Great Help from Senior Grad Students

Help from J school

Before I applied to WVU, I only knew Virginia, but not West Virginia. And “West Virginia” to me was just a song– “Take Me Home, Country road”.

So, why did I choose WVU? J school?

I never thought I would attend WVU, for WVU was the last university I applied to. I didn’t much about it, and it was not famous in my country. But the thing was, one day the Direct of Graduate Studies, Dr. Urbanski emailed me that he wanted to an interview to see if I was right for this program and I can ask any questions about the program. I applied to several universities, but WVU was the one that wanted to interview me! Although four of them admitted me and one of them even provided me a scholarship, I still chose WVU as I thought having an interview was responsible for both the program and the applicant.

After that interview, Dr. Urbanski asked Boya Xu, a then second-year graduate student in our program to contact me to see if I would still have any question. As Boya is from China  too, Dr. Urbanski thought that would be easier for us to communicate and answer my questions in a international student’s perspective. Boya was really helpful, and she almost taught me everything including renting the house, applying for visa, what I should bring from China, etc, before I came to America. We became good friends and still keep in touch now.

Then, this year. There are four Chinese students applying our program, and Dr. Urbanski asked me to talk to them and answer their questions like what Boya did last year. I tried my best to help them as I really appreciated how Dr. Urbanski and Boya had helped me out.

Help from WVU Student Organizations Services

As I mentioned in my post last week that for those who want to study abroad or work in another country, finding your community is a great help, the students associations for international students are of great help.

This is the list of all the WVU Student Organizations. The Student Organization Service has clubs for almost every major and specific area. For example, there are 35 different organizations under the category “Cultural and International”, including the Chinese Students & Scholars Association, Japanese Club, Indian Association, etc. They are all run by senior students.

These international organizations are the communities for the international students and whoever is interested in foreign cultures. For example, besides celebrating festivals and holding parties, Chinese Association also provides Orientation for all new-comers, pick-ups from Pittsburgh Airport, Guidebook of living in Morgantown, job-hunting infos and academic conferences informations, etc.


Databases and the Art of Search Engine-Fu

The beauty of being a graduate student is that you have access to high quality databases.  As a research junky, this gets me pretty excited.  If I can spend a day in the library trawling databases and digging through big ol’ books, it’s been a good day.  This is not something I would admit at a party, but I feel that most graduate students can probably relate.

As a journalist, I have spent a significant amount of time buried in databases, and while they are phenomenal resources, they can be frustrating to use.  You need to be familiar with how they are organized, and you need to hone your search engine-fu.  First, a breakdown of my top three favorite research databases.  Some tips for manipulating search engine queries follow.

1. EbscoHost

EbscoHost is by far the most comprehensive article database available.  This is both a strength and a weakness.  Since EbscoHost aggregates multiple databases, covering a wide variety of subjects and disciplines, a single search can yield thousands of results yet none that are relevant.  To prevent this from happening, don’t be lazy.  Use the database selector to narrow your search.  We’ve all been lazy and hit “Select All,” and it never works.  Don’t do that to yourself again.

2. LexisNexis

LexisNexis is more focused that EbscoHost.  It focuses on legal documents and public records information.  While this sounds like it may have limited relevance for most graduate students, the magnitude of raw data available through LexisNexis has a surprising amount of application.  It’s great for researching companies or demographics, giving you very clear, reliable concrete data.  Even if you don’t think LexisNexis will provide relevant information, give it a shot anyway.  It just might surprise you.

3. Google Scholar

Google Scholar is like EbscoHost in that it covers a broad spectrum of topics.  It’s Advanced Search options are slightly different from EbscoHost, so if you are having trouble finding something on EbscoHost, trying Google Scholar might produce useful sources (or vice versa).  Also, I have found that, in general, the Google Scholar search function is a bit better at producing useful sources than EbscoHost, but I will often switch back to EbscoHost once Google Scholar has given me a useful string or a useful journal to explore.

