August 31, 2011

Don't Dismiss the Thank You

Remember those annoying thank you notes your parents used to make you write to friends and family? [If you don't, it was something your parents endlessly nagged you to do after your birthday or Christmas or graduation or any occasion where someone gives you a gift.] In its most basic form it is something like this [added fluff is optional]:

"Dear ____________,
Thank you for the _____________. It is really great. I had fun playing with it (using it/reading it) this morning (today/yesterday).

Thanks (Love/Sincerely/or Something),

                                       Your Name Here"

Where I last publicly extolled the virtues of Thank You notes

I hated those notes. I would sigh and trudge off to write them, knowing my grandparents a) knew I was thankful, b) could hear me say it to them, and c) had a giant drawer full of thank you notes from all the grandchildren (assuming that they didn't throw away the thank you notes.) Fast forward twenty some odd years, and here I am extolling the virtues of simple thank you notes to my students. Seriously, send the thank you note. I get it now. I am convinced. It is a small, brief gesture, but it's important. Now that email is so pedestrian and inescapably everyday, it stands out even more when you receive a hand written thank you. You can even go old school and pick out a card for the occasion instead of getting a pack of thank you cards.  

Don't do the email thank you.* The email form letter defeats the point. Even the email 'quick thank you' isn't the same. It screams busy work... and sorry folks, text messages and FB comments don't count either. These many be necessary, but they aren't sufficient. An honest to God, hand written, card-style note. Stamped and mail or hand delivered. Seriously. Try it. Be the extra mile person. It'll work for you.

By the way, if you happen to be a student in our program [and you would know if that includes you]... a few community partners have commented on getting thank you notes from you. They notice, and they appreciated it. They tell me about it -- unsolicited. It makes you stand out. I've noticed more students sending thank you notes to us professors for writing letters of reference. I even received a hand made one from a student I haven't seen since she graduated a few years ago.

My colleague still has the Borealis Press card on her bulletin board that I sent as a thank you note when she was on the search committee that hired me five years ago. I remember buying five cards for the committee members and sitting on the floor in my apartment trying to figure out which committee member would get which card based on the day I spent with them. 

Don't dismiss the thank you note. Pass it on.

August 29, 2011

Robo-Annoyance: The Grad School Hard Sell

"You're Accepted!"

2 weeks ago I earnestly tried to look up the admissions criteria for a few different Masters programs because I was curious after talking with students who were applying to grad schools. Most of the schools were online programs and many were for-profit institutions. The weird thing is despite how efficient websites can be, their websites did not want to provide me with how to apply and criteria for acceptance. I'm not very patient, but I'm fairly decent at website navigation and persistent, so I searched and searched... and in the end, I filled in the little boxes for "more information" putting my office number for my phone number.

Before I go any further, I work at a state school... a not-for-profit, public institution. And we're hurting for students too, as costs go up and a zillion different schools are vying for students. I get it. We may not be profit driven per se, but we are business-oriented as we must maintain what we have and be able to develop. [If you pay your own bills you should know what I mean by maintain. Roofs leak. Costs increase. Technology goes out of date in two years.] It's our reality. Any of my students interested in social services or cultural preservation or anything else not generally profit-driven, they need to understand the basic reality of being able to keep the lights on and employees paid in order to keep those services available. We scrimp. We write grants. And we follow the money. It is unfortunate... but here we are. So, hopefully if you have read this far you know that I am not simply about to business-bash.

Okay, there will be a bit of bashing... You saw the cheesey sales guy above, right? For the last two weeks I've received multiple iterations of something like this when checking my office voicemail:

"Hi, this Mark from L_____y University! There is still time to sign up for fall classes online. We offer...."

Robo-Mark sounds so cheery. At this point I usually hang up and be grateful that I gave the webform my office information. Mark or one of his robo-relatives has been leaving me messages for two weeks. Usually 2-3 messages a week. Today [First day of Fall Term] I answer the phone to hear a woman clearly reading a script ... but I believe she was actual human, not a recording... She wanted to help me find a graduate school that suited my needs for no cost to me. She's really nice, right?

