Professional Development Tools

Archived List of Topics

  1. Grading Tips for Graduate T.A.'s
  2. Teaching International Students
  3. Teaching American Students
  4. Getting off to a Good Start with your Committee
  5. Weaving relaxation into the summer workload
  6. Teaching to Different Types of Learners
  7. What does it mean to Learn through Inquiry?
  8. Why Write a Dissertation Proposal Anyway?
  9. Applying to Present at Professional Conferences
  10. Preparing for an Academic Interview
  11. Getting Letters of Recommendation
  12. Publish and Flourish
  13. Time Management
  14. Teaching Assistant - Professor Conversation Starter

Grading Tips for Graduate TAs

Grading that is clear, consistent and well-explained can serve to motivate students about how to move forward in their own learning process. You encourage students' good work when you assist them in identifying their own strengths and areas where there is still room for growth. The CETL tip this month focuses on some practical strategies for how to grade students' work while considering grading as a tool for increasing students' learning.

Talk with Faculty

Before you begin the grading process have a discussion with the faculty member for whom you work. The purpose of meeting with your faculty mentor is to get a clear sense of what students have already been told about how their work will be graded. Much of this information may already be available on the course syllabus and/or directions for the final exam, so arrive at this meeting well-prepared and with questions in hand. Focus your discussion on concrete expectations that the professor has for grading. Use the syllabus and/or assignment as a guide for drafting your own outline or grading rubric that outlines the student responses that you will be looking for in each section of the paper/exam and assign a point value for each question. Bring the outline to your meeting with the faculty mentor. In your meeting, clarify any points where the expectations of your faculty mentor diverge from your own. By getting a clear and concise explanation from the professor about their reasoning for evaluating each question, you will make it easier to provide students with useful feedback that supports their continued learning process. Providing students with informed reasoning about their final grade will also help you to avoid conflicts later with students who want to contest their grade.

Organizing your Work

In an ideal situation, you will want to read through all the papers/exams at least once prior to assigning grades. As you read and respond to each student, place the papers/exams in separate piles for each possible letter grade. Don't worry too much at this phase in the grading process about gradations that involve a plus + or minus -. Once you have separated all papers/exams into piles designated by letter grades, go back through and conduct a second reading of each pile to ensure that you have been consistent in your evaluation. Use a pencil to mark letter grades at this point to make adjustments easier. After completing your assessment of final grades, then and only then erase the pencil markings and write the final grades in ink. If your faculty member will be reviewing the grades, wait to mark papers/exams in pen until you have consulted with them about the final grades to be assigned.

Providing Constructive Feedback

As a contributor to students' learning, take your job seriously and give students good and comprehensive feedback. As someone who will be assigning grades, you are in a position of power, and with that power comes responsibility. Even if you are grading a large number of papers/exams, devise a system so that you can provide each student with at least three specific items that they can work on. One approach to providing feedback is to include a typed summary at the end of the paper/exam that highlights three areas of strength and three areas for improvement. Your concrete feedback can support students in developing their own learning skills beyond the single paper/exam that you are grading. Without writing over students' own words, work or writing, your feedback should guide students to specific places in their paper/exam where they can continue to improve and develop their own ideas. By typing your feedback, you increase the likelihood that students will in fact read your comments and not need to spend time trying to decipher what has been written. Another approach to providing students with concrete feedback is to include a completed rubric with each paper/exam that shows the point value received for each question. This approach can be supplemented by a single paragraph that again highlights two to three strengths and places for improvement within the paper/exam.

Record Keeping

When you sit down to record final grades, begin by alphabetizing the student papers/exams (typically by last name). While this task may at first seem time consuming, it will make entering final grades faster and more accurate. Keep accurate records that include any specific notes/feedback about students' work; these records will make it easier for you to justify and/or reevaluate a given student's final grade if it is challenged at a later date. Keep a copy of this document in a separate confidential location so that if the first document is lost or erased, you will have a back-up.

For more tips on grading, the following resources are available in the CETL library

Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001.

Davis, Barbara Gross. Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993.

Walvoord, Barbara and Anderson, Virginia J. Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998.

On-line Resources for Designing and Utilizing Grading Rubrics:

Mertler, Craig A. (2001). Designing scoring rubrics for your classroom. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 7(25). Retrieved July 25, 2006 from Guidelines for Developing a Rubric.

