Navigating Graduate School
To be productive in graduate school is to be successful. For many, maintaining productivity is easier said than done, so we offer a few suggestions gleaned from GradHacker, a blog hosted at InsideHigherEd.com.
Despite your best intentions and thorough planning, complications arise: advisors leave, research stalls, bureaucracy slows you down, etc. It's easy to become discouraged by roadblocks, but in these instances you can draw on your problem solving skills and embrace flexibility.
Good Practices in Graduate Education: Grading with Integrity
Student evaluation (assigning grades) is a fundamental part of education. After learning objectives have been established, grading assignments and exams is meant to determine how well each student meets the objectives. Because grades are so common in education, very little thought is given to grading integrity…
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Graduate Student Professional Development
Global Learning in the Classroom
Graduate Admissions received 2,453 applications from international students, representing 110 countries. An international climate exists in many of UNL's classrooms—students need to have an opportunity to learn with and from others (not just about others). This article helps you establish a welcoming culture in the classroom and a satisfying academic experience for all involved…
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Advice for the Defense
For many graduate students, one of the final requirements of a degree program is an oral defense of a dissertation or thesis…View it as an opportunity to show all you've learned the last several years…
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How to Run a Lab Efficiently
Learning how to direct and motivate people is just as crucial as understanding experiments or perfecting techniques. To reach the overarching goals of your lab, it's helpful to understand how to motivate each individual researcher…
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Teaching Tip: Lecture Hints
The lecture is by far the most commonly-used teaching technique, but it doesn't need to be just a list of facts or a recap of the textbook…
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If you're approaching the last few semesters of your degree program, you might be seriously looking for a job to get you started in your chosen career path. Your goal is to get a job, but first you need an interview! Your cover letter is your best chance to get on the short list to be invited to interview for the job. How do you write a cover letter that will get you an interview?…
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News and Notes February 2013
Funding Opportunities February 2013
One key to being successful in graduate school is to be productive. However, for many this is easier said than done, so a few suggestions are in order. We’ve gleaned tips from GradHacker, a blog dedicated to graduate students hosted on Inside Higher Education.
GradHacker recommends treating graduate school like a game. Author Katy Meyers suggests setting up goals and challenges to make grad school easier and a little more fun. The “gamer” in all of us can appreciate setting long and short-term goals, developing a rewards system, mapping out levels (and celebrating their completion), and creating mini-challenges or side projects that develop new skills. The rewards and feeling of achievement when you complete a level or challenge can make for excellent motivation.
Taking initiative also leads to a productive graduate education. This is particularly important for those working with a dissertation or thesis committee. In this instance, GradHacker author Terry Brock says you should not wait for your advisor or other committee members to contact you; reach out to them using Doodle or another online service to schedule a meeting. Taking initiative demonstrates that you are dedicated to making progress and finishing; plus you’ll have one less thing to worry about. When setting up the meeting, include the details you want to discuss and attach any items you would like reviewed. It’s helpful to provide your committee with a timeline and adequate time for review. Before the meeting, prepare an agenda and email it to your committee. Following an agenda will keep the meeting on track, and your message will serve as a reminder to your committee to read your work beforehand. During the meeting, stick to your agenda and take good notes. Thank your committee for their time in an email afterwards and include the major points that were covered. These notes will help your committee keep a record of your discussions and outline what they can expect from you over the next few weeks. This follow-up email can also clarify any misunderstandings.
Discipline is key to productivity. Thomas H. Benton, author of "The 5 Virtues of Successful Graduate Students," suggest that graduate students work on their dissertations every day if possible. If you spend fewer than 20 hours a week on your writing, it will be difficult to be productive enough to get published, let alone produce a dissertation. Benton found the most success in writing for a few hours in the morning, when his "energy level is high and my mind is relatively clear." Find a time that works best for you and commit to working at that time every day. Similar to an exercise routine, discipline is crucual to seeing results and being productive.
Embracing these suggestions will help you enjoy graduate school and develop the skills that will benefit you in your future career.
