Apr 10 2014

Do you agree with your program’s research paradigm?

By under Opinion

This is semi-musing, semi-advice. When selecting a grad program, I wish I would’ve thought more about whether the body of research I am doing (or at the time, wanted to do) fits in with the research paradigm of my program. By paradigm, I’m talking about the work being produced, the beliefs re. methodology, the direction of research. I don’t know why it occurred to me yesterday, but I realized that I don’t fit into their paradigm. My research is very distinct from what I see from people in my program.

Is this important? When I further reflected upon it, I think I would’ve been better off in a program that has a similar paradigm. Some of the issues I observe or experience I think might stem from some basic paradigm beliefs. I feel good about my work, and I’m churning through it- but at the same time, I think about whether I’d feel significantly better, be better supported, and not have so many other issues. Grad school and research are challenging enough without issues that don’t need to exist.

If you are in the midst of selecting program, considering these issues regarding research are important.

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Apr 06 2014

Musing on inclusion work

I normally try to keep this blog on the lighter and more pleasant side of things, but this has been getting under my skin way too long.

I’ve mentioned working multiple committees, including one regarding diversity. I don’t even know how to articulate it, but I’m just disappointed in the work. I allude to some of it here  about “walking the walk.” If you claim diversity and teaching others to respect/value diversity is really top of your list of priorities, make it important. I’ve been struggling with this for awhile, and I’m not sure if it’s the passage of time, comments, or the time of year, but it bothers me a lot that people say one thing and do another. I’m offended and hurt that I hear the same people not only don’t do this work but also make excuses for others. As I relayed to a friend, there are plenty of issues I care about but couldn’t say I truly prioritize in my work or life.

To be quite blunt, most of the things this committee is doing are for show. The way I approach my teaching and life isn’t about accolades or keeping up appearances. I’ve talked about intrinsic reward, and I believe that’s what we should strive for. Having values isn’t about recruiting x type of students or faculty or doing other things for show. To me, this work must be reflexive and something you just do. I’m not saying it’s easy, because I know I have my share of prejudices and ignorance, but it’s necessary.

Because this is dealing with education, I feel particularly disappointed by all of this. I also feel like there isn’t a lot I can do. I want to graduate soon. I am not faculty or a dean, and even then, I’m sure what can be done. Part of my concerns are the few things my subcommittee is doing (which I believe have the possibility of encouraging an intrinsic reward) will go by the wayside very soon. It makes the work seem pointless. What do you do in these situations?

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Mar 13 2014

Walking the Walk

By under Musings

I’ve been participating in a lot of discussions on a bunch of topics or for work. What I realized is that so many people don’t go through with what they believe in. They’ll talk a good game but at the end of the day, they’re not walking the walk. This is true about multiple things. Race/ethnic discussions, supporting events/programs, etc.

For some of this, I’ve been told that people need an incentive. One example is to incentivize the speaker advertising an event. These are the kind of events where it’s a labor of love on everyone’s part; there are people like me devoting considerable time to these events and not being paid. I don’t think people need to devote all their time, but at the same time, if the speakers really believe in the event/purpose and know how these events are, I think it wouldn’t be to much to ask them to help advertise. Even super famous bands help promote shows they’re playing.

I hear the excuse everyone is “busy.” I personally get a little offended, because it indirectly implies I am not. I have a very full plate: I’m an active part of multiple committees for various organizations, I mentor, I work a part-time job, I volunteer my services for several things around the university, and I’m doing dissertation work (writing and analyzing data) and trying to find a job. I’m not saying this brag or to make people feel bad that they’re not doing as much, but I’m saying this to explain why I’m offended.

This is more of a rant/complaint than anything, but the point is that I wish people would consider whether their actions line up with their beliefs.

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Feb 26 2014

Professional Societies: Get Involved Early

By under Musings

I’m still in recovery mode from a refreshing but tiring 3.5 day trip for a professional physics society committee I serve on. Apparently, I never wrote being elected to a committee last year. I think it was just a stressful time for me at that point.

Being elected to a committee (one on grad students) comes with its share of responsibilities. I tend to be someone who takes elected positions seriously, so I try to get involved and be actually involved; some people try to be involved with things only on paper, which I find to be incredibly poor form. Anyway, my involvement has allowed me to be the liaison for a committee on women in physics. Because I have been fairly active, I was able to go to a meeting that was sort of the “state of the union” for the greater society.

While I can’t emphasize enough how tired I am (work didn’t cease, as I was greeted with a text message from my boss when I arrived at the meeting and had a phone conversation with him on Sunday), it was rewarding to attend this meeting. One of the reasons I ran for an elected position was because I was curious about the greater physics society. I’m really glad I joined, because my respect and admiration has increased. There is always something indescribably wonderful to be around people who are working on causes greater than themselves and are more than likely never going to be rewarded or honored for this work. They’re doing the work for something beyond themselves, not for ego or money.