Create your own Rubrics for Project-Based Learning at - Rubistar

Teaching International Students

In our October CETL tip for graduate students, we focused on cultural diversity in the classroom and communication with American students. This month we turn our attention to the ways that American TA's might work most effectively with international students. At Clark, 8% of the student population is made up of international students. As an American TA, you will likely have several students in your course from backgrounds different from your own. Working as a TA with international students can be an amazing opportunity to learn about different educational experiences and expectations.

We all come to the classroom with ideas about expectations for behavioral interactions between teachers and students. What are your preconceived notions about learning and education? By becoming aware of your own cultural norms and mannerisms in the classroom setting, you increase the likelihood of engaging in effective communication with your students. As a TA, you play an important role in facilitating the learning process. Students from a variety of cultures will come to you for help with understanding the course material and the feedback they receive on assignments. You can provide your students with helpful learning strategies by first asking them to identify their greatest learning challenges. Uppermost among the challenges that non-native English speaking international students deal with is the use of English as a second or third language.

At a round table discussion on "Teaching International Students" held by the Office of Faculty & TA Development at The Ohio State University, the three main issues facing international students in the American classroom were identified as: (1) difficulties in note-taking and comprehension problems, (2) a lack of second language confidence, and (3) unfamiliarity with the U.S. academic classroom discourse patterns and expectations. As a TA in the American classroom, you can support international students by speaking slowly and clearly. Many Americans take for granted the speed at which they speak. By keeping a steady pace in your speech and using words that are accessible to learners, you will improve your relations with your students while simultaneously improving your students learning. When you use discipline specific terminology, write the words legibly up on the board or distribute them in a handout. Whenever possible, use visual aids to complement your discussion of a particular topic. If you use Blackboard on-line, post weekly discussion notes and word definitions so that students can review them at their own pace. Encourage your students to build relationships with peers so that they can exchange class notes with one another. If sharing notes is not a possibility for your students, you might suggest that students audio-tape class lectures. When students have concrete tools for reviewing the course materials (ie: audio taped lectures, handouts, access to Blackboard definitions) they are more likely to come to your office hours with specific questions.

When leading discussions, it is important to allow a significant amount of time to pass before students are expected to respond. You can see moments of silence as opportunities for students to craft their responses. The think pair share exercise is one approach to providing students with sufficient reflection time before discussion begins. In the think-pair-share exercise, the instructor poses a challenging or open-ended question and gives students a half to one minute to think about the question. This time for reflection gives students a chance to start to formulate answers before responding. Students can then pair up with a class member and discuss their ideas about the question for several minutes. The think-pair-share structure offers an opportunity for international students to discuss and exchange ideas with peers from different backgrounds. Be open and responsive when students request that you to clarify the meaning of the question you are asking. An effective way of getting international students involved in class discussions is to provide students with positive feedback when they participate. If you lead discussion with a specific focus question, make that question available beforehand. For large discussion sections, consider having students break up into smaller groups. Groups should be instructor selected and should mix American and international students. Use small group activities as one approach to supporting students in working collaboratively. Initiate conversations with students that invite different understandings of the course material. When you do this you, you will be opening a space for diverse perspectives the interactive exchange of global knowledge.

The following links may be useful resources for individuals that want to learn more about working effectively with international students.

Teaching International Students

Sarkisian, E. (2006). Teaching American Students: A Guide for International Faculty and Teaching Assistants in Colleges and Universities. Third edition. Massachusetts: Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. * This book is available for review in the CETL library.

Teaching American Students

Cultural diversity affects the ways we teach and mentor students. If you are an international TA teaching in an American classroom, you are likely to encounter students and faculty from backgrounds different than your own. Becoming aware of the cultural norms for behavior in the classroom can help you to develop strategies for effective communication that will be vital to your relationships with faculty and students. Future CETL tips will deal with how American TA's might work most effectively with international students and how international students might work most effectively with American faculty. If you have thoughts on either of these topics, we would love to hear from you. Please send an email to: cetl@clarku.edu.

Culture plays a key role in learning environments. As Sarkisian notes, "…different cultures have different assumptions about the academic background of college students, about how students learn, about the appropriate roles of teachers and students, (and) even about the fundamental purpose of a college education" (2006). What this means in terms of active practice is that teaching in any cultural environment requires a knowledge of the customs and practices that typically occur in that setting.