Meyers, K. (2011 Nov. 4). "Gaming Graduate School"
Brock, T. (2011 June 1). "Hacking your Committee Meeting"
In life and graduate school, sometimes "stuff happens." Despite your best intentions and thorough planning, complications arise: advisors leave, research stalls, bureaucracy slows you down, etc. It's easy to become discouraged by roadblocks, but in these instances you can draw on your problem solving skills and embrace flexibility. These qualities, which helped you gain admission to graduate school in the first place, will serve you well through your educational and professional career.
In Graduate School Companion, Peter Diffley tackles these issues under the heading, "When things go wrong." He offers advice on your relationships (with peers, family, and your advisor), research problems, and handling the bureaucracy of higher education. So what is a graduate student to do when (fill in the blank) happens?
You're not getting along with your labmates/officemates/other peers. At this point in your life, there's only so much you can do to change or improve your personality. However, it's critical to recognize that you'll likely be working with others throughout your graduate school and professional career, sometimes in close proximity. Starting graduate school is an excellent time to reevaluate yourself. Diffley cheekily points out that while you may have trouble pinpointing your good and bad qualities, "a spouse or immediate family member will be all too happy to help you with that." Work on strengthening your positive attributes and eliminating the negative, while keeping in mind that your ultimate goal is not necessarily to be friends with everyone you work with, but to maintain amicable, professional, and productive relationships.
Your advisor is retiring. If your advisor is retiring and has emeritus status, he or she may continue to co-chair your supervisory committee along with a UNL graduate faculty member. This is also true if your advisor is leaving the University for employment elsewhere and you are already in candidacy. If this is the case, you'll also need the approval of the Dean of Graduate Studies. Of course, you can also talk to your graduate chair for assistance in finding a new supervisory chair. The Graduate Bulletin outlines how you can make changes to your Supervisory Committee.
In the unlikely event your advisor passes away, you'll meet with your graduate chair to find a new advisor. Departments consider each individual student and work to find an advisor who'll best work with you and your topic of interest.
You're having trouble communicating with your advisor. Part of working effectively with your advisor is learning how to communicate effectively. If you find you don't see eye to eye, take a step back. What aren't you agreeing on? What's at stake? Once you've taken stock, sit down with your advisor to implement a plan. As Diffley notes, "Remember that your apprenticeship is officially over as soon as you graduate (it's not like your advisor is family) and that you can endure a lot for a short period of time." Unless your advisor's behavior is illegal, work to maintain the relationship and graduate as quickly as possible. If you're in fact facing discrimination or harassment, discuss the issue with your graduate chair or another trusted university official. At UNL, the Office of Student Assistance will address your questions confidentially.
Your research is floundering. All researchers hit roadblocks at some point, and you're no different. It is important to be able to recognize when you can salvage your work and when it's time to move on. Review your approaches to make sure you're using effective methods for getting your data. If your experiments aren't returning the expected results, ask your advisor or another experienced researcher for help with the procedure, taking note of any differences between their technique and your own. Ifyou've spent a great deal of time on the project, retreat to the point where you were getting positive results and find a new hypothesis to pursue. Finally, as a last resort, you might consider a new project (this option may seem more attractive if you're at the beginning of your project).
Peter Diffley, Graduate School Companion, New York: Random House, 2007.
Evaluation is a fundamental part of education. At the beginning of each semester, professors, instructors, and graduate teaching assistants lay out the objectives for each course as well as the assignments and class activities that will lead to achieving those objectives. Grading scales and final grades are meant to determine how well each student meets the course objectives. Because grades and grading are so common across pre- and post-secondary education, typically little thought is given to grading integrity.
In Is Grade Integrity a Fairness Issue? Jane Robbins discusses some of the reasons for and the consequences of grade inflation and lapses in grading integrity. There are a number of pressures to allow grade inflation. Instructors who give good grades receive good student reviews. A high GPA across the student body attracts top students to your institution, because people connect a high GPA with a bright student body. High grades can motivate students to continue with their degrees, when they might have quit due to poor grades. High grades can also help students secure better jobs post-graduation. The benefits to students, instructors, and institutions may seem compelling, but do they outweigh the consequences?