Coming back from the weekend, I realized how important it is for young folks to get involved in committees. While I’m rapidly approaching 30, I still am considered young and am certainly young in my career path. Besides the feel good aspects and working on something important, there are other good things that are a little more- selfish (I use selfish loosely and not as a judgment). I learned a lot about funding issues, open access, and open data. These are important for anyone in academia. These meetings also provide ample opportunities to make connections in one’s professional network. Being involved with a committee or two has meant I have met a lot of scientists; I learned a lot about fields and job paths. For me, it isn’t so readily applicable but I can bring this info back to my friends who are in physics. My involvement with everything I have done at my university or through various organization has translated over to practical skills; I know how to organize a conference, for instance. Skill development is certainly low on my list of reasons to get involved, but I also can’t deny that I haven’t benefited from participating in various organizations.

I thoroughly recommend becoming involved whatever professional society/societies interests you. One can gain so much, and I really love being in a room where everyone cares enough to volunteer their time and is doing amazing work to benefit a greater good. It sounds so cheesy, but that’s one of the reasons I take out time to work with these organizations. Even if you’re young, I think it is so worthwhile to become involved.

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Feb 25 2014

Picking your grad school/program: A Nuanced Guide

By under Opinion

With all of my experiences in grad school (unfortunately, not all positive), readings on grad experiences, and application acceptances are starting to roll in, I thought I’d write a small guide that expands on a previous post. My previous guide wasn’t bad, mind you, but it isn’t complete. Not saying this guide will be 100% complete, but it provides more- nuanced perspectives than the other one. With that said, here are more tips to how to pick a program.

  • What is the experiences like of students who are similar to you? Most, if not all, guides recommend that prospective students talk to current students. I strongly suggest that you take it a step further and talk to students who are similar to you. This can be race, gender, sexuality, social class, occupation, etc. You can typically ask on a message board anonymously for the ones that aren’t so obvious. I bring this up, because these factors can matter. The white male student may have a different experience than the white female student who has a different experience from the Latina female student. I know of instances where one would hear two very different stories, depending on who is asked. Even when we don’t consider race, occupations matter too. Some programs are very supportive of part-time students while others not so much.
  • How many faculty members are interesting to you? Faculty members retire, leave the school, die, lose funding, have too many students, or you don’t get along with them. For pretty much all of the above, I’ve had friends who have had those situations happen. It’s important to have other options available to you.
  • What is the departmental/university culture like? Grad school is a work environment and one in which you spend many, many hours. Make sure the culture gels with you. Culture includes how you socialize (or not) and attitudes. Is this an environment where they will work to teach you how to do research, or are the professors looking for a person who knows what s/he is doing already and are essentially getting a piece of paper, versus gaining skills? And again, consider how demographic aspects affect that. Certain department and university cultures are very inclusive of some people and not so inclusive of others.
  • Where is the department/university going? Programs in every field have ideas of what kind of reputation and image they want. The administration will typically invest money in the programs accordingly, from providing research funding to whom they hire to whom they admit as students. In the context of education, if your school typically supports people trying to become teachers and then they shift over to focusing more on research, this changes the culture in many ways. I have had friends who have felt that they are not as well supported by their advisors because of conflicting career paths.
  • What do policies look like for women/LGBTQ students/etc.? Policies aren’t perfect, by any means, but they do give some indication on values of the program/university. Additionally, women who become pregnant can be very much affected by this policies.
  • Is the program producing students who have career paths similar to what you want?  PhDs and master’s are not one size fits all. Some programs are training their students to become researchers in academia, others in industry, and others don’t have a path. Find out the value of your prospective degree before you sign on.

This is a brief guide, and one I hope is helpful. Are there any other points that are important?

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Feb 18 2014

iPad Air for Academia

By under Review

One of the reasons my blogging has taken a backseat again is because I am doing all of the following:

  • Research/writing the dissertation
  • Teaching a class
  • Serving on two APS committees
  • Serving on one committee at my university
  • Misc. volunteering at the university or elsewhere
  • Working as an assistant for STEM education initiatives

The last position is new and means a bit more money in my pocket. After months of consideration, I went to get an Apple iPad Air. I love my ereader, but annotating image PDFs on it is challenging. I also wanted something to carry around at conferences to quickly respond to email. Typing on my phone isn’t impossible but it is cumbersome.

I haven’t had the iPad very long, but it has proven itself quite useful. I use a program called iAnnotate to annotate papers; it can access Dropbox, which is useful because that’s where I store papers. For teaching, it serves as a second monitor. I can have my notes up on the iPad and use my laptop to scroll through our discussion papers. It’s a small thing, but it actually is nice to do this rather than flip through windows.

As it is now, the iPad won’t serve as a computer replacement for me. However, it has some really good uses.

