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Once you choose to enter a graduate program, you typically plan to stay in that program until graduation, right? Well, plans don’t always work out and the only constant is change. You learn these lessons fairly quickly as a graduate student. One of the biggest challenges you may encounter as a graduate student is the prospect of switching to another program.
I began my doctoral program with sheer optimism for the graduate experience. I had settled into a new city, made new friends, and found comfort in my coursework and research endeavors. Importantly, I had also established a good working relationship with my advisor – which can be crucial to a graduate student’s success. Not only does an advisor serve as a mentor, they facilitate and monitor your progress, guide your research projects, assist you in career development, and more. The relationship that one has with their doctoral advisor can largely impact a students’ development (Schlosser, Lyons, Talleyrand, Kim, & Johnson, 2011). Additionally, having a mentoring relationship in graduate school is mutually rewarding for both the student and faculty. For students, especially, having this type of relationship is beneficial for timely degree completion and research productivity (Dohm & Cummings, 2002; Hollingswoth & Fassinger, 2002).
I had settled into a new city, made new friends, and found comfort in my coursework and research endeavors. Importantly, I had also established a good working relationship with my advisor – which can be crucial to a graduate student’s success.
In my opinion, the advisor-advisee relationship is the most important relationship established during doctoral training, as this is the person with whom you conduct research and receive training. For these reasons, my graduate program decision was largely impacted by my choice of advisor. In fact, I chose my specific program to conduct research with and receive training from my advisor.
As stated before, plans just don’t always work out as planned. Four months into my training, my advisor let me know that they were moving to another university. I was then presented with the opportunity to follow them to this different program – one that I never considered in my graduate program search. Initially I thought the idea was crazy. I had just recently uprooted myself with the intention of staying put for the next few years, but was now faced with this unexpected challenge.
In retrospect, I now realize that the decision to switch graduate programs is quite similar to any other big life decision. There is a lot of time spent wavering between the options, and at many points you may feel like you will never be able to figure it out. If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are a few of questions that you may want to ask yourself:
In retrospect, I now realize that the decision to switch graduate programs is quite similar to any other big life decision. There is a lot of time spent wavering between the options, and at many points you may feel like you will never be able to figure it out.
With those questions in mind, I’ll walk you through my personal decision-making process.
1. Decide what is important to you in your graduate program - What do you care about? What experiences do you want to have?
For me, it was helpful to make a list. This included: funding, goodness of fit with the faculty and students, location, relevant training experiences, publishing opportunities, program reputation, and the advisor-advisee relationship.
2. Research and visit the other program if possible.
Since doctoral programs require years of commitment, it pays off to scope out what could potentially be your new home. On this visit I spoke with faculty, met students, asked tonsof questions about their program, looked at potential housing options, and explored the area. I also talked with current students to get the student perspective of the program. I asked them for their opinions on funding, training, and the program’s culture.
3. Weigh the pros and cons of each program, and figure out which has the most pros.
Again, I made a list. I wrote down the names of both programs, and noted which one was superior in the things that I found important to me (e.g., funding, training opportunities). I also took into consideration the costs of moving, and whether the move was worth the cost.
Of course, this was the most difficult part of the process. Even once I had my completed lists of pros and cons, I changed my mind daily and revisited the conversation over and over again with friends and family. I gravitated towards moving to the new program, but still had difficulty coming to terms with leaving the friends and life I had created for myself.
After months of deliberation I made the decision to move with my advisor.
After months of deliberation I made the decision to move with my advisor. All my credits were transferrable, and the program turned out to be a good fit for what I wanted in terms of research and practice. Re-locating again within a year (back to the other side of the country) was certainly not ideal, but as an advanced doctoral student I can now say that I made the best choice for me.
Being asked to follow your advisor is a unique opportunity that many doctoral students do not have. First and foremost, being asked to re-locate with your advisor means that they see potential in your abilities as a student and researcher. Though there were some challenges associated with this, the benefits far outweighed the stress I endured. I have made lifelong friendships with students at both programs, established professional connections in both locations, and gotten experience seeing the inner-workings of how different doctoral programs are run (which is a big plus when considering a future in academia).