Search Engine-Fu

When I am starting research from scratch, my preferred plan of attack is to start at the macro level, searching broadly to get an idea for how the research is segmented and who the big names are.  Typically, I browse Wikipedia and conduct some general Google searches.  Wikipedia, while not a reliable source in its own right, often links to sources that are reliable and appropriate for academic research.  These articles will either be some of the more important sources in that particular field of study, or their bibliographies will contain those sources, do dig through the sources they cite.  Also, these preliminary macro searches will often clue you into the terminology that exists with a particular field.  Familiarizing yourself with the language that topic experts use will give you some words and phrases that you can use in future searches.  If you’re that kind of person, you can write these phrases down.

If my macro search produced some important names, I go to EbscoHost or Google Scholar to find articles by those people and by people citing those people.  If I do not have any names to search, I begin to use the words and phrases that I found in my macro search to hopefully dig up relevant sources, and then again, I pillage those reference lists for useful more useful search phrases (often hidden in the titles of articles) and for reliable experts in that field.  When I am doing this, as I mentioned before, I eliminate irrelevant databases to help narrow my search.

Once you find one relevant article, you should be able to dig at least four or five relevant sources out of that article’s reference list, and that’s really the big secret to search engine-fu: finding more relevant words and names that you can mix and match in your search queries.  If you get really stuck, you should find someone at your University and ask them where you should start (or ask a librarian).

For more on search engine-fu, check out Mashable’s article on Google Fu, which is the father of search engine-fu.

Help for #gradschoolproblems that are outside of grad school

We all know the huge amount of stress that we’re put under as graduate students, and to top it off, we all have other tasks to accomplish that are outside grad school. Some things, like forgetting to file taxes, will likely result in an arrest and hours of interrogation with Chinese water torture – or at least the government calling about an audit. Others, like forgetting to change oil or pay the electric bill can cause other issues. So, here’s a few non-academic resources that have helped me out this year, or at least places where I’ve sought help.

TurboTax – Tax season is already over, but in the future, if you’re independent and your only income is a grad student stipend, you are likely well below the poverty line. Fortunately, tax agencies like TurboTax have agreed to file simple tax forms (1040EZ, for one) for people below a certain income. TurboTax also assists in finding deductions that you would otherwise not think to look for (at least I wouldn’t). Plus, it’s possible to file taxes for the feds and the state in one place. Since I changed my residency from Indiana to West Virginia this year, I had to file for both states, and since those states have both approved TurboTax, I was able to file all my returns with one program (yay!).

Housing/Neighborhood/Infrastructure Issues: By no means am I an expert on local building code, but Morgantown has a convenient online system for reporting everything from building code violations (i.e., if bricks are consistently falling off your building, it’s probably a violation) to burn permits to reporting graffiti to  inquiries about establishing a new crosswalk. I’ve never had any such issues, but I can see how certain problems may come up in other parts of town. Visit the FAQ page for common questions.

Towing problems: Morgantown is notorious for having cars towed throughout the day, whether by the city or by a private landowner (This is one of my alternative careers – open a towing company in a college town. I’d be rich in a week). However, the tow-happy people that summon the truck-of-no-return to your car may not have the right to have you towed. In addition, accidents and incidents can happen, and if you feel you were wrongfully towed or treated, you can contact the Public Service Commission of West Virginia. That information is listed here. But, you won’t get towed in the first place if you use…

#PUBLICTRANSPO: (yes, this is a real hashtag). I’ve posted before about using alternate transportation to get out of town, but in Mon County, the Mountain Line operates a pretty decent bus service that goes just about everywhere. Schedules and routes are on Or, just walk. Both are better for the environment, and a lot better than sitting in traffic waiting for some Jersey or out-of-area driver in their Acura SUV to realize that green means go.

Finally, utilities: In Morgantown, a common list of utility providers are MUB for water and sewer, Allied Waste for trash, Comcast for cable and MonPower for electric. If you live at a residential property in most parts of the city, recycling should come with trash service. If you’re like me and live in an apartment, dropping off recycling is convenient. Some of the more-used locations are at the Wal-Mart at the University Town Center, Wal-Mart off Grafton Road and behind the Star City municipal building in Star City.

WVU’s Office of Graduate Education and Life

The Office of Graduate Education & Life is the department deduced to graduate and professional students at West Virginia University. This office offers training and support activities, practical tools and news pertaining to graduate students.

Finding a program
A Degree Programs Database lists information about master’s, doctoral and graduate programs. This is helpful for incoming students or those curious about whether or not graduate school is for them. Take a look around and see what would be best for you.

