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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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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Why I believe in Family Science

Today I am publishing the first publicly available ranking of Human Development and Family Science programs in North America, at least the first ranking that I am familiar with.  Why did I go to the trouble of creating this ranking? Because I believe in human development, and in particular, family science, and you should too.

photo credit: Alain Bachellier via photopin cc

photo credit: Alain Bachellier via photopin cc

When I first got my job at Ohio State, I did not like the name of our department. Human Development and Family Science?  My degrees from Illinois and Penn State were both in Human Development and Family Studies. In all honesty, I thought family science was some kind of strange term for scholars that studied families, but were not rigorous researchers. What came to mind were cross-sectional, community-based studies, where the major topic of interest was some abstract concept associated with some other abstract concept. At the point I was hired, I had just gotten done working with an economist for two years, so my use of the term endogenous was at an all time high, as was my dismissal of scholarship that I put in the “family science” category. Sometimes I would talk about my program as “family studies” because I was embarrassed of the term.

Over time, however, the term family science has grown on me. Family science used to seem like this exclusive term, whereby you had to be in a particular club, or get your PhD from a particular program, to be a “family scientist”. But, now that I have learned more about family science, I realize that it is actually an inclusive term. Actually, my article using econometrics to examine the mental health consequences of cohabitation vs. marital dissolution is family science. And so is my article looking at how playing with a “fake baby” determines your co-parenting after the real baby is on the scene. Family science is diverse, interesting, and includes a range of research topics related to the family, from family demography to family psychology, from qualitative to quantitative methods, from large, secondary datasets to small, community samples.

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How to Succeed in Graduate School While Really Trying

I am really trying! photo credit: dkjd via photopin cc

I am really trying! photo credit: dkjd via photopin cc

We are midway through the autumn semester, and I have been reflecting on my graduate proseminar course, which is essentially an introduction to graduate school. Some programs have these types of classes, and others do not. So, in this post I give you links to articles I assign and a few tips I give to our first-year graduate students. The articles and tips are designed to tell students those things which faculty generally assume students know, as well as give them suggestions on how to succeed in graduate school. What would you add to my list?

How do I take a graduate class? How do I know what classes to take?

Claire’s Tips for registering for courses:

  • Talk with your advisor. Talk with your advisor about which courses you should take each semester. They may have specific courses they want you to take, or they may know about a specific seminar being offered that would teach you a specialized skill or knowledge set.
  • Email the professor. You may not be able to tell from the title of a course what the course topic will be. If you see a faculty member is teaching a seminar, email them for a course description and/or syllabus. Even if the syllabus is not ready, they will be able to share with you the topic for the seminar. Then, you can decide whether or not to take the seminar.
  • Take seminars when they are offered. Faculty often rarely have the opportunity to teach graduate seminars. Thus, if you are interested in a seminar in a specific topic, such as attachment, it may not be offered again for two or more years. Thus, it is smarter to take the seminar when it is offered and delay a required course, because you may not have the opportunity to take the seminar the following year.
  • Make it count. Choose your electives wisely. For example, try to take electives related to your research interests. You may be able to write a paper for these courses that are related to your research interests and will thus lead you closer to a publication or help you prepare for candidacy. Further, if you are planning to do a minor or specialization, you should look for electives that will count towards the requirements for the specialization.
  • Explore other departments. HDFS is interdisciplinary, and our students often take coursework outside of the department. If you cannot find an elective you are interested in taking in the HDFS course offerings, you might explore electives in Psychology, Sociology, Economics, or Communication.
  • Register for independent studies and thesis credits. Do not forget to register for independent study and thesis credits! By adding these credits to your load, you will free up time from coursework to focus on your research.
  • Make sure you take the minimum number of credits needed to be a full-time student.

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Guest Post: Leadership Matters, So what’s the Matter with our Leadership Today?

I was recently having coffee with my friend and colleague Dean and Professor Steve Gavazzi to discuss the National Council on Family Relation‘s Future of Family Science task force [more on that in a future post] and I mentioned my series of blog posts on self-regulated learning and graduate education. Steve asked me – did you mention leadership training? I had to admit I hadn’t. I invited to Steve to do a blog post on leadership to round out my graduate education series. Steve did so in the context of the conversations happening about the future of family science at the national level. Enjoy!!

