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.
It’s that time of year when students have asked their mentors for letters of reference. While you wait to hear from the graduate, medical, or law school, you need to remember to send a quick update and perhaps thank you email to your letter writers. It’s good to remember to thank the team who helped you during the application process. People who took care of you, reviewed your statement of intent, and wrote you letters of reference.
Once you hear from the programs, make sure that you let your support team (friends, family, and your mentors) know that you got in or that you will be re-applying next year. I know that I appreciate the follow up emails. Also, remember that full-time tenure track faculty usually get paid a living wage and part of our expected duties includes mentoring and writing letters. However, the majority of faculty at universities are now contingent faculty who are exploited and are not paid a living wage–let alone paid to do this extra work. Many of these hard working colleagues write letters, mentor, and go above and beyond their job description. They are teaching work horses. This doesn’t mean that I like this or endorse it, but it is the sad reality of the two-tier system in higher education. Please remember to send them a thank you card, the coffee card or box of chocolates.
Good luck with the “waiting game.”
It is that time of year, before the term begins or before it gets really hairy…this is the perfect time for students to think about their grad school options. My words of advice is to be organized. Most students will approach faculty in October or later and this is when professors are writing lots of students letters of reference for graduate school. Be organized. You should hopefully have put together a list of schools that you’re going to apply to. Remember to include more than one school with this list! You should have a sure bet school, the programs you would really like, and then the dream options.
How can you make this application process easier?
1. Ask professors weeks before the letters are due.
2. Provide us all the information we need.
This includes~ Who, What, Where, and When, Fill out all necessary forms. Really organized students provide me a Word or Excel file with the schools, deadlines, and any additional information.
I ask for a copy of your letter of intent and cv/resume. I might even meet with you and ask what your motivation is for continuing your education.
3. Remind us. Send an email a few days before a due date.
4. Thank us. This can be an email or a note. It’s not necessary to do more. Remember that your tenure line faculty actually get paid to mentor and do things like write letters. Keep in mind that part-time faculty do not get compensated for this extra work. Remember to thank them profusely–a card, bottle of wine or a face to face thank you is nice.
Good luck with this process! And, remember this process is nerve wracking!