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!)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

So What Are You Going To Do With That? Teach?

I have seriously lost count of the times I've been asked this question, and every time it makes me want to tell the asker to go find a cliff. Because, actually, yes, I do intend on teaching. I love being in the classroom, and I try to be a good professor. But that's not the only reason I study what I do, and it's certainly not the only reason why I'm in grad school. Still, whenever I explain my research to people, nine times out of ten I'll be asked what the heck I plan on doing with my diploma. And the added little barb that I'll "only" ever be able to teach about it kind of stings. (Does anyone have a good response to this? I'd love to hear some great comebacks for this question--I know I'm not the only one who has gotten it!)

But this question brings up two rather annoying points about the general view of grad school--something that I didn't really realize before I got into higher education and wish I'd thought about some. One is that most people view research rather poorly. Kind of a 'duh' comment, but not something I like to think about when I look at my own research. When it doesn't have a direct correlation with some awesome outcome that is obviously going to "make the world a better place" (often with the undercurrent of making someone a lot of money) people don't view it as important. Not that my research is science for science's sake, but most people don't understand that, or even want to understand that.

Second, and more importantly, is that people view teaching as a last-resort option or career. Anyone who would *want* to get up in front of 400 students and discuss evolution, Shakespeare, or the Krebs Cycle must be nuts. Um, hello? Why is this? I honestly don't understand. Teaching is so vital to our society and way of life that the fact that it is undervalued and viewed pessimistically really ticks me off. Wanting to teach may not make me a whole lot of money, but it certainly is an awesome career choice. (Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now.)

Anyhow, thinking about this lovely little barb, and how I've tried to deflect it all these years, has made me start thinking about the other things people say and do to belittle grad school. Please, please chime in with more if you've got them!

So, things I've been told about choosing grad school:
-So, couldn't find a real job, could ya?
-What, you wanna be Einstein? (Okay, not asked of me, but someone else I know...)
-Why would you want to do that?
-You must really like to torture yourself.
-Do you like being poor?

Anyone got some good ones to add to the list??

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Accepting an Offer?

It's about that time of year for those of you who might have obtained offers to attend a graduate program. I'm curious--anyone out there get an offer to start a program in the fall? Maybe even multiple offers? It's about that time of year when most schools are requiring everyone to accept or decline and I'd love to hear if you're happily embarking on the whole graduate school fun-house!

(And I swear I will have some good posts coming up. It's just that this:
is coming up very soon for me, and I've been a tad bit busy: It would be a whole lot more exciting if #1: my dissertation was complete and signed off, and #2, I had a job or at least some kind of plans for what the heck I'm going to do once I'm done...)

Also, anyone up for a guest post? Something you have been dying to discuss about grad school life or otherwise? Just let me know!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Student Groups

(Ack--sorry, Spring Break got the better of me and I haven't managed to get back to posting. Sorry! I swear, I'll be better about this. I hope.)

I am totally going to steal this post's topic from a friend of mine, because it rocks! (Thanks--you know who you are :) Anyhow, within my department this past year I've witnessed a phenomenon among the undergraduate students. They have organized! (In some way, this instills fear into my professorial heart, but I know it's a good thing.) A thriving student group has sprung up among the students, offering a great new resource for the undergraduates to do some things that I think are incredible and would otherwise never have happened within my department. So, my main piece of advice for today: if your department has a student organization, join it! If you don't, start one! It will help you so much in your graduate school goals.

Why do I think this is such a good thing? Because it offers a place to talk about where you're headed. The fellow undergraduate students in your department may be friends (or not) but they all share in your experience. Those that are planning on attending graduate school offer a valuable resource in several ways: someone to talk to, someone who may have more information, and someone who can help. Alone, a lot of undergraduates (myself included) find themselves attempting to tackle getting into graduate school based on the information I'd gleaned through the years (and of course, blogs like this one :). In some ways, this is just not enough. Other students can provide you with more information--even if it's just that a certain part of the country has the worst winters imaginable and your beach-loving self may want to think twice before attending there. Or maybe some much more valuable information: they've met the person you're thinking of applying to work with and they're going to retire sometime soon and aren't taking any new students.

