Career Advice There Are Many Paths – Who Knew?

As an undergrad my senior year, I had an inspiration or a thought that I might like to “teach” college. As a first-generation college student, I had no clue what professors really did.  I only saw them in the classroom.  So, I asked a question. “What does it take to be a professor at a university?”

What Do Professors Do? Photo of a professor assisting 3 diverse students working together on an assignmentI wasn’t ready for the full answer or complete picture, so my mentor said “Well, you will need a Master’s degree.”  She knew it took much more, but a Master’s Degree was a good starting point.  Ok, I thought to myself, someday I will do that.

I also knew that I wanted to have industry experience to bring real life experiences into the classroom. It was clear to me that I wasn’t ready to do “that thing called a thesis”. I heard how hard “it” (writing the thesis) was.  I was in classes with grad students and in awe of them. All the work they had to do – I had doubts – could I really do that? A thesis? All that work? Research? I knew I wasn’t ready, so I focused on getting a job in industry.

That was the best decision for meat that time – to find a position in industry.  In my industry position, I learned so much and began to work with a mentor.  We did exciting research together; published papers; presented at conferences. They did not have undergraduate research programs when I was an undergrad – or – I was unaware of them.  It was only after our third publication that I knew I was ready for Grad School and a thesis.

What I didn’t realize at that time was that there are many paths, turns, and bends that my career would take. But I kept asking along the way for direction and then decided on what was the best next step for me at that point in time.

Picture of brown hills with a winding road going off into the distanceMy message is this – “A career is seldom a straight line to a goal.”  Careers today usually follow a series of “branching decision points” – more so than when I started – although my career path did have its branching decision points as well.

Those branching decision points lead you to a path that provides valuable learning experiences or as I call them “tools” for the tool box.  You may not realize how important those experiences are, but in time, you will see how valuable they are for your career path and you will be pleased to have that experience, knowledge, or “tool” to assist you in your career.

Today I see many career paths needing a balance between breadth and depth/specialization.  Too much of either is not good.  You need specialization to know your field and you need breadth to see beyond your discipline.  There are important skills to learn that come with each – Breath and Depth/Specialization.

Through my journey, I discovered that I was unique and so are you! We all have our distinctive gifts; that’s why it’s important NOT to compare yourself to others.  That’s why it’s important not be a clone. You don’t want to be a clone of your professor – you are unique and so are your life circumstances.  It takes a lot of courage to follow your own path.  In the end, the journey will bring you great satisfaction.  Mine has.

Look for mentors who can provide encouragement and share their experiences.

How do you do that? Take the first step and …

  • Talk to alumni
  • Use your professional meetings and network
  • Ask key people along the way as I did, “What best advice would you give me?” or “How can I get that experience?”
  • Use your Grad Student Organizations, Career Fairs, Research Symposia to network with peers and others especially industry or faculty leaders.

You never know from where your next leading will come. It’s all about networking.  Talking to others about their experiences is key.

Finally, remember you are on a journey.  Your career is a continuum.  At every level you want to learn as much as you can and network.  You are investing in you and you are in it for the long-term – not just for short-term results.Shows people walking on different curved paths. Message important Not to compare yourself to others

See each step as a long-term investment in your life’s work!

Before you know it, you will be sharing your story about your career path with others!

Fireside Chat: How to Be an Effective Writer and Not Binge

I used to be a binge writer and would write only when I thought I had enough time – which was never. I thought I needed blocks of time – like complete days – or long afternoons.

picture of Dove Raspberry Sorbet with dark chocolate barsFor me binge writing was like binging on sweet dark chocolate – chocolate cake or just plain dark chocolate. My favorite is Dove ice cream – not so much for the ice cream but for the dark rich chocolate coating.

I have learned from experience that binging on dark chocolate can make me feel – well not so good. So, I’ve learned to “manage” my binging and keep the richness of the dark chocolate to small amounts.

As with chocolate, I also learned several things from my binge writing days.  The days when I would sit in the living room writing my thesis.

Coffee cup on table with red blanket and fireplace in background. Writing my thesisA fire was lit in the fireplace on a cold winter morning and I could see my fellow grad student friends walking to class or to the lab while I was inside with my Cup of Joe writing away.

What I learned was this.