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Feb 13 2014

Professionalism and Personal Relationships

By under Teaching

This has been weighing on my mind for this entire week, and I’d love feedback if anyone has it.

An issue at work has arisen where a student is afraid of mentioning discomfort in a situation because s/he knows the person is friends with the supervisor. I am outsider to this, in that I am not the student, person the student has issues with, or the supervisor. However, I am tangentially involved and trying to make the most of things for the student. Please not that no one is in any kind of danger (that I would report), but it’s sort of personal conflict issue.

The situation has me thinking about how to encourage students to speak up when they’re genuinely unhappy with a situation. I have encouraged the student to speak up, but s/he feels uncomfortable because of knowing the existing relationship between the supervisor and the other person. I don’t know how strong the friendship between the supervisor and the other person is, but I can see how it is uncomfortable. The questions for me are not only what should we do about this particular situation, but also what can I (or any of us, really) do to prevent these tricky situations from arising?

We can’t expect people not to have friends with their professional contacts. Friendships develop, and it isn’t a bad thing. In the the best situations, that can help foster community and a warm environment. I remember one of my favorite things about my undergraduate physics department was that the faculty and staff felt like a family. I think it helps make the environment feel less like business. However, in situations like these, people can fear offending someone (which is what I suspect is the student’s perspective) or retaliation (I hear rumors of these fears but have never witnessed them myself- not saying that is doesn’t happen).

I think about how in my life, I try to speak positively of those I introduce to one another. Some of these are just like little introductions, some of these are really to develop good working relationships. The reason I speak so positively of those involved is to get everyone excited (sometimes, there is fear) and to let people know that they matter and decisions were made for optimal matches. I don’t want to create an environment where people feel afraid to speak up if situations don’t work out. How to create that environment where it is warm and personal but can be objective?

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Jan 25 2014

Groupwork/leadership styles

By under Musings

I’ve been thinking about this for the past week or so, but I haven’t reached any “conclusions.”

At the university, I’ve noticed there seems to be primarily two types of group dynamics when it comes to projects. One is where people ask what needs to be done or what they should do. The other is where people just take on tasks without discussing it with the rest of the group. Sometimes, they even complete tasks before they inform the other people in the group they’re going to do x task.

I fall into the former category, of discussing things versus just taking things over. Why? Because I want to make sure I’m not re-inventing the wheel or stepping on someone else’s toes. I’ve been in situations, either from my perspective or from someone else’s perspective, where the work was unnecessarily done twice or that someone was miffed because they were planning on doing something and someone else just did it (the other person would’ve been better, too). I tend to be a planner, too, and I feel like having a plan is one of the best uses of time. When I’ve been in charge of groups, I know what tasks are at hand. I then tend to delegate tasks or urge people to select things to do. I’m not opposed to being assertive or others being assertive, but I like to create a group dynamic where we are a group working together. I tend to be a believer in ensuring everyone has something to do that is to their abilities and is important; in taking things over style, I don’t feel like it fosters a long-term positive group dynamic.

However, I’ve been noticing that on some of the projects, it seems like the leadership just expects people to do do the latter, just do things without asking. I personally do not understand that type of group work style. Besides the above problems, I also have seen that it is more inefficient. Work has to be re-done because of the doer not knowing the details. Occasionally, inaccurate information goes out and that has be corrected. This can be hideously confusing to others. Am I missing something about this more free-for-all group work expectation? The only benefit I can see is that it allows the leader to to be less organized, because tasks are realized on the fly and they expect things to be completed (or will complete them themselves).

One response so far


Jan 16 2014

Working Hard

The past two weeks have been very productive, but they’ve also been filled with activity. My boss from last year hired me as a grad assistant to work on STEM education things around the university. It isn’t so much a learning curve, just a lot to do.

I’ve been hammering away at research. Despite the remarkable things computers can do, there are still some tasks (transcribing dialogue, for instance) that are best left to humans. Recently, I remarked to a friend that I spend about 12 hours a day working on average. However, I know I need to do something more relaxing every now and again. I’m going to start blogging again.

Even without the extra projects, times like these are when I really do believe in the advice I give re. grad school: you better be in grad school for something you enjoy or are really dedicated to the end goal. I don’t mind the work. In fact, I enjoy it. I always tell others that unlike when I was in physics, I wake up pretty much every morning feeling my work has meaning. This is with other issues that have occurred in grad school for me.

Those are my late night ramblings for now!

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Dec 31 2013

End of 2013

By under Goals

This month/end of semester has been more difficult than I realized, hence the lack of updates. The pressures of school, the general holiday season (I have no family), and just other life stresses made for a perfect storm of difficulty.

I hope you all have amazing New Year’s (or are already having amazing 2014s), and hopefully, this upcoming year is full of good things for me.

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