Hi friends. Many of your are or will soon be heading into the grad school interview deluge in the fall/winter months, so I figured I would arm you with good interview questions that are sure to impress your potential future advisors. These are the kinds of questions you could ask during a phone interview, video-chat interview, or during the in-person open house.
Cultivating deep, meaningful relationships with friends after college can be really difficult. What’s your advice for how to make lasting friendships during graduate school?
One of the suggestions I gave on the gap year post was to become a research assistant, or RA. I wanted to take some time to explain what that means. Institutions that conduct research (universities, nonprofit firms, institutes, etc.) require assistance at all levels of research from PhD level, to MA level, to even the BA level. These organizations will hire recent college graduates to work, full-time, on their research projects. The “research assistant” (some other places call them “lab managers” or “policy research assistant” etc.) level is typically for individuals who have a bachelors degree. On average, these jobs last between 1-3 years and they are literally designed as a gap year gig. That’s why I love them so much.
In late 2015, President Obama signed into law the Every Child Succeeds Act, which replaces the existing No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. This article from The Atlantic surveys the opinions of many scholars and experts on the state of schools in America. It’s a really interesting take on the pros and cons of our educational policies and how they influence children, teachers, and families. After reading this article, I was further convinced that it’s important to achieve a balanced approach to educating kids. When we strictly take an economic point of view, we run the risk of over-emphasizing testing, and deemphasizing quality instruction. Increased testing does not necessarily mean improved learning.
“The federal government and many districts now propose to limit the testing that provides essential feedback and accountability.” – Joshua Angrist, professor of economics at MIT
When we solely focus on the economic gains of implementing policies in the classroom, we can easily miss the target audience of all our efforts: the children. Often, I feel like policies are put in place without regard for how they directly impact children and their families.
“As poverty levels for children have grown to one in four nationwide, and the number of homeless children has doubled, states have been cutting funds for both education and social services.” – Linda Darling-Hammond, professor of education emeritus at Stanford University and president of the Learning Policy Institute
But, as this article emphasizes, there is hope. More and more politicians are becoming aware of the problems in our education systems and are redirecting their focus to quality learning environments and more holistic educational practices, as opposed to strictly high-stakes testing factories.
“I find hope in the growing attention of politicians and policymakers to forces outside K-12 classrooms that impinge on learning, particularly for the poorest children.” – Dale Russakoff, reporter for The Washington Post and author of The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?
It’s a great article, you should definitely check it out. Worth the long read.
So, maybe you’ve graduated college and you know you need to get a job, but have no clue how to get started. Or maybe you’re a senior in college and haven’t the faintest idea where to begin looking for a job. Well, I’m here to help with one possible solution to this tragic dilemma that plagues so many of us…
One option, if you’re considering a future as a graduate student somewhere in the social sciences/humanities, is to get a job as a research assistant in a lab at a University. Now, if you’re currently attending a liberal arts college, like I did, you might be asking yourself, “Wait, what?! They actually hire people full-time to work in labs, and pay them!?” Short answer, YES! Larger universities typically demand a larger scale of research from their professors. This kind of research can often be funded by major grants or outside sources and professors often run major multi-million dollar projects off these grants. That’s where you come in. In order to successfully run these mega studies, professors need research assistants (like you!) to help them collect data, analyze data, interact with participants, code data, do data entry, the list goes on. These jobs are often full-time with a reasonable salary, and require little more than a cheery attitude, some research experience during college, and some good recommendations.
Now the question is, how do you find these jobs. Well, one way is to cold-email professors at universities who are doing research that seems interesting to you. Often undergraduates or recent college graduates have trouble knowing exactly what to say in these first emails. Here’s my version of a tutorial on what to say and why.
Here’s the draft of the email:
My name is NAME and I am currently a senior at UNIVERSITY. I am majoring in MAJOR will be graduating in DATE. I am interested in pursuing a graduate degree in FIELD and I am hoping to get more research experience over the next few years before applying to graduate school. I found on the UNIVERSITY research lab website that you are currently doing research with the TOPIC. I would love to learn more about this research! I am wondering if you have any opportunities for employment as a research assistant in you lab, and if so I would love to learn more about it and possibly set up a time for us to meet or discuss this over the phone.
Let’s break it down:
My name is NAME and I am currently a senior at UNIVERSITY. I am majoring in MAJOR will be graduating in DATE.
First, you introduce yourself, your major, and where you go to school. Remember, if you go to a smaller school, you’ll want to give the city and state just to clarify.
I am interested in pursuing a graduate degree in FIELD and I am hoping to get more research experience over the next few years before applying to graduate school.
Here, you are showing your interest in the field and right away you’re letting the recipient know why you’re contacting them.
I found on the UNIVERSITY research lab website that you are currently doing research with the TOPIC. I would love to learn more about this research!