Robbins poses the question, “If we lower the bar so that our students are in a more competitive position, does that make it unfair to those who earned the higher grades, or who went to schools that maintain higher standards?” Maintaining integrity in grading is similar to maintaining academic integrity. For example, future employers and graduate admission committees rely on instructors to give accurate grades so they can make informed decisions when hiring or admitting potential candidates, just as researchers rely on colleagues to accurately report research results. Over time, even small breaches in this trust can damage reputations and relationships.
Grading integrity extends to relationships with students as well. D. Royce Sadler posed four propositions that relate to the fairness in student grading. These propositions are helpful for graduate teaching assistants and graders:
Some of these propositions may seem challenging to take into account for every student. For example, how does an instructor know what grades will maintain value over time and across higher education systems? Experience will help you get a better feel for grading consistency across students and your institution.
In the meantime, there are simple things you can do to make sure students are graded for the quality of the assignment at hand. Ask students to write their name on the last page of their paper or use their NUID. This will help you avoid any unintentional bias in your grading. Help students understand how assignments will be graded by creating consistent and thorough grading rubrics. The Office of Graduate Studies provides teaching tools designed to help graduate teaching assistants create clear course objectives and rubrics.
Robbins, J. “Is Grade Integrity a Fairness Issue?” Inside Higher Ed. 2012. http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/sounding-board/grade-integrity-fairness-issue.
Sadler, D.R. “Grade integrity and the representation of academic achievement.” Studies in Higher Education 34 no. 7, (2009): 807-826.
In the fall of 2012, Graduate Admissions at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln received 2,453 applications from international students, representing 110 different countries. This shows us that an intercultural climate exists in many classrooms.
In his 2012 State of the University Address, Chancellor Perlman encouraged the University to send UNL students to study in a foreign country, because studying abroad helps prepare “students for their global future.” While all UNL students may not be able to study abroad, all students benefit from opportunities to connect, communicate, and collaborate with others locally and globally in the classroom. In order for students to develop an understanding of cultural differences and appreciate the resources and expertise that exist outside of their own countries, they need to have an opportunity to learn with and from others, not just about them. Here are some strategies from the Global Learning Faculty Development Program at Purdue that you can implement to provide a welcoming culture in the classroom as well as a satisfying academic experience for all.
Opportunities for global exchanges and interactions in the classroom and beyond will continue to grow. By incorporating these strategies, you can create a learning environment that fosters global competence and exchange in your class. Remember, increasing opportunities for cultural exchange benefits everyone, not only the international students.
Calahan, Charles. The Global Learning Faculty Development Program. Purdue Center for Instructional Excellence. http://www.purdue.edu/cie/aboutus/global%20learning.html.
Bryant, M. “Fostering Community in the Classroom.” CENGAGE Learning eNewsletter. 2012. http://learn.cengage.com/content/enewsletter7-fostering.
Moorman, H. & Klein, J. “Get Real with Global Competence.” Education Week. January 10, 2013. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/global_learning/2013/01/get_real_with_global_competence_1.html
For doctoral candidates and many Master's degree students, one of the final steps after the dissertation or thesis is written includes an oral defense. If you're preparing for a defense, you may be worried. But while the word evokes war and keeping the attackers at bay, a defense can actually be enjoyable. You've spent months or years researching, writing, and revising, and now you have the chance to show what you've learned.
Here are a few tips to help prepare you for the defense:
After all of your preparation, try not to be nervous. Remember, you know the work best. Each of your readers was chosen for his/her area of specialty, but when it comes to your work, you are the expert.
Zellner, Andrea. "What I've Learned About Defenses." GradHacker. November 29, 2012. http://wvvw.insidehighered.com/blogs/gradhacker/what-ive-learned-about -defenses
Most graduate students find themselves with research responsibilities, and for many this may be the first time they're given the opportunity to help run a lab. Learning how to direct and motivate people is just as crucial as understanding experiments or perfecting techniques. Edyta Zielinska presents excellent advice and suggestions for first-time and experienced lab managers alike in her article, "Motivate Your Lab: How to Run an Efficient and Creative Lab Without Micromanaging" in the June 1, 2012, Careers issue of The Scientist.
