Category Archives: Grad School

Celebrating Graduation Weekend

In the next two days, more than 1300 people will go from being Georgia College students to being Georgia College Alumni. To celebrate the occasion, I put together a collage of graduations from my past.

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Top Left:

Receiving my Associate of Science in General Studies from Georgia Military College Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Faculty Dr. John Anderson in 2006.

Top Right:

With Ms. Claire Nichols (now Sanders), Instructor of Political Science, following my Undergraduate Commencement for Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 2008.

Bottom Left:

Being hooded as part of the Graduate Commencement where I received my Master of Public Administration in 2010.

Middle Right:

With other members of my graduate cohort, Mike Taylor, Justin Mays, and Haly Hicks.

Bottom Right:

My first graduation as faculty (and only one I’ve participated in as faculty). With my good friend Joshua Rogers, who received Outstanding Graduate from Georgia Military College in 2011.

Thank a Mentor

Well, I just realized that Thank a Mentor Day was last week on January 17th. Since I can’t exactly go back and write a post on that date, I will just post it today.

4180_1099963553210_4331864_nMy mentor was known for striking terror into the hearts of both undergraduate and graduate students. His primary area was research methods, which is a challenge for most students anyway. Throw in the fact that you HAD to pass his class in order to graduate, and most people didn’t take the class until their last semester, a lot of students had to stay longer than they anticipated.

Not wanting that fate to befall me, I took the class the first semester of my senior year. For what ever reason, it clicked for me. I became one of six my entire time as an undergraduate who made an “A” in the course. This led to me receiving a graduate assistantship in the department to help tutor his students. And thus, I became the minion for the man feared by all political science, criminal justice, sociology, and public administration students and grad students at Georgia College.

Professor Jan Mabie, PhD, well below the sarcastic exterior, was as big of a cutup and as great of a mentor as could ever be found.  He taught me the way of The Force, er, research methodology using not the modern advances of Stata, SPSS, any other software package. Instead, we used an old DOS based program he wrote.

Most students felt tortured to take him once. I had him twice in undergrad, then at least once a semester in grad school covering everything from basic and advanced methods to personnel management. Most people, him included, questioned my sanity when I asked him to be my thesis chair. In retrospect, I don’t think he even read anything from my thesis except the methods section.

He retired last year, but without a doubt, I can see his influence today in my teaching and research today. I have been to a conference and have to constantly remind myself that not everyone was taught methods, and to not let the “poor idiot” have it for leaving something off the slide.

Every fall, when the “minions of morons” descend upon campus, I will be reminded of him. Every time I watch a science show, I mentally start reciting the “Assumptions of the Western Analytic Tradition.” Whenever I look at a cross-tab, I will still call it a contingency table in my head. And whenever I start nerding out over data and a scatter plot, I will be grateful I was trained by one of the best, and quite possibly the most old-school, in the business.

When he got this look going over your data, you were in trouble. (This was at another faculty member's retirement party.)

When he got this look going over your data, you were in trouble. (This was at another faculty member’s retirement party.)

This was the two of us at the first MPA Program Dinner my first year of grad school.

This was the two of us at the first MPA Program Dinner my first year of grad school.

Dr. Mabie has a group on Facebook dedicated to him, titled “Mabie You Can Make It.” Barron Webster (MPA 2008) wrote “The Legend of Jan Mabie” for the page. It may not mean as much to the people who had not been through the program and classes, but here it is.

The kind words of Dr. Jan Mabie reverberate in students’ minds for years after their Quantitative final is done and the last OurStat disc has been removed from those ancient laptops. He began his illustrious career at Georgia College in 1894 when our dear alma mater was known simply as the Georgia State College for Women. His notable students include Flannery O’Connor, Michael Digby, Amici Buffington, Galileo, and John Milledge.

In fact, an old legend in Milledgeville tells the tale of a young Flannery O’Connor who aspired to be a statistician. One day, she’d had her fair share of confusion over covariation and PRE measures of association. She lost her marbles finding T-scores and Z-scores and F Tests… and she took to writing as a way of releasing her anger and stress. Out of pure frustration was born one of the finest Southern Gothic authors ever to strike a typewriter.

As for the rest of us, we now have the tendency to correct our friends when they tell us “Don’t become a statistic!” Because you’re never a statistic- you’re a datum. If you need to know if there is a correlation between sex and salary with respect to education level, we’ll be there. Want to know how much of a correlation there is between education level and poverty in any county in Georgia? Give us a call. We’ll even construct the operational definition.

