Friday, August 18, 2017

Professional Development for NIU Grad Students

It's a buzz-phrase you might see a lot in department emails, on university and corporate websites... and The Graduate School at NIU is no exception.  They are riding that "Professional Development" train!

I want to talk about some ways to professionalize yourself, i.e. gain work experience, while you're here -- some of these opportunities are through the Graduate School, and some are within your own department. (In all likelihood, your department is riding that train too.)

Graduate School Programs and Resources

So many programs!
The Graduate School at NIU has recently increased their offerings for professional development programs, including mentorships, workshops for teaching assistants, internship opportunities, and assistance with developing a teaching portfolio. Their goal was to centralize your professional development experience by using Grad School tools to track progress and find resources. Their redesigned home page has a "Professional Development" drop-down menu, under which you can find links to workshops and programs. Here are a couple important ones you should look into:

Individual Development Plan
An individual development plan can address your specific goals for graduate study. For those studying in healthcare, an IDP is mandatory.  But anyone can create one! The plans helps you bring together all your own programs, workshops, and degree progress, to get a sense of what your strengths are and what else you need to do before you leave us. Attend a workshop to see if an IDP is right for you.

Future Professoriate Program
According to the Grad School:

"The Future Professoriate Program was designed for two purposes:
  1. To recognize the efforts of doctoral students who prepared to enter the professoriate.
  2. To supplement on-going training and mentoring efforts."
Doctoral students with any kind of assitantship are eligible. You must attend workshops and work with a teaching mentor, and the program earns you a Certificate in College Teaching. The program provides excellent support for teachers in training, especially for those whose departments might not be as involved with their TAs. (You likely won't find a long-term teaching mentor in the department! Why not sign up for one who is dedicated to you?)

Numerous workshops are going on at the Grad School, every week. Learn about ethical research, how to work with a mentor, how to do lunch with professionals, and even how the heck to write a dissertation. Some workshops are formal while others are discussion based. There is even a suite of research workshops that will grant you a certificate in Research Integrity. (And some of them offer free pizza. Always a necessity.)

Thesis and Dissertation Support
The Thesis and Dissertation Office (that's us!) should be your go-to for thesis and dissertation support. While we may refer you to an admin or to someone in your department, we know who gets what done. And we are staffed by graduate students who are currently writing dissertations!  We offer a unique peer perspective that administrators cannot, when it comes to everything from cutting through red tape, getting the writing done, and navigating the thesis/life balance. What's that got to do with professionalization? We are the last stop on the way to your degree, and we are the ones who will help you produce that final document, and make it look awesome.

Departmental Development Programs

While the Grad School has a noble goal (and a sound program) for devloping NIU's future innovators and teachers, don't forget that specialized career development is important too. What does professional development for a graduate student look like within the department? Well, it has to be cobbled together dependent on availability of opportunities, and on department resources. It can range from being a humble participant, to being in charge of something bigger than yourself.

For me it looked like this:

  • Attending and presenting at conferences on literature (my subject), and on pedagogy.
  • Attending and presenting at my department's "First Fridays," where we shared lesson plans and classroom ideas.
  • Co-Chairing (organizing, planning, choosing presenters) MCLLM 2014, the NIU English department's annual international conference.
  • Being a GA "junior" committee member running the 2014 International Virginia Wolf conference.
  • Mentoring new TAs.
  • Producing artwork and graphics for conference literature and department book covers.
  • Serving two years on the First-Year Composition Committee and the assessment sub-committee.
  • Editing and publishing two editions of Y1 Writes: A Journal of First-Year Composition Essays  (after being editorial staff for a year prior)
  • Teaching, teaching, teaching! (Here as a TA, elsewhere as an adjunct, doing summer camps...)
This list may seem Herculean, but I've been here six years. You can see that much of my professionalization happened within my department. However, the activities I did were quite varied in nature: publishing, assessing (the behind the scenes of university outcomes, metrics, etc!), creative services, and more. And of course, teaching. You should absolutely teach or run a lab, if that's at all possible for your GA duties. The best way to make sure you know how to do something is to teach someone else how to do it. 

A final note: 

MA students: The Graduate School's programs are well-supported and goal-oriented. If you only have two years here, lean on the Grad School for your professionalization, and dabble in the department. Your career goals are likely non-university, and being professionalized is probably more important to get to within those two years! 