On the website, this section talks about where to find financial assistance for your education. It also has a list of university fellowships, graduate assistantships and financial aid.

Career Development
There are classes specifically for graduate students listed on this site. Many are 1-credit seminars that help further specific skills. Other information in this section includes information on grant writing, certificates for teaching and upcoming events.

Electronic Thesis and Dissertation
This is a link to where we officially submit our theses. Though it might seem like a ways away for some of us, it’s always a good idea to get acquainted with what we’ll have to do.

Life in Morgantown
For those not acquainted with the town, this quick resource guide allows for easy navigation of airports, traveling, transportation, shopping, food, etc. It’s a lot of information in one convenient location for new students.

An area of the website is dedicated to diverse student groups and offices that offer resources in that area.

Have you used this website or visited the office before? Have you found anything particularly helpful on the website?

What’s a library?

The library at WVU (specifically the downtown campus) contains four floors of vast knowledge and quiet study rooms, filled with rare books and computer workstations (and is usually chock-full of undergrads). Seriously though, the library is pretty cool, especially if you are looking for somewhere quiet (or loud, for that matter) to bring your laptop, overload on caffeine, and get a ton of work done. There are quiet rooms where people scowl at you if you sneeze too loudly (and is definitely not for the mouth breather), and there are rooms that you can book out if you need to work on a project with a group, so it really is a place with a little something for every kind of student. I know that the library is not the best place to study for EVERYONE (feel free to share your thoughts on that here), but it certainly contains enough information to finish up those last papers for the semester… and then some.

The library is obviously a great resource for graduate students. Research is the backbone of an MSJ degree, and the library might be the best place to start the process (after Google, of course). If you aren’t looking to study at the library but would like to check out some books, MountainLynx lets you search for books online before you get there. This tool is very easy to use, but if you have any trouble at all, you can always ask a librarian. If I may inject my two cents here, it would be that once you are at the library and you find the book you’re looking for, stop and look around in that section. You might be surprised at the other information that is waiting there right under your nose. I realize this may sound obvious to some of you, but I know that some students drift in and out of the library without stopping to smell the roses… or stale books.

Another Kind of Assistantships and Lessons for International Graduate Students

Yes, our group introduced different kinds of graduate assistantships this week, whether teaching or researching, dealing with students or faculties. As an international graduate student, it’s not easy to get an full-time GA position before you actually enter this program. Obviously, choosing an international student as a graduate assistant before you meet he or she in person is taking a risk, as we have language barriers and cultural differences, which means we need to learn much more than American students and adapt to the totally strange environment.

Myself, a then non-journalsim major international student, didn’t have the ability or skills to get a GA position in journalism. However, luckily, I got a remission package which including a full tuition waiver and a 10-hour-per-week part-time job as a student worker in J school. Almost all the international students in our program got or will get this kind of remission package.

So, let talk about this 10-hour-per-week work that most international student did or will do. I am working for Professor Lois Raimondo, the Shott Chair of Journalism, who teaches photojournalism classes and does researches on Asian (especially Japanese and Chinese) photography (my background can contribute to this work). My job is collecting information about Japanese photographers (last semester) and Chinese photographers (this semester), which is the “research” part, covering classes for her when she is out of town, which is the “deal-with-students” part and the library part as ordering, borrowing and returning books and DVDs for her.

I believe it might fit all the Chinese students in our program that this job is an easier way for us to understand the “flow” of the assistantships and adapt to the American college life and also we can provide some help to J school. Personally, it also offers me a new world that I never saw before with the amazing photos, creative thoughts and different people, although I had some hard time during this year.

Studying and working in another country is not easy but worthy. Once you dare to start, you are half done.

Here are the tips for whoever want to study abroad or work abroad (whether for international students here or Americans who want to work in another country):

1. Respect other and their culture, and others will also respect you and your culture. That is the fastest way to adapt to the environment and will not make yourself at least unhappy.

2. Always ask for help when you have troubles. I believe most local people can understand your situation and are willing to help according to my experience. Trying to learn their language is a must to live in a strange environment.

3. Be nice. It’s good for them and also for yourself. That’s also why people are willing to help you out.

3. Find your community. When you are homesick, especially during the festival season, your community is like your home and your compatriots are your family.

