Five quick tips for a new semester



It’s that time again.

The Targets and Walmarts of the country are filled with shoppers holding lists of school supplies, once vacant college towns are jammed with traffic, and summer research projects are coming to a close. It’s time to get in gear for the 2017-2018 school year.

Are you ready?

Like many academics and teachers….I’m a back to school nerd. I love shopping for office supplies, I love pencils, I love new notebooks and I love fresh starts. I think this is one of the most beautiful things about life in academia, while in most jobs you keep moving forward, there’s often not a clear delineation, there’s often not the excitement of a new year, new faces, new starts. I appreciate that I get that excitement at least once a year.

But back to school means more than shiny new office supplies. It means a new chance to be your best self. Your best research self, your best teacher self, your best academic self. Here are some quick tips on how I try to start the semester off to reach my goals.

Five tips for a new semester:

  1. Get organized – Get a paper planner, use Evernote, use Trello, something. Make sure you have a way to organize your day, your week, your semester. Something beyond post-it notes. Make sure you’re able to look ahead, and go ahead and outline what is coming up for the next month. The more organized you can make things, the less stress you will have later in the semester.
  2. Make a schedule – More on how I write my schedule in this blog post, but overall, it’s good to have a plan, even if most of your day is devoted to research or devoted to teaching, plan to protect your research/writing time, plan some time for moving around during the day, plan some time for project work, and then stick to the plan.
  3. Make a reading plan – Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega has some great tips on how to keep up with the reading that is important for your class and your career. Check out his blog here.
  4. Set a student-related goal – If you are in academia, you’re here because of and for students. At the end of the day, no matter your research agenda, research dollars, role as an administrator or as a maintenance worker, you’re here for the students. What’s your goal for students this year? If you’re in the classroom, that’s easy, set a goal of learning everyone’s name by the end of the month. If you’re an administrator, or a researcher or someone who doesn’t often interface with students, make a goal to say hi to students in the hallway, make a goal to meet 3 students this semester. Build bridges with someone new. Welcome the students to our institution. It’s theirs now too. Set at least one goal devoted towards them.
  5. Clean your office – I know this seems simple but when is the last time you cleaned out that filing cabinet, or cleaned off that shelf? What is even up there on top of the book case? Take some time during the day, or maybe come in on the weekend if you don’t want to be seen standing on your chair in the middle of the day, but take an hour and some disinfecting wipes…and clean things off. You’ll feel better in a clean and organized space and it’s better for your health too.

Good luck with the new semester, your research goals, and the traffic! I hope these tips help you have a productive and less stressful start to the new school year.


5 Tips for a New Semester | ProjectsHalfDone.jpg

What are your tips for heading back for a new semester? Are you a back to school junkie or do you dread this time of year? Let me know in the comments.


Advising Matters

       (I steal things from google images)

Social media and events at a Georgia university have recently sparked a conversation about advising practices. If you missed out, just go on over to twitter and search #itsbiggerthanKSU.

At first I wanted to be on the side of the faculty. They couldn’t seriously be turning away a student who had made an appointment. Right?? Ok so maybe he didn’t have an appointment and just wanted to wait to see someone? Maybe the student had said something off camera that was perceived as harassing to the faculty?? I went through all the possibilities.

And then I went to Twitter. The evidence (if we are counting social media as evidentiary support) there suggests this is an ongoing issue. A huge issue. How can our students be successful if all they hear is “I don’t have time for you”?

I thought back on my own experiences as an advisee. At one institution I attended I had basically the same experience as these students. I was assigned to an advisor (this person rotated, I don’t think I saw the same advisor twice) and I was to show up for a 10 minute appointment once a semester to have my class sheet signed. I remember once asking for help in deciding which classes were appropriate for my future goals and the advisor at the time telling me “Well, you should probably take something” and signing my form as they dismissed me. I’m not even sure it was filled out.

I’ve often wondered if I would have a different career path if I had had better advising. I think at the very least I would have gotten where I am a lot quicker. I spent two years between my bachelors and masters just taking random classes at a different institution because I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what I could do with my bachelors in Biology.

Thankfully in graduate school I have had several wonderful advisors and mentors that were willing to take their time to meet with me over the years, both in my masters and doctoral programs. I found overall that the university I attended for graduate school was more supportive of its students than my undergraduate institution. Advising, academic assistance, and other student services were heavily advertised and encouraged. I think some of this is due to leadership within the university and some of it is the culture of the faculty and staff.

