The Grad Student Groove

I recently stumbled across an article on Inside Higher Education written by a PhD candidate. He talked about the spring break slump and how it can be difficult to get back in the groove of things. I find this extremely relatable right now and found that he had some interesting coping mechanisms that you can read here.

I wanted to list some of the ways I’m trying to get out of the funk and would be interested in hearing anything you do to help stir up your motivation.

  1. Get Outside: As the weather warms up, it’s hard to ignore the fact that I see undergraduates outside throwing the frisbee around, napping in hammocks, and listening to music outside. After the twinge of jealousy I feel after witnessing this, I make it a point to get outside for at least ten minutes. I do my best to walk my dog or do some homework outside even if it’s only for a couple of minutes. I’ll even grab my dog and head to the park to grade. I find that this warms my soul until the next wave of mental exhaustion.
  2. Painting My Nails: Probably not for everyone, but I feel like my life is put together a little more if I have my nails done. It’s something I’ve grown accustomed to since starting grad school and it’s a great way for me to just take some time to myself at least once a week.
  3. Productive Procrastination: I don’t know how good of a coping mechanism this is but I procrastinate by doing more productive work. If I have one assignment that is due on Tuesday but am dreading it, I will do an assignment that is due on Friday instead. I pretend that this validates my choice and doesn’t make me feel as bad if I had just chosen to binge on a show.
  4. “Fun” Learning: The last coping mechanism I use is learning something “fun”. I put fun in quotation marks because it’s most likely not that fun. I’ll take that time to become Google certified in something, learn a new skill, or just learn about something that I’ve been thinking about recently. I’m sure this is very similar to the productive procrastination method I mentioned.

Do any of you have particular things you do to de-stress or get your groove back after a slump?


Private vs Public Higher Ed- Is there an advantage?

Not all higher education institutions are created equal. Who would have thought?

We fight and crawl our way to the top of our classes in order to have the opportunities to choose where we would like to spend our next 2-5 years. It’s not always choosing the school with the best academics, research, and instructors. There’s more depth to it than that. It comes down to digging deep and prioritizing your values. That is something scary for any age but can be extremely difficult at 18. Your choice in if/what institution you choose to attend affects the rest of your life.

What I’ve recently noticed first hand is just how different institutions are from each other. I am privileged enough to attend Virginia Tech: a state-funded, lang-grant, research one university. I’ve witnessed those around me choose to go to other universities and colleges for reasons like athletics. I understand that everyone’s priorities are different and that people choose to forego opportunities because of those priorities, but it’s difficult for me to watch my peers not receive the same resources and advantages I have because of that choice.

Some private universities have immense amounts of funds that can be (mostly) freely allocated where they please. However, there are some private institutions that lack the funds to provide the same education as public universities. No university is the same and I find it very interesting to see the differences between private and public institutions.

Let’s Talk About… Everything! (Required #5)

The biggest thing I wish I could see improve in higher education is the lack of communication between faculty and administration/staff. Personally being a part of the university’s brand launch has opened my eyes to the many differing opinions about Virginia Tech. As to be expected, everyone seemed to have an opinion about the new brand.

Being in the unique position that I am in, being a student, faculty, and staff member, I was able to hear a lot of information and opinions about the new brand launch that I otherwise may not hear. The one thing that I can conclude is that there should be more transparency with where university funds are going.

As a state university, we are heavily scrutinized with where our money comes from and where it goes. It can take months for an individual to donate large funds to the university and it is heavily reviewed by the IRS. However, everyone seems to have an opinion about where those funds should be allocated to. It’s one thing to rebrand a university, but if you’re not in the “know” as to why it’s important, you see it as a waste of money.

The important of communication between administration and faculty is something I constantly hear about (mainly from the faculty side). It’s important to be honest and transparent, especially with your internal audience.

What I am happy to report is that I have not met a single person who has even hinted to the idea that they would rather be at another university.

Online Education Instruction (Required #4)

Online education is a hot topic in today’s world. Pros and cons of both sides exist and are expressed openly within higher education. When it come down to it, there are three things that I believe make a successful online course: consistency, transparency, and time managament.


Consistency: Consistency is one of, if not the most, important aspects of online education. Providing students with consistency encourages organizations and time management on their part.


Transparency: Transparency arguably creates respect among students and instructors. When students are aware of what is expected of them from the beginning, they are able to plan and complete work in a timely manner. Transparency diminishes and miscommunication among instructor and students.


Time Management: Time management is the best thing you could do for yourself as an instructor. Online courses can be an immense amount of additional work compared to more traditional classes and time management can reduce stress.

online ed


Teaching online courses can be an extremely taxing undertaking but it can be rewarding. I believe this infographic addresses the difference between a satisfied and dissatisfied instructor.

