Been there, done that.

After six years of grad school, there are a few things I've picked up from personal experience and a whole lot of time talking with other female grad students (AKA procrastinating). I've always wished there had been some kind of handbook about how to handle the whole world of graduate school, so I figured I'd start a friendly place to discuss what it's like to be female in grad school, and maybe pass on some wisdom too!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Letters of Rec

As I sit here staring at the stack of letters I need to write for my students, I thought I might make a few notes about this altogether fun aspect of the application process. Especially a few things you might want to avoid, so your letter writers aren't silently cursing your name while they try to come up with things to say about you to your dream school :)

So, the first question you might be asking yourself about this, is who the heck am I even going to ask? Well, if no names are coming to you right off the bat, you might be in a bit of a sticky situation. This is where getting to know the people who teach your classes comes into play. And by "getting to know" I mean, attending office hours occasionally to ask informed questions, being an attentive classroom participant, and overall not being the student your TA/Professor wants to hide under their desk from. If you're in your senior year, you hopefully have a few people who know you by name and you've managed to develop a little report with. If not, well, there's a reason professors hold office hours. Go! Talk! Ask nice questions and don't make a nuisance of yourself :)

The best people to get to know are those that are in your field of study (which hopefully in some way corresponds with what you are planning on doing in your graduate career), and who have had experience working with you in the classroom--and even better, outside of the classroom in a research setting. Yeah, I know, not all fields allow for this kind of thing, but hopefully you've managed some kind of internship or job where you can ask someone to recommend you. If you've been out of school for a good long time and no longer have contact with the people who were your professors, that does make things more difficult. In that case a boss, a co-worker, or maybe even a peer who is now working in your field of choice might be a good avenue to take. It's hard, I know, but a little brainstorming might prove that there are more people out there than you might expect.

As for how to ask itself, my best advice is to not wait until the last minute. Seriously. Nothing frosts my cookies more than a student who thinks I am not doing anything right now ("it's summer, right?") and have a spare couple of hours to write a letter. Now, I know sometimes emergencies come up and other people can flake out, but asking as early as possible is great, and makes you look prepared and on the ball.

Other things to do when you've got your references all lined up is to put together a little packet of all the information they're going to need for writing a letter for you. This can include:

-your CV or resume
-your personal statement
-a complete list of the schools you're applying to
-a complete list of what these schools are going to ask for
-envelopes (with postage!) to those schools who still want paper
-Deadlines for each of the schools

I hate having to wonder where and when I have to send stuff, so keep it concise and clear; that will help your letter writer out loads. Sending a thank you note (especially on paper) is the perfect way to express your thanks once the letters have been submitted (though doing so before they are in can look like you're trying to suck up). Also, do tell the person who wrote your letters what came of them--I want to know if you got in if I took the time to write something up for you.

Soo, questions? Anything I'm forgetting? General comments? I'm all ears!!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Graduate Teaching

As summer school grinds on, I have spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to be an instructor at a university. I really enjoy being up in front of a classroom, but I do recognize that as female there are a few additional things that go into being successful. This goes for both being a teaching assistant and the professor. The last few years I've spent quite a lot of time in both roles (indeed, I've taught almost every quarter of my graduate career), and lately as I watch my own actions in comparison to my TA, this has really started to irk me a bit. It may be just me, but it really feels like I have to work a whole lot harder to obtain the respect and attention that males command with much more ease. Has anyone else seen or felt this? I've sat in on other's discussion sections and lectures, and while the level of subtle ignoring of the instructor always goes on, it seems that females have to work harder to get the room going. There is almost the need to be larger than life--much more so in females than males.

Other things that I have read (and really annoy me) is that females that are more attractive are perceived as more intelligent, more competent, and better teachers overall. What's up with that? Also, dressing well and wearing (normal amounts of) make-up, all play a role in the way students judge their female instructors. This goes for both female & male students judging their instructor, too. Male instructors don't have to deal with anywhere near the same level of judgement (although I won't go so far as to say they don't see it at all). It's not fair, but there doesn't seem to be much that can be done about it. It is an extension of our cultural perception of male and female roles, and while these can change, it doesn't seem to be something that's going to do so easily or quickly.

Another aspect of this same topic that has struck me is the role of the first impression. The role of being attractive and well-dressed plays such a huge role in this first, initial, (and often long-lasting) impression is much harsher for women. It also leads me to really pay a LOT of attention to what I wear on my first day of teaching. Each day, actually, that I get up in front of a class, results in a lot of extra preparation time, with the goal of looking professional always in the back of my mind.