So the next time you’re confused about where to find the nearest “mature analytical community,” sit on the edge of the table. Scratch your chin with your eyes fixed upward and your head cocked like dear Dr. Mabie does. Close one eye and rub the top of your head too. And be grateful you’re being taught by one of the sharpest, most respectable, and illustrious minds Georgia’s Public Liberal Arts University has ever seen- but please don’t mess up the laptops.

Academic Resolutions

Matt Might did a post yesterday about resolutions for grad students. While his suggestions are valuable, most of them are targeted at grad students. Which got me thinking, which of these apply to academics in general and which ones would I add?

Update your online identity

Something I try to do at the end of every semester is to go through and update things on my website. It may be as simple as updating the number of courses taught on my CV, or may include a complete makeover. Either way, it ensures that the content is updated and accurate.

If you do not have a professional website, now is the time to create one. There are a multitude of how-to sites to accomplish this [ProfHacker] [College Info Geek]. One of the comments the earlier mentioned blog post makes is “If you can’t be googled, you don’t exist.” This is very true. Every time I hear about a candidate or someone giving a talk, the first thing I do is Google their name. If I find nothing, their credibility automatically goes down in my eyes.  If I find a well coordinated blog, LinkedIn, and professional site, the credibility goes up.

Write

This one may seem intuitive. But, when was the last time you sat down and wrote for the sake of writing? If you are in grad school, you write constantly. How can you make it better? If you are bogged down in a long paper, try writing something on a completely different topic just to get everything flowing again. Write for the joy of writing. The more you write, the better you get at it.

Read

Don’t only read (good luck surviving in the academy without it) but read something different. I read articles from several different fields. It gives a new prospective on my own research and broadens my interest beyond what is typically seen as normal.

Don’t forget to find time for pleasure reading as well. When I finished grad school, I realized I hadn’t read fiction in two years. That’s how I spent most of that summer; I had to re-find my love of reading.

As the new year begins, it is a time to figure out what has worked for you and what needs to be done differently. As the new semester begins, it is a chance to make a mid-year correction to teaching style. Overall, it is a chance for new beginnings. Make the most of it.

 

Living in the Cloud

Today’s computing trend is one of being in the “cloud.” This server based computing is extremely convenient and productive. But, a lot of people still do not understand it. Volumes have been written about how useful it is, especially for academics (and I will link some of those posts later), but today, I want to talk about how I use it.  Continue reading

“The only easy day was yesterday”

“So, first of all,let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself–nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt
March 4, 1933

Having emerged from our Thanksgiving feast induced comas, we are faced with a harsh reality this week. Yes, it is the end of term. Looking out my window, I can almost seethe fear surrounding the students walking from the residence halls to central campus.

Fear is good. It is a powerful motivator. The trick is not becoming paralyzed by fear. You must overcome the fear of failure. Recognize the fear as a warning sign and use it to motivate you for what are admittedly two very difficult weeks. Every trick and tip I or anyone else has ever offered is now on the table. Your local barista is now your best friend. This is the championship of the academic world.

In two weeks, it will all seem anticlimactic. While the people on my side of the desk are still grading, you will have packed up your dorm room and headed home for the break and–hopefully – a halfway regular sleep schedule for a few weeks. In the end, your grades may not be what you wanted, but there is always next semester. Next Semester will be an almost clean slate. There is plenty of room for improvement then.

For now and the remainder of this semester, work diligently. Don’t panic. Keep a list of what you have to accomplish and mark things off when they are complete. Not only with this remind you of what you need to be doing, but it will also give you a sense of accomplishment as you move towards the end of finals. It is a great sense of fulfillment watching the check marks advance down the page.

Time management is more important now than ever. Don’t totally neglect sleep. You are not going to be able to even guess at the information on the test if you are sleeping on your desk. Don’t spend all your time working on your most difficult class. Stand Up from your desk and walk around for five minutes every hour or so. Remember to proof your assignments before you submit them. And finally, don’t forget to eat actual meals (and not just junk food) every now and then. Your body needs the nourishment.
Now, get to work.Just don’t forget to breathe.

Control your message

One of the things I enjoyed the most about working campaigns was the message. Should the candidate wear a suit or a blazer? Take the jacket off or leave it on for the speech? Do we wear our red campaign t-shirts while working a Northside High School football game (Hint: BAD idea…Especially when they are playing in-county rivals Warner Robins)? We had message grids, calendars, and background information on everywhere we visited. We wanted the candidate to be presented in the best possible light whatever the situation.