To reach the overarching goals of your lab, it's helpful to understand how to motivate each individual researcher. Social psychologist David Neal suggests determining which types of goals work: "Some people are better at avoidance goals. Some are better at approach goals." Knowing how to frame issues for each individual in your lab will help your team be more productive in reaching goals. Are your researchers motivated because they want to solve the problem, or are they motivated because they fear a lack of progress?
It can take years for researchers to see the results of their work in the lab. To stay motivated and focused, your team members will need grit. According to Angela Duckworth, a psychologist from the University of Pennsylvania, "Grit is defined as a characteristic of someone who sustains interest in projects, does not give up despite encountering obstacles, and diligently finds ways to improve his or her work." Grit can be cultivated; help your labmates by regularly reviewing roadblocks so you all can get in the habit of addressing problems early on.
One of the best ways to improve your skills in any area is to purposefully focus on your needs for improvement. Get in the habit of asking your researchers to spend a portion of their day or week on an issue or competency that they are not comfortable with. Encourage your team members to specify areas that need improvement and create a plan for addressing these areas.
"Mistake" is not always a dirty word. In fact, it can be helpful to make mistakes along the way, and an effective manager will encourage their researchers to try a new path. Rather than focusing on the negative of mistakes, "a careful assessment of all the specific reasons for the failure can make the setback feel more like an opportunity to learn than a disappointment," Zielinska advises. Consider implementing a practice of sharing setbacks during lab meetings.
Managing your team includes keeping tabs on motivation levels. If you find that a lab member is lacking interest in the project, consider the stated goals and the amount of correction you're providing. If a goal seems unimportant or unattainable, your researchers won't work diligently to reach them. Likewise, if a researcher feels that you're micromanaging and overcorrecting her work, she'll feel underappreciated. Review your actions first when working to maintain or increase motivation.
When setting goals for your lab, it can be encouraging for your researchers if projects are broken into small goals rather than establishing one large, overarching goal. This helps you and your co-researchers stay focused and motivated to make progress rather than be discouraged by the large task ahead. Addressing manageable sections of a project can lead to improved morale within your lab.
Managing a lab requires much more than technical know-how and scientific knowledge. To run a successful lab, you'll also need to know how to get the best and most from your fellow researchers and teammates. Directing and encouraging your team with clear and transparent policies and goals will help you use your most valuable resources in the lab-the researchers. Take the time and initiative to establish strong leadership and project management skills now while you have the opportunity to watch and learn from other lab managers and Pis on campus.
Perhaps the most commonly used teaching technique is the lecture. But a lecture is not simply a list of facts or a rereading of the textbook. And it doesn’t have to be a fifty-minute drone-fest – a well-planned lecture can be an integral component of an active teaching and learning strategy.
If you’re approaching the end of the road to your doctorate, you may be in the market for an academic job. The first step in getting a job is getting noticed. You might have a great CV and unbridled excitement about and dedication to your work, but hiring committees won’t see that without first making it through your cover letter.
While your long range goal is to get a job, your more immediate goal is to use the cover letter to get on the shortlist of a dozen people who will be invited to submit more writing samples and have references checked, followed by the shortlist of three or four people who will be invited to interview for the job.
So how do you write a cover letter that will put you closer to your goal? Here are five rules that may offer some guidance.
Rule 1: Write like a colleague, not like a student. All other rules follow from this one. The hiring committee is not admitting you to a program of study – they’re looking for someone who can help RUN a program of study. Without being arrogant, be firm, confident, and forceful. Don’t make excuses for what you didn’t do or don’t know. You’re an expert in your field. Write like one.