PhD students: If you are doing a dissertation, you have plenty of time here (trust me... you have plenty of time). Look into what Grad School professionalization programs work best for you -- especially the Future Professoriate Program --  but lean on your department for opportunities and guidance. If you are sticking with academics and researchers, the department is where to find them and learn to be among them.

Go get professionalized!
Me teaching a poetry lesson.
After six years, no classroom fears!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Writing Services Ahead: Proceed with Caution

“I’m thinking of hiring a writing service.”  Imagine hearing those words from a fellow grad student who’s highly stressed about their thesis or dissertation.  “Riding service?” you ask.  Then you quickly realize your colleague isn’t talking about Lyft or Uber.

Actually, the service in question is likely a person or business that offers—for a price—various types and levels of help with a writing project’s potentially stressful components: planning, revising, editing, proofreading, or formatting sections of the document.  But then there are shady services that even offer to “help” with the writing by employing ghost writers to compose texts for paying clients.  That’s taboo!  Submitting academic work as one’s own when that work was actually made (entirely or in parts) by someone else is unacceptable.  Words to the wise: if you’re thinking of paying for help with aspects of your writing project, beware of so-called writing services.  (But, in some cases, you might want to consider working with an editing service.)  If you wonder why we pass these words along, take a look through the comments sections at the ends of our blog posts.    

Writing Services Galore

We’re well aware that numerous paid writing firms exist because posts to this blog regularly attract brief comments with dubious hyperlinks to a wide range of such services.  Consider the murky details behind comments received over the past two months:

- On July 15, in response to our July 7 post about ProQuest blogs, a few bits of generic praise came our way from someone at an eerily sparse blog.  A hyperlink in the comment leads to the sketchy homepage of a UK-based company that entices the visitor to enter personal data and information about a writing project in order to receive an estimate on how much it will cost to have the firm do the work.  Not wanted!

- On July 5, in response to our June 16 post about services for international grad students at NIU, we received another short bromide, this time from someone whose “name” is a link to site featuring a disturbingly glowing review of an online firm that offers academic ghost writers for hire.  We’re not interested!

- On June 19, in response to our June 2 post about taking writing outside, someone sent nice feedback with direct references to topics we wrote about.  But then the letdown: the comment has no author’s name but is instead represented by a link to a website in Australia offering essays for sale.  We want nothing to do with such sites!

- Finally, on July 21, in response to our May 19 post about facing the fear of the blank page, we received a positive comment from someone appearing to represent another essay-writing service.  But this time, the attached link doesn’t lead to such a business but instead, oddly, to a 2015 article at The Huffington Post about the increase of undergraduate and graduate students paying to have papers written for them.  The article points to an alarming trend.

At Project Thesis NIU, we don’t endorse paid writing services.  When doing routine blog maintenance, we eventually delete comments with hyperlinks to such services.  In the past we’ve been inclined to let a comment with a suspect link stay as long as wording in the comment is remotely related to ideas we write about in a post.  But now, after digging deeper into the above recent comments, we plan to delete anything associated with a writing service.

Editing Services: Wheat from the Chaff

Aside from essay mills, many places offer student writers ethical and professional editorial assistance.  Fee-based editing services tend not to publicize through brief comments to our blog posts.  But they sometimes approach us.  Several months ago, for instance, our office received a promotional piece in the mail from Editors for Students, a Minneapolis firm that specializes in academic editing, proofreading, and formatting.  On their website, they mention that they have connections to academic institutions and are “committed to working within the legitimate boundaries of academic honesty.”  Perhaps worth a look, if you’re interested in paying someone to review a draft.  In addition, note that our office maintains a List of Freelance Formatters and Editors who work in the DeKalb area and who are equipped to assist thesis and dissertation writers with NIU Graduate School guidelines.  We can confidently refer these local freelancers to writers whose documents may need extensive help with matters of grammar and punctuation in addition to things like formatting of tables, figures, page numbers, citations, or end references.

Free NIU Services

Also remember that NIU student writers can get constructive help with no extra fees attached.  The University Writing Center is a free consultation service for students at all levels.  We’ve heard that most of their clients in recent years have been grad students.  Finally, come see us in the Thesis and Dissertation Office!  We provide free editorial assistance and expert help on formatting your important document.  We’ll be happy to hear from you.

Images Source: Wikimedia Commons