Why dare I venture on down this road with tales of the glory days in the campaign trenches? Well, students are faced with a similar dilemma. While this may not be as much of an issue for undergrad students, grad students and recent graduates have their own personal branding become paramount.

Once you start presenting at conferences, and once you start into your job search, and really, once you start becoming a part of the larger academic community, people are going to start wanting to know more about you. What information about you is out there on the internet? Some things are there forever. Some licensing information is in public databases which make it WAY too easy to find home addresses. The fact that you are licensed in something is not a bad thing, but the personal information that goes with it is far from a best case presentation.  So, what to do? Control your online image.

I’m “lucky” in that my name is fairly common. For that reason, many things, like licenses, are buried between New York Times articles, music review sites, and photography portfolios. On the other hand, if someone is looking for information about me for a legitimate purpose it can be difficult to find.

For that reason, in any professional setting, I use my full name. It’s long, but it makes me unique. And since it is fairly unique, it is easy for me to control the message. I also have other resources set up to drive traffic. I use LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter on a regular basis. I also use Academia.eduMendeley, and LibraryThing. All this information I consider public and censor my posts accordingly. I use Google Analytics to keep track of keywords people use to find my content, how many visitors I’ve had and from where, and other useful data. (Sidenote: To my regular reader from Ohio, please feel free to send me a message and let me know how you found the site. I haven’t been able to figure that one out yet.)

Basically, control your professional online appearance. Justas you would never show up for a job interview in shorts and a t-shirt, you don’t want the first thing people see when they run a search on your name to be pictures from your last spring break trip. (Wait, you’re academics. Why are you leaving your lab for spring break?) Control your online image, control the story, and publish the content you want people to see.

Other helpful links:

Social Networking in the Job Search

During the process of my job search, my father has remarked more times than I can count that he would not be able to find a job today. There is simply too much technology involved. Everyone is on social networking. Most applications processes begin online. In short, you have to understand technology, computers, and internet tools like social networking in order to have an effective job search.
The first thing you need to do, if you have not already done it, is to clean up your current social network accounts. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (yikes, I can’t believe I just cited them) has an excellent article on this topic. But basically, you are not networking with classmates anymore. You are now networking with potential employers, and your online personality should reflect that.

Something that helped me in this area was separate accounts. It was a little confusing at first, but eventually it becomes second nature. I locked down my old profile, went to the strictest privacy settings available, and then started a new profile from scratch. I included some old pictures, most of which demonstrating my community involvement and conferences. This is now the only account that shows up in general searches. My old account is for family and extremely close friends only.

As far as social networking for a job search, you at least need a LinkedIn account. I would also encourage you to make use of Facebook and Twitter as well. They both allow you to connect with leaders in your field.  I mean, it IS called social NETWORKING. As long as you maintain a professional demeanor, it can’t hurt.

Finally, I strongly encourage you to create a personal webpage for your resume and related documents. Mine has also been expanded to include a class webpage for my students as well. While LinkedIn has a lot of powerful features, there is only so much a social networking site, even one based on promoting your resume, can accomplish. They do not have an area for everything. That’s where a fully customizable website can come in handy.

I have mine broken down into Resume and CV, Research, and Teaching. I then have the research and teaching broken down further into types of research and courses I have taught in further sub-pages. While you may be terrified at the thought of HTML coding and building a website from scratch, you will be pleased to know now it is not necessary. My webpage is hosted by Google Sites and I had my custom URL point to it. Webs and Wix will both do basically the same thing. Wix is even flash based, so it is a bit more appealing. I used Google mainly because it is the same basic system as Blogger and I can use the same template on both sites, and they flow together better. One added bonus is that Google indexes their own sites and ranks them higher than other sites. This means that most searches of generic terms related to me (“MPA Resume” or “Simpson MPA”) I am generally in the top three results. If you conduct a search for “MPA Georgia” I am a bit further down in the results, but I am still in the first individuals (instead of university programs) listed.

It all comes down to getting your name into the market in a positive light. If you can do that, use any methods available to do so. If the technology becomes a barrier, don’t use it. It is better not to have a web presence than to have a major web presence and it be presenting you in an unprofessional, immature, or unreliable light.

Job Search – Application Folders

When you being your job search, you will need to create a massive amount of documents. Wait, I take that back. You should have been creating these documents long before your job search. While they vary slightly based on your field, the basics are still the same. This is something that you will keep with you and keep updated as you progress through your career. 