Next, jump right into why you’re interested in the topic. You could also write something here to give it more of a personal touch, like this “I am really interested in TOPIC and EXPANDED ON TOPIC. I have a particular interest in this area for both personal and academic reasons since RELATED EXPERIENCE. I am contacting you because I am interested in potentially working in your lab after I graduate.” By showing that you have done your research and have an interest in the topic, the professor you’re contacting will know you’re serious and ready to work.
I am wondering if you have any opportunities for employment as a research assistant in you lab, and if so I would love to learn more about it and possibly set up a time for us to meet or discuss this over the phone.
Towards the end you should bring up why you’re contacting them exactly. Be more specific. You are looking for “employment as a research assistant.” Importantly, be open to talking with them more. This one email is not going to employ you, YOU will employ yourself by being proactive and talking with people who you admire and want to work for. If you’re close enough, set up a time to meet in person. If that’s not possible, Skype and phone calls are often a really popular way of reaching out. Don’t be afraid, tackle it at full speed.
I would be available starting DATE. I have attached my CV to this email for your convenience.
Last line, show them you’re serious. Give a start date and attach your CV. For more information on how to write your CV you can see mine here, or check back in a few weeks, and I’ll post some handy tips for writing your CV.
Hope this helped! Feel free to post any questions below.
So…you got into the graduate program of your dreams and you want to make the most of your first year. Here’s a list of the 11 things that will make your first year a total success:
- Stay organized. Schedule out what assignments you are going to do every day of the week and try to stick to it. Use a hand-written planner or an electronic one (like Google calendar, or cool Aps like Wonderlist or Evernote) – whichever you prefer to keep you organized.
- Meet with your advisor early and often. Your relationship with your advisor, whether you’re a Masters or Doctoral student, is the most important relationship of your graduate career. Make sure you’re cultivating it early, and it will make the rest of your graduate career much easier. Set up weekly or bi-weekly meetings with your advisor, even if just to catch up on the things you have been working on.
- Don’t be afraid! If you have a question, don’t hesitate to ask anyone! Graduate students (especially in our department) are like a family, we help each other out and want to learn from each other’s mistakes.
- Don’t procrastinate… yes, let’s all just admit it…we’ve been there, you’ve been there, and it always stinks! As graduate students, we are expected to balance many different responsibilities at once, and excel at all of them. This is an extremely difficult task on its own, so don’t leave assignments for the last minute. This will ensure that you are able to complete all your responsibilities, and come out standing on the other end.
- Stay healthy and active. Graduate school can be one of the most fun, but also most stressful life experiences. Don’t let yourself become victim to the severe negative consequences of stress. Make sure you schedule in some “you-time”. Go for a run or a hike, bake cran-oat chocolate chip coconut muffins, play with puppies, make fish tacos, take a yoga class, go to Sweetgreen and get a deliciously overpriced salad…whatever it is that you like to do that relaxes you and keeps you mentally and physically healthy! Get out there and do it!
- Make new friends…join study groups, attend social events, don’t be afraid to have a little fun in grad school. Set up study sessions at Panera with a buddy, go to happy-hours, or just hang out in your lab and get to know your lab-mates. Making friends in graduate school is your first step to developing your social network of colleagues, so get out there and socialize!
- Join professional organizations. By joining professional organizations (like SRCD, APA, APS, etc.) you become eligible for discounts to attend conferences, receive journals subscriptions, and you can hear about the latest news in the field. Most of them have student rates too, so us poor-old grad students can afford the hefty bill.
- Relatedly, start following your favorite professional organizations on social media. Almost all professional organizations keep and maintain Facebook and Twitter accounts and constantly update them with the latest news, articles, research findings, and cool facts. It’s an excellent way to get your favorite information, fast, simply by browsing your Facebook or Twitter accounts, which, let’s face it, we would all be doing anyway.
- Attend conferences. Conferences are usually associated with a professional organization. This is where you can start to build your professional network of collaborators, friends, colleagues, and the like. You never know where these relationships will take you! Submit to them as often as you can, talk with your advisor about potential topics and research ideas that could get you towards a conference submission. There is always something out there that you can do!
- Update your CV…OFTEN. Any time you take on a new task or responsibility make sure you are updating your CV ASAP. Graduate school is about taking advantage of the many opportunities that are being thrown at you; make sure you’re giving yourself credit for those opportunities on your professional Vita. Trust me, if you don’t put it on your CV right away, you WILL forget, so update it many times throughout your career to ensure you always have the most up-to-date version. You never know when you’re going to need to whip out your trusty CV and impress someone in an elevator…
- Being a TA is important, but don’t let it take over your life. Some graduate students will be asked to be a teaching assistant (TA) for an undergraduate course. This is a very educational, but time-consuming assignment. You will learn A LOT, but it can easily take over all your time, so don’t let it! Get it done, and make it good, but don’t let it take over your life!
Applying to graduate school can be very daunting and confusing. When I was applying, I remember asking so many people for advice about the nitty-gritty details of the whole process and I was so thankful for their generous advice. Well, I wanted to make all this valuable information public to people who are interested, so my friend and I compiled it all into a document, which you all can reach here or see if below.