Stephen Gavazzi

Stephen Gavazzi

Leadership Matters, So what’s the Matter with our Leadership Today?

Growing attention is being given to the present and future state of Family Science. Witness for instance NCFR Executive Director Diane Cushman’s most recent article in the NCFR Report Magazine. Here and elsewhere, thought is being given to the need to better understand where our academic field is, and where it is going. In her thought piece, Cushman mentioned two articles that appeared in the most recent (July 2014) issue of Family Relations. One article by Hamon and Smith dealt directly with the strengths and limitations of the discipline of family science, while a second article by Hans focused attention on some of the field’s identity issues, including what it calls itself (family science, family studies, family relations, etc.). Along with several NCFR colleagues, I was invited by Family Relations editor Ron Sabatelli to respond to these two articles. My commentary, which appeared in the same issue of the journal as the Hamon and Smith and Hans articles, invited readers to focus their concentration on a number of issues related to leadership, as I believe that there is no bigger challenge to the family science field that has to be recognized and confronted today.

Here is a portion of what I stated in my commentary:

“Leaders will either insert themselves into the process of determining our destiny as a field, or else that future will be determined for us, and invariably by people who likely do not have the same appreciation for our field’s importance. To make this happen, we must become much more intentional about the way in which we develop and support the next generation of department chairs, deans, provosts, university presidents, and heads of professional organizations who quite literally will either make or break us as a discipline.”

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Self-regulated Learning and Graduate Education: What Graduate Programs Should do Part 2

Well, it is time for my final post in my series on self-regulated learning and graduate education. This series resulted in the following posts:

Today, I want to discuss the other key to a graduate program informed by self-regulated learning principles: goal setting and feedback. I just finished typing up our graduate students’ annual reviews.  You might remember that our end of the year report was what started me on my quest to consider what a graduate program informed by self-regulated learning would look like. I learned from my fabulous colleagues Chris Wolters and Shirley Yu that intrinsic motivation, which exists within the self and usually stems from a personal interest in a task, is much better for achievement than external motivation, which usually comes from an external entity setting the goal. Hence, the final key to a graduate program informed by self-regulated learning is goal setting and feedback, informed by intrinsic motivation primarily, with some extrinsic mixed in.

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Self-regulated Learning and Graduate Education: What Graduate Programs Should do Part 1

Today I want to wrap up my series on self-regulated learning and graduate education. I want to revisit my original question: “What information, tools, tasks, and activities could we provide to promote our graduate students’ learning, intellectual development, and achievement of their post-graduate school goals?”. Over a series of posts, I reviewed information and tools (writing skills, research skills, and presentation/teaching/media skills) to promote graduate student success. My posts on tools ended up discussing tasks and activities to master those tools as well, so look in those posts for those discussions.

If I had to sum up my series of posts, I think that the keys to a graduate program informed by self-regulated learning principles would be a focus on professional development and goal setting and feedback. I want to discuss both; in the post I am focusing on professional development.

After writing these posts, I have been reflecting on graduate training. Of the tools I identified that graduate students need, I think most graduate programs focus primarily on teaching students the scholarship of their field, and how to contribute to it, which would fall under the category of “research skills”. The other tools I identified are largely ignored in graduate training, unless an advisor takes it upon themselves to teach them: writing skills, presentation/teaching/media skills, and those parts of research skills that do not deal with conducting research (such as consuming research). I now believe all graduate programs should have the following, and that these could lead to improvements in graduate student achievement.

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Don’t take my word for it: Crowdsourced Advice for Students Applying to Graduate School


photo credit: TwOsE via photopin cc

I did a presentation a few years ago for prospective graduate students at the National Council on Family Relations annual conference. In preparation, I gathered advice for students applying to graduate school.  You can see the contributors below.  Do you agree with the advice? What is missing?

Contributors: Elizabeth Adkins-Regan, Paul Amato, Mitchell Bartholomew, Alan Booth, John Casterline, Jeff Dew, Karen Fingerman, Gary Gates, Elizabeth Hay, Claire Kamp Dush, Tina Kauh, Andrew Martin, Lauren Rinelli, Karina Shreffler, Katherine Stamps Mitchell, Miles Taylor, Alexis Walker, Nick Wolfinger

What SHOULD an undergrad or graduate student who is applying to graduate school or a Ph.D. program do?



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