Overall I think that graduate students tend to have much better advising experiences than undergraduates, which is sad. Students should be supported throughout their academic career, period. In some cases, advising for undergraduates has been relegated to computer systems! How is this helping our students when they have actual questions? Sadly, the tenure process does not place much emphasis on advising and therefore not all professors see the importance in spending time working with students one on one.

I am (thankfully) involved in a program designed to prepare future faculty for their teaching roles and an emphasis is placed on advising. We invite in guest speakers that have been recognized for excellence in advising, we discuss advising issues, and stress the importance of helping our students, both graduate and undergraduate. I realize I am fortunate to have this experience, but shouldn’t more faculty be prepared to advise and assist students? Shouldn’t we be going into this career path assuming we will need to help our students out and make time for them?

College life comes with a barrage of choices as well as complications. Students may jump in to a course that is too difficult, or become distracted by extracurriculars. Advisors are the front line of defense to help a struggling student. They are the ones that are notified when a student is falling behind in class. Advisors are responsible for helping that student correct their course and find success. We need to reward and celebrate the advising aspect of the university system. Often students are not sure what classes to take, what their future opportunities are, or how to reach their goals. Advisors play a vital role in not just answering questions, but encouraging students to pursue their academic goals. If we want quality graduates, then we need to provide our students with quality advising.

We were all students once. We need to remember what it was like to have a poor advisor…and do better by our future students.

So how do we fix this? I think the first step is for the university leadership to emphasize the importance of advising. Encourage advising training for faculty, provide support when faculty aren’t sure how to advise students. Prove that advising matters to the university. This also means increasing the importance of advising in the P&T packet. As (future) faculty we have to take it upon ourselves to emphasize the importance of advising if there is not an existing supportive culture. You might be the only one spending their time this way at first, but it will be worth it in the long run. Who knows, you could find your next research assistant by taking a few minutes to meet with a student. At the very least you’ll probably keep yourself off of youtube and out of the spotlight.

Reasons TO Go to Grad School

So you want to go to grad school….

So you want to be broke.

Really broke.

So you want to hear all those 100 reasons NOT to get a PhD.

Have you READ the Chronicle lately?? According to 70% of their articles, this grad school thing is a waste of time. My chances of getting a professorial job are slim to none.

Then I remember when I swore I would never take another job that required me to clean a bathroom ever again.

Then I remember how much I value education.

Then I look at my fiance who took the first job he could to move up here with me. I think about his job which doesn’t require a degree although he has one (three). I think about his last job working with troubled youth that got him hit in the face with a 2×4. I think about the fact that right now, even though he’s upper level management, he hasn’t been able to come home in days because of the weather and he has to write his employees up for not coming in even though we are in a state of emergency. He feels like crap. He doesn’t agree with it. He’s not happy. He’s barely getting by. Thankfully once I graduate we should both be able to apply for jobs that fit with our degrees…or at least one of us can.

I don’t want that to be me.

Do I want to make a decent amount of money? Of course

Do I want to get an amazing tenure-track position? Who doesn’t? (Ok my fiance doesn’t. His problem.)

Will I? Maybe. It’s not impossible.

But if I don’t? Was grad school still worth it?


I’ll still KNOW I’m highly educated…and this matters to me. A lot. More than anything, this is personal. For a lot of reasons, I need to prove this to myself. (Basically why my fiance went to school…his degree is kind of useless…but he knew that going in.)

I’ll find a job. Even if I go back to teaching high school. That still doesn’t require me to clean a bathroom. Is it my dream job? No. But it’s A job.

I won’t have to clean bathrooms.

I’ll be more likely to be in control of my career path.

Will I be in debt? Yeah. Who isn’t? (Ok…again my fiance isn’t. Don’t ask how he managed a PhD without D-E-B-T)

But WITH this PhD I will be more capable of achieving my dream job. I’ll be able to at the very least say that I have published research. At the least I will be a step closer to becoming a professor, researcher, and evaluator. I will be more in control of my career and my life. I won’t have to be miserable every day at my job. I will have a chance at a career. Why does it seem like everyone is SO against people pursuing their dream careers? Why does every article discourage the pursuit of the PhD? What’s with making this all seem so hopeless? I mean I get being realistic, but really, to say to every student that they can’t be a professor?? You managed to do it…and clearly you won’t be around forever. Someone will need to fill your shoes eventually (and I hope sooner rather than later).