The other benefits are that these student groups can allow for attending functions and events that otherwise might be too pricey or too terrifying to attend alone. There was a major conference in a nearby city a couple of weeks ago and I thought it was great to see this whole student group get tickets and attend. Even when there was a large group of them who showed up to my talk and laughed at my corny jokes.... I hope they learned a lot from the meetings (if only that they never, ever run on time). It's a great opportunity to see how "real life" research works, and hopefully they obtained a better understanding of whether or not that's something they really want to do.

I didn't have a student group in my undergraduate institution, and after seeing how well this one is working, I really wish I had. It's offered some great resources for the students. If you don't have a group--don't despair! Starting one really isn't that hard. Ask around and see if any of your fellow students within your major are interested. I would be surprised if you couldn't find a few people who would be. Most schools will ask you to have a faculty or staff director (asking around for who is interested--and asking nicely and wisely--should make this step pretty easy). There's usually some small paperwork to file to start a student group, and viola! You're ready to go. Then the fun starts: plan a few interesting activities. Maybe a field trip. Have some fun and get a chance to talk to one another. You'll be surprised what you might learn!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Grading Papers? Play some Bingo :)

Thanks to everyone for chiming in on squares to add. This was one of those random, quick things that I've wanted to do for some time, because it cracks me up. I can think of several ways to play the game (maybe a little competition between several TA's from the same class?), but I'll leave that up to you. Hope you have fun!!

So, over the last couple of days there has been a HUGE influx of people to see this, which is awesome, but if you're going to use it, please cite back here! Thanks!

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Myth of Spring Break

I remember a time when there was such a mythical thing as some time off in the spring. A break. A vacation, even. Such a thing has ceased to exist for me, and may it rest in peace. Someday I may try to revive it, but for the moment, it's long gone. See, this "time off" between quarters has become a mad dash to attempt to finish research before the next slew of conferences, get the rest of my life back in some semblance of order after neglecting it all quarter, and otherwise attempting to regain my sanity. If I can sneak in a day off, all the better. But most of this past week of "break" has been spent at work. And I'm not alone in this. I have had the good company of quite a few grad students roaming the halls, looking slightly less stressed than normal (not me, I have been pulling my hair out), but at work all the same.

So, for today's belated post (I have had this awesome thing I wanted to do all week, but hopefully I'll get to it on Sunday), I want to ask: are you working during spring break this year? Or are you getting away? (No, getting away to a conference doesn't count either. That's still work.) Are you happy about it? Or are you catching parts of the endless spring break coverage on TV and wishing you were somewhere with a bikini and a beer? (Or, at least sitting somewhere quietly, not working.)

I do like hearing from people, so pipe up in the comments!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Take Home Conference Messages

Every time I go to a conference for my field, I come home wondering where some of the people come from. For the most part there are a lot of really great people who put their best foot forward at these meetings and I really enjoy meeting them. Then there are the others. So, on a bit of a lighter note today, what not to do at a conference (all inspired by this past week's meeting):
  1. Don't go barefoot. Seriously. I saw not one, but two people wandering around the Hilton without shoes. Um. Yeah.
  2. If you're going to present, don't dress like you're headed to the bar for drinks. And then don't wonder why people aren't taking your quite so seriously.
  3. Don't go over time when you're already behind schedule, but think that because you're the moderator, you can still do it. Especially when you're reading your talk and it's a majorly dull topic.
  4. Don't NOT use statistics. Or don't use them poorly. Nothing will make me want to poke you more (and I'm no expert on the subject, but seriously, if you have data, at least analyze it!).
  5. Don't spend your whole talk discussing the stats you used to look at your data. Your talk should say something more than an equation--unless, ya know, you're at a math conference.
  6. When meeting someone new, don't spend fifteen minutes bragging about how Berkeley asked you to design a class around your material from last year and now you're lecturing there for the benefit of all. Because I just don't care. Sorry.
  7. Don't see your former/current TA and point and whisper with your friends while she can still see you. (This is especially good to note when she still has your paper and final to grade. Not that I would actually let that influence me...but it did piss me off.) TA's are people too.
  8. Don't be boring. If you can help it. I mean, I know I'm guilty of this, but the best talks are the ones that are engaging (and maybe even make you laugh a bit). At least act like YOU are interested in your topic.
Okay, that's all I've got. But really, the conference was a good one. I loved the session I was in and found it really interesting. I loved getting to see a few people I haven't had a chance to chat with in a while, and I really enjoyed getting some new information out of them. Lots of good stuff there. I also loved seeing the people wandering around barefoot and finding it highly amusing. Ahhh. Gotta love it!

