When I was still taking courses for my degree, I made curriculum one of my areas of emphasis. At the time, my program only had one faculty member who taught courses that were explicitly about curriculum and thus I spent almost a year and a half primarily studying under the guidance of this one professor. He was an older scholar, a relic from a time and place that no longer existed (the past really is another country). More than any other faculty I’ve encountered, he challenged me to clarify my thinking about education in this country and to try to separate the educational from the economic or the political when I thought about the curriculum. One of his least favorite developments in education in the United States was the increased role of technology in the classroom. He couldn’t see the educational value; he saw no philosophy of education behind its use. And to a certain degree he had a point. Sometimes the public conversation about technology in education takes its value and role for granted, or implicitly suggests that all that matters is that schools are “cutting edge” (in this way it’s no different than some public discussion that assumes more money is all we need to “fix” education in this country). However, he also felt that education needed to be social, and felt so strongly about the anti-social nature of computers that he threw away his family’s computer because it was preventing his youngest son from talking to family on the phone when they called. On this point, I think his age and life experiences made it harder for him to understand the direction of our current world. For better or worse, technology is a dominant form of socialization and communication now (the realm of experience is shifting and if education is supposed to be experiential than it is time to embrace technology), and it is changing everything about our culture (much to the chagrin of some members of older generations).
The Chronicle of Higher Education recently featured two pieces on online learning that warrant attention. The first is a commentary article by Kevin Carey about the development of a mostly free online university called The University of the People, and the second a blog post by Frank Donoghue addressing his resistance to online learning institutions despite their growth and stability (they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon).
The development of an online university that is basically cost free for students (using internet social media and open source technologies, and curriculum created by volunteers) sounds great, but I think expansion of these kinds of institutions will not meet widespread support amongst faculty. Yes, providing education to low income students is great and most faculty would have little problem with that. However, many faculty still have reservations about curricular programs that only use technology (see Donoghue’s blog for just one example) because they either don’t seem to grasp how technological the younger generations really are or think it is one of the four signs of the apocalypse. Ialso think many would resent an institutional model that is dependent on faculty offering their expertise for no compensation. Large amounts of Ph.Ds in many fields are already diluting the distinction of scholarly expertise to a point where tenure may disappear because it is easy and cheap to find academic labor willing to work on short-term contracts. Widespread volunteerism could exacerbate this problem.
In two previous posts in this series, I focused on strategies related to reading and writing that graduate students could use over the summer to improve their graduate school experience and prepare for the future. While the reading strategies could benefit any graduate student, many of the writing strategies were more geared toward graduate students with a specific desire to pursue research, publications, and the development of status within their academic fields. I recognize that many graduate students may not be interested in academic writing outside of the requirements of their program, and today I am focusing on other things graduate students can do over the summer to advance their professional development.
Stay Engaged. This is as much a mindset as it is an action, but I have found it to be a key to my development throughout my grad school career. To be sure, most of the strategies I have talked about throughout this series of posts as well as those that I am about to mention are the product of staying engaged over the summer. Yet, staying engaged is also about mundane things such as checking your school email regularly. You never know what sorts of important information might be sent to you over the summer. Checking my email during the summer months helped me land a position as a graduate student researcher that has given me many opportunities to conduct, present, and publish research. I still had to interview to get the position, but if I had been completely checked out that summer I would not have gotten the email that led to the interview. Throughout my time in my doctoral program, I have seen several employment opportunities solicited via email during the summer. So, as tempting as it is to stop checking that school email completely, it might be in your best interests to check in on it throughout the summer.
Maintain your academic relationships. Staying engaged can also be as simple as maintaining relationships with your advisor, other faculty you have taken courses from, your peers in your graduate program as well as those you might have met from other programs at academic conferences or similar events. While the graduate degree you are earning will have only your name on it, working through any graduate program is made exponentially easier by the help of other people (particularly if you are in a doctoral program). Developing and maintaining strong, supportive, and reciprocal relationships with other graduate students in your program or discipline is invaluable once you get to the exams and thesis or dissertation stages (more on this in a later post). And of course, working through the master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation is significantly easier if you can communicate openly with your faculty advisor. So send emails, make phone calls, and have chats over lunch or coffee.
Teach or Volunteer. Teaching a college course and volunteering are two other ways of developing experiences and skills related to your chosen field during the summer. Every program is different, but if you want to teach over the summer chances are you need to apply some time in the winter or spring (but do check that email, you never know what last minute instructor changes might be made because of illness or schedule conflicts that could lead to a potential last minute employment opportunity). Even if you do not plan to enter the academic world after you get your degree, teaching can be valuable. Much like the reading strategies, teaching can provide an opportunity to gain mastery over your field and it may therefore help you down the road when you get the exam stage of the program (and you can make money too, which is always good). While teaching may be more of an option for those in a doctoral program, anyone can volunteer. Volunteering can help you explore the types of jobs that are available in your field and can help you establish valuable social contacts that may be valuable after you graduate. Teaching and volunteering are also two activities that would be good to put on your CV…
Develop your CV. I don’t think it is ever too early to start crafting and re-shaping your curriculum vitae (or vita or résumé or whatever you or your field prefer to call it). In fact, I personally think it should be a constant activity for any graduate student, but the summer offers a good break from other obligations to catch up and add recent activities, positions and experiences to your CV (as well as those things that you know you will be doing in the not too distant future). You never know when a job opportunity might arise that will require you to submit a CV, so it is a good idea to take the summer to update it if you have been neglecting it. The summer also offers a good chance to play around with new CV layouts and formats.