How did she find me? She said I filled out a request for more information. Was the online info-form a general site? I thought I only filled out grad school specific web forms? And if I did, does that mean the grad schools are double-dipping by selling their accumulated perspective student data to some company that "assists" people in finding a graduate school? [Yes folks -- your data is bought and sold and bought and sold again. They have FB apps for that. Many.]

This experience thus far makes me more concerned for students and potential students [which by the way pretty much covers everyone.] The tyranny of choice * is in full effect. I end up paralyzed trying to choose ice cream in the frozen foods section and tend walk away without ice cream. There are many, many schools out there. How to sift through all the competing noise about grad schools and figure out which one is "right"? Graduate school is a much bigger financial and time commitment than ice cream. Some schools are probably great, some are probably crap, and some are anywhere in between. Unfortunately, their advertisements and admissions literature will tell you they are wonderful, wonderful, wonderful -- and right for you! [Run fast the other direction if they say "Fits your schedule."] And I've already said on another blog post someone will take your money. The bar for acceptance may be on the ground. And unless you have a really thoughtful and pragmatic search strategy prepared in advance, it is an overwhelming and highly confusing process to sift through all of the websites and promotional material... which makes us really susceptible to all the advertizing hype [which was never really about our interests in the first place.]

[Recognize any of this, PSY 311 students?]

So what are we supposed to do? Anyone? Any ideas?

... I think I am supposed to be printing syllabi now. My first class of Fall Term starts very soon. :)

August 27, 2011

Summer Reads... Most of Them

A rough list of my summer reading

 Favorite Author! 
[Favorite anthro author. Major score when you find one or your favorite authors has a new book!]

Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy

For the Gender & Cultural Competency Presentation (Some academic, others practice-oriented):

Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference by Cordelia Fine

Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality by Anne Fausto-Sterling

Gender Born, Gender Made: Raising Healthy Gender-Nonconforming Children by
Diane Ehrensaft PhD

The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals by Stephanie A. Brill & Rachel Pepper

For Lifespan I [Not an especially enlightening book.]:

Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives by Annie Murphy Paul

For Social Psychology, Sociology, etc.:

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler & Cass R. Sunstein

For PSY 211 and Abnormal Psych:

Manufacturing Depression: The Secret History of a Modern Disease by Gary Greenberg

For Lifespan II and just to better weave financial ed into classes when appropriate:

The Changing Landscape Of Retirement - What You Don't Know Could Hurt You by Mark Singer

Debt is Slavery: and 9 Other Things I Wish My Dad Had Taught Me About Money by Michael Mihalik
Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance In Your Twenties and Thirties by Beth Kobliner 

"For Funsies" as Jordan would say:

The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder

Dust by Elizabeth Bear

The Ark by Boyd Morrison 

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

Elixir by Gary Braver

Embassytown by China Miéville

The Scar (reread) by Miéville

Kraken by Miéville

Stephen Hunt’s The Court of The Air

Stephen Hunt’s The Kingdom Beyond the Waves

Two of James Rollins novels (airport reading)

The next book of the Del Torro & Hogan series (more airport reading)

:) Off to school Monday.

August 15, 2011

Someone Will Take Your Money - Graduate School Part I

I was a late adopter to Facebook. However, I now have a professional Facebook account so I can be in contact with students and colleagues and relegate the family/friend/grade school classmate chatter to another account. It's been interesting. I've learned more about which students interact with each other and which students have children or pets... I've learned who shares each others textbooks and who sells their books. I've overheard students bash classes and seen what sort of thing then comment on afterward. I've heard students recommend courses and be sad that they are ending. Sometimes I post links to stories that are related the classes, and better yet, sometimes students post links to my wall because something reminds them of a class from a previous term. And it is really handy personally and for our program to keep track of students job-seeking and graduate school experience.

However, this summer I read about an alum who was applying to graduate school. I was a bit troubled by what I heard. [Disclaimer: I want students to go to graduate school if a) they have the skills to do it successfully, b) they are going toward a profession/job that they want, c) they've done their homework about the financial implications (both of debt and future salary), d) they've thought about how this will impact their lives (i.e., having to move, requirement of licensing, family responsibilities etc.) and e) they've done their homework about their graduate school options.]