Rule 2: Keep it professional. Use the letterhead of the department with which you’re affiliated. Demonstrate that you are a functioning professional by showing your mastery of proper letter writing etiquette and format. Address the letter to the chair of the search committee or department. Use a clear, readable font and limit the length to two pages (that’s right – two pages). Members of the hiring committee aren’t likely to give your cover letter more than five minutes of their time. A two-page letter that succinctly presents your achievements and your brilliance without undue verbiage shows respect for your future colleagues’ time (and eyesight).
Rule 3: Organize the letter logically. Demonstrate your ability to think in logical sequence and to emphasize the kinds of things a hiring committee wants to know. Here’s one possible organizational plan for your cover letter:
Rule 4: Show, don’t tell. Your cover letter should include evidence, not empty claims. For example, to say “I love teaching” means very little to a committee bent on finding a colleague who fits their department’s culture. Cite evidence that shows how passionate you are about teaching – did you introduce your students to field research that led several of them to publish articles? Did you use social media in your classroom in a way that led to innovative discussions? Did your colleagues adopt any of your teaching strategies? If you make a claim, substantiate it.
Rule 5: Do your homework. Show that you’ve researched the department, know the faculty, have read their work, appreciate their contributions, and know the focus and specializations of their specific program. To help your readers see you as a perfect match, quote what you have found on the institution’s or department’s website and connect it to your profile. Mention one or two faculty members by name as potential collaborators (but don’t call them Professor So-and-So – use first and last names. See Rule 1 – you’re applying to become their colleague, not their student.). Be sure you tailor your cover letter to the specific position for which you’re applying. You can create a general cover letter template, but craft each letter specifically for each job to which you’re applying.
As with any crucial piece of writing, ask a trusted editor or advisor to proofread your letter, using these rules as a checklist. If your cover letter ticks off all the boxes, you can be confident you’ve gotten your job application off to the best start possible.
Kelsky, Karen. “Why Your Job Cover Letter Sucks (and what you can do to fix it).” The Professor Is In. August 7, 2011. .
Howard, Philip N. “A Dozen Sentences That Should Appear In Your (Academic) Job Application Letter.” The Mentor Memo, University of Washington.
OWL Purdue Online Writing Lab. “Job Search Writing.”
Durand, Alain-Philippe. March 11, 2011. “Keys to the Cover Letter.” Inside Higher Ed.
Nominations are now being accepted for the next cohort of Preparing Future Faculty (PFF). To become a PFF fellow, contact your department or graduate chair to express your interest ask to be nominated. Once you’ve been selected as a fellow, you’ll be enrolled in the summer seminar (GRDC 900A, 900B and 900D) and matched with a PFF mentor.
The UNL Office of Research and Economic Development (ORED) maintains a list of all current funding opportunities. Send a subscription request to ORED to receive weekly announcements of funding opportunities in a wide variety of fields of study.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funds this summer program to provide educational and professional development opportunities for students from underrepresented populations and those interested in addressing health disparities related to infectious diseases.
Deadline: February 14, 2013
Award: $4,000 stipend plus travel and housing
The James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation offers fellowships to individuals desiring to become outstanding teachers of the American Constitution at the secondary school level. Fellowship applicants compete only against other applicants from the states of their legal residence. Generally, one fellowship per state is awarded each year.
Deadline: March 1, 2013
The Association for Jewish Studies is accepting applications for the Berman Foundation Dissertation Fellowships in Support of Research in the Social Scientific Study of the Contemporary American Jewish Community. The fellowships encourage graduate students in sociology, social psychology, social anthropology, demography, contemporary history, social work, political science, geography, and education to expand their research to include the study of North American Jewry.
Deadline: March 22, 2013
Award: $16,000 (two awards)
This fellowship is based on academic excellence and need, and is open to all undergraduate and graduate students of color. The Hearst Fellow serves as an intern with the Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation (PSI) in the Washington, DC office of the Aspen Institute.
Deadlines: March 29, 2013 (Summer) & July 15, 2013 (Fall)
Award: $4,000 (Summer); $2,000 (Fall)
The Moore Fellowship provides a stipend to promote research during the academic year or summer months using the resources of the Friends Historical Library and/or the Swarthmore College Peace Collection.
Deadline: March 31, 2013
Award: Variable, TBD