How, my question is, does competence play into this? Why do students view "pretty" female instructors as smarter, more fair, clearer, etc.? It doesn't make much sense to me. Does anyone have a good idea? Is an outward extension of grooming indicative of an inward attention to detail? That's the best guess I can get at.

At any rate, when teaching in graduate school, these factors can (and possibly should) play a role. Teaching evaluations can be vital to getting a job later on down the line. I've had to copy mine multiple times to submit with my job applications (and I've often wanted to add little notes to them, noting that from the stack from any given class, I sent X number to judicial affairs for cheating, so keep that in mind while reading!). Taking an added interest in how you present yourself in front of a classroom, not just in preparing well and presenting a great lesson, but in your appearance can play a big role.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Graduation Reflection

While I'm not completely done with my degree (I still have comments on my dissertation to wait for, and trust me, I am already stressed about what might come of that), graduating was a big milestone for me. It was just great to feel like I have accomplished something. Honestly, right after publishing my first first-author paper, this ranks high on the "YAY!" feelings. While sitting back and listening to the hooding ceremony go on (and on and on and on--oh, and somewhere in there they turned off the AC and those big poofy robes are not cool!), I was trying to keep myself awake by paying attention to the students and their advisers. Some of the main points I came to while trying not to doze:

-There were just as many women as men graduating. This is an established fact by now, but it was still refreshing to see in person. The degrees were skewed depending on the department (with fewer females in physics, and less men in child psychology), and it was really interesting to watch how it played out.

-The advisers conferring hoods were more male than female, but not by much. Those with huge batches of students (I couldn't believe it when there were advisers up there giving out 5 or 6 hoods in a go--sheesh!), were more likely to be male. What this says about science in general is interesting to think about. More of the big labs on campus are run by men? They have more research funds to support grad students? Something to look into.

-There were a lot of degrees in entomology. I don't know why I started noticing this, but one does get bored sitting there for a couple of hours...

-The sheer numbers of doctorates awarded was almost frightening. There were about six from my department alone, and I know only two of them have jobs. I know the job market is depressed due to the economy, but looking around I really started wondering how many of the graduates were looking at unemployment. It is a frightening thought. It also makes me wonder if there is something fundamentally wrong with the academic process as it currently stands. Do we need professors to retire earlier (as some have suggested to me) so that those of us just starting out have a chance at a job? Or does something else need to change? This is a topic I would love to discuss more here if anyone is interested in a post!

-The women obtaining their degrees appeared younger than their male counterparts. Now, I'm really bad at estimating age in general, but it did seem to me that a lot of the women looked younger (had less wrinkles and grey hair) than those males finishing up. Why is this? Women more likely to "power through" like me, so they are still reproductively viable once they're done? (That doesn't sound very good, but you know what I mean :) Either way, it was interesting to note.

At any rate, I loved seeing all the pomp and circumstance of the celebration. It may be out of date and kinda strange, but it was fun. It also made me think this:

There are some very important people missing from the bottom photo, but I haven't had a chance to photoshop them in! At any rate, I owe so many people such a huge debt of gratitude for all that they've done to help me reach this point that I will never be able to repay them! All I can say is a giant THANK YOU!!

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Today was the big graduation day! It went off without a hitch, including having my family descend and a large party for friends and family before the ceremony. Now, I'm exhausted and really just want to sleep for a few days :) I'll post some pics and thoughts later, but I can't resist a little YAYAYAY!!!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The summer before starting

(Wow, I swear I'm going to be better about posting here more often. Really. It's just the looming graduation ceremony later this week has kind of taken over my life. Oh, and that pesky dissertation thing, too. Funny how that is...)

Okay, for most people out there, summer has already started (for those lucky semester system people), or is getting underway shortly (for those of us stuck on the quarter system). For some people, this means getting ready to start grad school at the end of this season. Some are working still, others are on break, but probably a lot of you are looking forward to the big change of grad school starting in the fall.

So, what are you doing to get ready? Wait, did you think you didn't have to worry about this yet? Um, no. Really, this should already be on your mind. Like, I'm sure you've probably already gotten housing plans underway. Maybe rented the u-haul and have a move-in date ready to go. But there are other things that would be helpful to think about before fall come barreling down on you faster than a mag-lev train. Why? Well, let's be honest. Your first year of grad school has one main objective: wear you down and really show what you're made of. Luckily, there are some things you can do to get you started. Here are a few things I did, or I saw other people do, that I think might be helpful. Got some others? Please share!