  1. I accomplished less overall by binge writing. Writing the thesis/dissertation is a marathon – not a sprint – so I needed to pace myself.
  2. My binging was not sustainable. I just couldn’t do it day after day. What I discovered was I was spending more time re-reading and re-acquainting myself with my topic.  It would have been better to have smaller amounts of time dedicated each day to writing. Not to mention how draining and tiring it is.
  3. I also realized that by expecting too much of myself – I could never achieve my goal. In fact, I learned that it’s best to start with a small goal.  “There’s no such thing as too small a goal”.  What a small goal did for me is to allow me to see my accomplishments and not get discouraged and quit.
  4. What I learned about writing is what I learned from my love of chocolate cake. Picture of rich dark chocolate cate with 3 cherries on topWriting is more than eating the chocolate cake – it’s about tasting the frosting or having one small bite. Writing can be that way as well. Writing can be done in bits and pieces. Having attended several writing workshops, I learned there is so much more to writing.
  5. One key piece is to leave off at a spot where I can pick up – so the idea is not to finish all of it – but to get to a place where I can pick up where I left off last time. Sometimes, I would make a list or an outline of what I would write next and use that to get me started.  That was a big take away for me. I use it today and share that insight with my students.
  6. The other important piece that I learned from writing workshops is that revising/editing, making an outline, checking references are all part of the writing process. So, when I only had 10 minutes, I can revise a paragraph or check the format of references.  Each step gets me closer to my goal.
  7. In a short period of time, I can read my paper and examine my writing from a big picture perspective and ask, Did I make persuasive arguments? or Did I convey my ideas clearly?
  8. Other times, I can focus on word crafting. I learned this from a great teacher – What’s the best word to use here? Do I need a better adjective or fewer adjectives?
  9. Does the paper flow? Does it logically move from one paragraph to the next? Do I have my topic sentences at the beginning of the paragraphs?
  10. Finally, I learned to check for typos and punctuations by reading the paper outload and then focusing on each word to find typos. We all know how self-correcting word processing has-a-mind of its own – it may not be the word we were typing.

To Recap:

  • Avoid binge writing it’s not sustainable
  • Set smaller goals
  • Leave off where you can pick up again
  • There is more to writing than writing
  • Revising and editing are all part of writing

Finally, if I write in long hand first and then type it up, I am more efficient as I am not trying to edit as I go.

Writing is hard work and tiring so it’s important to take breaks.dog resting at ocean shore with ball in mouth. Important to take a break after a hard workout!

Fireside Chat: How to Prepare for One-on-One Meetings with Your Faculty Advisor

Daunting– that’s the word I could use to describe my first meeting with my faculty advisor – Awkwardis another – Why? Being a first-generation grad student, I was unprepared and/or unaware of how to make my meetings with my major professor efficient, effective and successful.

Over the years I have been a student of what makes successful meetings and to this day, I have faculty who will gladly come to any committee meeting I hold.

Why? I am prepared, focused, effective and efficient – I don’t waste their time nor mine.  Faculty members just like grad students are busy with lots of professional and personal demands on their time.

Preparing for your meeting is an important step for success in getting to the finish line – graduation.  Being prepared also reduces conflict and misunderstanding.  The key is to start early.

Before your meeting you want to send a short email with 1 or 2 sentences describing the major objectives of your meeting – notice I said your meeting.  You need to take control if you want to graduate. You can’t be passive. You want to be active.Person typing on computer sending an email

Use the subject line of your email to catch your advisor’s attention.  If you don’t hear back within 5 to 10 days, send your email again.

In that email send any materials or documents you need your major advisor to read and review.  They need it ahead of time – so they can think and reflect. Not the day before – their schedules are tight so allow at least a week or several days.

Prepare an agenda complete with action items and questions or topics for discussion. Have 3 or 4 main topics/or questions to discuss.

Send minutes and a reminder email. This is helpful. Of course, you have figured out the date, time and location and you have included that in the email.  The bottom line is – come well prepared – if you do, you will find that things move forward more efficiently. There still will be hurdles and challenges to address and you will be in a better position to do so.

Clock showing 3pm and Be On TimeDuring the meeting make sure you show up on time. Follow your agenda and ask clarifying questions. You will want to bring concrete things for your advisor to provide feedback.

Think about how your advisor might assist you. If there are professional as well as any personal issues that may influence how you complete the milestones – keep them informed.  You don’t have to reveal your personal life and at times we all know that “life happens” (funeral, flu outbreak) and it is important to inform your advisor and not just disappear. Keep them informed.

Remember to ask questions. Your questions help them to be better teachers of you.

Focus on what your advisor is saying.  They are providing feedback to assist you.  Ask clarifying questions about the feedback. If they are giving you directions be sure to follow them.  Nothing irritates an advisor more than to provide constructive feedback and directions and they are ignored.