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Almost every field of study has a large gathering once or twice a year. Some have more, some less, some are broken down by region or sub-field, but they have a one big thing in common: people in your chosen field are going to get together to share their work. This will usually be done in papers given (little speeches often with power-point), or posters (large sheets of paper with all your data on them). As I am currently totally procrastinating writing my talk for next weekend (ugh!) I thought I'd touch on this topic a bit today.

I have a small confession about conferences: I really don't like them. Now, I know a lot of people do, and find them totally engaging and a great way to meet people. I don't. Just the thought of them kind of makes my stomach curl into a small ball and roll around my abdomen (wow, that was a strange image!). BUT, I still end up going to them, because they are a great thing to add to your CV, and a good way to get some traction for your work. For those of you applying to grad school, they are a great way to see what research is currently being undertaken by researchers of choice, and also a great way to introduce yourself to potential collaborators and advisers. Of course, if you're shy like me, you might also find yourself grumbling at the thought of talking to people you don't know, and quaking at the thought of having to get up and deliver a paper to a room full of people (why this is different from giving a lecture to a few hundred students--which I really don't mind--is totally beyond me).

I swear this is what every room I've given a talk in looks like!
Okay, moving on. You're thinking about attending a conference. If you're not presenting or enrolled in a grad program (or living nearby) I don't recommend attending one of the big meetings if it entails traveling and lodging and a lot of $$ spent to get there--it's probably not going to be in your best interest. Of course, this depends somewhat, but do keep that in mind. Otherwise, I do recommend attending to present your research. Remember that signing up to present can take place almost a year ahead of time (WHY they do this makes me nuts!), so get those abstracts in early. If you're shy, you might want to have a friend in your field go with you. Prepare and practise what you'll say ahead of time. A lot. Dress professionally. You know, the usual stuff. I don't have too many pointers for the presentations itself--I still don't have this down. I probably never will. Honestly, I find myself looking forward to a day when I can send someone else to give my talks for me :)

If you are looking to speak with certain people while at the conference, making an appointment ahead of time is a good thing to do--a quick email of introduction and reason for why you'd like to take a few minutes of their time is fair warning. Then you should attend their talk and actively listen--maybe come up with some questions. If you know someone who is a mutual friend with the person, have them introduce you (this works best, imho, as I think it helps cement who you are and can make things easier to start a conversation). Also, be brief. Conferences are hectic with stuff going on all the time. If you're meeting afterwards for dinner/drinks (of which there are always a lot), that's a different story, but waylaying a person in the hallway to chat is probably not the best thing to do, at least for very long. Also, if the person doesn't look eager to talk, don't take it personally: they are probably trying to hustle to their next meeting. It happens. Sending an email later, with some detailed (but not trip-them-up) questions can also be good to do.

Dang, that last paragraph has a lot of random stuff in it. Overall, remember conferences can be great resources. But they're also chock full of presentations, meetings, and oftentimes beer. You can gain a lot if you're willing to put yourself out there and speak with people, along with listening to all the talks. If you're shy, as I said before, bring a friend. It makes things a whole lot better, and you don't have to look like a total dork wandering around for days by yourself (*ahem* like I have for the past several years *ahem*).

Okay, now I swear I'm going to go work on that talk. Really. Honestly. Right after breakfast.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

How to Pick an Academic Area of Study

One of the questions posed in this past week's discussion with undergraduates has had me thinking for the past few days and I think it makes an interesting topic for a post. This question was framed along the lines of "I'm interested in everything, how do I pick one thing to study?"

My gut reaction to this was along the lines of "are you kidding me?" I mean, I know full well there are major parts of my field that I have absolutely no interest in. But, I got to thinking about it, and within the general framework of my subfield there is a LOT I'm interested in. Actually, almost all of it I find interesting. Of course, that doesn't help when trying to come up with a solid research plan when applying for grad school, where a neat and tidy plan is necessary to demonstrate that you're capable of coming up with one, and of course setting up where and with whom you want to study. It can be a make-it or break-it part of your application. So how do you pick one thing you are wanting to study in school?