In sum, most life decisions are difficult. But with careful consideration and attention to your needs, the decision you make will likely be the best one for you.
Dohm, F. A., & Cummings, W. (2002). Research mentoring and women in clinical psychology.
Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26, 163-167.
Hollingsworth, M. A., & Fassinger, R. E. (2002). The role of faculty mentors in the research
training of counseling psychology doctoral students. Journal of Counseling Psychology,
Schlosser, L. Z., Lyons, H. Z., Talleyrand, R. M., Kim, B. S., & Johnson, W. B. (2011). Advisor-advisee relationships in graduate training programs. Journal of Career Development, 38, 3-18.
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"Back in my day we didn't need to have online courses, you just woke up and went to school. How can you learn online?" This is a quote from my aging father who went to college in the late 60s, before the world of online classes. No full time job, kids, or growing list of social commitments to pair with going to school full time. Just school, your friends, and a part-time job, possibly at the local soda shop. According to Gill Grinyer, solicitor in Bristol, England, "student life was a lot less stressful and competitive...we had grants and didn't have to worry about funding...I don't remember worrying about what I would do when I graduated. Today's students are much more worried about careers."
With university and college life becoming much more stressful, there is a need to be more efficient. Hence, the importance of online courses and the increasing number of people who are choosing to take online or distance education as opposed to sitting in class. The Wichita Cooperative for Educational Technology (WCET) published a study in 2016 that showing the increase in the number of students in the United States taking at least one online class from 1.6 million in 2002 to 5.8 million in 2014. No matter what method of communication that students find more comfortable online course are going to force them to have to communication and collaborate via email. The only face-to-face methods that could be used would be through applications like Skype or Facetime and while emotional cues could be picked up this doesn't mean that they will.
"Back in my day we didn't need to have online courses, you just woke up and went to school. How can you learn online?"
So, what now? You have to communicate more via email. You can respond at any time of the day and with new add-ons you can even set a timer for when your emails will be sent out. There is no need for extended greetings, because you can say hello and then get right to the point. However, these conveniences increase the chances of more controversy or miscommunication. According to Harvard Business Review, these miscommunications are due to the ease of tone and context to be misread, reactive instead of progressive responses, and prolonged debates. To avoid some of these potential destructors of working relationships, here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to communicating during your online course assuming that there is no opportunity for face to face communication:
1. Don't be afraid to use emojis 😘
According to a study done at Western Michigan University, "Due to recognizing nonverbal expressions faster than verbal messages participants exposed to the emoji condition might have evaluated messages faster or more efficiently than those in the text-only and emoticon conditions." What we all enjoy about face to face communication is that it is easier to understand the emotions and sentiment of the person that we are communicating with. We can tell if they have had a good or bad day and if they are even in the mood to communicate. The use of emojis may lead to an increase in understand of the message that we are trying to communicate.
2. Sure, use sarcasm! (Don't use sarcasm.)
Sarcasm is best used during your favorite late night sitcom reruns, but can lead to some pretty awkward email conversations if used. Even if used lightheartedly, the use of sarcasm if taken in the wrong context can lead to a negative response by the recipient. Currently the average response time to someone between the ages of 20-35 years old is 16 minutes. While this doesn't seem like that long it is actually quite a long time for someone to read and then mill over what was said by you in an email. What did they mean? Were they really trying to say that? In the end, it is better to leave the sarcasm to Seinfeld.
3. "If.....then" statements
There are two main reasons you would send an email, either you want to receive information or you want to provide it. Whether you are giving or receiving, the use of if/then statements can be very useful in making your correspondence more efficient without the using multiple threads or having to go back and forth an inappropriate amount of times. An example may help. I would like to my assignment partner to take the next step in the assignment, but I am unsure if they are ready. So, I may send out the following email:
Hey Partner X,
I have just finished my portion of the assignment and was wondering if you were ready to move on to the next portion? If you are, then let me know when we could get started. If you are not, then let me know how I can help. 👍
In this case, I am efficiently and politely informing my partner that I have finished and am ready to continue. I have also given them two conditions that may be present and instruction of what I need in either condition.
In the end, it is better to leave the sarcasm to Seinfeld.