Agree on the milestones you can meet. Record action items. Who is doing what and by when.Note pad and Pen taking minutes and recording action action items

After the meeting post minutes.  Even though you and your faculty advisor each took notes, it’s important to have minutes. You can send them out with the next agenda as well. By sending the minutes or a quick recap of the meeting, you can summarize action items.  You can summarize the deliverables as well.

The Key to all thisis to start early.  Have meetings even if they are only for 10 minutes.  Meeting 1 x a week for 10 minutes can make a difference and move you closer to the finish line – graduation.

When in doubt ask even when not in doubt ask.  You may find you have discovered an unclarified point.

Maintain on-going discussions about expectations with your advisor and yourself.  Take home to reflect on your expectations and goals.  They do change over time.

Remember you are preparing yourself to contribute new knowledge to your field.  You are giving shape to a “new” you from consumer of knowledge to producer of knowledge. The adventure of discovery and meetings should assist you in that process.

Finally, remember your advisor is not a manager.  It’s important to see your advisory as a catalyst and a facilitator.

You are in control of shaping your own graduate career. It’s up to you to get to the finish line and you will.

PhD comic strip about meeting with a professor where you did'nt do your work and he forgets about is as he is distracted

Fireside Chat: A True Story About a Home Run

“You can’t hit a homerun unless you get up to bat.” I am not the best baseball player.  In fact, if you were picking your team you wouldn’t select me.  But I did learn that I can hit a homerun. Let me tell you a story about how I hit a home run out of the ball park.

I was applying for Graduate Dean Positions.  I had served as an Associate Dean and then Interim Dean.  I knew it was common practice at many universities, although not at all, that the internal candidate is passed over. Partly because faculty know where your “warts” are or “you can’t be a prophet in our own backyard.”  It was clear to me that I better hedge my bets.

My campus was searching for the Dean of the Graduate School.  As Interim Dean, I knew I had a shot at the position.  I also knew that I better look for a position outside the university.  I began applying for positions.  It takes a lot of work to apply for an administrative position (but that’s a story for another fireside chat.)

There was one position open at a major research university. I had been on that campus to recruit grad students for my campus at the time.  I was so impressed by the people I met and the beautiful campus.  I could feel the positive energy of that campus and I knew I would love working there.

While I was there recruiting, I met with the Dean of the Grad School.  He told me that he was never going to retire.  I got depressed thinking “that’s too bad for me”.

Shortly after my recruitment trip, that position came open.  The Dean didn’t retire, he was promoted to VP for Research and that left a vacancy.  A vacancy that I knew I wanted and that all my male colleagues and then some would want as well.

As I made applications to other schools, I thought about that one position I really wanted. I kept thinking that I’d never get that job.  I was listening to the “self-doubt mind gremlins”.  Did I have enough experience? Could I do the job at a large research university?  Would they even consider my application? Those were the self-doubt and lack of confidence issues I was facing.

I also knew there exists gender and implicit bias that women may not be able to lead a male dominant large research-intensive university.  The biases affect the decisions that we make such as – not to apply.  They limit us. Or a I say, they become ingrained as part of our limiting belief systems.

It’s wasn’t uncommon for me at that time to feel that I didn’t deserve the position.  “I’m not as prepared.”  “I need to do more before I am worthy of such a position.” I find these thoughts to be a common theme among many high achieving women.  Studies have shown this as well; “I’m not deserving.”  At times it’s difficult to internalize your own accomplishments.   It’s easier for others to see them before you do.

That’s why mentors (peers included) are so important. They can make a difference.  They see in us what we can’t or don’t see.

So, I hope you get the picture.  I wanted that position and I was letting my limiting beliefs get in the way. I thought, “All the guys will apply, and I won’t stand a chance.”  Then I had another thought, “Yes, they all will apply, but if I don’t – I will never get the job.”  That’s when I realized that if you want to hit a home run, you have to get up to bat!

I did get up to bat.  I put in my A+ game.  I paid attention to every aspect of that application process. Did my homework and then some.  I was ready.

You know what? I hit that home run. I hit that ball out of the park.  I got that position. I was the first female to serve in that position. I was the first person from outside the university they hired for that position. In both cases, it only took 93 years to accomplish that. I served in that position for 12 years and loved every minute.

So, the next time you let self-doubt creep in, remember – You can’t hit a home run unless you get up to bat.

Fireside Chat: A True Story About the 3 Minute Thesis

What can you do in 3 minutes? Boil a kettle, make toast, listen to a song, wash your face, and get rice into the rice cooker? In 3 minutes 750 births happen; 1 million tweets are tweeted; and a graduate student can present the core of their research in a compelling way with one slide.