Online courses can be a very rewarding form of education. Consistency, transparency, and communication are important factors to contribute to a successful online education experience.

When developing online courses, instructors and administrators should consider learning objectives, learning outcomes, online tools, support, and time and effort.



Open Science Framework (Required #3)

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I chose to look in a different direction for the “open access” post. I’ve been fortunate enough to have mentors within my department who value open access and pre-registration. This has become something I value myself as a researcher. To me, there are very few cons to that arise with open access and pre-registration, and really I see no reason not to. I hope that the attitude within academia will shift so that this would become common practice.

The Transparency and Openness Promotion Guidelines are a community-driven effort to align scientific ideals with actual practices. – OSF

Open Science Framework or OSF is a free platform provided by the Center for Open Science where researchers can register their studies and keep their data public. OSF helps to “document and archive study designs, materials, and data. OSF facilitates sharing of materials and data within a laboratory or across laboratories. OSF also facilitates transparency of laboratory research and provides a network design that details and credits individual contributions for all aspects of the research process. ”

I think this is just one way we can begin to incorporate a change in the attitude within academia and research. The focus on transparency is what I believe is the key to creating and sharing solid and ethical research within the scientific community. The Transparency and Openness Promotion Guidelines in particular help to change the way research is practiced by encouraging reproductive research to affirm findings and significants, something that funders, researchers, and journals should be heavily focused on.




P.S. The Center for Open Science is in Charlottesville, Va.

Ethics- I know it when I see it. (Required #2)

When I think about ethics, I think of Justice Potter Stewart’s quote about pornography.

“I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see it and this movie is not pornography.”

I feel if though ethics are something that is not easily explainable or definable. Though I believe most ethics derive from core values, there are differences among fields and industries. Ethics were not particularly focused on until I got to grad school.

Every class I have taken within graduate school has incorporated ethics throughout the semester. Even though I feel as if graduate students within my department were “armed” with the necessary background to understand what ethics are and what it means to be ethical, you never know what you will do until you are placed within a situation that tests that understanding. For example, this past semester some of my cohort members and I took a class in which the instructor appeared rude, inconsiderate, and all around negative. We didn’t want to appear as if we were complaining or whining about our poor grades within the class so all of stayed quiet. However, at the end of the semester we were asked to complete our SPOT evaluations for that professor. We all used specific examples of his/her behavior within our evaluations. It was not until this semester that the graduate director personally apologized to each of us. She had no idea the kind of academic bullying we were enduring and she had wished we had informed her.

The pressures of being in graduate school are hard enough and when you’re concerned about whether or not a professor is treating you fairly and ethically, it can make everyday life that much stressful. Unfortunately, academic bullying does exist at our university. I know it’s something my department fights hard against, however, it can slip through the cracks when you’re unsure of yourself as a student. Some unethical professors will exploit this uncertainty, making the situation worse.

The one thing that I’m surprised about within my department specifically is the increased focus and encouragement of participating in things like Open Science Framework. During my first semester of grad school, we had Dr. Malte Elson visit for a short period of time to discuss the misuse of data within our field. His short visit gave us young first years the skepticism that has truly made reading articles and looking at our field more intriguing. We’ve described our small cohort as “pirates” who seek to address the issues of p-hacking within popular studies in our field.

Ethics is something that is often under-appreciated within academia. If it’s included within every course, I believe it would be more successful in teaching and shaping students and instructors to behave in a respectable manner.

Provost: “Keeper of a Prison”

pro-vost [ME, fr. OE profost & OF provost, fr ML propositus, alter. of praepositus, fr L, one in charge, director, fr. pp. of praeponere to place at the head] 1: the chief dignitary of a collegiate or cathedral chapter 2: the chief magistrate of a Scottish burgh 3: the keeper of a prison 4: a high-ranking university administrative officer.


Interim Executive Vice President and Provost Dr. Cyril Clarke

With the resignation of our own provost a I see a lot of students and parents questioning what the big deal is. I’m willing to be that most do not even know what a provost is. It’s fair, I probably would not know what he/she did if it wasn’t for my interest in academia. So what is a provost?

If you’re anything like myself however your eyes would immediately go to “keeper of a prison” within the definition above. That seems a little funky. But if you continue down you’ll see “high-ranking university administrative officer”. That makes a little more sense but what exactly does he/she do at the university? Students and parents are not the only individuals to question this. In fact, Inside Higher Ed recently wrote an article on exactly that. What do Provosts and Deans Actually Do? takes a step back from the the intensive analytical articles into a broader topic.

It appears that there seems to be some confusion with what a vice president, dean, and provost do and how they differ. Inside Higher Ed does it’s best to decipher these three positions by simply explaining provost as the individual who is expected to perform the duties that the president perceives outside of his skill set or that he does not wish to perform. However, the provosts chief duty is to ensure that tuition remains reasonable. Pretty heavy burden to bear depending on his/hers peers on the administrative level.