  • Resume
  • References
  • Work History
  • Extracurricular and Volunteer History
  • Transcripts
  • For those staying in academics
    • Curriculum Vitae
    • Teaching Statement
    • Research Statement
    • Evaluations (If you student taught)
There are a multitude of resources (here and here) out there on preparing an effective resume.  Most word processors have fairly good templates to use, or in my case, I wanted mine to look a bit different than the standard, so I created my own. I can’t exactly take credit for it, I saw something like it elsewhere (honestly can’t remember were at this point) and adapted it for what my purposes. Make sure it is readable, but make it match your personality. My resume can be found here. 
For references, you will need an assortment of individuals. I have a list of people I can pull for references in different type of positions. I have academic (former professors), professional (coworkers and research partners), character (personal friends), and political (elected officials). I sometimes mix and match, and I have some individuals on more than one list. Say, if I’m going for a teaching job, one of my references I have known for six years (character), he used to be my professor (academic), and we are currently doing research together (professional). 
Work History is something you will probably never actually send out, but to me it is one of the most valuable. It is a list of very job you have ever held, with ever function of that job listed. You include all the location information for the company, your supervisors name and contact information, and a secondary contact’s name and contact information. Why? Because some application systems now require it. Even though you may upload a resume, they still want the more detailed information. If you have it all prepared in a single document, you can simply copy and paste it into the online form. Like your Work History, you also need a record of your Extracurricular and Volunteer History. If you are in a large number of groups in college, it is easy to lose count. I honestly thing mine is still missing some of the things I did the first few years because I didn’t write any of it down until late in my junior year. 
Most jobs that require a certain level of education, especially in education and government service, require a transcript to verify education. As soon as my degree posted I requested 10 official copies. One I opened and scanned into a PDF file that is stored on my computer. If I need an unoffical copy, I print one. If I need it to be emailed, it is easily done. And if, for some reason, an official copy is required, I have them at my disposal. 
Finally are the specific to academia documents. These are a very unique beast, so I will leave you with some of the sites I used with compiling mine. The Division of Education Studies at Emory University has a good overview of what goes into a CV and how to format it. Perdue University also has some good information, as do the good bloggers at Fumbling Towards Tenure Track. 
I called it a folder. You actually need two (or three) folders. Keep all your job search information in one folder on your computer. I have subfolders set up with current documents and former documents. I also have a layer of folders for applications I’m currently drafting (find a posting, save it as a PDF in a new folder named the title and institution), pending applications (for ones that I have submitted, and have not yet been filled), Interviewed (move the folders from pending for jobs where I receive an interview, then look to see if I did anything different in the cover letter), and Abandoned (for jobs that have been filled, or I haven’t heard anything from in a long time).  
You notice I didn’t mention Cover Letters in documents to prepare ahead of time. Each letter has to be customized for the individual position. But, that is why I name the folders by title. It is easy to find letters you have prepared for similar positions as you go through your search. 
Finally, you need to print copies of the documents to keep as a backup. Things happen with electronic storage. With something that needs to stick with you throughout your career, and with changing file formats, a hard copy to reference in the future may come in handy. It is also a good idea to use a service such as Dropbox to not only backup your files, but also to be able to access the files from other than your normal computer. For example, there was an occasion when I was house sitting and only had my netbook with me when a job posted for only 3 days. I was still able to access my files and and complete the application. Then, by uploading the completed packets back to Dropbox, it was waiting for me on my main computer when I returned home. 
Up next, more uses of technology for your job search.

Things to keep on your mind, besides academics

Your in the middle of grad school. More than likely, if your institution follows the semester system, you are up against the wall of term papers and final exams. For some, this may be your last semester. Then, the real world begins. This time last year, I was facing that situation. I was terrified. Graduating into this economy is not easy. I have applied for more jobs than I feel comfortable posting the number in the last year, and only received interviews from a select few. Several of those interviews had the posting canceled before an offer could be extended. It is a tough market.

With this in mind, you need to be able to focus your efforts. I have a huge expandable file sitting on my desk. In it, everything is quasi-neatly filed away. Copies of hard copy applications I have filed, rejection letters, and job postings each have their own folder. Also, I have a few other folders. I have a hard copy of each of my main documents. I also have one HUGE document that I do not actually send anywhere, but it is easy for me to reference while I am filling out online applications. The next several posts are each going to cover an aspect of the job search. It is a process through which I am still journeying, but hopefully my experiences will be able to help some of you.

