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Category: Grad School

Posts related to the process/journey of grad school.

Crafting a CV: Decisions, decisions...

My curriculum vitae - the Latin origin of "CV", a term so ubiquitous in academia and so rare outside (in the US) that it may serve as a shibboleth - slowly evolved out of a résumé that I began as an undergraduate. Trying to break out of the résumé mindset and accept that brevity required of a CV was a challenge. My one-page résumé - chock full of details and action verbs - was reduced to a paltry, unimpressive CV upon entering grad school. A lack of presentations and publications as an undergrad - items inappropriate for a résumé - were the cause. When I was reviewing my professors' CVs in a search for the optimal format for mine, I caught a case of CV-envy.

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Priorities in grad school

I know that I haven't really been keeping up with this blog, and I'm not making promises to myself to keep up with it in any sort of regularly-scheduled-posting way. I will, however, continue to make posts as they come.

The reason why I haven't been posting is that this blog is not (at the moment) a priority for me. Grad school has kept me busy, and there are always lots of projects and people clamoring for time. Making sure that my commitments to other people, projects, and myself are met means prioritizing what I do. If I felt myself swelling with ideas for this blog and wanted to make passionate posts, then this blog would become more of a priority in my personal, relaxation time. If this blog actually had a following and/or had some (even marginal) impact, then maybe I would start to see this blog as a professional commitment.

As it stands, it is neither. And that's okay. Some things are more important than others, and right now research, teaching, classes, and time for me are more important than this blog. I think being successful at school - grad and otherwise - depends on being realistic with priorities and commitments. I guess this could be summarized as:

Lesson 3: Some things are more important than others, and ignoring the less important things can be okay.

There are no deadlines, and this blog will still be here waiting for me when I have more to say.

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Academia is a lot more complicated than "publish or perish"

When talking with people about academia and metrics for success, the adage "publish or perish" is often brought up. Even people far removed from academia seem to have heard it.  However, simply publishing doesn't guarantee success, nor is it the only route to success.

Lesson 2: Academia is a lot more complicated than "publish or perish"

Tenure-track professors need to publish in order to remain competitive for tenure and promotion - and this record of publication typically journal articles. In many fields, books are not highly valued and the reward for undertaking such a large project may not be commensurate with the resources required for its successful completion. Furthermore, at research universities, publishing is only part of the equation: obtaining grants for projects is becoming increasingly viewed as vital to one's career.

Of course, more prestigious journals are valued more than lower-quality journals (though relative merits of journals can be debated). Furthermore, federal grants are typically viewed as more prestigious than state grants and other funding sources because of their perceived competitiveness (even though dollars are dollars, they look better when coming from the federal government). In both grants and publishing, original research that expands knowledge in the field is valued while other ends (such as teaching or service) are not as valued.

While there has been a movement in some places to emphasize the importance of the teaching and service, original research dominates the focus for traditional professors. There are other types of professors (non-tenure track, often with a name like "clinical professor" in many fields) whose duties are dramatically different, often with a decreased emphasis on original research to afford more time for other important activities.

What "publish or perish" comes down to is doing your job well and ensuring that those that make hiring and promotion decisions know it.

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Listen to your advisor

With three years of grad school under my belt and three to go, I feel like I've accumulated a fair bit of experience that would make for good advice to people starting out. I'm going to start posting brief tidbits that have proven helpful to me. All of these will be tagged as "lessons from grad school".

Lesson 1: Listen to your advisor.

Your advisor is an experienced professional in your field and has gone through grad school before. Therefore, it is very likely that they have a pretty clear idea where you were, where you are, and where you need to be for the jobs you want. If they think a project is worthwhile, take the hint and spend time and effort on it. If they think a project is a waste of time, minimize the resources you devote to it. Their goal is to get you to the finish line of graduation, and they have a better idea of what is expected of you than you do. Just listen to your advisor.

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A productive (in an abstract sense) week

This has been a pretty productive week, all in all. Not a lot to show in terms of work completed/produced, but that isn't everything. Most of the time, but not always. (Also, there's no pun on "abstract" anywhere in here. Sorry to disappoint you.)

On Tuesday I attended a seminar on Backward Design offered by Sarah Miller of Madison Teaching and Learning Excellence Program (University of Wisconsin-Madison) through the CALS Teaching Resource Center, an organization I was unaware of before this event. The focus was on how students learn, practical ways of incorporating active learning into the classroom (e.g. we worked in little teams to turn lecture points into prompts for small discussions), and finally discussed Backward Design. In a nutshell, Backward Design is a three-step process:

  1. Identify the goals for students (i.e. what they should know or be able to do after the course).
  2. Make assessments that actually assess these goals (because students value what you assess, but also build in some gradation into exams).
  3. Fill in the rest of the learning activities for the class.

All in all, this was a helpful seminar and a good use of two hours.

On Friday (today), the GSAC met with the Provost (and the Dean and Associate Dean of the Graduate School, among other big shots). (Recall that GSAC is the Graduate Student Advisory Council for UF's I-Cubed program, and that I am a new member this semester.) While I attended the pre-meeting planning session last week, I have taken a very passive role with regard to the agenda and content (mostly because I lack the perspective gained from attending the previous meeting with the provost). While I wasn't thrilled with the way the presentation ended up developing, it was still a worthwhile presentation to attend, at least from my perspective. The main thing that GSAC was trying to address was the lack of faculty support in some areas for interdisciplinary projects and events, and they were looking for possible solutions from the institutional/administrative side. The response was mild, and with seemingly good reason. The provost offered many good points that GSAC could do to address the issues we perceive, and also noted that 'the faculty' is a very diverse group of individuals that spans the university, and there isn't some magic tool that the administration has to control and inform the entire faculty. The main takeaways from where I was sitting were:

  • Get your message out to as many groups as possible as often as possible. This is the only way to become visible and get the faculty to respect the work GSAC does.
  • Creating space, either physical or virtual, won't be enough to change anything. There must be a clear plan for how such space would be used to foster interdisciplinary collaboration.
  • Some faculty have no interest in interdisciplinary collaboration. If a student is interested in interdisciplinary collaboration, then why choose such a faculty member as an advisor?
  • Rather than waiting for an institutional stamp of approval, we should approach the people of power in our departments and colleges directly for things. Go to the source.
  • Similar to the above, if we aren't sure what a group of people (e.g. the faculty) are thinking, we should just go ask them.
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration takes a lot of time and effort, and faculty (that are universally very busy) are unlikely to participate in overly broad programs that have the hope of some real result in the end. When doing a project, identify a specific expert need that you have and approach an expert. Explain exactly what you need and how they can directly help.
  • Faculty (and possibly academics more broadly are motivated by three key things):
    1. Money (e.g. grant money) - you can't 'buy' faculty with money to elicit sustained change: when the money dries up, they go elsewhere
    2. Recognition (e.g. authorship or awards) - this is related to money and can be used for promotions, tenure, etc
    3. Intrinsic academic interest (e.g. their love of the field) - they do what they do for a reason: appeal to this reason directly (e.g. "We need your expert knowledge to do X and Y.")
  • Lastly, graduate students should focus on keeping their advisor happy. Advisors control the education of graduate students, and while some negotiation over work and projects can work, in the end what the advisor says goes.

Speaking of keeping my advisor happy... right now I'm still working on some side projects, but I'm trying to only engage in new work that relates to statistics education. I just want to wrap up these holdovers from my previous life and then... onward and upward!

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