Break? What break? Don’t you know I’m a grad student?

It’s hard to believe Winter Break is nearly at an end. Like most graduate students I use the term “break”  rather loosely. Contrary to popular perception, the life of a graduate student is a far cry from the life of an undergraduate. Graduate students have a much larger workload, never really have nights and weekends “off,” and are forced to constantly assess and reassess the value of their endeavors to their field of choice. Throw in the heart palpitation-inducing issue of the current job market and the highly competitive atmosphere surrounding funding, and you’ve got a recipe for a pretty stressful lifestyle — unless, that is, one learns the importance of balance and adopts habits that serve as healthy stress valves. Readers familiar with my blog know I personally look to regular exercise, meditation, and family time to center myself, but I’ve also discovered that work itself can exert a calming influence.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve shifted into full-time comprehensive exam preparation mode and it’s been a relief to do so. It was difficult to establish a regular routine of comp preparation in the Fall semester since I was (1) gone nearly the entire month of September on a whirlwind of back-to-back travel that included the Bosch Archival Seminar for Young Historians, (2) was working as a teaching assistant in an area outside my discipline, and (3) was responsible for teaching three recitation sections each week on top of the standard t.a. grading responsibilities. Winter Break, while not a genuine “break,” has nonetheless allowed me to realign my history mojo and return my focus to my personal goals. Spending time out of one’s regular routine (and particularly away from campus life every now and again) can be very beneficial to re-recognizing the importance of long-term goals over day-to-day responsibilities.

Daily life will always bring interruptions and distractions. Meetings will demand your time, grading will demand your attention, students will need your help, the kitchen floor must still be mopped every now and then, your spouse might wreck the car, family members could pass away, friends may encounter crisis. But, as you enter the New Year, take some time once in a while to “do you.” Remember why you do what you do and center yourself around what you need to do to accomplish your goals. Be a little more selfish with your time when you can, visit your family, don’t overcommit, take care of yourself, be kind, don’t worry so much about what others think, don’t let the unkindness of others ruin your day, and recognize that imbalance will always come back to bite you eventually.

Next week, I’ll post on some of my strategies for preparing for comps. Have a happy and healthy New Year.

“The Job Interview,” UNL History Department Workshop Notes

Below are my notes from the UNL History Department’s workshop for graduate students on the subject of the academic job interview. It was one of my favorite workshops of the semester and included a lot of specific insight into the interview process at community colleges, small liberal arts colleges, and research one universities. I’ve included links to profiles of the panelists when possible.

Department Workshop: “The Job Interview,” 11/30/2012

Dr. Carole Levin introduces panelists: Joy Schultz of Metro Community College, Omaha; Meghan Winchell of Nebraska Wesleyan University; Timothy Elston of Newberry College, South Carolina; Katrina Jagodinsky of University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Joy Schultz, Metro Community College, Omaha:

  • job opening at Metro starting Monday, Dec. 3rd – requires 18 credit hours in the field to be an adjunct –> Schulz: great way to get teaching experience for your resume
    • Metro has 30,000 students across all campuses, 4 full-time history faculty – jobs more competitive now (more than 200 applications for 1 or 2 positions)
  • Pros of working at a community college: very student-oriented, full control over classroom (can go into context you are interested in/working on currently), small class sizes (10-35 students max), very flexible work schedule (evenings, weekends, online; standard schedule = 2x/week), can go very in-depth in your subject matter
    • emphasis on teaching and relationships with students (mentoring)
  • Cons: students of diverse backgrounds (16-60 years old), no academic requirements for entry into the course, heavy workload (18 credit hours/quarter – although sometimes same course twice + 2 online), time for research = very, very limited
  • personal relationships will help you make connections over time (adjuncting now helps with full-time interviewing later)
    • expect the interview to include a 20-minute teaching demonstration –> demonstrate range of teaching methods (for audience of diverse backgrounds) and use of technology in the classroom

Meghan Winchell, Nebraska Wesleyan University:

  • phone interviews = “tricky,” almost a separate topic from AHA interviews
  • research not just about the school you are interviewing for – prove to yourself and to them that you can live happily in the town the school is in (Winchell also thinks this helps build a personal connection right away)
  • Tips: small schools are looking for teachers (“jack of all trades” – SO also advises to get a lot of teaching experience now and come to interview with syllabi, teaching statement, teaching evaluations); be sure your courses are different from the faculty where you are applying
    • be prepared to meet with everyone at a small school (because everyone will talk about you); have fun and be personable
    • Winchell says sometimes it’s okay/appropriate to ask about the schools for kids if you have them or things related to your hobbies

Timothy Elston, Newberry College:

  • small liberal arts colleges (e.g. Newberry College = 1,100 students); faith-based colleges looking at starting good programs in teaching
  • these colleges often include students in the interview process (this matters); understand the accrediting agency that the college is responsible to (need to prove accreditation in areas you are teaching)
  • try to give the impression you are happy with everything about the college and will get along with everyone
  • get access to a faculty manual (many small liberal arts colleges don’t offer tenure – only 3 or 6 year contracts); teaching is #1 (service to college and town important too); beware the administrative assistants (they can make or break you)
    • perk = tuition exchange (for kids)
  • you will interview with everyone, take them all seriously – are you a good fit? (input from variety of perspectives)
  • Newberry College putting an ad out for U.S. History soon

Katrina Jagodinsky, University of Nebraska-Lincoln:

  •  echoes advice to “bulk up” on teaching experience while obtaining the PhD
  • Jagodinsky was on the job market for 2 years and applied to everything (especially community colleges in regions she wanted to live in) – says 1st year apply for everything; 2nd year apply in a more targeted way
  • interviews at research one universities: dissertation should be finished (or nearly finished) AND should be able to discuss your next project (to show you can achieve tenure)
    • demonstrate an ability to teach for both undergraduates and graduate students, balance service with teaching (service for networking – illustrates dedication and enthusiasm; CAN discuss your experience in a grad student organization or other committee work)
    • be sure to come off as positive and energetic
    • the job talk is emphasized but will have teaching demonstrations too, meetings with both administration and students
      • do NOT read your job talk (it’s about 45 minutes and should be strategic, not comprehensive coverage, high image, low text powerpoint)
      • be prepared for some people in your audience to be uninterested in what you have to say (based on faculty interest and your contribution to the department)
      • explain what phase your dissertation is in, what course you will teach with it, specify where you hope to publish it and how (specific presses, books or article series), demonstrate ability to recruit undergrads to your courses and into the department)
    • ask meaningful questions of the faculty – what is their experience with committees, chairs, diverse students, any other problems you’ve faced; illustrate desire and ability to organize workshops, symposiums (show off your networking)
    • re-emphasizing need to be positive: don’t appear tired, think of how others are feeling even when you are stressed out, nervous, and tired –> think of the interview as much easier than the job you are about to take on
    • graduate student meetings – demonstrate ability to fill a mentorship role, let them talk about themselves
    • ask tough questions of deans and administrators – tenure rate, department strategic plan, areas for improvement, opportunities for faculty research funding, diversity on campus re: faculty and students, benefit questions (here Jagodinsky says it is “safe” to tip your hand about kids, marriage)
    • wear suit to job talk, 2 other dressy outfits for rest of visit
    • be positive and humble (others are there to help you be better); know how you’ll fit within the department – know who the faculty are, what they study, and ask them good questions to show you care and are serious