The idea to keep everything in a massive folder actually came from a College Hacks post about maintaining an Ego Folder. It occurred to me that the same items which would help boost a discouraged ego, would also be the same things which would appeal to a recruiter. Thus my job search folder was born.

This thought process is going to need to be a series, so here is a basic outline of what I am going to cover. First, I will go over the basic job search documents you need to prepare before you even start applying for positions. Then, I will go over using technology, including social networking, to aid in your job search. Finally, I will get into how to find jobs, especially in government and higher education.

So, up next, how to start your job search folder.

PowerPoint, Part II

Okay, I guess I should start off by saying I realize there are other types of presentation software. But, I use PowerPoint. This is about design elements, so it applies to all of them. 

You have to make a presentation.  I could be for a group project, thesis defense, academic conference, or anything else.  People who are pursuing higher education are eventually going to have to stand in front of a group of people and talk about something. In my last post, I talked about using contrasting text and background, easy to read fonts, and effective use of white space. Now, it’s time to get a little deeper into those themes, and to expand into color selection, timing, and transitions. 

Easy to read fonts… It seems so easy doesn’t it? In truth, this is a bigger problem than you can ever realize.  Now, blogger only has a limited number of fonts, so I took one of my lecture presentations, and will use one of the slides (saved as an image) as an example. Now, can you read this slide? If you can, you’re better than I am. If it was full size on my screen right in front of me, maybe. On a projection screen across a room? There is no way. Do not use the fancy fonts. While most people may consider them boring in desktop publishing, you need Times New Roman, Arial, or Helvetica for a presentation. See how much better this looks?

Okay, font is settled. Now, there is something else you must consider, the color design of the slide.  Most of the time, you will use a white background if it is being projected, black if it is being shown in a laptop screen. Since most presentations are talking to groups of people, typically white backgrounds are the way to go. If you are working a convention center type setting with a slideshow running on a laptop somewhere in the booth, black background is fine. 
There are a multitude of color combinations which will work for a presentation. You just want to make sure there is a good contrast. If you are starting from scratch, you can use a design color matching tool. Or, since you are more than likely making this presentation either in a school, or as a representative of a school, you have another option. This actually the route I typically take, and it makes life very simple. Use your school colors.  
Most schools have a set color pallet. While you can not use logos or trademarked items, there will typically be no problems using colors. You also tie into your campus ethos and create a subconscious bond with your audience, especially if it is a class presentation. This is what my slide actually looks like: 
If I was teaching back at my alma mater, my slide would look like this:
Both are clean designs, both have a good contrast and can be easily read from across the room. One thing this example slide violates though is the amount of text on it.  Typically, you need to follow the what was taught to me as the Rule of 7s, but sometimes varies to 6 or 8. You only want about 7 lines of text, and 7 words in each line. Yes, the example slide does have 10 lines. But, that is a very rare occurrence. 
Traditionally, you needed to conserve slides because it cost money to print the transparencies. This is no longer the case. Add another slide and preserve the white space.  It will make the presentation a lot easier to read in the long run. 
Just a few other points. Do NOT put everything you are going to say on the slide. I, and most other faculty I have ever dealt with, can see the points vanish into the air as you read your slides word for word. It is supposed to be a basic outline, and the blanks can be filled in as you go. One exception to this is when there is a quote that they need to remember word for word.  I will go ahead and write that out in the slide, but memorize the quote so you can look at the audience as you recite it. It improves the presentation immensely. 
Know your time limits when making a presentation. In some environments, it is acceptable for you to be a few minutes long or short of your target time. Most, however, want you to be fairly close to the target time. I’ve seen classes where points were deducted for being more than 10 seconds off the target. This is something that only comes through practice.  Know what you want to say, and say it. If it is too long, talk faster or adjust your speech. 
Finally, technology fails.  PowerPoint and the associated projectors are technology. Ergo, even though you prepare a wonderful presentation, you may not be able to use it. Always have a backup for major presentations. It could be transparencies, handouts, or chalk and blackboard.  Just be certain you have a backup plan. 
Your first speech will be terrifying. There is no way to get around it. My first time speaking in public I found out I was having to run a 5:30 meeting at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. I paced fr
om 3:00 until people started showing up at 5:00. I was terrified. There were only 8 people there.  I have since lectured classes of 80 and spoken to assemblies of 200 or more. You do get used to it; it does get better. In the meantime, it helps a lot to have a well prepared, readable, professional set of presentation slides backing you up.