Archive | August 2010

So, you want an assistantship?

doctoralgownI’ve written before my advice on how to be a successful graduate student. But to even get to be a graduate student in the first place, you may need a graduate teaching or research assistantship – especially if you’re an international student not eligible for loans in the U.S.

I get it, I understand how important an assistantship is to you (the ticket to graduate education in the U.S.!) and how much you need it. I’ve been an international graduate student myself. Granted, I didn’t have to ask for assistantships – I always got them, maybe because I was lucky, maybe because my file spoke for itself.

But here you are, you got admitted to Purdue (congratulations!) yet you don’t have funding. What do you do??

The first thing NOT to do is to type (or copy from some website) a letter along the lines of the one below and send it to ALL professors in several departments:

“Dear Professor,

I’ve been admitted to Purdue… I’ve read about your research and I’m very interested… I am highly qualified in… (areas usually not related to the professor’s research). My resume is attached… Will you please consider me for a research assistantship?”

You know what happens to these emails? DELETE. Most of us don’t even bother to answer. Hey, you didn’t bother to look up my research interests – or even spell my name in the opening of the email.

Whoever advised you that you get ahead in life by sending template letters to lots of people was WRONG.

If you want to get my attention and have a chance at being considered for funding, here’s how to go about it:

  • Write a clear, specific subject line that refers to something I do or I’ve worked on (I=me, the professor, not you). This will get my attention and will tell me the email is relevant to me personally.
  • Use my name in the opening of the email. Copy and paste it from my website, to make sure you spell it correctly.
  • DO actually read about my research interests, peruse my list of publications, read one or more of them – or at least spend a few minutes reading my blog.
  • Convince me you are ACTUALLY interested in the research I do. Be specific about what you’re interested in and why. Show me you’ve done the work to learn about my research. A strong interest in my research is the #1 qualification I look for in students. I can teach you the rest.
  • Argue how your skills will actually be applicable to the research I’m doing. Give me some ideas about what you would like to work on.

Yes, this type of letter is more work. You won’t be able to write 500 of them. But the 10 you will be able to write are more likely to get you an assistantship than the other 500.

You should know a few more things about how this process works. If you are admitted as a graduate student in my department, chances are I saw your file. I might have even voted on your admission. If I wanted to offer you an assistantship, I would have done so by now. If you are in another department on campus, I have not seen your file. Although I am more motivated to fund students in my own department, I will consider you if you are a very good fit.

If you’ve applied for admission in my department, don’t send me the form letter above the week before classes start – or ever. If you were REALLY interested in my research, you would have mentioned that on your application to graduate school, and you would have been in touch with me a LONG time ago.

And here’s the last part. Not all my faculty colleagues will work this way, but it may work with me: If you’re just applying to graduate school and you’re VERY interested in working with me, contact me as early as possible – even before you send in your file. Be prepared to explain what about my research you’re interested in and why.

Research is the most valuable skill you need (and will learn) as a graduate student. Show you have potential for it by DOING YOUR RESEARCH before approaching professors and asking them to invest in you.

[Photo credit: http://academicregaliaforpurchase.com]

Colbert vs. Google

If you didn’t catch Colbert taking on Google last night, this is a must. Funny, of course, but he is making a lot of valid points:

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The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word – Control-Self-Delete
www.colbertnation.com

http://media.mtvnservices.com/mgid:cms:item:comedycentral.com:351570

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We will ALL be out of jobs

Sorry, this video cannot be embedded, so you have to click over to watch it (but remember to come back!).

It’s yet another story of a person (this time, a teacher) losing her job over some comments she made on Facebook.

SOON, WE WILL ALL BE OUT OF JOBS.

If things continue to go this way, soon, we will ALL be out of jobs.

People, it’s time to get used to it and stop over-reacting: With social media being so open (with or without our knowledge or consent), it is unavoidable that statements will be heard by the wrong people and taken out of context. Imagine this teacher complaining about her students to her friends, over dinner – would she be fired for that? Would she be fired for maybe, half-jokingly calling her students “germ bags” in this context? No, she would not. But because things are being taken out of the context and the original audience for whom they were intended, they are costing this woman her job.

So, we have two options:

1) Keep it so safe on social media that we all become bland, boring and dishonest, and ultimately abandon it, because an unauthentic form of communication is just not worth the waste of time.

2) As a society, start getting used to seeing comments that were not intended for us, learn to place them in their proper context, and stop jumping to conclusions and judging people so quickly and so wrongly. Chuckle and move on. (Oh, and: students, wash your hands. parents, be nice to teachers.)

This situation will keep repeating. You’ll hear about it more and more often. It’s time to learn to adjust to the new reality, or we’ll ALL be out of jobs.

Thank you, Quincy, for bringing this video to my attention.

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