Clarify your goals. If nothing else, the summer offers a good time to reflect on why you are pursuing your graduate degree. Considering and clarifying your goals related to your graduate education can help you make better decisions on how to use the rest of your summer and will help you prioritize your obligations as you advance through the program. If your career goal is to teach in higher education, than you might favor teaching during the summer and school year over developing your own research projects. If you want to eventually take a job in industry, you might take the summer to explore industry opportunities instead of teaching or developing term papers into conference papers. Ultimately, you have a large role in what you get out of your graduate education and clarifying for yourself why you are in grad school can help communicate your needs to your faculty and peers, and it can save you a lot of time, energy, and work in the long run.
The summer can be a useful time for all graduate students. Whether you decide to read, write, or engage in other activities related to your development as a scholar or community leader, making the most of your “time off” can make your life a lot easier as you advance in the program and get closer to entering the workforce.
Earlier Posts in this series:
Here is an entertaining blog I read this morning on “The Manuscript Beard,” the beard male members of the professoriate grow when developing a book length project.
It got me thinking about the many types of academic beards I have grown over the course of my college career. There was the “I’m a freshman in college and just discovered my independence” beard, the term paper beard, the “I finally got through that quarter and I’m not leaving the house for a month” beard, the “I can’t believe I thought it was a good idea to submit so many conference proposals at the same time” beard, and the “written exams” beard. After I passed my oral exams and advanced to candidacy, I started a dissertation beard, but quickly realized that it would be a very long time until the dissertation process would be over so I shaved that one (though in all fairness it is sort of being continuously regrown. I have a well-trimmed beard most of the time so my academic beards are not completely brand new growth, but rather result in various full-beards with different areas at completely different stages of development).
These academic beards are one of my ways of dealing with the mental chaos and self-doubt you encounter through out graduate school. How do you deal with these things?
Here is a post from the Brainstorm blog at The Chronicle of Higher Education on a study that found there were some redeeming aspects of lecturing. I am all for interactive classrooms and giving students agency in their learning experience, but, like many teaching techniques, it needs to be done well to be effective. I took plenty of classes in grad school from professors who seldom lectured and my experiences were often underwhelming. In most cases, I just wanted to hear the professor offer his or her opinion on a topic from time to time and when that didn’t happen I lost interest in what we were doing. Plus, left unguided by a professor’s expertise, students of all ages can occasionally lead each other into misunderstandings of course materials (I’ve been in a few classes like this as well). The whole students-teaching-students thing only works if all the students are doing the readings for a course, which, even in grad-level courses, is not something you can assume is happening. So, here’s hoping for the return of the lecture (at least some of the time).
What do you think? Should the lecture make a return?
Summer’s here, and as a grad student it’s a welcome break. From August or September until May or June the day-to-day grind of graduate school is mentally and physically draining. Many of us have to balance our course load with the demands of being a TA, a research assistant, or, in some cases, full-time employment outside of the university setting, and the grind only intensifies for students who actively attend conferences in their field or develop personal research projects on their own as well as those who are married, in serious relationships, or have families and friendships to maintain. By the time spring comes around, many of us hit the “trying to get through the rest of the term” phase of the year and we anxiously yearn for the freedom of summer.
However, summer can be an incredibly important and useful time for graduate students if it is used wisely. Based on my experiences, here are three important steps towards beginning a relaxing, rejuvenating, and productive summer.
Take a break. While I think being productive over the summer is important and worthy of consideration, whatever progress you make towards those ends will be negated if you don’t give yourself time to recover from the academic year. I recommend taking the first few weeks of summer for yourself (and I found this to be particularly important when I was still taking coursework. Once you advance to candidacy or are in a phase where your schedule is less structured it might not be as crucial). Read a book that has nothing to do with your scholarly interests. Go to the beach or the mountains. Get a massage. Take in a marathon of your favorite TV show. Spend time with your family (chances are they have only seen the academic zombie version of yourself for the last few months). The point is to lose yourself in something that can give your brain a rest because you’ve been using it nearly non-stop for 9 months.
Get healthy. This goes hand in hand with taking a break. Many graduate students will crash at the end of the year as their adrenaline dissipates and the impact of long periods of exhaustion and prolonged pressure take their toll on the body. It’s happened to me, and many of my peers. In addition to resting, you might consider devoting more time to exercise. Taking care of the body is another important way of to take care of and clear your mind, and the summer offers more time for those of us who may have let our health-related habits deteriorate over the course of the academic year.
Tie up loose ends. Once you have rested, or perhaps in the midst of rest, it is a good idea to tie up any loose ends. When I was working through the coursework phase of my doctoral program, I liked to take time after every term to clear out my binders and notepads and file away course materials and readings. Keep what you might use later, but don’t keep everything. I generally kept the course syllabus, whatever readings I might have printed out for the course, and a copy of the term paper I wrote for the class (if there was one), and little else. There are only so many filing cabinets you can have before you start crossing the line into the academic hoarder territory, and the sooner you develop an efficient and selective system for what you keep and how you store it, the better. Regardless of what system you use, going through all of your “stuff” from the recently finished quarter or semester can be a valuable and effective way to clear your mind of what you might call “academic clutter,” and, if it was a particularly daunting term, it can have a therapeutic affect as well. Sometimes it is nice to throw out a copy of that term paper that
haunted your dreams took way too long to write only a few weeks before. If nothing else, it might be somewhat satisfying to look back at the year and realize how much you actually did accomplish.
Taking some time to rest, relax, and recover from the last academic year is an important first step toward making the most of your summers. Once you’ve taken care of yourself and cleared your mind, it’s a good idea to start looking ahead, and part II of this post will address the many different things graduate students at different stages can do over the summer to maximize their graduate education. Until then, enjoy your rest. 🙂