Though the provost’s duties remain ill-defined, Inside Higher Ed sums it up by explaining that the provost of a university is in charge of the budget (centralized) and the college deans are in charge of the budget (decentralized). It’s important to remember that the roles of provosts vary depending on the institution.

Are the Humanities a Dead End Career Wise?

We’ve all heard it. Those who study humanities are less likely to find (lucrative) jobs compared to those majoring in STEM and business programs. However, a recent Inside Higher Ed post caught my eye.

Shocker: Humanities Grads Gainfully Employed and Happy

Who would’ve thought? As a student enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts & Human Sciences, the thought that I would not get a job out of college was crippling.

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Inside Higher Ed, 2018

To be pigeon-holed right off the bat because I chose to pursue a degree in something other than a STEM major or business field, would be my biggest regret was something that had crossed my mind more than a handful of times. I’ve always been a firm believer in “you get what you work for,” however, was I putting myself at a disadvantage? Was the fact that I chose to pursue something that was applicable in a range of fields (communication) actually less valuable than something like BIT? Depending on who you ask, yes it is.

But if you look beyond salary, are humanities graduates employed less often than their counterparts? Apparently not. Those who graduate with a bachelors degree in the humanities reported an unemployment rate of only 3%. That’s astonishingly low for the amount of criticism it receives. On top of that, humanities graduates reported an 87% job satisfaction in 2015. This article has restored a little bit of

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Inside Higher Ed, 2018

faith in humanit(ies). All I can hope is that further research is done to investigate and validate these findings. A change in culture will be needed in order to take the humanities as a serious field of study with ample amount of career opportunities.

Strive for Balance or Embrace the Binge?

I am embarrassed to admit that I have just started subscribing to The Chronicle of Higher Education’s newsletters this year. I’ve tried to make it a point to look over the highlights on Mondays during my office hours. I am three weeks strong at this point. This morning, however, one headline in particular caught my attention. As a health enthusiast myself, the words “clean living” draw my attention for both positive and negative reasons. Mark Edmundson comments on the two polarizing lifestyles: clean living vs. drug and alcohol abuse. Add Skeptical Inquiry to Clean Living questions the design of wellness programs down to their foundations. Do wellness programs even address why students seek out alcohol and drugs? Do they discuss the historical contributions substances like wine and peyote have made? Or more importantly:

“Why are drugs so rarely a mode of learning and growth and almost always a defense against pain or an elevation above the real?”

Edmundson attributes this to the fact that students need escapism from the constant pressures put on them with things like grades, clubs, research, and professional experiences. He compares the dangerous pressures and stress of college life to that of ice. If wellness programs are guardrails for the ice, wouldn’t it make more sense to just break up the ice?

Edmundson brings a lot of great situations that I see unfolding across the college campus with both undergraduates and graduates. I’ve even seen a shift if the types of substances grads have moved towards compared to their undergraduate behavior. Even so, some professions, like attorneys, are infamous for having an “alcoholic” norm. Is the “clean living” mantra too similar to the “abstinence only” one that has been proven ineffective?

Of course this goes beyond academia and into politics, but, what if substances like wine and marijuana could be utilized as a tool and become less stigmatized?

What’s the Mission? (Required #1)

Washington State University:

To advance knowledge through creative research and scholarship across a wide range of academic disciplines.

To extend knowledge through innovative educational programs in which emerging scholars are mentored to realize their highest potential and assume roles of leadership, responsibility, and service to society.

To apply knowledge through local and global engagement that will improve quality of life and enhance the economy of the state, nation, and world.


Washington State’s mission statement reminded me a lot of what Virginia Tech is trying to do with cross-disciplinary research and inclusivity. For me, there are few things to pick a part with regards to a mission statement. I know people spend hours and hours on developing, proofing, and approving a mission statement but I think sticking to the basics is usually the safest method. Every university has their own programs and objectives that are focused more heavily on than other universities. These programs success seem to be tied into how well they are incorporated into the mission statement. If there is a disconnect between the mission of the university, it is hard to get a good crowd behind a program.


Theoretically, the three key aspects of the mission statement; advance, extent, apply, incorporates the past, present, and future. “To advance knowledge” is to take what has previously been studied and researched and look beyond it. How can we take what’s previously been done and expand upon it in order to progress society. “To extend knowledge” is to collaboratively share ideas and work in order to serve others. Lastly, “to apply knowledge” is to go beyond academia and take said knowledge globally in order to improve the quality of life for others.


I believe there are few adjectives or objectives that are not transferable to all universities. Public universities, like WSU, tend to have objectives and values that are more interchangeable to other universities than private institutions.