Preparing for surprises that may emerge in classroom interactions is no easy task. While there is no single way to approach the graduate TA role, it is a good idea to be familiar with the expectations of the students and faculty with whom you work. As a starting point for thinking seriously about working with American students in the classroom setting, you may find it useful to simply visit a class and record what you see. How are the interactions in the classroom similar to or different to what is most familiar to you?

Observation is a powerful tool for reflecting on cultural practices in the classroom. As a follow up to your classroom visit, you may try having a conversation with other teaching assistants who have taught in an international context. Ask if you can come and observe what they do in their sections. Then, share your thoughts and ideas with them about how you plan to be well-prepared for leading your own discussion sections.

Consider your own assumptions about the roles of students and teachers. After recording your own assumptions, initiate a conversation with your students about their assumptions concerning the teacher / student role. Start a conversation with your students by sharing some of the ways that classroom dynamics are different in your own country. You can even tell students that you understand how they might be concerned about having a foreign teaching assistant. Consider asking students what they are willing to do if and when you say something they do not understand. By opening a dialogue with your students early in the semester about their expectations you minimize the probability of problems occurring later in the semester. In addition, having this conversation with students allows you to create an open environment for addressing problems if and when they arise.

Because language is one of the primary ways that students will get information from you, how you speak and the gestures you use when speaking are likely to influence the type of relationships you have with students. If you have an accent that is unfamiliar to the American ear, speaking slowly and clearly enunciating your words will be a great service to your students. Even if it is obvious, you may want to tell your students that English is not your native language.

If you see that students are becoming disengaged when you speak, it may be helpful to periodically pause and ask students if they have any questions. Because the American ear is unlikely to be attuned to different accents, it will be helpful to provide students with intermittent opportunities to reflect on what they have just heard. For example, mid-way through a discussion section you may ask students take 2-minutes to write down anything that has been unclear to them thus far. After the two minutes, ask students to share what they have written down. It is likely that students may comment on similar confusions; this can lead to productive exchanges where students share and explain their own understandings of what they have heard. Creating an environment where students feel comfortable asking you questions will increase the probability of students seeing you as a resource.

Sarkisian, E. (2006). Teaching American Students: A Guide for International Faculty and Teaching Assistants in Colleges and Universities. Third edition. Massachusetts: Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning.

This book is available for review in the CETL library.

Getting off to a Good Start with your Committee

Gearing up for a new semester means getting off to a good start with your committee.

The purpose of a committee is to guide and evaluate your proposed study and written project. As a team, they will provide quality control and participate in the oral/written defense of your project. To minimize confusion and eliminate contradiction the ideal size of a committee is usually between three and four faculty members. Think about the expertise that each member brings to the committee and how their strengths might further your own depth and breadth of knowledge. This will maximize the kinds of feedback each committee member is able to provide. It is additionally important to consider the compatibility of each committee member with the others. While you may have a flourishing relationship with each individual, tensions between your mentors can create complications for you in your progress toward completion. Select individuals who have good communication skills and are compatible with your approach to learning. Finally, be sure to consider which members of your committee might be on sabbatical during a critical times in your project. If you can't work around these conflicts, you may need to choose someone else.

If you already have a committee in place, now is the perfect time to get back in touch to make plans for the semester ahead. Consider sending an email to each of your committee members that provides specific dates by which you plan to complete certain tasks. Find out if any of the dates you propose conflict with other commitments that committee members will have in addition to their work with you.

If you have yet to identify faculty members to sit on your committee, here are some things to think about:

You will spend a great deal of time interacting with the members of your committee. Select committee members whom you can see yourself developing long term relations. While it is certainly important to have individuals on your committee who have an interest in the fields of knowledge you are interested in exploring, it is equally important to gauge your ability to work closely with each member of your committee. The committee you create will function as a group of mentors; each individual will contribute to your overall educational experience and serve as an advisor to you throughout the year.

Weaving Relaxation into the Summer Workload

Everyone knows that the work of a graduate student doesn't stop in May, but the fun doesn't have to stop either! Worcester is full of activities, particularly in the summer when school lets out, the weather finally warms up, and work frequently takes a back seat to relaxation. This month we are offering tips on:

Weaving relaxation into the summer workload

The first place to look for relaxation in the Clark area is SummerFun at Clark University. SummerFun is a group that plans informal activities for students, faculty and staff staying in the area over the summer, including hiking, canoeing, tours of the Worcester Art Museum and West Boylston Botanics, and trips to see sports games. For more information, contact Greg Doerschler at 508-421-3773 or David Coyne at 508-793-7296.

