I am sure that many of you are familiar with, if not avid readers of, GradHacker. The online community hosted on Inside Higher Ed also covers the lived experience of the graduate researcher and academic. For the summer, the blog quiets down (as I’m sure everyone else is recovering from the academic year). However, they are taking the opportunity to host some interesting contests, and the most recent is one which I participated. “Swag for Wisdom: A Fair Exchange” asks readers to share their best advice for incoming graduate students for a chance to win some GradHacker swag. Prize or not, I love sharing lessons learned. So, here was my advice:
While I considered myself fairly adept at online searching in general and using Google in particular, there were things lurking behind the Advanced Search options that made me balk. Date ranges and searching within websites, but filetype? Those colour options in the Image Search? Some features had been added since I’d focused on mastering online searching skills (aka grad school), and while I was picking up tips and tools through Google-a-Day, I discovered that far too often, I found the answer and then moved on, without looking at the tricks recommended by Google.
So when I saw announcements last year for a free online course titled “Power Searching with Google“, it sounded like a great opportunity. Taught by Senior Research Scientist Daniel M. Russell, the course uses online videos, exercises, and assignments to help users learn more about how to effectively and efficiently search and retrieve valuable results using Google. There were Google+ hangouts, and Google+ was used as a forum on which participants could share strategies, experiences, and insight.
For those interested in global education, online learning, and cross-cultural communication, there is a terrific webcast of a conference happening now from the SUNY COIL initiative. I have blogged previously on the many great projects and opportunities that COIL has made available, including a grant that I am a part of for an online initiative between Lehigh, Drexel, and the University of Ghana Business School. Today’s conference includes a wide variety of speakers and topics from faculty empowerment to online learning on a budget to using Japanese Manga as a medium for cross-cultural communication. After a brief lunch break, sessions will start back up at 2PM EST. The conference will be going on until 5:30 PM EST today, so tune in for some enlightening, interesting sessions!
As budding scholars, we gravitate to the evidence: robust lines of research, rigorous studies, and statistics. As human beings we gravitate to stories: the power of the individual experience to illuminate general trends. Growing evidence supports the notion that one of the features of exemplary principal preparation programs is an emphasis on high quality mentoring relationships. Last week, I was sent out into the field to gather individual perspectives or stories of why and how mentoring works. Practicing and aspiring principals are busy people. Their work days are usually long and often fragmented. Getting in to see them is the first hurdle. Making excellent use of the time they have so generously allotted is the second. I needed a tech tool that would be simple to use and that would enable me to get enough video to capture their experiences as mentors and proteges. One of the other professors needed the office Flip video that day. What to do? Enter the video feature on a tech tool I carry in my purse everyday – the iPhone. Ease of use meant being able to explain the purpose of the conversation while I was turning on the video feature. The size of the phone meant being able to hold it and make eye contact and encouraging facial responses to the interviewees as they talked. Familiarity with the features meant being able to concentrate on the content of the conversation, rather than fussing about the tech tool.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to teach. This shouldn’t sound like such a scary proposition, given that I am a former elementary and middle school teacher, as well as a certified second language teacher (French, not English, but that’s another story). But I wasn’t teaching eager-eyed first graders or even those steely-eyed arbiters of cool (read 7th graders). No, I was teaching adults, professional ones with considerable expertise and experience with the topic I was planning to teach. I only briefly felt like an imposter, as Brookfield termed adults who go back to school and feel they have no right to be there. After all, as a former principal, I had some expertise and experience of my own to share. Adult students, however, present challenges and opportunities unique to their ages and stages. As educators themselves, they have a keen eye for good teaching and are in an excellent position to evaluate bad teaching. And while they probably won’t act out if they experience the former, they can disengage from the whole process so politely that you won’t even notice the energy drain until it’s too late.
A meeting with the chair of my committee and my qualitative advisor last week yielded the kind of reading recommendations that make you appreciate why experts are called experts. Annette Lareau’s qualitative work on social class and family engagement with school would relate directly to my dissertation topic and methodology. And, to make matters even better, Lehigh’s library had both. The e-brary offered the kind of instant gratification to which most of us have become accustomed: the first book was available and with a quick click took up residence on my electronic bookshelf. Wandering the stacks for the second book had pleasures of its own, instant and otherwise: finding it amidst an array of fascinating titles on the neighboring shelves, dropping all the grad student paraphernalia on the nearest comfy couch, kicking off my clogs to curl up like a cat in a patch of sunlight, and diving into its contents right away.
Home Advantage: Social Class and Parental Intervention in Elementary Education (2000) is an account of Lareau’s time spent in two schools, one in a working class neighborhood and the other in an upper middle-class neighborhood. Building on French sociologist, Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital, her data and analysis demonstrate that middle class families activate a wider variety of resources and choose to intervene at key points in their children’s education than do working class parents, resulting in a substantially different (read advantaged) educational experience for their children.
After the IRB process, what more is there to dread about the path ahead, right? Well, between myself and the dissertation process, there is one large hurdle standing in the way, and that is the comprehensive exams. Every PhD program is structured differently, but in my particular program, I have both a qualifying research project to complete as well as comprehensive exams to move on to the next level: PhD Candidate.
Comprehensive exams are tricky. They are at once highly comprehensive (hence the title) but at the same time personal. You spend your time as a PhD student working hard to chart your own research, but there are common goals of the program that also must be met through your coursework. The balance is seen in your comprehensive exam, testing your own self-paced study while addressing the wide variety of information you have soaked up during your in-class time. It feels daunting, but my guess is that you are far better prepared for it than you imagine. So, in the spirit of my own quest to keep on track, I have compiled this list of tips that I am trying to use to prepare for the dreaded December test.