require looking at the readings. That is really irritating and I always assume these students are looking at social media or the news or shopping and aren’t engaged in the class.

Skill 3: Produce quality work, and turn it in on time. Take advantage of professors’ offers to read rough drafts or to revise papers. You do not need to blow away your professor with your writing acumen, but you do need to write papers that are well-argued, formatted to your graduate program’s preferred style, and have been proofread. Do not turn in papers late unless you talk to the professor.

Do not be afraid to talk to the professor if you are feeling overwhelmed at the end of the semester. Professors will often consider short extensions on final papers to students who are overwhelmed for any reason. Reach out and ask for help. Other students are doing it, and are benefitting.

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On Campus Interview Questions

photo credit: Attacking Difficult Questions via photopin (license)

Burning questions
photo credit: Attacking Difficult Questions via photopin (license)

Job market season is here! If you haven’t already checked out the Ultimate Job Market Guide or my syllabus for the PhD Job Market Course, now is the time to do it. On that topic, I thought you might all like to see a list of questions I would ask on a campus interview. These questions are geared towards a research intensive university, but could be used for all kinds of institutions.

I have divided the questions up into sections, but you might want to ask multiple people some of the questions to get a sense of how much consensus there is around topics. Also, don’t forget, for everyone (including graduate students, faculty, and administrators) you meet – do your homework!!

Finally, you might not understand why to ask some of these questions. If you have questions about this list, ask your advisor or other trusted mentor about the question. Hopefully, they will explain some of the nuances and motivations behind it.

For interdisciplinary departments
1. Where do you see someone in this position publishing?

Department Chair questions/Questions about the department
2. How does departmental governance work? Is there an executive committee?
3. What sort of things are brought to the faculty for consideration? For example, in a faculty meeting.
4. How often does the faculty meet?

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Where should I go to graduate school?

After you decide to go to graduate school [after reading Should I go to graduate school] and are accepted [see Crowdsourced Advice for Students Applying to Graduate School], it is time to decide where to go to graduate school. Many students are making those decisions now. Yesterday I received an email from a student who was trying to decide where to attend graduate school, and wanted to know my opinion on which of two graduate programs (neither that I had attended or worked at) were better in terms of their statistics and methods training. I didn’t know the answer, but I also thought the student was not asking the most important question. Here is a list of issues I would evaluate on when trying to decide where to go to graduate school, in order of importance.

photo credit: ¿? via photopin (license)

photo credit: ¿? via photopin (license)

Note these are considerations for after you are accepted, but could also inform where you apply. Hopefully, you will be able to ask most of these questions in person when  you visit the graduate program.

  1. The Mentor

This is by far the most important issue to consider. First, does the mentor study what you want to study? This is absolutely critical. Graduate students who study want to study what the mentor studies get 1) more opportunities for co-authorship, 2) help from a mentor who knows the field well and can give excellent feedback on whether a study idea is a contribution to the field, and 3) can help you network within the field, opening up opportunities for fellowships, awards, and postdocs. You absolutely need to work with a mentor who does research in your interest area.

Second, is the mentor productive? The job market is brutal, and even if you want a job at a primarily teaching college, you need to have publications. Thus, publishing in graduate school is likely to be the most important activity you can do to advance your career. Working with a productive mentor will help you get publications because 1) you may coauthor with the mentor, and 2) you can learn how to publish from the mentor. Evidence of productivity: publishing papers in the top journals in the past few years, active research grants, and/or grants under review. The best way to get a sense of productivity is to look at a current CV (note that a CV is the academic equivalent to a resume). But, faculty often do not keep CVs current. I suggest you search the mentor’s name on Google Scholar. That will also allow you to click on hyperlinks of their publications, and you can read their recent work.

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Do I have an effect? Definitions, Examples, and an Infographic on Causal Language

Causal language is a term that gets thrown around often in peer reviews because causal language irritates many seasoned reviewers. I knew when I started these posts on causal analysis, that I wanted to write something on causal language. I googled causal language and looked at what came up – and I could not find any lists of words that were causal, or recommendations for what to use instead. So, dear reader, this post is intended to help you 1) when you are crafting your papers, and 2) when a reviewer says to you “this paper is trying to make too many causal claims”.

First, I wanted to give you an example of a causal claim, and I thought I would find one in my own work. In looking at a few papers, I found this statement in Kamp Dush & Amato (2005): “the influence relationship happiness on subjective well-being”. Why was my use of “influence” in appropriate? Because subjective well-being could have predicted relationship happiness of course! Any time your DV can reasonably predict your IV, stay clear of causal language.

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