A New Chapter

Well, now that all of my students have been told, it is time to announce it to the world. This Friday, September 19th, will be my last day as an Academic Advisor at the Georgia College Center for Student Success. I’ve spent the last week and a half madly fitting in as many advising appointments as possible.

The following Monday, I begin my new journey as the Training Specialist with the Georgia College Department of Human Resources. In this job, I will be conducting needs assessments and implement training and development programs for the university, manage initiative implementation, develop training manuals and course materials, and assist with New Employee Orientation.

My time with CSS has been life changing. My fellow advisors have become my family, both figuratively and literally. Leeann and I both started on the same day, shared an office, and had our friendship grow to the level where our coworkers referred to us as siblings.

Other friendships developed as well. After our move to Lanier Hall, I joined the “BA Corner”  with Rebecca Miles and Chris Lamphere. Eventually, Chris retired, and Nadirah Mayweather filled his slot.

Beyond that, I met my wife through the job. Nikki had been with the department for five weeks when I joined (she had previously been an advisor housed in the Department of Psychological Science for two years). We met that exciting day in August when I first walked into The Bone House. It took a while, but eventually a friendship, then relationship blossomed.

Beyond my colleagues, it has been a true honor to work with some of the students that have come across my path. Watching them learn, grow, and mature has been an immensely rewarding experience.

Likewise, I am grateful for my own growth and learning experiences over the last three years. The mentors I have had in the department have taught me valuable life lessons and experience. They were standing next to me and behind me on the rough days, and celebrating with me on the good.

Monday starts a new chapter in my life. But I will never forget the events of the chapter that is now drawing to a close. And for those events, lessons, and memories, I will always be grateful.

“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.

We few, we happy few – Part 2

My last post dealt with working together with your fellow students.  But, that’s not enough to get you through a graduate program.  Networking is important in every aspect of professional life, and this includes during your education.


You need to start developing a system of mentors as early as possible. One of mine was a professor of mine when I was still in junior college.  I’d stay after class to talk to him, and through these conversations I discovered that he’d just completed the MPA program at Georgia College and was teaching at GMC until he started working on his PhD (sound familiar?).  We fell out of touch for a few years, then reconnected when he came back to GCSU to visit when I had transfered there. Will (see picture below), in addition to my undergrad advisor and my thesis chair, have walked me through seemingly insurmountable research questions and tasks.  I’ve asked their advice on everything, from research methods and suggested topics for papers to advice during the eventual job search.

Do not neglect attending conferences at every possible opportunity. This is how you meet contacts in your field of study.  There will always be someone there with whom you have something in common beyond academics.  For example, some of my friends I’ve met through conferences I actually started talking to concerning the music at the conference dinner.  We swapped contact information, and stayed in touch afterwards.  Contacts like this can, like your cohort, take a look at drafts, provide advice on topics to research, and sometimes (if you’re lucky) coauthor papers with you. With today’s technology, this collaboration is more easy than ever. Cloud computing allows two (or more) individuals to edit the same document, and see changes in real time.  Some of them even allow a separate chat window on the same screen so you can discuss changes as they are made.

Finally, don’t forget that, if everything works well, you are “stuck” with these friends throughout your program. Make sure you do some fun things together too, and not just always academic. Some of the most memorable times I have were when we’d just stop working for a couple of hours and everyone would walk the few blocks to downtown and go to The Brick.  Or, when things were too hectic for that, order some pizza and everyone get together in the conference room. Those are the times that make grad school something you’ll never forget.

Most of my "cohort." We graduated undergrad together, and then we graduated with our MPA degrees together. From L to R: Mike, Justin, Cathy (who wasn't graduating, but still was one of us), Haly, and Me.
Four generations of Graduate Assistants covering nearly a decade. L to R, Will, Mike (who graduated with me), Dr. Digby (whose retirement we were celebrating), Adam, Gary, Claire (who is now an instructor in the department), and me.
And here is the next generation. This was taken at the Greenway after I graduated. L to R: Jeanette, Mathis, Tiffany, Justin, and Jessica.

 

We few, we happy few – Part I

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” Some readers may recognize this line from Shakespeare’s Henry V. But to me, it has a more special meaning. This is one of the passages, along with many others, my friends and I used to quote to each other for motivations before big exams, or on particularly late nights in The Bunker writing. We were by no means the type to sit around singing sonnets, but there is something that is powerfully motivating about epic poetry. There is something even more motivating about the reassurance than you are not alone in your work.

Turabian (2007, 22-23) talks about the isolation of research and the need for a writing support group. This is a brilliant idea. The guide points out that, even with different research interests, these peer groups can help with brainstorming, proofreading, and even letting off steam. But, they can be a lot more than that.

I was very lucky. With me going for my MPA in the same department where I had just received my undergrad, I was not alone. There were a group of us that had known each other as undergrads that all started the program together and had basically the same classes. Though the program doesn’t have a formal program, I call this group my cohort. We were all graduate assistants, two of us in the same department. Since we had an office (the aforementioned Bunker), we were the gathering place.

Let me point out, these groups are not to do each others work. That defeats the entire point of education. Instead, it was for the purpose of mutual aid and support. We would all be sitting in the office, sometimes writing the same assignment for the same class, but we where still four students, with four backgrounds. As such, we always wrote four very different papers. What I mean by aid and support is being able to answer the questions “How do we format this?” or “Y’all did catch that the assignment is continued on the back of that page, right?”

Something that we did do together was summarize our texts. In undergrad, we were able to read the chapter, read the terms, and be fine. Not so at the next level, where a deeper knowledge of the material is required. Something we did, that worked amazingly well, was divide and conqueror the readings. We all still read everything, but we (within our group) assigned different chapters to different members. This means, instead of having to do outlines and terms for the entire book, we’d only have to do the in-depth summaries of 2-3 chapters. We’d then share these outlines with each other, in exchange from the ones from the others. It was a great time-saver to be sure.

There were some other things we did, but that’s for Part II.

References:
Shakespeare, William, The Life of King Henry the Fifth, act 4, scene 3
Turabian, Kate L.. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.