Dance

Fred Astaire Dance Studio Of Worcester

American, Latin-American, International Style and Exhibition/Theatre Arts dancing

319 Shrewsbury, Worcester

JoAnne Warren Studio

Adult dance classes in tap, jazz, ballet, and hip-hop (pay by the lesson)

321 Grafton Street, Worcester

Poise, Style, and Motion Ballroom Dance Studio

Tango, Salsa, Rumba, Swing, Cha Cha, Hustle, Waltz, Fox Trot, Meringue

97 Webster Street, Worcester

Arts & Crafts

Worcester Art Museum (WAM)

The WAM offers classes and programs including traditional studio courses, writing classes, interdisciplinary instruction, family days, and art history tours. They have 8 studies, including a professional printmaking studio, computer studio, and photography lab. Here are some upcoming adult class schedules:

May-August: Spring/Summer Sessions

June, July, August: Summer Art Institutes

Click here for course offerings.

If all else fails, put down the lab manual or journal article, and read for fun! You can join a book club to make it seem more like work! Check out the Worcester Public Library Calendar of Events for more information.

And of course, for outdoor activities, check out:

Tower Hill Botanic Garden in West Boylston ($8, buy one get one admission with AAA)

Local hiking (free) at Hadwen Park (Knox St. off of Webster St.), Green Hill Park (off route 9), the Cascade Trails (off Mower St. by Worcester State College), and Mount Wachusett (in Princeton). To find out how to get there, see a map of Worcester.

Teaching to Different Types of Learners

People learn in different ways, therefore it is important to vary the presentation of course material. To better prepare yourself to vary styles, first take a look at the possible learning styles you will encounter in the classroom. This month, the graduate tip is on:

Teaching to Different Types of Learners

Learning styles are preferences that people have for the ways in which they learn material. Learning style inventories provide insight into a student's possible strengths in learning, and can be used to help individuals develop effective study habits. They are not designed to help students pick professions or the types of classes to take.

They can be measured on a variety of dimensions. The dimensions present here are active and reflective learning styles, and sensing and intuitive learning styles; from the Index of Learning Styles Inventory. For a great description of more concrete learning styles (visual, aural, read/write, and kinesthetic), click here.

Active and Reflective Learners

One dimension of learning styles is based on whether people prefer active engagement or reflection on material. Everyone exhibits behaviors of each at different times, though some people may tend toward a more active or reflective style.

Active learners:

  • Retain information better by working actively with it, for example, talking about the information with someone else or applying it to real world issues.
  • Enjoy group work.
  • Have the hardest time listening to lecture without doing anything besides taking notes.

Reflective learners:

  • Retain information better by thinking about it quietly.
  • Prefer to work alone.
  • Have a hard time listening to lecture if only taking notes, but not as hard as active learners.

Sensing and Intuitive Learners

Some people learn better by sensing the material, others are more intuitive. Like the active/reflective dimension, everyone uses both approaches at different times, though some are more sensing or intuitive than others.

Sensing learners:

  • Prefer learning facts.
  • Prefer solving problems with traditional methods.
  • Are good at memorizing facts and doing hands-on lab work.
  • Are practical and careful.
  • Prefer classes with applications to the real world.

Intuitive learners:

  • Prefer exploring relationships between materials.
  • Prefer innovation and creative approaches to problem solving.
  • Grasp new concepts quickly and like abstract material.
  • Work faster than sensing learners.
  • Prefer courses that go beyond rote memorization and formulas.

Two great learning style inventories are:

The Index of Learning Styles

VARK: A Guide to Learning Styles

These are available free online. As an instructor, knowing your own preferred learning style is important because you will naturally teach in that way. Knowing about the different learning styles will help you to vary your approaches to appeal to different types of learners through different presentation methods in class.

The idea for this tip came out of one of CETL's recently offered TA workshops. Suggestions for tips are always welcome cetl@clarku.edu , and we will offer tips accordingly.

Online Resources:

VARK: A Guide to Learning Styles

Index of Learning Styles from North Carolina State University

New Students, New Learning Styles

What does it mean to Learn through Inquiry?