I realize getting a PhD now isn’t as useful as it was 30, 20 or even 10 years ago. But I also realize a high school diploma is now next to worthless unless my career goals include golden arches. You can’t just tell people to stop going to grad school (Although really, most of you are saying that). Yes, there ARE too many PhD’s. But are all of them equal? Are all of them trying to become faculty? No and No. So someone has a chance. Someone can get that position. Or even if they don’t, aren’t they better off (yes, depending on their field they won’t be) with this degree than they were before? Aren’t they at least even proud?? And it’s not like you, writing those articles on how a PhD is a waste of time and money, have never wasted time or money on anything. Heck, that’s what most of us are best at.

So quit knocking people for getting a higher degree. Quit trying to pull them down. I’m not saying don’t be realistic, but just once in awhile, some encouragement wouldn’t kill you, would it?

How Will You Handle It?

Let’s talk a little bit, just a surface bit, about bullying in our classrooms.

As a former high school teacher (anyone sick of me bringing that up yet? I feel like I do it too much. Stop me if I do.) bullying was all over the place. We were trained on it in professional development, talked to our students about it, and so much more. But in the college realm, I haven’t heard a lot from my colleagues about it. Have you? What’s discussed? I’m curious.

My issue for this post is how do you handle it in your classroom? Let’s have an example, shall we?

Let’s pretend you have a small group of students, small enough that you know everyone by name and they all know each other…maybe a class of 20? And let’s say that you have one student, let’s call her Suzie, that is different. Maybe it’s her clothes, maybe it’s her hair, maybe it’s how she talks, but she looks different than your other students. And let’s say you notice your other students refuse to work in groups with her, she’s always the last picked, she’s always ignored or in some way shunned by the other classmates, or at least the majority. What do you do as the instructor? How do you encourage full grown adults to…be nice? How do you do it without singling out Suzie?? How do you ensure fairness in this situation? What do you do??

I still am not sure. I watched it happen in a course that thankfully wasn’t mine. I don’t know if I’m quite ready to deal with that kind of conflict. I think I could if I had to…and I did try to encourage students to model good behavior, even pulled a few aside to talk about the issue…but it’s still hard to tackle. It’s hard to know where the line is. They are adults, after all.

So how will you handle those tough situations? What tough ones have you seen? What concerns do you have about bullying in the college classroom? How do you model good behavior and encourage it without preaching about it all the time? How far does your involvement go?

Much to think about…

You’re Doing It Wrong

Or you’re at least not doing it the way my opinionated graduate student self thinks you should be doing it.

I’m talking about my professors. Or guest speakers. Or really anyone with whom I have an interaction at this point. I’m usually judging them. Between being trained to teach, trained to research, and trained to basically observe…the end result is that basically all I can do is judge. I’m sorry. I can’t stop it. It goes on in my head almost constantly. (To be honest, we all judge things, all day. Her outfit, his car, you do it. You know you do. I’m just saying…)

It’s the absolute worst in class though. Mainly because I’m a former educator, am working on research in education, am working on a PhD in education and am taking…hey…this GEDI class thing…I can’t shut the judgy brain off!! I evaluate my professors for the wait time they give after posing a question to the class. I consider how many higher level questions they ask and how much they lecture. Even if I’m not in their class anymore, I find myself reading or learning about a teaching strategy and thinking “Oh yeah, Dr. X did that technique!!” or “Ohhh Dr. Y was SO bad at that!”. It’s kind of awful. I don’t want to be judgy.  I don’t mean to be, but it’s in my head. I’m constantly thinking about your teaching if you’re teaching me. So if you’re one of my teachers and you’re reading this, sorry for my judgement of you. Sometimes it’s good though!! Sometimes I get ideas on how to do things. But sometimes…I’m fairly snarky. Especially if you commit some of the “cardinal sins” of teaching that I have devised in my head.

Let’s name a few:

  1. Thou shalt not ask a question only to almost instantly answer it yourself.
  2. Thou shalt not talk in a monotone for 3 hours.
  3. Thou shalt not wander off on a tangent for more than 3 minutes. Maybe 5 if it’s funny.
  4. Thou shalt not lecture for the entire 3 hour class.
  5. Thou shalt not hold a clear and evident disdain for all technology, including scholar, blackboard, etc.

Why am I so judgy?? It’s really not the most attractive of my qualities and thankfully I usually keep most of my judgements to myself, because really…I’m not that great of an instructor yet. Might not ever be, who knows. But it’s in my head. All my professors and papers put it there!!

It’s stuck now.

Swirling around like a vortex of judgy doom, just waiting to leap on the next person to stand in front of a room and open their mouth….