4. Revise and Review
I have sent out a number of emails without rereading (still guilty of this) and in the end had to explain what I really meant as well as apologize for the confusion. While it is easy to point the finger at the other person for taking the email the wrong way I am the one who sent the email in the first place. Try your best to take the time to read over the email you are going to send at least twice. Once in the way that you meant for it to be taken to check for grammar or mistakes and the second should be in a critical way to assume what parts of your email could be taken the wrong way. This will help you make sure that you are clear and polite in your email.
From misunderstanding and miscommunications to sarcasm and sentiment, there are a number of different ways that communicating by email during your online course can go wrong. My personal advice, assume the other person meant what they said in the most positive way possible. If all else fails and you have had to reread an email numerous times then it may not be worth sending.
Beattie, A (2017). Interpersonal Impressions of Emoji Use in Computer-Mediated Decision Making. Retrieved from Western Michigan University website: https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1920&context=masters_theses
Blumenthal, A. (2015). Why Haven’t They Replied Yet. Retrieved from USC Viterbi School of Engineering website: https://viterbi.usc.edu/news/news/2015/why-hasn-t.htm
Lightfoot, L. (2016, June 24). The Student Experience - Then and Now. Retrieved from the Guardian website: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/jun/24/has-university-life-changed-student-experience-past-present-parents-vox-pops
Poulin, R. and Straut, T. (2016). WCET Distance Education Enrollment Report 2016. Retrieved from WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies website: http://wcet.wiche.edu/initiatives/research/WCET-Distance-Education-Enrollment-Report-2016
Tjan, A. (2011). Don’t Send That Email. Pick up the Phone! Retrieved from Harvard Business Review website: https://hbr.org/2011/11/dont-send-that-email-pick-up-t.html
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You are nearing the end of your graduate program and you are tasked with completing arguably the most important and most challenging milestone of your graduate career—the dissertation (or thesis). Beginning, let alone finishing, a dissertation can seem like an insurmountable feat. You must now make a meaningful contribution to your field of study by conducting novel research. The thought of completing such an arduous task can be overwhelming, but remind yourself that you have already accomplished several other important milestones in your graduate program (e.g., comprehensive exams, field experiences, projects). In that regard, think of the dissertation as one big, final project that you simply need to complete before you graduate. In fact, that is just what a dissertation is… “a project.” A project is a planned undertaking that requires you to assemble many different parts to form a whole, finished project. For this project, the dissertation, these many different parts may include: an introduction; literature review and theoretical framework; hypotheses and research questions; method and procedure; and results, and discussion. The aforementioned items are simply the moving parts that need to be ordered, managed, and essentially, brought to life. From my own personal experience, adopting that mindset allowed me to understand that although a dissertation is indeed challenging, it is feasible and not impossible.
With the understanding that a dissertation is just a project, now you must begin the task of generating topics. What are topics that appeal to you? What are issues that should be researched more thoroughly in your field of study? These questions serve as a great launching pad for topic generation. As you create this list, you may find yourself falling down the “rabbit hole,” which is okay. Allow yourself to dive head first into topics that are general, specific, broad, unusual, and creative. To accomplish this, you can conduct searches on scholarly databases, speak to colleagues, check out books from the library, etc. Once you have developed a list of topics, take the time to review the feasibility of carrying out this research. For instance, conducting research on individuals’ attitudes regarding the impact of a ketogenic diet on learning, may sound interesting, but how would you execute it? Where would you find potential subjects? How many subjects would be needed to have adequate statistical power? Ask yourself these challenging questions as you generate a list of potential topics.
A powerful tool that I relied upon throughout the course of the dissertation process was book called, Dissertations and Theses From Start to Finish: Psychology and Related Fields, written by John D. Cone and Sharon L. Foster. This book clearly broke down how I needed to start the dissertation process. While self-starting this process, it is imperative that you consult your advisor. In fact, consulting your advisor before you begin, may be more helpful as he or she will help to steer you in the right direction. Although you will be spearheading the dissertation, it is important to keep in mind this project is not a solitary endeavor and should not be considered as such. Use your advisor. Your advisor may become your chair, so it is important that the both of you remain on the same page in terms of the direction of your research. Thus, it is important to always maintain clarity of what you will be doing. Remember, your advisor has done this before, so he or she is equipped to provide you guidance. It may helpful to ask your advisor to provide examples of successfully defended dissertation proposals and dissertations from students that he or she had served as primary chair. You should look at ProQuest, which provides a comprehensive database of dissertations. You can look at previously written dissertations in your field of study, which is helpful because it offers a working model.