Weird! What is it with students who don't seem especially engaged in undergrad rushing off to graduate school right after undergrad? [... This is a trend. And I worry about it because grad school steps up the academic demands (or it should!) and is a form of specialization. If you weren't excited about undergrad, go work a bit and figure out which type of program fits for what you want in the future. Not the type of thing to just do because you're not sure what else to do...]

It wasn't clear what program this alum was applying for: One option was a practitioner doctoral program for psychologists and the other was an online for-profit university program (MS? PhD? no idea.)

Hmmm. Doctoral degrees are a big financial and time commitment. Does this alum remember me telling the class that in psychology the higher your degree the further away from the working with clients you get? If this student wasn't a go-get-'em sort of student in undergrad, how are they getting through a dissertation? As for the online for-profit university -- does it include ANY in person experience? Does the university help with setting up practica and internships? For that matter, if it is a psych degree is it APA accredited (assuming it is a psych program? Otherwise that student may be lining up for more classes and a lot of extra paperwork in order to get licensed. It is a royal pain (and time and money.)

The online for-profit university... happens to be a evangelical school that has a position of LGBTQ issues that conflicts with the APA Ethics Code

If the students wants the pastoral counseling angle there are other programs that will help their students bring together spiritually-informed counseling with requirements needed to be licensed and able to provide mainstream mental health counseling services. Why am I hung up on getting licensed? Because if you can't get licensed your job prospects are very limited. If your job prospects are limited, but are less flexible and finding a job will be much, much more complicated (unless you're in a high demand specialization and willing to move to wherever the jobs are.) If you jumped into graduate school on a bit of a whim, invest three to five years, take on loans, lose your ability to work full time for those three to five years -- don't you want to ensure that you'll be lined up for employment in your field?

 So, I ask the alum several questions after explaining school accreditation (and how it impacts getting a license and how that impacts jobs in the future):

1) Why the online school? Why that one?

2) What do the schools require for admissions?

3) Have you looked up scholarships? Graduate Teach Assistantships?

4) And why graduate school now? [The "Why rush?" question.]

As for question #1 ... The cheapest tuition for the degree will likely cost more later if you haven't gone into an accredited program and if you've narrowed your job-prospects. And whether or not this should be the case, I think the social services world is still a bit nervous about people how have gotten quick degrees from pure online programs. [Yes, I know their are crappy campus-based grade programs too.] Think about it -- you are in a person-centered profession, where most of your work will be in person, and most of your education was doesn't match up well unless you'll be doing online work. There are commuter designed programs with low-residency and hybrid programs that are more flexible. Check those out.

As for what required for admissions (#2), the alum couldn't tell me if the school required reference letters, a personal statement (an essay on why you and why that program), GRE or Miller Analogy Test Scores, etc. That one worries me. I'm not particularly aware of many schools admissions requirements, but I'd prefer a program that scrutinizes its applicants and chooses a few... rather than taking everyone and expecting the weaker students to drop out. Or passing them through unprepared. In any case, someone will gladly take your money. The question is, just because they accept you and take your tuition money are they giving you a decent education and preparation for being a professional in that field? Beware the flashy website -- and don't take the school's word for it (and accreditation). Do your homework and check for yourself.

Perchance you don't accepted the first time you apply to graduate school, please know -- this is okay! If you weren't accepted because your application was a mess, you can do the work and fix it, but you may want to ask yourself if this is what you want because high ed is a lot of reading and writing generally. If you weren't accepted because your statement was really vague ("I want to help people"), think about it more. If you weren't accepted because you don't have much experience in the field, get a line staff job for a year or so and your statement will be better informed.

Think of it this way, the graduate school's higher standards work for you, not against you. Anyone can get into a Masters program these days (that is a little tongue-in-cheek, but not by much)... so do your homework, research the school, and be thoughtful about what program toward what end. Don't rush either.

And so, if you are/were one of those students who resented and/or avoided homework, if you're planning on graduate school start investing your time in homework... do the research. Be skeptical. Compare. Ask other people in the profession what they did and what they would do differently if they went back in time knowing what they know now.