I want to be a resourceful professor

I want to be a resourceful professor

As a professor teaching a class my best classes have been those that allowed me to focus on my interests, or to find my interests and dig deep into them. This may be different between undergrad and graduate students: undergraduate students need breath, while graduate students need depth. By reflecting on my experiences, I will describe my preferred courses/ professors. I will write this as the professor that I would work on being.

 

1.     Assignments – Modules – Projects

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I want to craft modules, projects, and assignments for my students so that each module – a series of assignments which culminate into a project – results in the development of skills, ideas, critical readings, and writings on a topic or area within that study module. For each module, my students will learn a new skill, tool, or technique. The benefit of doing this, is that my students can use these “projects” as prior work, or the beginning of ideas and inquiries for papers, conference presentations, symposia, proposals, and their portfolio. It should be meaty enough – theoretical background, readings, reflections, assignments showing technical skills – that they develop comprehensive understanding and application of skills.

2.     Technical Work versus Reading Assignments

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In one particular course, I would get approximately 3 papers to read each week. Our assignments involved writing critical reflections and preparing for in-class discussions and assignments. In each class, we went deep into the literature, discussed what it meant to each of us, and its contributions to our work. In another course, the professor would throw a lot of readings at us. They were dense and writing assignments were time consuming. During class, because of the many dense readings, my knowledge of the readings remained at the surface level. There was never enough time to go deep because there was so much to cover. I do not think this latter example is a good approach to teaching/ learning text. When it comes to developing technical skills (drawing, programming, interviewing, calculations, equations), I say open the firehose, you learn by doing a lot of them! But, it’s not the same for reading since the brain needs time to absorb what is read, chew on it, reflect on it, figure out what it means, what it might mean, and how it might be used. Projects and technical skills – give many assignments. Readings and writing – include time for reflections and mental mastication. Assign just enough readings so that minds can be challenged, but no too much so that readers are unable to go deep into the literature.

 

3.     Read with your Graduate Student

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When working with my graduate students, I want to improve their command of the literature, and their critical reading skills. I want to give them literature to critically read and to respond to. After they have read and written critically and reflectively on them, I will discuss it with them. What were the main points of the work, what new did you learn, how was the paper structured, what were the contributions of the papers, and how might it inform your work? I will ask them these questions. I will ask what readings they found while reading the paper. Papers always have a bibliography, so it would be practice for them to develop a library of works around their topic or interest. I will ask, from the papers you have read, what 3 other papers referenced interest you?

 

4.     List of Conference and Journals

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As a professor, you should be familiar with the conferences and journals in your field. I will have a list of conferences and journals in my field, and specific area of study ready for my students. I will encourage my students to write papers from their classes to submit to these conferences. Feedback is always a good thing. It’s a good thing to deploy your ideas and get feedback on them, as well as practice writing a paper. Believe me, every time I write a paper, I feel like I am learning how to write again for the first time. Not in a frustrating and discouraging way, but in a way that I have accepted. In order to be a good writer, you always need to keep looking at good writing. You start over every time, but not as far as you were before. And because you start over, you get in the flow, and become focused on what you say and how you say it. If you can afford to become sloppy in your writing, maybe you should not be doing it. It takes a lot of work, but is extremely rewarding.

 

5.     Know who and what’s happening at your Institution

July 11, 2016: Apple Music’s Marketing Executive Bozoma Saint John poses for a portrait at Apple Music Headquarters in Culver City, California.
July 11, 2016: Apple Music’s Marketing Executive Bozoma Saint John poses for a portrait at Apple Music Headquarters in Culver City, California.

I want to be the professor who knows the resources available at my institution. I want to be the professor who is in the know! This includes:

a)     Professors in my department;

b)    Professors in other departments for potential collaborations or assistance;

c)     Professors in other schools for collaborations;

d)    Professors in other countries for collaborations;

e)     Study abroad and exchange programs;

f)      Grant calls so that students can apply for funding;

g)     Competitions;

h)    Other departments in your College, School, and University;

i)      A list of courses in other departments that compliment your program or area;

j)      Associations and organizations that may support your work;

k)     Research opportunities;

l)      Institutional resources and how they work – writing help, counseling, etc.;

m)   How the fucking department and admin works: Dates to register for classes, graduate school requirements, IRB requirements, patent and copyright offices and/ or rules, who to go to for financial help or opportunities such as on campus jobs or paid research opportunities.

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What kind of Ph.D. Advisor do you want?

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I have been thinking about this question more than ever lately, “What kind of Advisor do I want? What qualities am I looking for when it comes to choosing my PhD Advisor?” I decided to jot down my thoughts on this, so that I can refer to them when needed, and/ or share them with others.

In a few words my Advisor must be a mentor. I don’t need to say a good one, do I? Let me repeat that, my Advisor must be a good mentor who stands by me, and prepares me to be a successful researcher and educator.

Imagine that you are preparing for your oral defense, thesis defense, conference, or some other big presentation. As you read the two situations I present below, I encourage you to note how you feel while reading this. Whatever emotions, fears, and concerns emerge as you imagine yourself in these situations might be a good guide to knowing who you want around you during your Ph.D.