A Stranger in a Strange Land

Graduate assistantships come in many flavors, and you have read about many of them already this week.  For my GA position, I work at West Virginia University’s Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.  Yes, that is a mouthful, and the gentlemen that hung each individual letter for the signs agree.  I watched them doing it, and they weren’t happy.

My specific role at the Statler College is to develop recruitment materials for graduate engineering programs, but I have also had the opportunity to participate in community outreach, advising, event planning, and undergraduate recruitment.  The “hard” sciences have never been a focus in my career, professional or academic, but working within the Statler College has been a surprisingly multi-faceted learning experience that has increased the quality and depth of my graduate school experience.  If your graduate degree falls outside of the hard sciences, here are _ reasons why you should consider a GA position within a hard science program, department, or college.

1. Networking.

Meeting new people is an important part of being a professional, and it could help land you a job (which we talked about last week).  By getting outside of your normal bubble, you have the opportunity to interact with different types of people that are connected to communities that you would otherwise have no access to.  In the future, this could lead to a job or a useful contact, giving you an edge over the competition that never explored other communities.

2. Interdisciplinary Education.

Your undergraduate program likely required you to take a slew of general education electives.  The reasoning behind these requirements as that exposure to other subjects beyond your specialty makes you a well-rounded citizen by providing more context and scope to your core material.  As a graduate student, it’s easy to shut out the rest of the academic world.  Working among scientists and engineers will allow you to continue that interdisciplinary education in an unofficial way.  It has benefited me, and I enjoy the change of pace.

3. Portfolio Building.

While the rest of your peers are filling their portfolios and resumes with clips and experiences that are often remarkably similar, you have the chance to do something different.  Any time you can add something unique to your resume, you should.

4. Tuition Waiver.

Paying for grad school sucks.  I would scrub toilets every day to pay for my education, so sitting at a desk writing about engineering is like a vacation.  I would do terrible terrible things for a tuition waiver, and let’s be honest, you would to.

The Behind-the-Scenes Work of a G.A.

Like Candace, I also have grad assistantship that deals with students and teaching. But, the difference is that I don’t actually teach. Instead, I grade papers, tests and quizzes; manage attendance; deal with hear from students who contest or challenge grades; and do a lot of the time-consuming work that professors don’t have time to do, since they’re busy doing their own research.

That’s a concept I didn’t understand when I came to WVU – why do professors need GAs anyway? I figured it was because they simply didn’t want to do some of the grunt work. However, now I realize that being a professor is at least a 60-hour-a-week position. So, the professor works 40 hours, teaching, planning lessons, designing assignments and tests and conducting research (which is part of the profession of the professor). The other 20 hours is then delegated to me. So, it makes sense for me to do all the grading, copies and other time-consuming work.

Anyway, back to the point – I came to grad school because I want to eventually be a professor and teach at a university. So, my GA experience has given me a lot of insight into the behind-the-scenes work of college courses. I came from a small college for undergrad, so a 40 to 50-person class was large there, but smaller at WVU. The sheer number of people at a larger university creates different challenges and red tape in assisting with classes.

First, it’s important to be firm with students as far as policy goes. To every rule there is an exception, but those really need to be few and far between. For example, if the syllabus says, “you have one week to challenge a grade,” that policy must be followed. This helps students become more proactive in managing grades, and helps you as a GA stay organized, as original assignments over a week old can be archived and better protected.

Also, try to accomplish as much as you can as early as you can. If it’s Friday, and 50 copies of a 15-page exam need to be done by Tuesday, do that as soon as possible. Likewise, incorporate time-saving tasks, like actively keeping track of attendance throughout the month instead of trying to add absence up at the end of the semester.

Third, keep any and all e-mails sent to you by students. That way, there is a record of communication if a student accuses the GA of not performing a certain task or responding to an e-mail.

Finally, if you have to grade papers that are subjective in nature, make sure to create a sort-of rubric for those papers. After reading 30 of 50, your brain may start to become mush. And, we’re in journalism school, so writing is important. It’s okay to dock grades for poor grammar, sentence structure, spelling, etc.

Teaching the Teacher

As graduate students, we don’t qualify for many scholarships. Most of those are for undergraduates only. Instead, we qualify for something called graduate assistantships, which vary according to what they offer. But many include a full tuition waiver, as well as a semimonthly stipend (that means twice a month; bimonthly means every two months) in exchange for 20 hours of work per week. It’s safe to say that without this funding, I wouldn’t be able to afford my graduate degree.

