In This Issue:
Last month I wrote about “Looking for a Friend When You Need an Expert”. In this newsletter I want you to remember The Golden Rule: “Those who have the gold make the rules.”
As a graduate student I was a research assistant (research trainee) working in the Center for Demography and Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. One of the most common mistakes graduate students make is not understanding that academia is business and your job title is “graduate student”, “research assistant (RA)”, teaching assistant (TA),” or “graduate assistant (GA)”. In general, being a graduate student is a full-time job and you’re expected to log at least 40 hours or more per week. Graduate funding sometimes includes small stipend for living expenses, a tuition waiver or a reduction in tuition, health benefits, and possibly on-campus housing. Like any job for pay, you’re expected to show up and produce some results based on the time you spent “working.” There is no such thing as a free lunch.
Even if you have a fellowship or scholarship you’re still expected to accomplish something either by working on your own research, finishing coursework with acceptable grades, or passing your qualifying exams. Some fellowships/scholarships require that you annually submit a copy of your transcripts and a progress report.
In exchange for the funds, organizations have high expectations when they give money to the university. They expect their money to accomplish something. Once the money is accepted by the university on behalf of the professor, your professors must come through with his stated goals. It is rare that they accomplish these goals by themselves. Instead, they find some very capable, young, self-motivated students who are willing to work long hours for small amounts of pay. In other words, these grants fund your graduate career via a RA or GA position (Azuma).
The money that supports you while you’re in graduate school comes from grants that were awarded to your professor via the university. These funds come from government agencies such as the Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Health (NIH), the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and others. Other funding agencies include private companies and foundations such as the Ford Foundation, Carnegie Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Some foundations fund university research in the form of equipment donations, stipends for dissertation fellowships or salaries for postdocs. To secure this type of outside funding, your professor had to compete against other faculty at other institutions. Being awarded an outside grant is a substantial achievement for faculty. Most grant applications require that your professor writes a “Budget Justification” section stating what goals he/she plans to accomplish with the funds.
In “So long, and thanks for the Ph.D.!” Ronald T. Azuma warns graduate students not to take their funding for granted. He writes “…don’t enter an RA position thinking that the computers, research equipment, staff members and other resources that you’re provided with are your birthright. Don’t take them for granted! Most of those exist only because your professors have been able to raise the money to provide those to you. In turn, you must fulfill your end of the deal by doing great research with those resources.”
If academia is a business and you’re an employee then your advisor is your boss. He or she determines whether or not you keep your job or are relieved of your responsibilities. Like an employee, you should communicate regularly with your boss/faculty advisors about your progress in your graduate program. You’re responsible for understanding your own role in the development of your relationships with your faculty mentors/advisors. Your boss expects you to shoulder this responsibility of communicating your progress. He or she assumes that you’re a mature adult, who is fully capable of doing your job and will seek his or her help when needed. If you don’t do your job well, don’t be surprised if your professors choose not to fund you in the future.
In graduate school your course of study is planned individually by you and your advisor. Together you and your advisor have responsibility for determining the course program and research acceptable to satisfy the degree requirements. Therefore, you should inform your faculty advisor of any leaves of absence that may be needed as well as the expected date of return to your program of study. For graduate students who are considering Maternity or Paternity Leave, it is important to keep in mind that everyone’s circumstances are different. The decision of whether and when to mix an academic career with parenthood is one that only you and your partner can answer. While you may wish to seek the advice of your advisor regarding this important issue, keep in mind that it is only advice you’re seeking, not permission. This decision is yours, and yours alone, based on careful consideration of many factors.
You would never take a vacation, quit a job, or even take a leave of absence without talking to your boss first. If you’re thinking about taking a break from graduate school, you should:
• Inform your faculty advisor of your departure and expected date of return.
• Fill out all required paperwork just in-case you decide to return sometime in the future.
• Know that readmission is not guaranteed after extended leaves of absence (over one year).
• Understand that re-appointment to an assistantship after a leave of absence is contingent upon the length of leave, resources available to cover the responsibilities left unmet by the leave of absence, and the contractual agreement with the granting agency for a replacement graduate student. Where possible, arrangements should be made before leave is taken.
In the final analysis, a traditional graduate school education is based on an apprenticeship model and the faculty values this model above all else. Don’t forget, you’re the apprentice researcher and the advisor is the master researcher who is there to guide you. The master can’t guide you if you don’t stay in touch. Remember the Golden rule, departments have a right to determine competence and acceptable performance, and, following fair and equitable evaluation, they may dismiss any student who fails to perform “satisfactorily”.
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Email Question of the Month:
Hello Dr. Carter;
I just finished reading this month’s article and felt as if you were talking to me. I have made all of the mistakes you cited. My advisor is not an expert in my area and cannot help with my methods. I have received my proposal draft back for revisions primarily in the methods area. I am becoming very frustrated with this process. Do you have any suggestions.
Thank you, Regina G-L
Thanks for contacting me at TA-DA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished; I am glad to know that someone reads my newsletter. I would suggest that you consider using your other committee members. If any one of them are good at research methods ask them for help. Otherwise, look at the papers that you have read (in your literature review) that use similar research methods and copy those methods. Before most papers are published sometimes they are presented at a conference or are published as a working paper first. Generally working papers have more detailed information than published pieces because working papers are not restricted by page length. Try to track down a working paper that has the methods you are trying to replicate. You can also contact the author and ask some specific questions. Researchers love it when someone else is interested in their work.
Moreover you can also contact your previous professor with whom you took research methods course and ask for help or look for a statistician on the faculty of your department or the person who teaches research methods in your department or another department in your university.
I hope that these suggestions are able to move you forward.
I wish you all the best.
TA-DA!™ Graduates —
Congratulations on Your Success
I just wanted to say thanks for all of your help through the Dissertation House. I successfully defended my dissertation in September, and now am slated to graduate in December. I was aiming to defend in August when we were at Rocky Gap, but due to my committee member’s schedules, I wasn’t able to find an open slot until September. Thanks again and I hope you keep inspiring other graduate students!
Dr. Carter, I hope all is well with you. I just wanted to share with you the news that I passed my dissertation proposal defense in October. My goal is to finish in May 2008. I’m already running one study now (I proposed three studies). I’m definitely going to continue to keep your advice and materials in mind during this process.
Thanks again. Best, Gaëlle
Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D.
About the Author: As a single mother, professor Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D., completed three masters’ degrees and a PhD. Her motto is a Good Thesis/Dissertation is a Done Thesis/Dissertation. She is the creator of a new innovative interactive resource tool on CD—TADA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished. To learn more and sign up for her FREE tips and teleclasses, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Privacy is our policy. TADA™ Finishline does not give out or sell our subscribers’ names or e-mail addresses.