In terms of forming your committee, generating a list of potential faculty members will be helpful. How many faculty members are needed to form a committee? Do these faculty members have interest, expertise, or knowledge of the particular topic you will be researching? Are they well-versed in statistics? Have you worked with them before? Are you familiar with their research? These are wise questions to ask yourself because they will be providing your critical feedback of your work. A common concern is having adequate statistical knowledge to carry out a dissertation. In my experience, I referred to books and websites to help guide statistical operations. Depending on your field of study and statistical software, I highly recommend Discovering Statistics Using IBM SPSS Statistics, written by Andy Field. After you have created a list of faculty members whom you would like to comprise your committee, asking them to formally join your committee is the next step. When requesting their membership to your committee, explain to them the nature of your research, why you believe your research is important for your particular field of study, and why their involvement in your committee is important. Obviously, one of the many responsibilities of faculty is to serve on committees, but approaching them in an organized, thoughtful manner is important because it demonstrates your level of commitment to the process. As a final note, deferring to your graduate program’s handbook is ultimately your best course of action when embarking upon this process. The handbook will inform you of your program’s policies, deadlines, and other requirements. If the handbook does not provide clear instruction regarding the completion of certain tasks, you should get that information from your advisor or the director of your graduate program.
Cone, J. D. & Foster, S. L. (2006). Dissertations and theses from start to finish: Psychology and
related fields. Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Field, A. (2013). Discovering Statistics Using IBM SPSS Statistics, Fourth Edition. New Delhi,
India: Sage Publications.
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By: Savannah Wright
Starting graduate school is daunting. Starting a family is daunting. Putting them both together at the same time seems insane – but it’s not! Or at least it doesn’t have to be. They are both time consuming, thrilling, emotional rollercoasters, but you do not have to choose one or the other if both land in your lap at the same time. By no means is the situation easy, but also by no means is it impossible. Research shows the average age women have their first child is 26.3 years old (Mathews & Hamilton, 2016). Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) reveal that 31% of graduate students are between the ages of 25 and 29. Given the clear overlap in the demographics, starting a family in graduate school is not unheard of. With support systems, research, planning, flexibility, and time management, you can have your cake and eat it too (in this case…have a baby and graduate from graduate school).
Given the clear overlap in the demographics, starting a family in graduate school is not unheard of.
My back-story: I got married two weeks before I started a five-year PhD program. I knew there was no way we could or even wanted to wait five years before starting our family. I was also determined to finish my program on time. I was pregnant with my first son during my second year in the program. During this time, I was enrolled in a full course load (four classes a semester) and worked part-time (twenty hours a week). My son was born two weeks after the school year ended. I was pregnant with our second son during my internship year, while defending my dissertation, and graduation. Not to mention the then two-year-old was also along for the ride. JHe was born three months after graduation. Again – not easy but not impossible. I’m not claiming to be an expert on graduate school OR parenthood, but I will share what made the situation more manageable in my experience.
To give you an idea of what a school’s leave policy may look like this is the one for my particular university: “Graduate students in degree or certificate programs are typically granted a Leave of Absence (LOA) for only one year throughout the course of their degree program. When circumstances warrant, this may be extended beyond one year with approval from the Dean of the Graduate College. LOAs are granted on a case-by-case basis for compelling reasons including birth or adoption of a child, personal or family reasons, medical reasons, military duty, or financial hardship. Students will maintain their status without reapplying to the department and the Graduate College at the expiration of the LOA.” Fortunately, my son was born in the summer so I did not have to talk time off, but I knew that it was an option if I needed it.
