Why graduate students should have a professional website

Photo: Phil Manker (Flickr/Creative Commons).
Photo: Phil Manker (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Earlier today I did a mini-webinar on academic web presence with the American Studies Graduate Students Association at Purdue. It was great to talk to colleagues outside of my usual academic communities about why it is so important to be visible on the internet. Here are some of the main points from the discussion:

What comes up when I Google myself? Put your name in quotes, your department name (e.g. American Studies) and current academic institution (e.g. Purdue) into the Google search bar. What pops up on the first page? Your Facebook profile? Your soccer stats from college? A news story about someone with your same name who did something really bad or really embarrassing?

What should pop up, ideally, is something about you as a professional. Something that ties your name to your department and institution, and ideally also says something about your research interests and outputs. This could be a standalone professional website (like this one), a page on your department’s website, your Google Scholar page, or a profile on a network like Academia.edu or LinkedIn. Ideally, it would have a clear, recent photo of you, as well.

Why is this important? At the UCLA Undergraduate Research Center, I spend a lot of my time talking to students about how to find faculty members to guide them through individual research projects. I give them the same spiel every time:

Start with the department websites. Click on “faculty.” There you’ll find a list of all the faculty in the department. You’ll see their research interests and a list of recent publications. Looking through that information can help you figure out who would be a good intellectual fit for you.

The same applies to us as graduate students. There are many reasons why people would try to find out more about you:

  • If they want to hire you, they will Google you.
  • If they want to invite you to join a conference panel, they will Google you.
  • If they want to collaborate you on research, they will Google you.
  • If they want you as an expert voice in a news story, they will Google you.
  • If they want to go on a date with you, they will (probably) Google you.

It is in your best interest to give all of these interested audiences the information that they need as quickly as possible.

Continue reading “Why graduate students should have a professional website”

Teaching future minority PhDs about the academic career path

academic career timeline

In an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Dian Squire laments that many racial (and gender) minority graduate students in the US are ill-prepared for careers as tenure-track faculty. This is not because they lack the requisite research and teaching skills, but because they do not understand how the career track works.

He brings up examples of doctoral students who did not understand the administrative structure of the university or the different types of faculty positions out there. He argues that faculty in doctoral programs should spend more time on professional development. As “digiwonk” wrote in the comments:

Most graduate education is still based on the model of “read books, write papers, and I’ll tell you when you’re good enough.” There’s really nothing about HOW to do any of this, or how to negotiate and understand the institutional and career aspects of working in the academy.

As a racial minority and first-generation student myself, I can relate to many of the misunderstandings of the academic career path that Squire mentions in the article. When I entered my graduate program several years ago, I did not know that there was a difference between tenured and untenured faculty, and had never heard of adjuncts before. I did not know that I was attending a “Research 1” university, or what that meant. I had no idea how an academic job search worked, or what the criteria were for promotion on the tenure track.

I learned all of those things rather quickly, but it would have been helpful if I had a better understanding of academic life before I applied to graduate school. In my work with the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows, I try to make sure that all of the fellows have a solid understanding of the academic career track and of academic labor before they apply to graduate school. Nearly all of the students in the program at UCLA are students of color who are in the first generation of their families to go to college. Many had transferred from community colleges and are older than their “traditional age” (18-22 years old) peers. They were admitted to the fellowship program because they have a strong desire to get PhDs and become college faculty. However, when they come in to the program during their junior year, their grasp of what being a professor actually means is often tenuous at best.

One successful activity that I tried earlier this year was drawing a blank academic career timeline on the board and asking the students to fill it out. The timeline started from today and went to the end of the PhD program. I wrote different career milestones (e.g. “take comprehensive exams” and “defend dissertation”) and activities (e.g. “publish,” “attend conferences,” and “sleep”) on separate sticky notes. I asked the students to work as a group to figure out where the different sticky notes belonged on the timeline. Above the timeline I left a space for activities such as “sleep” that should be done at all stages.

This activity allowed the students to discuss amongst themselves what the different sticky notes meant and where they belonged on the timeline. As the instructor it was useful to listen in on the conversation because students would talk about their own assumptions as well as what they had heard from others. Once they had finished putting all of the sticky notes onto the timeline, I discussed with them where I thought the notes should go (“No, ‘you can sleep when you’re dead’ is not the right answer!”). This also gave me the chance to discuss any incorrect assumptions about the path through graduate school that I heard in the discussion. In the future, I plan to extend the timeline through to tenure.

It is important for graduate programs to be more proactive about professional development, especially with students from underrepresented minority groups. But it is also important to start early, with undergraduates who are considering academic careers, to make sure that they go into graduate school with a solid grasp of what they are getting themselves into.

Quarterly update, hippo edition

Photo: RayMorris1. Flickr/Creative Commons.
Photo: RayMorris1. Flickr/Creative Commons.

Language Wars
An op-ed I wrote about China, Taiwan, and the politics of Chinese language learning has been published on Hippo Reads, a new media site that brings academic insights to a broader audience. If you’re interested in submitting, they have more information on their website.

Mellon Mays
Since my return from Oslo I’ve resumed my post as the lead graduate mentor for the Mellon  Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program at UCLA. This is my eighth quarter working with the program.

Last summer, I developed the syllabus for the academic professionalization course that is at the core of the program. Now, I get to teach the workshops that I designed. The juniors are learning about the structure of academic careers, while the seniors are working on elevator pitches about their thesis projects. Next quarter, we’re preparing both cohorts to present their research at UCLA’s Undergraduate Research Week.

Public radio appearance
I was interviewed for a story about the intergenerational transmission and maintenance of lunar new year traditions on KPCC. In less academic terms, that means that I was on the radio talking about red underwear.