Chris Uggen's Blog: welcoming new grad students

Sunday, August 27, 2006

welcoming new grad students

i'm welcoming a new cohort of grad students tomorrow morning, bringing to mind hazy memories of my first year of graduate study.

i didn't start grad school until january, so that i could find a responsible stopping point with my employer. i had been working full-time in social services for a few years, so i was dealing with some reentry shock that first semester. over the summer, i determined to give it a better effort. before my second semester, i therefore sat down and wrote the memo at left: motivational bull.*

i came across it in a file with some other old paper from grad school. i've shared the memo with at least two undergrads, as they left the minnversity for graduate school. re-reading today, i wanted to edit a few cringe-inducing passages (and you can probably see that i did white out a few words before passing it along to my undergrads), but kept it as written.

here were my nine "be..." aspirations for the year: be cool, good to your partner, positive, sociable, healthy, strong, creative, righteous, and goal-oriented. as you can see, i didn't mention grades or publications or prelim exams, but i was pretty concerned about the kind of person that i was becoming. i think that just putting these simple aspirations on paper told me who i was and where i'd like to be going. i'm not sure whether such an exercise would be useful to others, but it might be worth a try -- even if, like me, you are skeptical of such motivational bull.

*here's a word version that might be a little easier to read.


At 1:14 PM, Blogger Dr Vikas said...

hello from india

At 3:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

great advice. #6 is forgotten especially often in my department.

At 7:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why not just require all your first-years to observe first-year economics grad students, then practice opposite behaviors? Economists are a good example on how to be supportive, kind, and seek value and meaning.

Charles Kane

At 7:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, last sentence should read:

Economists are a good example on how *not* to be supportive, kind, and seek value and meaning in life.

At 11:21 PM, Anonymous chris said...

thanks, anon and charles. i was lucky to make some deep friendships that first year. brad wright, in particular, had a wonderful ability to gently bust me on my self-absorption (you know, chris, there's a possibility that the faculty might be discussing something other than you today) and my complaining (wow, chris, given all these difficulties, we're really lucky that we can just walk away and sell insurance or something. i'm sure that would be much less alienating). it would be cruel to have heard such comments from my professors, but my buds gave both the support i needed and the needle that helped me laugh at myself. i bet some economists have had similar experiences.

At 12:59 PM, Anonymous sara wakefield said...

i was one of the undergrads (WAY too many years ago) and still have it (under file labeled Chris' Motivational Bull). your best parting comment though before sending me on my way was "after all, Sara, you're not going to grad school in physics -- those people have it REALLY tough!" Perhaps it should be added to #6.

And, what does it mean that i came back? did i not follow directions closely enough? :)

At 3:48 PM, Blogger Radio Free Newport said...

"Don't hurt people unless they've really got it coming. Then waste 'em."

Excellent! You-gun, indeed.

I worked for five years before my first return to grad school. My memories of that day are: singing The Waterboys "The New Life" to myself as I walked up the hill to campus; feeling like the oldest guy in the room by 20 years, even though the gap was only five; and overwhelmingly thinking, "geez, for a bunch of people who want to study people, these folks have no social skills."

I took time off after my MA and my second return, at age 37, was much different. There were more older folks in the program, students and profs were much friendlier, and I blasted "A Love Supreme" as I drove to campus.

Even once you've been around for a few years, you can't beat orientation day for the new cohort's mixture of excitement, nervousness, and awkwardness.

At 12:02 AM, Anonymous chris said...

sara, i'm glad it was helpful. you were the first to see it, i think. and i hear that physics is still pretty brutal for grad students. social physics, on the other hand, is a great gig.

newport, you've pierced the veil of the web persona and uncovered the true s.o.b. just beneath the surface. i like to think i've grown up a little, but maybe that's just emotional white-out. a love supreme is an inspired soundtrack, though i probably listened to waterloo sunset fifteen times on my first day.

At 1:57 PM, Blogger JessicaM said...

And I'm certain, after lo these many years in academia, you would add: "Be especially kind to staff, as they are extremely supportive of you."

At 4:00 PM, Blogger christopher uggen said...

That's *exactly* right, Jessica!


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