Mentoring Grad Students

I have been having more conversations with graduate students about life after graduate school. Not all of them are interested in the traditional career path in academe. I don’t blame them–the job market for full-time work in higher education is dismal. There is lots of work for contingent (part-time) faculty, but that doesn’t really provide a stable income. I know this well, as for most of my academic career, thus far, I worked part-time. Sometimes this work was between three different departments at three campuses, ergo the term “freeway flyer.”

I do think that we need to be more responsible with our mentoring of graduate students and part of this includes not suggesting graduate school as a viable option to some students. There, I said it. Graduate school is not for everyone; however, some will figure this out on their own. I am referring more so to being honest about the psychic and financial instability of graduate school. Lately, I am seeing more undergraduates entertain what they are referring to more “practical” programs like advanced degrees in Public Administration and even a few are entertaining MBA programs. I think this is a good thing–let them branch out into different degree programs. An advanced degree in Political Science is useful, but it is not the only option.

I have been pleased to see an ongoing threads and hashtags on Twitter #PhDchat #gradchat #NewPhD. These short conversations are interrogating degree programs and what we think needs to change. These are important conversations.

We need to be more honest with our graduate students and make sure that our institutions offers different types of job training or workshops. And, if the student does want to go into higher education, we need to do a better job mentoring. This can be tedious, but meeting one on one with the students is really worth the time. This is part of an ongoing train of thought for me.

Bananas

I love playing Bananagrams. I am not a big board game person, but I have a slight obsession with Bananagrams. I will play with my kids, but I prefer to quietly play the game by myself and time my game. I will scramble the letters and play with the same set and try to make different words. I might play for five or thirty minutes, but this quiet time is important for me to recalibrate and focus on one task.

I guess what I am saying here is that Bananagrams is a good way for me to unwind.

2014: Retrospect

I am thinking about the last year and I have more than a few takeaways; however, I want to focus on five. This year was filled with many highlights and I do not want to do the brag or the humble brag.

What was important to me:

1. My family. My family keeps me grounded. I love the texts from different family members: leave work. Where are you? Are you picking me up? This array keeps me focused while I am work and then focused on my time with them. They are also great at reminding me that I need to unplug.

2. Good health for me and my family. No need to explain more here.

3. Learning. This includes my own learning and others around me. I love teaching and each time I walk into the classroom I think about how lucky I am to get paid to think, read, grade, and write for a living.

4. Leadership. Here I am referring to my own leadership on campus, but also the crucial people who I am learning from thanks to their leadership and mentorship.

5. Listening. Listening is such an important skill to have and when I was an undergrad advisor a major part of that job was listening (and helping) students in my office. Leading a service unit on campus means that I must listen lots to the team and those around me.

I look forward to what the next school term holds. I know that my family will remind me to unplug and that I will continue to learn from those around me.

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Thanksgiving 2014

It is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada and I am sitting here thinking about the things that I am thankful for with this new school year. In the spirit of brevity I will number.

1. I am thankful for my mostly good health.

2. I am thankful for my sweetheart’s good health.

3. I am thankful for my wonderful family–both made and born. Not a day goes by that I do not think of all my family in California.

4. I am thankful to have such wonderful friends near and far. I know that I can text or email this inner circle and hear from them quickly. Thank you.

5. I am thankful for my job as a professor. As I have noted before, I have the great fortune to mentor young people.

6. I am thankful for my admin gig. I get to help other faculty, staff, and students and enhance their learning environment.

7. I am thankful for my peer mentors. You know who you are. Thank you.

8. I am thankful for my students. I enjoy interacting with them in the classroom, office hours, and the mentoring moments.

I have lots more to say, but I think this is a great start for Canadian Thanksgiving. Smiling. The photo below is from UVIC Communications, Photo Services.

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Blog Her, Blog Her

I am going to a conference for professional development this week. You might have heard of the conference–BlogHer. This year marks its 10th conference. You have to figure that some 11-12 years ago the group of women founders looked around the Silicon Valley and realized that they were doing something unique and needed to network with other women. Voila–BlogHer was born.

Now, BlogHer is a tween and is going strong based on the various other conferences, website, and more. I am happy to attend this year’s conference in my home state, California. And, I am looking forward to learning more and making connections. Lifts coffee cup–to BlogHer.

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Fill the Right Cup

Ray Bradbury explained, “We are all cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”

Which cups do you fill? Do you fill the cups of optimism, pragmatism, or pessimism? It is important to think about where you expend your mental energy. Thinking back to my grad school days there were moments when the pessimism cup was the cup that I filled and that was not a good thing, but those moments of overwhelm and impostor syndrome were intense. I have to thank my peer mentors and faculty mentors for helping me fill the other cups.

My networks helped me stay grounded during grad school. Sure, we had our moments when would complain about our workloads and our financial situations, but overall it was pretty fabulous to read, research, teach, and write for a living. My peer mentors were primarily from the cohorts ahead of me and to this day some of my closes friends are from my grad school days. I met both of my best-friends in grad school.

Related to this, peer mentors listened. The listening cup was overflowing and there are times when I miss that interaction–the ability to have long conversations. The cup that we need to keep filling is the listening cup. Listening is an important part of a supportive and honest network. As I am working with undergraduates through graduate students, I am thinking about the importance of them finding good peer networks. I am only one part of the puzzle and know that the rest of the puzzle must include peers.

I knew that at home I had support, and my friends and networks at work in the department and larger academic community helped me through my grad school days. Peer mentoring is invaluable and if your cohort does not feel supportive, seek out peers ahead of you for guidance or go outside of your department. This advice is appropriate for those of us years out of grad school, too. And, if you are years into your career remember to connect your students to other students and to other faculty. Expand your students’ networks–this is part of the mentoring or coaching process.

 Fill the cups! Confer, trust, connect, mentor, listen, and celebrate your success…