Looking Back

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a recovering high school teacher. The drive to teach to the test really burnt me out on teaching for the most part. State standardized or nation wide testing was the bane of my existence for 3 years. Now that I’m no longer tied down to a test, I’m working on re-thinking my teaching ideas.

There is a strong drive to avoid lecture, change up the classroom, use more inquiry based methods, problem based learning and the list goes on. All of these methods have pros and cons. I think for the most part I’ve got mixed feelings on most of them. In my view, they all have their place, but it’s definitely not an “all or none” situation. You can’t use lecture all the time and you can’t avoid it all the time. Same for the rest.

What is sparking my interest right now is the little things. So often I see little tips or tricks or ways to do something that I wish I had known when I was teaching high school. I find myself thinking “Oh that would have been great for my lesson on XYZ.” Sometimes I’ve even texted my former colleagues some of the ideas. I’m not sure if they get as excited as I do, but hopefully I can spread a little of what I’m learning on to others.

That’s what really matters, I think. Small changes that spread.

The Closer: Reflecting on Today’s Teaching

So we’ve all at least heard of that show The Closer? Yes? Ok good. I…need to channel her while teaching. I? Am horrid at closing lessons. I think that this stems partly from teaching high school. As a high school teacher I had a very set amount of time to get things done. I had it planned to a T, and I repeated myself 5 times a day, so by the last class of the day, I was AWESOME. And by the third year, practicing the same lesson roughly 15 times, I was epic. (Ok, I was probably an average teacher, but let me just have a happy moment, ok??)

But teaching college is a whole new animal. I’m not quite as confident, and the timing is much more flexible so it’s thrown me. With the courses I’m teaching, I have 7-10 students. I’m used to classes of 27, screaming, bubbling, hormonal, can’t sit still, high schoolers. TEN STUDENTS?!?!? *enter cricket chirping noises*

Yeah. So I need to work on planning for the time I have, the students I have, and most of all CLOSING my lessons. Summing things up, having an ending, getting to a point, having a take-home. SOMETHING. *channel Kyra Sedgwick, channel Kyra Sedgwick, channel Kyra Sedgwick*

Ok, I do SOMETHING, but….I never feel it’s GOOD. And it’s not just me. I’ve had peers evaluate me and it’s not just in my head (sometimes it’s good to do an external check, you never know what’s REAL, right qualitative people??), I do need to work on closure.

Today’s topic was Bloom’s Taxonomy and Learning Theories. I planned. I made a lesson plan (WHAT? Lesson plans for a college classroom? NO WAY!), I made a powerpoint to guide me and some fun games using Blooms. I read my readings (Oh, by the way, this is the class I TA with for my advisor. So I only teach when she’s gone or if I ask to lead the class, so the materials are mostly pre-determined but I do have the freedom to add in my own stuff.) and made some notes on them to help facilitate discussion if needed.

Overall, it went as planned. We started off choosing a partner to work with. I informed them that for a minute I was going to treat them like freshmen. I had them all (All 5 of them, WHOO) stand up and raise their right hand. They had to walk around the room and find someone with their hand up. When they had found a partner they put their hands down. Then I had them raise their left hand, separate from their current partner and find a new one. This works well if you have a class where you want to have students get in pairs or groups with different people each time. Once you do the “Right then Left” version, the next time you can have them just do “Right hand”. That way they don’t know how many times they will be switching partners and they can’t strategize to be with the ever-popular “smart kid” or their “BFF” in the class.

Once partnered, I did a game with post-it notes and Bloom’s Taxonomy and although it went well for the first 5-10 minutes, once I was going over all the verbs (I only did around 30) I realized it was too tedious. Next time I will just go over a few from each category and then ask if there were ones they were really unsure on. That would be better.

That activity took a lot longer than planned. It ate up my time. After that we did have time to do my Bloom’s Mad Libs using the verbs, and then construct some objectives utilizing Bloom’s. Aaaaand then I was out of time. Mostly. Like 10 minutes left. I needed more like 30.

So I briefly touched on Learning Theories, asked about their observations and then had to send them on their way. I did manage to tie Bloom’s into their observations and explain the importance and future use of Learning Theories in things like their Teaching Philosophy but that was about it. It wasn’t what I had planned. My closure was only mediocre because I was rushing. But…I will say that I’d rather over-plan than under-plan any day of the week.

So for next time, less on the verbs, more on moving along. I’m glad I have time to practice teaching before being thrown into it as faculty!!! And as always….CLOSURE, CLOSURE, CLOSURE!!!