In addition to researching leave policies, start researching childcare options! You’ll want to start budgeting and preparing. To give you an idea, the average weekly cost for full time daycare for an infant is $211 per week (Bugbee, 2018). However, full time daycare is not always the only option. Graduate school has the ability to have a somewhat flexible schedule. Due to some online and evening class options and flexible work hours, I was able to condense my working time to three days a week. That gave me two weekdays to be with my son and not pay for full time childcare. Some daycares do not offer part time care, so make sure to keep that in mind while looking. Some universities have childcare options as well. I personally do not have first hand experience with university childcare, as this was not the route I took. There may be pros and cons to this option depending on your research of your particular university’s program. Personally, I chose a part-time daycare that was centrally located and would work for both my husband and me to be able to pick him up and drop him off conveniently. And don’t forget – grandparents and other family members can make wonderful childcare takers too!
Support Systems and Flexibility
Speaking of grandparents, and family and friends in general, don’t forget to keep a good support system. I am lucky to have a very supportive husband who understood that sometimes I needed to hideaway at Starbucks on Saturday mornings to get things done or would take bedtime duties while I met for a study group on a weeknight. We were able to figure out how to tweak our schedules that made school continue to be possible for me. Both sets of grandparents were extremely helpful in sometimes taking my son for time here and there as well. I realize that not everyone has extended family around, but family and friends can still be long distance support systems! Having people to talk to, vent to, and even complain to will help immensely.
Remember that your professors, colleagues, and fellow graduate students are part of your support system as well. Take the time to explain what flexibility you might need with pertinent faculty. Perhaps you’ll have to call in for a meeting while your baby naps instead of coming in (or the baby needs to come with you!). Have candid conversations about what you will realistically be able to be involved in. Maybe you are now helping on two research studies instead of three. Maybe you take three classes instead of four. Maybe you take a research assistantship that allows flexible hours and working from home. It is possible to find opportunities and experiences that will still work for you but not if you do not embrace your program as part of your support system.
That being said, you may run into particular faculty who are less approachable than others about this situation. Try to find a supportive faculty ally. They may be in your program, but perhaps not one of your specific professors or your advisor. If you know of someone who has recently started a family in graduate school (or as a professor!) reach out to them. Learn their tips and tricks as well.
If you know of someone who has recently started a family in graduate school (or as a professor!) reach out to them.
Time management is key in graduate school no matter the circumstance. However, adding a baby to the mix is going to make time management absolutely critical. Gone are the days when you can wait until the last minute to finish an assignment. You know what happens when you leave an assignment to finish until the night before it’s due? Your baby gets sick and stays up all night. It’s a special type of karma. So getting things done in the snippets of time that present themselves (nap time, early bed days, when they randomly sleep in, when you can sneak to Starbucks or the library, when grandma needs to have baby time, etc.) is crucial. Even if it’s not due for a week but you have time to get it done – do it. The stress of a baby who won’t go to sleep when you need to stay up to get something done is awful (they must have some kind of sixth sense about this).
If you’re not a planner – become one! Schedule out your days and weeks on when you can find chunks of time to accomplish things. Get a babysitter for a Saturday morning on particularly demanding weeks, schedule a late night group study session (other people to hold you accountable), or have your partner take a morning during the week so you can get up and out the door early. Just remember the flexibility – the week might not go as planned, but if you are getting what you need to get accomplished done ahead of schedule, you will be a better parent and student! Personally, I felt having my son made me more organized and on top of my work. I had no other choice. If I left things to the last minute, everything would fall apart. It also gave me a much-needed balance in life. Graduate school could no longer consume my life because I also had another major priority.
Like I mentioned before, starting a family in graduate school is HARD but NOT impossible. It takes a lot of determination and flexibility. Know that things will not go as planned. This could mean anything from how you planned your day to when you thought you would graduate. Know that you will not be able to give either (grad school and the baby) 100% of your dedicated time. But in the end it will all have been 100% worth it!
Bugbee, K., (2018). How much does child care cost? Retrieved from https://www.care.com/c/stories/2423/how-much-does-child-care-cost/
Mathews, T. and Hamilton, B., (2016) Mean age of mothers is on the rise: United States 2000-2014. National Center for Health Statistics.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 20 U. S. C. A§ 1681 ET. SEQ.