But those graduate assistantships vary in work. Some of my fellow grad students grade papers, make copies, write press releases, etc. We essentially do whatever needs done. My GA position is unique in that it contains a couple different jobs. For those graduate students who have assistantships that also teach, they are sometimes called graduate teaching assistants or just teaching assistants. It’s just a more specific GA position. I fall in this category.

Other responsibilities include helping Dr. Britten when he solicits, assisting with an AEJMC newsletter and doing research. I’m lucky to have a GA position that really allows me to further my skills, rather than doing mindless tasks. In addition, I teach the lab portions of Dr. Britten’s journalism 210 class. This lab includes teaching Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. Each semester, there are three sections and all are two hours long. That doesn’t account for answering emails outside of class, having additional office hours, preparing for lectures, and grading all the assignments for about 60 students each semester. While I have had some leadership experience in the past at the student newspaper, teaching is a whole new level.

On Boston University’s Center for Excellence & Innovation in Teaching website, they state that skills you learn include time management, multitasking, public speaking and managing people. Teaching has taught me to be more comfortable in front of a group, as well as be more confident. It has also taught me to think on my feet. You’d be amazed at the questions kids come up with. But with those great skills also come some challenges.

Teaching while being taught
It’s an odd experience being a student and simultaneously teaching. It’s a different line to straddle. When you’re teaching, you have full authority. You control what’s happening in the class. But when you’re in the classroom, you’re back to being a student – you have to put a different hat on. You have to be more submissive and open to learning. It’s a completely different mindset.

Students your age (or older)
When you’re teaching students who are around your same age, it’s sometimes difficult to get respect. In many cases, I’m only a year or two older than these kids. Why should they listen to me? Well, because they have to. I’ve also had the experience where I’ve had students older than me who don’t think they should listen to me. It’s a constant battle.

Being in the same classes
Can you imagine grading one student at 9 a.m. then having a class together with them a couple hours later? It’s awkward. You’re expected to be peers but then be an authority figure, and it increases that tension if you have to work on group projects. And guess what, that student might be grading you soon…

Boston University also gives some behaviors of good teachers – things like setting goals for learning, discussing progress and expect timeliness. These are ideal and sometimes tough to achieve. But rest assured, as they also have some tips on how to make your teaching experience a positive one. Many of these are common sense, but when you’re busy keeping 60 kids under control, it may be easy to forget.

Does anybody currently teach? Have any specific strategies or tips for getting started?

Research and responsibilities.

As I mentioned earlier, I was lucky enough to land a job as a Graduate Assistant… a Graduate Research Assistant at that. I work 20 hours a week (currently spread out over four days) at WVU’s National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium, a facility that serves under WVU’s National Research Center for Coal and Energy.

The NAFTC specializes on facilitating educational programs that focus on alternative-fueled vehicles. Electric vehicles are a major emphasis of the curriculum, but the Consortium also advocates the advancement of fuel cell, hydrogen, natural gas, and biofuel as well. As someone from an arts background, the knowledge I’ve gained during my short time there has been pretty powerful, as I’m gaining some scientific perspective that I may not have if I were working in a different department.

Now that I’ve talked up my place of employment, let me tell you a little bit about what I do. GA’s are asked to work 20 hours a week, and in return are paid a stipend and are given a tuition waiver every semester. I’m lucky enough to have a position that runs through the summer, but as a consequence, I’m required to work during the times that other GA’s have off (like Christmas break, Spring Break, etc.).

My daily duties are pretty straightforward. The NAFTC has an enews page that outlines the most recent and relevant stories in the alternative fuel industry. It is my responsibility to research these stories, write about them, and post them to the site. This means signing up for industry newsletters, press releases, and Google Alerts. I’m responsible for writing at least 10-12 industry stories per month, two of those being international stories. When I first started, one of my responsibilities was keeping up with the NAFTC’s Facebook and Twitter pages, but a new full-time staff member has recently taken over so that the pages could be updated daily (as I’m not at the office every day).

Are you lucky enough to have a GA position? I’m curious to hear about the responsibilities other GA’s have.