Well, there is a big caveats to this. Mainly, what you say you're going to study in grad school in your application more often then not isn't what you end up writing your dissertation on. You're going to need to be flexible (which makes liking a lot of different things very helpful). Your application will more often than not be a kind of guideline than an actual research plan, as funding/resources/samples/etc. will play a huge roll in how you plan your studies. Being flexible is a big part of research, so keep that in mind :)

That doesn't help though when it comes to actually finding something to study. Or at least say you want to study. Or even pick a general area of interest. Say you plan on going into archaeology, with some kind of crazy dream of being the next Indiana Jones (though he was really an art historian, and don't even get me started on this subject...), what part of the world are you going to want to focus your attention? The Maya? The Anasazi? The ancient Egyptians? You aren't going to be able to study them all, and with the way all science is going these days, everything is becoming more and more specialized. I look at my own research and have to laugh--I'm into such a minuscule area that it's almost funny (if it weren't so painful at times). Anyhow, you'll need to pick an area and narrow it down. And then pick a particular topic within that area and narrow that even further. But starting off with the bigger picture, how does someone go about narrowing things down?

Well, this is what I might recommend to those with this issue: make a list. I'm a big fan of lists. What have you studied that you just can't seem to get enough of? Make a list of these and take a long hard look at them. If you can't imagine spending the Rest of Your Life (and yes, that does need caps) studying this topic, move on to the next. Then, start digging. Read some papers. Read some more. If after five or six recent academic articles on a topic (and you'll probably have to go back and find some foundational research to build these on) you're still totally intrigued, keep going a bit. More often than not, you will find that either this is something you really love, or you'll find that the field has moved into an area you're totally not into. I'd use this method to cull through your list and narrow it down to as few items as possible.

From there, well, look at jobs. Let's face it, you're going to have to find employment studying this at some point, so finding out if there are more jobs in a particular sector will be very important. Studying underwater basket weaving probably won't help you much in terms of finding a paycheck. But there are regularly jobs for people in certain areas, so finding out this information at the first can really help. Plus, the chances of getting done and not finding a job (which is quite frankly the absolutely most frustrating thing I've ever experienced) will hopefully be minimized.

Anyhow, from here, narrowing your search will be based on schools an advisers. Finding a good fit for a school you like, an adviser you'll be comfortable working with, and a topic of interest will severely limit your list. If you're still having a hard time at this point, you're going to need to just spend some time thinking about it and what you want out of your life. I know that sounds rather vague and all, but that's something that I think is incredibly important.

Does anyone have any other suggestions?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Meeting with the Undergrads

Wow, I'm thinking today's title would make for a great sci-fi movie :) Okay, clearly I'm sleep deprived....

This evening in one of those rare "give back" (or in my case "warn away") moments, I attended one of the Anthropology Club meetings run for the undergraduates in my department. They were hosting a few of us grad students for a Q&A session about grad school (hence the "warn away" on my part--not really, but I am not one to generally sugar-coat anything!). It was a well-attended event and I had a really good time. Of course, that's probably because I got to pontificate a little, but hey, I gotta get my kicks somehow.

The assortment of students were asking all sorts of questions about things I've covered here, mainly about the whole process of grad school. How do you go about figuring out what you want to do? How do you approach people? All kinds of good stuff for future blog posts, as well as ones I've already hit on. I was impressed by their level of questioning. It is always heart-warming to see a bunch of college students really thinking about the next steps in the lives, particularly continuing their education (this must have a lot to do with TA'ing underclassmen for years on end, and seriously fearing for the future of our country when they can't write a simple sentence to save their lives--but I digress). Anyhow, other than my mild foreboding at the thought of so many people seriously considering going on for a degree in a field that is already so saturated, it was fun. Kudos to those of you out there planning on grad school! May you make wise choices that you later don't wonder why you didn't get a lobotomy instead :)

*please insert Debbie-Downer noise from SNL here*

Monday, February 21, 2011


Okay, it's President's Day. Yay! Right? Um, yeah, because I'm in grad school, this basically means I get the day to catch up on my insane to-do list. And maybe even a little sleep, if I'm lucky. This lovely little fact brought to you today by your local disgruntled grad student (who just spend several lovely hours grading, instead of being in Frisco looking at Olmec heads, which may still be work related, but would be much more interesting that eternally attempting to write out the difference between 'q' and 'q^2'.) Holidays, are in fact, for wusses. Or the gainfully employed. Either way, I look forward to the day when a school closure doesn't mean I just have to use extra keys to get into my building.