CETL promotes Clark's Learn through Inquiry signature, and many faculty members have worked to understand this signature and incorporate it into the classroom. However, many students are still unfamiliar with the signature. In order to help students take advantage of Clark's unique educational emphasis, this month we are combining the graduate and undergraduate student tip:

What does it mean to learn through inquiry?

About the Learn through Inquiry approach:

"Learn through Inquiry describes Clark's commitment to hands-on learning and problem solving. The skills needed for problem solving in the discipline are developed sequentially, through a pervasive pedagogy of engagement. Throughout their Clark experience, students learn by actively working through real problems, issues and questions, mastering modes of inquiry, and acquiring the knowledge base required to ask and to answer important questions. Each student has an opportunity to participate in a culminating discipline-based experience in the context of senior seminars, research, or other capstone experiences."

Clark Signatures

Learn through Inquiry is an educational approach that emphasizes student development across their educational careers and learning skills to work through important problems within a discipline.

Some general strategies for using the Learn through Inquiry approach to improve your educational experience:

  • Apply material to your own experience. When you are trying to learn new information, attempt to make it meaningful based on your past experience. How does the material relate to things that have happened in your life?
  • Look for connections between courses. If you seek out the ways in which what you learned in one course relates to what you are learning in a current course, you will have a better chance at remembering new material. Plus, courses relate more than you think, and looking for the connections will help you see the bigger picture in your education.
  • Use open assignments as a way of exploring material that is interesting to you. If you have the opportunity to write a paper on any topic related to a course, find something that will likely answer a question you have had in the past. Even better, if you are interested in a topic, try approaching it from different angles based on the emphasis of the class. You can take an historic approach to the study of the topic in history, and a biological approach to the topic in biology.
  • Take advantage of Clark's resources outside of the classroom to improve your skills. The most important thing you will leave with will be the ability to formulate questions, find answers, and share those answers with an audience. Clark has many services that will help you with these skills. Some services include participating in research, which will help you with problem solving, the Goddard Library, which can help you learn to find the information you need, and the Writing Center, which will help you share what you find.
  • Think of creative approaches to course-related issues. You might be able to make it through a course by memorization, but in many cases that is not enough. Further, that will not help you in the long run. Find new ways to think about the material and complete assignments and you will be rewarded by your critical thinking skills!

Are there other ways that you incorporate Learn through Inquiry in your educational experience? We would love to hear about it! Please send your ideas to cetl@clarku.edu.

Why Write a Dissertation Proposal Anyway?

The one thing that unites graduate students in different Ph.D. programs is that all will have to write a dissertation. However, a dissertation proposal is not always required. Further, when a proposal is required, the necessary amount of detail will vary based on the requirements of your department and expectations of your advisor. With all of the rules of the proposal, it is easy to lose sight of the function of the dissertation proposal to begin with.

A dissertation proposal can seem like many things: a requirement, another hoop to jump through, an option along the dissertation path - but also as a positive thing: such as a way to organize your research before you begin, and set forth a plan into action with your committee members. The proposal helps you define problems and develop methods with which to approach the problems, regardless of your discipline. Locke, Spirduso, & Silverman (1993) focus on the positive aspects of a dissertation proposal, positing three main functions: a plan of action, a communication tool, and a contract between the student and the committee members. Below are some of their thoughts, as well as supporting thoughts from your fellow Clark graduate students.

Proposal as a Plan

The dissertation proposal serves to outline the student's plan of action in the realm of research. As with any good empirical study, the results are only as good as the methodology behind the research - and this is similar with a dissertation proposal. By forcing students to think about their research before beginning to do the research, the methods are straightened out before it is too late.

A student at Clark recalls the process as one of organization:

"I chose to write my entire dissertation (minus results and discussion sections) for my dissertation proposal, and then I added a section for proposed results. This was the best thing I could have done. Now that my data is almost done being collected, all I have to do is write the results and discussion for my dissertation and VOILA I am done."

Proposal as Communication

The dissertation proposal serves as a vehicle for communication between the student and committee members, and in some cases, funding agencies. If you are applying for dissertation funds, you will need a clear and concise plan that communicates your intentions and the value of your research. Even if you are not applying for funding, communication with committee members is essential at all stages in the dissertation process, so the more clearly you can communicate your intentions, the smoother the process will be.

A student at Clark recalls:

"Writing the dissertation proposal was really a treacherous process for me. That being said - it was also one of the most useful exercises I have completed during my doctoral work. The standards of my advisor forced me not only to think deeply about my research project but also about how to communicate my study in an articulate academic format."