Situation 1: During your time under the care of your Advisor, s/he has been writing papers with you, and working on research projects together. These activities allow you to get to know each other, learn how each person works, their strong points, and areas in which they are not so strong. You are professional with each other – no need to be involved in each other’s personal lives. In fact, I would recommend that you ALWAYS keep a professional line between you and your professor, no matter how warm and fantastic they may be. I will tell you why in another post. Your advisor reads your dissertation and gives you good feedback on it. S/he works with you on preparing you for the presentation. You present for him/her and s/he gives you critical feedback to prepare you. Before your presentation on that important day, s/he meets or emails you letting you know you got this! Building your confidence and letting you know – without saying it – that s/he has your back. During the presentation s/he is engaged, paying attention to everything you say, and giving you that nod of affirmation that things are going well. If you mess up, his/her look lets you know that it’s okay. After your presentation s/he manages questions by the audience. Should someone’s question or critique of your work go outside the boundaries of the work or becomes unprofessional, s/he gives you the opportunity to defend yourself. You will have to continuously have to defend your work throughout your career, so getting good on this is a good skill to have. You have to know the boundaries of your work. Should someone seem to have ulterior motives in their questions or critique of you or your work, you defend your work. Should the critique be going on for more than desired, preventing others from participating, your Advisor shuts this person down and proceeds with others in the audience.

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Situation 2: You have sent your draft of your presentation or document about 3-4 weeks ago and as yet s/he have not gotten back to you. After emailing him/her several times, s/he finally reply apologizing for not getting back to you, giving you  little to no feedback, OR, giving you so many comments that you just don’t have the time to address them. The comments are not very constructive, and seems to even address matters that your work is not meant to address. The forgetful Advisor – be wary of this Advisor – I will write on this in another post. On the day of your presentation s/he arrives late appearing unconcerned, or disheveled, totally adding to your anxiety. During your presentation, s/he makes faces that confuse you. You are not sure if s/he are confused, if you are unclear, or if their minds are on something other than your work. Or, the Advisor is on his/ her phone for most of your presentation. After your presentation, your Advisor opens up the floor for questions. While you are being asked questions, she is on his computer, or outside the room chatting. When someone is critiquing your work beyond the point of constructive or within the boundaries of your work, s/he sits mum. S/he says and does nothing to manage this person and the presentation, both of which have now strayed, in fact, they are nodding in agreement with asinine questions and comments.

 

Which Advisor do you want? Most persons will pick the first Advisor, I am almost certain, or they should. Before you get to this stage there are warning signs that we all need to be aware of, because I am almost certain NO ONE goes in search of the second type of Advisor. Your PhD is not supposed to be years of pain. It will be tough, but it is not supposed to be harmful to your health, psyche, or emotions. As you go along the process, keep your wits sharp about who you choose to be your Advisor. They can make you, and they can break you!

 

While you think of this, think too about the kind of Advisor you want to be. Do not be a dick Advisor! It would be a shame to be mentored by a great Advisor and end up being an asshole. I know persons who were mentored by great people and ended up being dicks, so having a good Advisor doesn’t mean you will be a good one either. Make a conscious effort to groom yourself and train yourself to be an Advisor worthy of praise and respect from your students and your colleagues.

This shit is already hard, don’t make it harder than it should be.

No summer for you!.. well, not really

Woohoo!!! Summer!!!! NOPE! So, what’s summer like when you’re working on your Ph.D? Yes, school kids have a lovely vacation during the summer months, but we are no longer kids. We work in education and research, but long gone are summer vacations.

During the summer, most Ph.D’s are doing two or more of the following:

  1. Writing/ working on papers
  2. Reading
  3. Attending conferences
  4. Working on experiments/ projects
  5. Fieldwork/ Research
  6. Writing grant proposals
  7. Taking a break when they can
  8. Spending more time with family
  9. Drinking
  10. Netflix, TV, etc.
  11. Doing some exciting shit!

During the summer months, a Ph.D. can get a lot of work done. You have no classes or teaching assignments and you can really get the mental space you need to focus, think, dream, and actually work. The weather is lovely and being inside sucks, but if you get the opportunity, you can work (write) outside. That’s what I love about the Ph.D., as long as I am not required to be in my lab, I can take my work anywhere with me.

During the summer months (June/ July/ August), most conferences take place. So time will be spent either fleshing out that long abstract that you submitted weeks or months ago. Oh yes, months ago, so you now have to figure out, “What the fuck did I write?” While cursing your way through responding to the reviewers, you will absolutely enjoy spending time with your thoughts and submitting a great paper to that conference. If the conference is in  a beautiful location – which most of them are – that too will motivate you to getting that shit done.

You may be using your summer to travel to your sites for fieldwork and data collection. For those whose sites are in other parts of the country, or other parts of the world, this means that the latter part of your Spring semester will involve packing and preparing for your trip. This can add some anxiety to your Spring semester. Bear that in mind. Pack all the shit you need, and most importantly, get your IRB approval done early – I will talk about this in another post.

Whether you are doing fieldwork on-site or working in your office, make time to do some exciting shit during the summer. I believe everyone should come back from the summer break with at least one great story! Make it happen! The Ph.D. is a very lonely process – I will write about this later too – so spend all the time you can with your family and friends. You need it. You may not think that you do, but you do, you need it. Use the time to find yourself again and attend to your health (mentally, physically, emotionally).

Enjoy your summer! Get work done, go to that conference in that awesome location, enjoy the outdoors, and spend time with those you love. Your summer will be fantastic!

Link to one of my favorite academic books – Becoming an Academic Writer by Patricia Goodson

For all intents and purposes

I read an article yesterday, and it had me thinking a lot. It had me thinking about Plan B’s and C’s should this Ph.D. thing not work out. When I say “not work out,” I mean, should I wake up one day and decide, “Fuck this shit!”, or decide that I no longer want to be in academia, that I still have something else that I can go to, that I enjoy, that I can make a living from.

In this blog I attempt to document and reflect on my journey through the Ph.D. process. I will share my ups, downs, and the fucking bullshit that comes along with it. I will share the realizations I have had, and the lessons I have learned. I will be as honest as I can.

Here is a link to the article >>>