I so wish I were sitting near this umbrella today. Actually, I wish I were here every day!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Dealing with the Stress

Alrighty people, I'm taking a break from the pile of midterms staring at my on my desk to write about something I've been rather intimately aware of lately: STRESS. Honestly, as my to-do list reaches insane proportions, I have been struggling with the concept of dealing with it all. I think this has a lot to do with a graduate student's life, and grad school in general lends itself to a little of this:

(This is me WAY too much of the time!)
Stress levels may ebb and flow a bit throughout your graduate career, but it's probably going to be a pretty large presence in your life. Not only that, but women tend to deal with stress differently. Some of us thrive on it even (not that that's me. Uh-nuh. Nope.), or become addicted to it even (never!). So finding ways to deal with it that work for YOU is going to be important. Because being stressed out all the time can lead to:

WTH? Seriously, don't eat your computer! Try donuts. They taste better!
Just as a recap, stress in your life can lead to: loss of hair (with or without you ripping it out), ulcers, blood pressure problems, and lowered fertility. So even if you finally get to a point in life where you can have a family, it can become a problem. Basically, all of these are bad things, and there are a bunch of other health symptoms that stress can cause or affect. Don't let grad school do this to you! I mean, I'm sooo the best example for this right? Totally. Because I swear, this is me:
I regularly find myself wandering the halls of my building, totally lost in a stressed-out daze, and then I wonder why people ask me what's wrong.... :) 
Anyhow, there are a lot of ways that I try to mitigate being an ulcer-queen (wow, that sounds dirty). Here are a few that might be things to think about, and please, chime in with a comment for any others that you've used yourself, or seen others using:
  • Exercise. I never thought I'd become a gym person. I mean, it's kinda not me, like, at all. But I swear, if I don't go now, I find myself climbing the walls. Plus, added bonus, burning some extra calories. This is especially good for those times when you absolutely must have chocolate (or insert goodie of choice, so long as it's high in calories) or the afternoon will not go on. I mean, we've all been there, right? Good tip for getting to the gym: find a buddy to go with! What I would do without mine would involve a lot more of my couch.
  • Find a hobby. You are all reading mine :) But seriously, finding something to do outside of school that allows you to think about something else for a while is a bonus. Tactile things are really good. Doesn't have to be fancy, but find something. I know a lot of people who cook/bake/make awesomely yummy things to eat. They earn lots of bonus points for bringing said yummy things in to share, too...
  • Give yourself a day. Once a week. It may sound impossible at times (and I'll admit, this is a hard one for me to manage), but knowing you'll have one day a week to not think about school stuff really helps the rest of the week be more productive. So, go outside. Do your laundry. Read a book for pleasure. Treat yourself with a day off. Your to-do list will thank you.
  • Find someone to talk to. Some days are just so bad. So insane. It can really help to have someone, not necessarily to dump on, but to commiserate with. This is especially true for females--we need this kind of social connection. So, take your office-mate to get something to drink. Talk. Share. Take a load off.
  • Be organized. This is a total no-brainer. But still, it's worth mentioning. Because nothing stresses me out more than forgetting stuff or realizing I have missed out on something because I never wrote it down. Find a notebook, a planner, google-calendars. Something. It helps!
  • Don't beat yourself up about things you've missed. It doesn't help.
  • Do a google image search for "stress." WOW. I laughed my butt off. Sometimes, really, it's the simple things that can really make a difference though. Find out what works for you and keep at it.
Some days, I swear, the only thing that keeps me going is knowing I'm almost done with school. There is light at the end of the tunnel. (I mean, not that I have even had a spare minute to look at the rest of my dissertation I'm supposed to be currently writing, but that's okay. Really. Sorta.) Still, it's been a slog of a few years, and a lot of it is lost to a stress-induced haze. Don't let this happen to you!

So, do tell, what is your best means of dealing with stress? Please share!

Also, if you have an idea for something you'd like to share as a post as one of our awesome guest-posts, please contact me!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Habitation Hunt

It's Super Bowl Sunday, which is one of those curious events in the States that I always find kind of fun to watch. I mean, I don't follow football, and hardly know which teams are playing, but it is an event where even non-sports fans get together to watch (mostly the commercials, which how strange is it that the they have become so interesting?). I'm thinking some chips and tasty bean dip is in my near future :)

So, you've decided you want to go to graduate school. You've researched programs, made the difficult decisions on where to apply, written an awesome personal essay, and aced your entrance exams. After surviving your interviews, you've gotten in. Yay! Take some time to celebrate! (It may be the last time you do for a while, because now comes the hard work :) Anyhow, in many cases starting graduate school includes moving some substantial distance. It is not easy finding a new place to live in a distant city, and thank heavens for the internet because I don't know how people managed before it! Make sure you scour the web for places to live, and read people's reviews before you secure your distant home. If you can take a trip to check it out (or even better, scout places while there for your visit/interview), even better.