The proposal as a Contract

Once the proposal is accepted, it is signed by the student and committee members. This contract assures that only minor changes may be made after this point - any substantial changes to the research plan or layout of the proposal can only be made after all committee members reach an agreement.

This is perhaps the most easily overlooked function of the dissertation proposal. Though you may feel like you own your work and can do with it what you please, the proposal serves as an academic promise that you will follow the approved plan. This works to the advantage of the student as well as the integrity of the plan - committee members sign the proposal knowing that if the student completes the work, then that student will be in good form to finish the dissertation in the allotted time.

A student at Clark considers the proposal as a way to keep her connected with the original goals of the project:

"While my research project continues to evolve and have a life of its own - the proposal continues to serve as a skeleton model that keeps me grounded - especially at times when the dissertation writing process begins to feel overwhelming."

For more information on the function of the dissertation proposal, please see:

Tomorrow's Professor Msg. #77: The Function of the Dissertation Proposal.

Locke, L.F., Spirduso, W.W., & Silverman, S.J. (1993). Proposals That Work: A Guide for Planning Dissertations and Grant Proposals, 3rd Edition. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Applying to Present at Professional Conferences

In many disciplines, we are entering the time of year when graduate students need to start thinking about where to present their research.

Why Present?

  • If you are planning to search for an academic position, having presented at a conference is a must for your CV/resume!
  • You get the chance to network and meet the bigwigs in your field, as well as beginning researchers from other institutions. Check back for a future tip of the month about how to network.
  • You may have funding that allows you to travel for next to nothing! Check with your department, or with Clark's Graduate Student Council for travel fund opportunities.
  • Presenting your research is a great opportunity to force yourself to think about what you are doing, and how your research fits into the broader picture of your field.
  • You get good practice talking to other people, and defending your research! That will surely help you as you defend your master's thesis or dissertation.
  • Graduate students get reduced registration rates.

Where to Present

  • Check out what conferences researchers you are interested in have presented at in the past. You can usually find this information on a personal webpage.
  • Ask your mentor and other professors in your field which conference would be best for you.
  • Get practice at the 4th Annual Graduate Student Multidisciplinary Conference on March 29, 2006! For more information, click on "Multi-Disciplinary Conference" at the GSC website.
  • If there are conferences that are local, go to as many as you can. These may be regional or special topic conferences of national organizations, or conferences of smaller regional organizations within your field.
  • Try to get to one non-local conference a year. As you select this one, decide which fits best with your professional interests.
  • Remain consistent. If you present at a conference that you enjoy and is a good place for you to present your research, try to go every year. People will remember you this way.

Some Big Conferences

This is a much abbreviated lists of some organizations that you may want to consider presenting at, with links.

Check back for a future tip about what to do once you have been accepted to present at a conference, including tips on networking!

Preparing for an Academic Interview

Still on the job search? Last month we offered tips about requesting a letter of recommendation. If you've made it this far, perhaps you will appreciate this month's tip:

Preparing for an Academic Interview

Figure out what type of interview for which you are preparing. There are three types: a half hour-one hour screening at a conference or convention, a phone interview, and an all-day or multiple day interview on location. For the latter, you will most likely need to prepare a job talk that will either be based on your research or teaching a class.

Areas that you will be asked to discuss include your dissertation or postdoctoral project, your research interests, your teaching experience and interests, and your interest in the institution to which you are applying.

When you are discussing your interest in the institution, make sure you have thoroughly researched the institution, including (if a teaching position) courses that you could teach that are lacking in the department. By showing that you have conducted a thorough investigation of the institution, your interest will be all the more apparent.

Review lists of potential questions, and be prepared to answer each. If you rehearse the answers too much, your responses will seem artificial, but thinking briefly about how you would answer a question will prepare you from being caught off guard. Some sample interview questions can be found here.

Some interview questions may arise that you feel are inappropriate, or may in fact be illegal. For instance, you may be asked whether you are a native speaker of a language, or whether you are or plan to be married or have children. Sometimes people are interested in whether or not there will be a family conflict if you are to accept a position, but these questions are illegal. You should feel free to turn these questions around. For instance:

Questions: Do you plan to have children?

Answer: I see that you're concerned about my commitment to this position. Let me tell you about my research plans for the next several years. I plan to pursue them, whatever other personal decisions I may make.