An 80,000-word thesis or dissertation would take 9 hours to present – their time limit is 3 minutes.

What a fascinating idea. Sharing your thesis in 3 minutes and one slide. How could that be? I was intrigued.

Here’s my story of how my curiosity and my passion for educating graduate students led me to bring the 3MTTM   to the U.S. – first at the University of Georgia. I then shared my discovery with the rest of the Graduate Community.  Today, it’s been adopted in some form or another across the U.S. and into Canada.

I discovered the 3 Minute Thesis TMcompetition while talking with a colleague from the University of Queensland (networking). We were at a meeting in Munich, Germany in 2011.  I can still see us standing around during a coffee break.

Several folks were talking about a three- minute thesis. A three-minute what? I was curious.

Once they explained it to me, I was hooked on the idea. It was exciting and challenging to share your research in 3 minutes or less to an intelligent lay audience with one static slide, no dancing, and no props.  That’s not all, you had to engage your audience to want to learn more.

Returning home to Athens, Georgia, I gathered my team and said, “We’re going to do a 3 Minute Thesis TMCompetition!  We’re going to do it this year! This competition is so relevant for our students to hone their communication skills. It will be fun.”  You should have seen the surprised look on their faces.  That was October and we did it! We held the first 3MTTM to my knowledge in the U.S. on March 29, 2012.

Why did I push so hard? What was my vision? I wanted to help grad students succinctly communicate what they were doing – what their scholarship was about – and the “so what” of it.

I saw the value of these students sharing their knowledge to a wider community.  As it happened – they are holding 3 MTTM competitions across the U.S.  It’s an important career and employability skill.

A skill essential for career advancement.  Students need to be able to communicate technical information to a smart intelligent lay audience like policy makers, or in a job interview, or to their grandmother.

The competitions are amazing. I learn so much each time I attend one.  It’s tough to judge these – I know, I served as a judge.

Students learn as much by preparing for the competition. They learn how long or short 3 minutes are.  They learn not to speak using jargon.

Most importantly, they share with a broader audience 1) the benefit of graduate education, 2) that graduate education is a public good, 3) the new knowledge they created, and 4) they inspire others to want to know more; they peak their curiosity.  It’s curiosity that drives the engine of innovation and creation of knowledge.

Several students shared that they practiced giving their talk at a stoplight. Others practice in front of their friends or even in front of their grandmother. If their audience could understand them, they knew they are on the right track.

I knew I had to share the marvelous aspects of the 3MTTMwith my grad dean colleagues.  They could see I was passionate about this competition.  They invited me to bring three of my finalists from our competition to “perform” for the Conference of Southern Graduate Schools (CSGS) Deans regional meeting over lunch.

To fully understand. You need to stop a minute and picture the setting in which this was done.  Imagine wait staff clearing dishes, the clinging sounds of silverware and glasses being remove from the tables. The distraction of dessert being served. That was our background.

I arose from my table and proceeded to introduce each student one at a time and they each gave their three-minute talk. Each dean was so impressed. I could see it on their faces. Their focus and attention were not on dessert and coffee or a conversation with their neighbor, but rather on each student as they presented.

They were so impressed with how professional, engaging the presentations were, and how the distractions of the clearing of the tables did not bother any of the students.   “WOW” was the comment I heard most often followed by, “How do we do this on our campus?”

Next year many of the deans began to implement a 3MTTMcompetition. Before you knew it, CSGS was holding a regional competition inviting the winners from each campus to compete.  Today, regions are sending their winners to the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) meeting for a national showcase.

I love the 3MTTM.   I love what it can do for students. I love how an idea – an innovation – can be shared for the benefit of our students.

I invited Legislators to meet with our students and experience their three-minute talk.  I had our students do their three-minute talk to the Chancellor, to the Board of Trustee members, to Alumni Boards, to my Development Board.

It demonstrates the powerfulness and impact of communication. The audience sees the result of the value added and transformation that occurs in graduate education.  They can also see the public good of graduate education.

So next time you have 3 minutes, maybe you will be practicing your talk.  It’s not as easy as you think.

Fireside Chat: Imposter Syndrome

As a first-generation college graduate, to earn a graduate degree was a major milestone. A first for my family.  Women did not attend college let alone seek an advanced degree. I was the lucky one – encouraged to seek an education. Education was a gift – a key that opened doors to opportunities

There was no one in my family to advise me about graduate school or how to navigate the path forward. I was on my own trying to figure things out. I realized early on that if I was going to be successful that I couldn’t do it alone.  That is when I became brave enough to ask a few questions of my fellow grad student colleagues; I discovered what today we call peer mentoring.