After moving into my first apartment in grad school, I quickly came to find that there were a few things that I really wished I had to make my life easier. Because, remember, those first two years of school may actually kill you. It's been known to happen (okay, not really, but your time in classes is less than easy). Here are a few things to consider in your new digs: (and please, chime in on your thoughts or additions!)
  • Location. If you can afford it, the closer the better. The last thing you'll want is a super long drive home after a long day in class/the library/the lab. Most places close to campus are expensive, and I get that (or infested with undergrads), but see what you can do.
  • Appliances. Don't have a problem with doing your dishes by hand? Wait til you have a sink-full that smell bad and you honestly don't have the time to do them. I have often lamented about my lack of a dishwasher, and since I finally got one (it is the size of a microwave--I kid you not. And it hooks into my sink. And I think I'm in love with it.), it is awesome. Time-saver extraordinaire!
    • Washing machines and dryers. Wow. I'm all domestic here, but seriously, if you can get them in your apartment (like, you know, have hook-ups for them) DO IT. Craigslist often has older ones up for cheap/free. It's a time thing. It will make your life easier, and no more hauling all your crap to the laundromat to fight for machines every Saturday. (Or my personal favorite, the candy in the machines from someone else's kids. Thank you to whomever stained all of my intimates pink. You suck.) Also, if you have a significant other for whom you do the laundry, well, it just frees up more time. Of course, maybe you can convince him to take over laundry duties. Or you can make it easier on both of you.
  • Volume. If you can, find out if there are regular weeknight parties from a host of undergrads living next door. Ask the other tenants. See what the demographic of the place is. It's one thing to live in a place that sometimes has a party that can get loud and keep you from some much needed sleep, but quite another to live next door to a frat house that enjoys beer-pong at 3am. Every. Single. Night.
  • Personal Space. Let's face it. You're going to get pretty stressed in school. (And if you don't, well, there's something wrong with you. Or you're reading the wrong blog :) Anyhow, you will probably want someplace you can go to that's going to allow you to relax a little. Translation: just because it's incredibly cheap, but looks like Bates Motel, well, you may want to reconsider. I know this generally tends to be more the case for women, too, so make sure you can actually deal with the level of scuzziness where you're going to be living. A place you can study in peace and comfort is going to be worth it.

Student Housing is your friend. Many schools have graduate student housing, so make sure you contact the office early, as there is almost always a waiting list. The housing may not be ideal but the prices are generally pretty good, and often the location can't be beat. (I currently live in married student housing. It's small, but quiet and on campus--as in, I can almost see my building. Other than fighting for the dryer during the winter, it's really not too bad.) Even if you don't want to live in Transient Housing (or grad housing, but I like my name better), they often have resources for the better places to live in town. It's these kinds of offices that you really should get in contact with!

I know all of the above are pretty common sense, but they are good things to keep in mind. The other biggie is roommates. If you managed to get through undergrad without at least one crazy roommate tale, well, congrats! The same rules in picking roommates applies in grad school. I regularly see incoming first-years sending out emails seeking roommates, and this is certainly a good way to get a pool of applicants. But, be sure you get to know this person a bit before you sign a lease with them! I mean, duh, right? You do not need the added stress of the psycho in the room next door on top of everything else you'll be doing. Laying down some ground rules before you sign a lease wouldn't hurt, like knowing how to split rent, who's going to take out the trash, etc.

Living with your significant other? This is a major topic that I'll hit on in its own post, but sitting down and having a frank discussion about responsibilities and division of labor is probably a really smart thing to do. Coming from some experience here, (especially when both are in school) it can get pretty hairy. Having a whole lot of understanding, as well as some framework to fall back on, can make your living situation a lot better. Anyhow, as I said, this is a whole ball of wax to tackle another day.

Happy hunting!

(Also, do you have a topic you want to talk about on the blog? I love guest posts!!)