(From "The Academic Job Search Handbook", p. 141)

For more examples of answering inappropriate questions, click here.

Be prepared to ask your own questions during an interview. You may be curious, for example, about institution expectations for research, teaching, and service, or how departmental decisions are made. You will likely have your own questions, but for more examples, click here.

In general, professional dress (even a jacket, for men and women) is expected. However, steer clear of flashy clothes that may detract from what you have to say. A portfolio or briefcase for your papers will look nice too.

Nervousness is to be expected, but if you feel your nerves getting in the way of your self-presentation, mention it. Let the interviewer know that you are a little nervous because you are so interested in the position, and ask for a moment to collect your thoughts.

For conference interviews, makesure to bring extra copies of your materials, and schedule enough time in between interviews to prepare yourself and get to the next location.

For on campus interviews, bring a copy of all of the materials you sent with your application, as well as reprints and preprints of your articles, and materials related to courses that you are prepared to teach (such as syllabi).

For phone interviews, be sure to be in a place where you won't be interrupted, and keep all of your materials by the phone.

CETL Text Resources:

Morris Heiberger, Mary, & Miller Vick, Julia (2001). The Academic Job Search Handbook. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Reis, Richard M. (1997).Tomorrow's Professor: Preparing for Academic Careers in Science and Engineering. New York: IEEE Press.

Online Resources:

Advice for interview preparation from Tomorrow's Professor

The inside scoop on search committees

Getting Letters of Recommendation

One common element of job applications is the letter of recommendation. Applications for grants or intern/externships generally require letters of reference as well. As you prepare yourself for your future career, take a moment and reap the benefits of the tip for October:

Getting Letters of Recommendation

When you select your referees, choose people who know you well, and from various settings. For instance, you may choose someone who knows about your abilities in teaching, and someone else who is familiar with your research and/or community involvement. This allows your reviewers to get a comprehensive picture of you as an applicant.

Make the request for a letter of reference in person. Offer to provide the referee with materials that will inform him/her the details of your achievements, and your career goals. For example, you might offer to provide your CV or resume, your academic transcript, the job ad(s) to which you are responding, and/or a statement of your career goals. Not all referees will want this material, however.

Allow a potential referee to say no. If a person seems reluctant to write on your behalf, s/he may feel he does not know you well enough in a particular context, or may not have the time to dedicate to writing a letter. Respect this choice, and move on to another potential referee.

Provide enough time for your referees to complete their letters before the deadline. Two months notice is ideal.

Provide your referees with a list of who else will be writing your letters. This practice will let the referee know on what skills in particular to focus, and ensure that your letters will not be too similar.

Talk to your referee. Even someone you know well is bound to overlook some of your achievements or strengths. You should arrange for a meeting in which to highlight your aspects that you think qualify you for the position or award to which you are applying.

Provide details about the application you are completing, such as the exact title of the position or program you are applying to, the type of position to which you are applying, and background information on the organization. If you are applying for an award, provide the criteria for evaluation of applications.

Make your referees' job as easy as possible. If you are providing them with forms to be completed, make sure that you have completely filled out your portions of the forms.

Make sure all deadlines are clear.

If you are applying to more than one position, alert your referees to any differences in the specifications of the positions. Also, see if there is a standard procedure for distributing application addresses. For example, some departments require you to send your list to an administrative assistant, who prints and sends faculty recommendations after they sign the letters.

Thank your referees in writing--the old-fashioned type, not an email! A letter or card shows your appreciation far better than a passing "thanks".

Update your referees on the progress of your search. Let them know if you get an interview, or make it to the next round in an award decision.

For more tips related to letters of recommendation:

Schall, J. (2002). Writing recommendation letters: A faculty handbook. Eden Prairie, MN: Outernet Publishing, LLC. (This title is available from the CETL library).

Publish and Flourish

As a graduate student, you will be asked to write for many venues, including grant applications, papers for classes and/or publication, conference abstracts and papers, and job applications. Why note take a moment to reflect on your writing strategies, and see if there is a way you can improve upon those strategies, and be a successful writer?

Here are some useful strategies for writing that will help you become a successful and flourishing writer. These tips may even help you get published!

Write daily for 15 to 30 minutes. People who do so publish more than those who write in large chunks of time!

Keep a record of time spent writing and find a writing partner to meet with weekly. Having to share your records with someone else will hold you accountable for writing, and encourage you to accomplish even more.