  • Start reading now. I mean it. If you can find some of the reading that will be assigned in the stock classes that will be offered in your department, get your hands on them and get reading. Take good notes. This means that when it comes to class time, hopefully you'll just have to review them, and that takes a whole lot less time. You'll thank yourself later!
  • Start networking. The graduate coordinator in your department probably has a list of the other incoming grad students. Not only is this a great resource to find a roommate if needed, but it's also a great way to get to know people. Chat, go out of a drink, get to know your cohorts, if possible. The friendlier you are with them, the easier things will be later. Plus? Study partners!
  • Move early. Really, this can be helpful. Get to know the area you'll be living in for the next few years. Find good study places and where the grocery store is. It'll cut down on stress later if you aren't trying to find the only place in the region that sells your favorite ice-cream once you really need to chow down on Chubby-Hubby.
  • Get friendly in your department. Many people use the summer to get some serious research done, so don't be a bother, but stopping by to say hi, talk to people, and get your face known (in a good way) is always helpful. If you can find a way to help out (move someone into their place, or do a little lab work) earning those brownie points early goes a long way.
  • Find the best places to chill. Whether it be the best place to go for a long run, or a good bar for a beer, this will be essential later in the quarter. Good places are hard to come by, so knowing where they are now can't hurt!
  • Have a little fun. Don't get burned out before classes start! Seriously, take a little vacation. Get your head in the right place. Be calm, cool, collected, and start off your grad career on the right foot!
Okay, those are my thoughts. Some of these I really wish I'd done, and others (like reading early) totally save my butt when I was starting out. Happy summertime, peeps!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Random Observations from Grad School Life

In the spirit of random lists, I started thinking about some of the things I've noticed during the past six years. (Some of these are repeats from another earlier list posted elsewhere, so, um, yeah. I don't know why I'm pointing out this caveat, but oh well.) Please chime in with any to add!

1.    TA'ing sucks more time and energy than a black hole, with the exception of actually teaching, which is a black hole and there's no escaping (at least until grades are submitted).
2.    Sometimes there's a real reason why some people end up in academia, and it's not always a good one.
3.    Research institutions are very, very different from teaching institutions.
4.    Not all advisers are created equal. See #2. Some rock. Some should never emerge from their offices.
5.    Tuition costs should factor in blood, sweat, tears, and the number of times I have sworn at inanimate objects and myself.
6.    It is possible to live on ramen consistently. It will result in scurvy. Multi-vitamins help.
7.    Having children in grad school requires super-powers, namely the ability to go without sleep for weeks at a time. I do not have this power, and really, I don't want it. I like to sleep, and if I'm going to get a super-power of any kind, it damn well better be flying.
8.    On-campus housing will smell bad. Always. No amount of industrial-strength febreeze will get rid of it.
9.    An apartment with a washer, dryer, and dishwasher can make life worth living.
10. Mindless fun is occasionally the only way that I can remember that there is a life beyond grad school.
11. Seeing your name on your first journal article almost makes up for the hell it was formatting, learning how to submit it, and writing the dang thing to start with. Almost.
12. Picturing people naked in order to feel more comfortable speaking in front of them is a terrible idea. Honestly, who came up with this??
13. Grading tests/papers/assignments is fun for about the first two minutes, the first time you do it. Then the power-trip fades when you realize how dumb the majority of people in college are.
14. Sometimes running away does help.
15. Going to grad school close to family can be good. And bad.
16. I officially worship Pepsi. Other caffeinated beverages are also welcome.
17. Freshmen will always be clueless. The charm of this trait wears off fast, so enjoy it while it lasts.
18. Those few students who listen, understand, and are enthusiastic about my classes make all the difference in the world.
19. Holding office hours on a Friday will ensure that you never have to see anyone.
20. Bribes work, especially when disguised as something else.
21. The amount of highlighting I do in an article is inversely related to how interesting the article is.
22. Sometimes I actually wish I could get sick, just to have an excuse not to work. (*knock on wood*)
23. Poverty sucks.
24. Waking up one morning and realizing my twenties are ostensibly over, and having a really hard time remembering the majority of the last decade, is really depressing.
25. Getting “hooded” when graduating just sounds wrong.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


I've stumbled across a few things to share this week, so in lieu of a more formal post this Mother's Day evening, here are some neat things you might want to check into:

PLoS Blogs talks about women in science blogging. It runs through some awesome blogs that I've really enjoyed looking through. It's a long article, but worth the read, and clicking through to the other blogs. I've found some great stuff :)

My absolute favorite blog (Female Science Professor) talked this week about the difference in language when referring to men and women and presenting their work (and especially how they are portrayed by males in a public setting). Very interesting read, and made me kinda pissed off, actually. Enjoy :)

And my favorite thing this week:


Okay, anyone else find something interesting to share this week? (I feel like I'm in elementary school saying that, but I would love to see if anyone has anything!)