Friday, 15 August 2014

Post 28: TA Conference and other TA and Grad Resources on Campus

Last week an email in my inbox made me really look forward to the approaching new semester: The Teaching Assistant Conference (TA Conference), put on by the Learning and Teaching Centre is on again this year!!

Aside from being an awesome on-campus resource that helps organize everything from tutors to writing help to teaching tips, the Learning and Teaching Centre has been running this conference for a number of years. The conference usually takes place in the week right after the Labour Day long weekend, which is idea for grad students and teaching assistants, because tutorials, labs, and other TA-related work doesn't yet begin.

The layout of the conference is great: its agenda features workshops for both new and experienced grad students, with some specializing in the three main discliplines: the Humanities, the Sciences, and the Social Sciences. As well, a few of the workshops are specifically designed for international graduate students who are TAing.

Tuesday is the most important day for the conference. It's a day stuffed full of presentations and concurrent sessions; there is a less busy schedule on the subsequent week days.

Two years ago when I was first starting my program, I attended this conference, and my experience was very positive. Certainly, I felt more prepared going into what then was a completely new experience. Some of the most memorable workshops were one on the many different kinds of icebreakers one could run at the beginning of a class to get students (and you) to know each other. I usually employ an altered a game that I played years ago in high school theatre class, but the workshop was great for getting me to think about different class sizes and how one can use the appropriate ice breaker.

Another one was specifically about being an introvert and TAing, and the kind of personality one brings to the classroom. I'm sure we all know the jokester, or the super engaging, humorous teacher or professor that knows when to crack the best joke, and how to include tastefully funny comments in their presentation. That isn't me, and it's stressful enough, sometimes, for me to be in front of a class (that is improving, however, with practice). The takeaway I got from there? Don't worry about being someone you're not; be your usual, quiet self, if that's what you need to do. You'll be engaging if you bring your excitement and care, and students will be understanding. They will know if you're being sincere and have their interests and learning experience in mind.

If you're around during the first week of September, I highly recommend attending!
Updated note: The Department is having their retreat on Tuesday, but even if you miss the first day of the conference, attend the others! There are numerous sessions that take place all throughout the week.

                                    When every stick looks the same, it's good to know which
                                                          resource will serve you best!

Aside from the TA conference right at the beginning of the semester, there are always a number of other resources available for graduate students on campus. This short list is a few of the main ones:

The Writing Centre (soon to become the Centre for Academic Communication), whose tutors will sit with you one-on-one to discuss your writing, ways to self-edit, revise, etc. They also conduct workshops throughout the year on everything from planning your research, to writing it up, and presentation skills.

The Halpern Centre for Graduate Students is also a great place to spend a bit of time, have a pint and/or a meal, and meet to discuss ideas with fellow grad students.

                              Another of our local beauties: common camas (Camassia quamash).

The Thesis Completion Group, run through Counselling Services, is a supportive undertaking that helps students to complete their theses! Maybe the best part is the camaraderie of understanding peers finding their way through academia, and the great listener and advice-giver that the organizer, Janet, is. The TCG also covers some practical things like time management (Pomodoros!), goal setting and planning, offering tips on the best resources for writing your thesis and dissertations, managing relationships with supervisors, and overall, just providing an open, supportive space.

CUPE 4163 is also the union the TAs belong to, and are a resource for all things work-related for TAs, including working conditions, interpreting the Collective Agreement (the rules that govern TAs' relationship to the university, and everything from breaks, to sick leave, to training...). They also have access to mediators and legal professional help if there is a need. Their blog features a number of up-to-date articles and issues that affect academia as well.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Post 27: Best (By this, I mean Useful**) Thesis Advice So Far.

This post is written with the desire to give a nod to all the supportive voices and folks that have helped me weather my ups and downs along the way. I want to share some of the best advice that I've been given or encountered along the way. Positive reinforcement, right? This is necessarily a partial list because I have a poor memory and have undoubtedly forgotten some of the advice, or haven't written it down, and—I'm not done yet! So more will probably be coming.

1. "Best foot forward, one step at a time." This from the Buddhist philosophy of non-attachment. Let the hard things be hard. Each day that you start, the conditions will be different; you might have skipped breakfast to sleep in a bit more, or your cat got spooked at 3AM and rattled you out of your sleep, and you had to spend half an hour figuring out what happened, and calming the cat. So, begin each day fresh, with intention, and starting with goal setting as you go, based on how you think you can work that day.

2. "A master's is more about learning the skills than coming up with some genius discovery." This is classic Jenna, with her pearls of wisdom (slightly paraphrased).

3. "No fear!" from my supervisor. :)

                                   ...and then I can just be glad I live in this awesome place!

4. "Keep it simple, and as you go through your degree, pay attention to the realizations that suddenly become obvious to you." That's where you'll find the results and insights that you'll be writing about, but because they will also become 'obvious' to you, you may have difficulty reminding yourself that those are your findings, and that they are important to report. -- Karen, my awesome work buddy, office sharer, who also teaches as a sessional instructor, on research methods and methodologies in social work.

5. "The first draft of anything is shit." Thank you, Ernest Hemingway. :)

6. The advice from my supervisor was to find someone in my field, to talk to, and discuss ideas. There's nothing worse that can come from a poorly timed talk from someone doing different methods, using different ideas, than you are, that can make you panic and think that you're not being diligent. I'm sure every grad student goes through some point where they're gripped by the fear of not reading enough, or widely enough. So, talk it out with someone who shares your methods (or very similar ones). I can't thank my colleague Garrett enough for all the conversations and discussions over lunches sitting outside our building in the sunshine this summer. So good! He's also doing science studies research, and is certainly a bona fide social scientist in the making. And, we've discussed everything from specific methods and approaches, to how to write up a lit review. So good.

7. Effective procrastination: this from Laurie Waye's "Managing your Thesis or Dissertation: A Workbook for Students." Essentially, she points out that ineffective procrastination is when you are supposed to do work on a certain thesis something, but instead you go do the dishes, or fold your socks, feeling guilty and spending precious mental space beating yourself up because you know you should be doing thesis work instead. Effective procrastination is when you are unsure of how to proceed with say, starting chapter 2, or beginning the summary on that book, so, you go for a walk to clear your thoughts and think about how to start. Or, you have questions that arose from the last article you read, so you need to think them through a bit more, so you go for a walk to do so. You're still spending time working (thinking ideas through), and you're still focused on what you have to accomplish. Win, win!

8. From my lovely committee member: on tackling the imposter syndrome: don't take yourself too seriously, and approach all of your work with a bit of humour. :) AND—send stuff out. The more feedback you can get, and the sooner, the better. (Obviously the things you do send should be in pretty good shape, but yes, getting something to your supervisor is probably a good idea!).

(P.S. I'll come back and update this post periodically, as more 'best advice' comes in; if it gets too long, I'll break it into two posts, but that's maybe less likely at this point. Stay tuned!)
(**P.P.S. Each of us needs different advice at different times. If you have a pocket of time, and someone hands you a novel, you may just take it. If you're already curled up in a chair in a library, with three books on a table beside you and your imagination buried in the book in your hands, you might accept it, but it might also be refused. I've certainly noticed that some things said to me earlier only make sense now, looking back over the various phases of the thesis. So, take the advice above in stride, you might not need to hear some of it yet, and for others, it might just be the right thing, whereas next week, you'll notice it's no longer useful.)