Author Archives: greerhughes

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.


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.

Yo, Teach!

One of the many job opportunities that become available after completion of a Master’s degree is, of course, teaching.

For those of us that may or may not wish to pursue a PhD after graduation, teaching journalism is going to be an option. While the level and certification varies from state to institution, teaching is a profession that will be open to us. But this raises a couple of questions… Where can I teach – college and universities? Grade school level too? Besides a master’s degree, what other qualifications are necessary to bring in a decent salary to help me pay off my debt?

University-level teaching

WVU‘s Graduate Education & Life office offers its graduate students the opportunity to complete a Certificate in University Teaching. The certification is completed after a student finishes 15 (grad level) credits ranging from diversity in higher education to teaching experience. The Graduate Education & Life office says that this certification will help students develop the necessary needs to instruct classes at a university level, as well as prepare them for the academic job market. The full certification program description can be found here.

If you happen to be a current grad student at WVU, keep an eye on your inbox… Events like this one tend to come through fairly often and are aimed at helping grad students build their resumes in time for graduation.


Grade School-level teaching

In order to make this a little easier on myself, I kept this to the state of West Virginia, as there are varying degrees of qualification. The West Virginia Board of Education offers many different pathways down the road to being a teacher. Teaching with a master’s degree that is not in the field of education seems to be a little more difficult than I imagined, but it’s not impossible. There seem to be a couple of hoops that you need to jump through, but that said, we are still uncertain about what kind of job market we are going to be venturing out into over the next couple of years. In our case, the more options, the better.

Have you considered teaching with your master’s degree? If so, are you interested at teaching at the university level, grade school, or both? Why or why not?


Downtime in grad school? Is there such a thing? I would argue that I spend a good bit of my downtime complaining about grad school, but I’m sure that’s not true for everyone. The majority of graduate assistants at WVU work around 20 hours a week, while taking a minimum of 6 credit hours to obtain full-time status (a requirement for GA positions). Pile on the average weekly workload of homework and you’re left with downtime.

I live alone, and happen to know a couple other contributers to this blog do as well (Candace and Matt). I enjoy living by myself and consider the extra money I spend on rent as a monthly payment towards my sanity. I like having my own space and personal freedoms that I didn’t have sharing a dorm room with two other girls in undergrad. Just last month, PBS discussed the fact that more and more people are living alone, and those that do are more likely to spend time with friends, go to events, and even volunteer.  That being said, I don’t have anyone to share responsiblities with. Like taking my dog for a walk during the middle of a 10 hour day, for example.

While being a dog-owner and living alone can sometimes be a burden, a pet can also provide companionship in ways that a roomate can’t. I have been a pet-owner for a couple of years now, since I adopted my dog Ruby from my local shelter. She is hyperactive and needy at times, but often drags me out of the house for much needed fresh air. I was surprised at the amount of people I’ve met at my local dog park. People are often friendly and outgoing, and always eager to talk about their (and your) dog. I consider it a good excuse to get out of your house and meet some new people with like-minds. If you go often enough, you’ll eventually be known as a “regular”.

Trying to fit going home to let the dog out into my daily sporatic schedule is difficult, but I’m lucky enough to have a friend across the hall who also happens to have a dog. Her and I are on separate work schedules and share the responsiblitlites of dog walking. If you are thinking of adopting a dog, I would recommend finding someone you trust to see if they are willing to help you out every now and then. From what I understand, cats are less of a responsibility so if you are looking for the companionship with a little less work, cats might be the right route for you.

Do you live alone? If so, what would you consider the pros and cons?

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How did I get here? (But say it in David Byrne’s voice)

Can’t find a job? Go to grad school!

The New York Times noted a few years ago that prolonged periods of unemployment can take a psychological toll. “People begin questioning their value, often for the first time in their lives,” said Jeffrey A. Heath, a managing director of the Landstone Group in Manhattan. Heath said that knowing that you’re working towards something can make you feel better.

Watching the days go by…

I graduated with a media degree in 2006. At the time, the economy wasn’t terrible, but the recession was on the horizon. When I finished my undergrad degree I picked up and moved to Portland, Oregon and stayed there for two years. As did every other wide-eyed recent graduate, I wanted to move to Portland, get a sweet job working for a record label, see live music every night, hang out in cool bars with a cabin theme, and navigate my way around the city around on a bike. By the time I got laid off, it was early 2008, the job market was in the tank, and I was in a city where I was competing with a billion other 20-somethings for only a few  jobs. So, I returned home to mommy and daddy.

Turns out the job market in small-town West Virginia wasn’t so great either. I applied to the Peace Corps, spent 7 months volunteering, worked a 10-hour a week job and got accepted. And after I thought my life was on the right track, they withdrew my nomination due to my medical history. Since then, the number of applicants to the Peace Corps has gone through the roof.

Luckily after wandering aimlessly through the Internet and Craiglist, and Monster and every other last resort, I got a corporate job where my parents lived. I made REALLY good money, health benefits, the load. One and a half years later… laid off.

And that brings me to today (actually there is a lot more to this story but it’s not the happiest and if I wrote anymore you would probably end up crying, which is what I’m doing right now as I reflect on my life experience since 2006). Grad school. I had always wanted to go, I love the classroom setting and learning and wanted to get a good job that paid better eventually, but the fact that I was already in debt had held me back. But grad school was kind of a last resort. I was on unemployment for nearly a year, and that didn’t feel great. I felt like I had nothing left to do. Out of options. And I’m not the only one in this boat.

Proof I’m not alone:

The Minnesota Daily reported that The University of Minnesota followed a nationwide jump of graduate school applicants, thanks to the recession.

The New York Times reported the surge in both law schools and graduate schools was due to the economic meltdown. “I think the crash was so severe that people were kind of catatonic,” Jeffrey S. Brand, dean of the University of San Francisco School of Law said. They weren’t sure what to do. They’re coming out of that mode now.”

What now?

When I graduate next May (hopefully) the economy will have gotten better (hopefully) and I’ll land a job that makes me happy. Or, I’ll try my hand at a Phd. Or float around a little more and try my hand at Americorps or Teach for America. Maybe by THEN the economy will have improved.

Is anyone else in the same boat? It would be interesting to hear more personal stories. Why are you in grad school?

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A Whim and a Debt

I applied to grad school at WVU on a whim, 10 days before the Fall semester started. While I’ll save that story for another day, I will reveal the crux of my first semester of grad school. I applied too late to apply for any graduate assistant position – a plush part-time job with a decent salary and a tuition waiver.

At the time, I wasn’t even sure what a GA did, but looking back on it now, I realize how helpful it would have been. I did find a GA position back in November (but my tuition wasn’t waived until this semester).

Going back to the whim thing I mentioned, I had to apply for financial aid ASAP, and applied for the full amount – enough to cover tuition and some money to live on until I could find a part time job. Needless to say, it was A LOT of money. Money I’ll have to pay back someday, which I will totally be able to afford thanks to my pending MS in Journalism.

One of my worst memories from my 20’s was having to borrow money from my parents. At 26 I had to call mommy and daddy, who relinquished me nearly 10 years ago. While they were proud of me for deciding to go back to school, it was a bitter pill to swallow. Gulp.

Luckily, I have mostly recovered. My GA position at the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium has brought some more stability into my life, and I have a little cubicle and my very own name plate. I’m learning to balance school, work, and relationships. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m going places. I’ll have a lot of debt to pay off in the long run (undergrad too), but hopefully I land a great job when I graduate with my awesome pending resume. THAT’S what we call #gradschoolproblems