Write a concise, key sentence for each paragraph, and then support that sentence in the rest of the paragraph.

Share with non-experts. Have a spouse or sibling that isn't in your field? Perfect–if your writing makes sense to them, you can be more confident the writing will make sense to someone in your own field, such as a journal reviewer.

Listen to readers, don't become defensive. Your writing is not you, and you are not writing for yourself, ultimately. If the reader finds a portion of your writing unclear, then it is unclear! Need a reader? Check out the writing center at Clark, located on the first floor of the Corner House (x7405).

Read your work out loud to yourself, a listener, or have someone read it to you. Hearing your writing allows you to catch mistakes, and overly wordy sections.

There are always second chances with writing in academia. Any time you submit an article, you can be sure there will be at least some minor revisions needed for publication, if not major revisions. So don't hold onto a manuscript until you and your advisor feel it is perfect–that won't happen! Send it out and appreciate the feedback from educated readers in your field.

Write when you begin to research. Never stop until the research is done! This includes researching background material for your project and conducting studies. Even if your writing is rough, you will be able to catch weaknesses in thought or experimental design, and have something to work with and revise later.

These tips are from the Tomorrow's Professor publication: "Publish and Flourish: Become a Prolific Scholar" by Rick Reis. To subscribe to the mailing list, click here. You may also want to check out their archived messages.

For even more tips, see Tara Gray's (2005, forthcoming) Publish & flourish: Become a prolific scholar. (This book can be purchased through New Mexico State University.)

Time Management

Graduate students juggle many responsibilities, which may include taking classes, doing research, serving as a teaching assistant or research assistant, having a family, and working.

Know your responsibilities as a graduate student, and say no to requests that fall beyond these responsibilities if you don't have time. If in doubt, ask your advisor for help.

Maintain to-do lists! Get a sense of accomplishment checking off completed tasks, and use these lists to prioritize each task.

Get a personal planner, and use it! This may take discipline, but will save you countless amounts of time checking back for past emails about appointments.

Schedule time to complete research.

Take a break. Sometimes taking a short break from school and planning a fun activity is essential to your well-being.

Get feedback from other students about how they manage their time.

Schedule regular appointments. If you are to meet weekly with your advisor or other students, make sure it is at the same time to keep yourself disciplined.

Log your time for a week, then tally how you have used it for various types of activities. Are you satisfied with the balance? Are you using your time effectively?

Get enough sleep, eat right, and exercise, even if you think you don't have time! Not only are these tips essential for life, but doing these will increase the quality and quantity of your work!

For more tips: UCLA TA Handbook [PDF]

Teaching Assistant - Professor Conversation Starter

Here is a list of topics that would be helpful for teaching assistants (TA) and professors to discuss at least a week before the start of the semester. This list should be viewed as a conversation starter, not an exhaustive list. You may want to print this list out and take it with you to your first meeting.

  • What are the goals for this course?
  • Is there a copy of the syllabus available for the TA?
  • What is the TA's level of familiarity with the material?
  • What teaching methods does the professor use?
  • How often will the professor and TA(s) be meeting outside of class during the semester?
  • What are the responsibilities of the TA for this course?
  • Will the TA be grading student material?
  • If there is more than 1 TA, how will work be divided?
  • Will the TA be giving guest lectures?
  • Will the TA have responsibilities for maintaining part of a Cicada website?
  • Will the TA be in charge of reserving audio/visual equipment?
  • Will the TA be hosting office hours?
  • If so, how many hours a week?
  • How should this time be best spent?
  • The TA should provide the professor with his/her office number, the specific office hours, and email address for use in the syllabus.
  • Will the TA be offering discussion and/or laboratory session?
  • If so, what should be covered in these sessions?
  • Will attendance be mandatory in these sessions?
  • Has the professor ordered a desk copy of the text for the TA(s)?
  • Are there materials other than the text the TA should read to become familiar with the course material?
  • Exchange home phone numbers for emergency purposes

Alternatively, you are encouraged to sit down at the beginning, middle, and end of the semester with your assigned professor to discuss mutual expectations for the course using Clark's TA Evaluation Guide (.doc). You may also request students in your class to complete an Evaluation of you as a TA at the end of the course using this form< (.doc)/a> (this evaluation is conducted at the same time as the University Wide Teaching Evaluations (UWTE) of Professors).