When I began my graduate education, I remember feeling the excitement of the journey ahead of me.  Today, I can still feel what it was like that first day. I remember the beautiful crisp sunny fall day – stepping onto the campus as a first-time grad student. I can see the beautiful trees, awesome huge buildings – the pathways across the quads. Most of all, I can feel the joy of taking that first step to achieve my goal

My memories flash to my enthusiasm and passion for learning and the degree I was going to earn – that would create opportunities to become a university professor. My enthusiasm and passion were a way to stay focused on achieving my goal when I encountered hurdles along the way. And there were hurdles – small one, large ones, multiple ones.

Self-doubt liked to loom close by.  Early on, I would say to myself, “oh my … They let me in. It must be a mistake. Everyone else here is so much smarter and they know what they are doing.”  What scared me most was that someone would find out that I got in by mistake – then what?

I wasn’t the only student having self-doubt. I heard several of my friends say some of the same things I was thinking.

Today we call self-doubt the “imposter syndrome”.  Letting self-doubt and the “mind gremlins” take over and squash your dreams.  Guess what – they didn’t just let me in. It wasn’t a mistake.

The faculty admission committee knew what they were doing. They saw promise and potential in me. I realized early on not to let the “mind gremlins” get in the way of achieving my goal – earning that degree.

I had a belief that grad school was going to be an extension of what I experiences as an undergraduate – wrong. With no one to share insight, I was clueless especially as a first-generation student.

Much more is expected of you in grad school, much, much more.  I did find my path through trial and error. Asking graduate students ahead of me a mix of questions about the process, about professors, about anything I needed answered. We call that peer mentoring.  Peer mentoring is essential in graduate school. One has to be willing to ask and seek out others who can serve as peer mentors.

The most crucial lesson I learned was the importance of peer mentoring. The experience of those ahead of me helped to demystify graduate education. It was the experience of benefiting from peer mentoring that even as Dean, I served as a mentor to demystify the process of grad education for students and assisted anyway I could to share experience.

Here are a few of my takeaways for you that I learned that assisted me and I have seen it work for many other grad students. The last one especially worked for me at difficult times in my PhD program.

  • When you’re “stuck” or experience a little wobble, remember that first day of excitement, passion, and thrill, of being new – feel it – and remember your goal!
  • Many – especially women, experience the imposter syndrome. Spot it for what it is and move beyond it.
  • Find peer mentors who can assist and answer questions; be a peer mentor to someone else
  • Finally know there will be bumps and hurdles on your journey. Your task is to get around them, through them, over them, under them and Go for your Goal!

Fireside Chat: A True Story – Introvert at Important Reception

While it may seem to you that I am an extrovert, I’m really a border line introvert/extrovert with the emphasis on the introvert.  It’s not easy for me to break into groups – especially groups where I don’t know anyone. It always seems to me that everyone knows everyone and I am on the outside looking in. Has that ever happened to you?

Never fails – when I walk into a reception I notice all the faculty standing around talking to each other while the rest of us just look on.  Over the years I learned how to be more successful in navigating these events. It’s really not that hard.

First, as introverts we have an advantage! We listen. I realized that I am a good listener and that people really like to talk about themselves. So that makes it easy. I let them do the talking and I do the listening.  Now I’m connected.

The key for me is to prepare a question to ask and then listen. The question might be about the speaker we just heard, or the latest event happening on campus, or something in the news. It’s just an ice breaker. Or I ask them to tell me about themselves. That one always works.

I also figured out a few ways to gracefully navigate an “escape” from the person that goes on and on. One way is to say. “It’s been great talking with you and I promised ‘so and so’ that I would meet up with them at the break.” Sometimes I am really lucky and another person comes along.   That is what I call divine intervention. I don’t feel guilty about leaving, the person talking now has a new person to engage.

As a female I find that it can be difficult at times. I remember this one time when I was at a reception that the Chancellor of the University System was hosting.  I wanted to talk to the Chancellor about an important matter and get it on her radar. She was surrounded by a group of male faculty members. They knew where the power was.

My task at hand was how to I break into that circle and speak to her.  I looked and found an opening in the circle. Stood there and listened to the conversation.

I had a plan. I was not going to shout my question from across the circle.   I had to maneuver closer to where she was standing. So, I slowly kept moving around the circle until I could get right next to her. I did. When I was there standing next to her I engaged her with my question. Because of my proximity, I had her undivided attention.

Later a male faculty member said to me…I saw what you were doing, that was a pretty clever move.

I know you can be clever too.