Dear Ally,

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Big Mistakes…Just Run Away!

1 Cor 10_13

Dear Ally,

Last week in church (not yesterday because, admittedly, I overslept and missed it) the sermon was about when Jesus was tempted in the desert. Our pastor talked about how the devil is skilled at making sin look attractive and how, when tempted, we don’t think, “Oh I’m just going to ruin my life now.”

This same week a friend of mine who is also a chemistry professor very publicly admitted to a huge mistake – he cheated on his wife and was fired by the university where he worked.  You might be thinking at this point, “Wait a minute, was it a student?” It was not a student and this is the reason he went public, to dispel any rumors to the contrary. I assume the university is conservative and religious and must have some clause in employee contracts about sex outside of marriage being a fire-able offense.

Also this week I’ve been conducting search committees for several open positions. One candidate let me know that I may find something in the background check from a mistake made when they were young. Turns out this person is a registered sex offender. Yikes! I was thinking maybe it was a DUI or something.

Both of these situations are extremely unfortunate examples of people’s personal mistakes also ruining their careers. With all of this being within a week, I’m sensing a theme and looking over my shoulder like any moment the devil is going to try to get me and I guess maybe that’s how we should be all the time.

Matt 26_41

So what does this have to do with you? Just one thing – don’t get pregnant. There’s probably nothing else that could so easily derail your future. I remember the struggle in college and there was a reason why I had 1 Corinthians 10:13 hung up on my wall and why my roommate and her boyfriend always sat on our floor instead of the bed.

And with that, I will say goodnight and it’s time for your uncle and I to take down some Pokemon gyms.

Aunt Sarah

Thrive in the On-line Environment

Dear Ally,

You’re about to take your first on-line class! I think most students expect on-line classes  to be easier than the face-to-face version. While taking a class on-line offers flexibility, it requires self-discipline and motivation and involves a significant amount of reading and writing. Depending on how the coursework is structured, the door could be open for some serious procrastination. Assignment deadlines could be once a week or even further spread apart or the class could require small daily tasks. Either way, you should be prepared to spend 9-12 hours a week on this course or even more if it’s an accelerated course.

Let’s talk about technology requirements. You’ll need the following for the average on-line class:

  • Reliable, high speed internet connection. You’ll likely be watching videos and downloading and uploading large files, so the faster your connection, the better.
  • Microphone/ speakers or headset. You’ll need to be able to hear the videos well and you may also have to either record and upload your own videos or live chat.
  • Webcam. Useful for live chat sessions/ on-line office hours and could be required if your class has on-line exams where you must record yourself taking them to ensure academic integrity.
  • Printer/scanner/smartphone. If you’ll also be on campus for other courses, a printer is not necessary, but is convenient. Depending on the course, a scanner might be useful, but most smartphones have nearly equivalent capabilities these days. My face-to-face organic chemistry students often take pictures of their homework or their computer screens to send to me with questions when they get stuck.
  • Software. You’ll need all the same programs you use in a face-to-face class: Microsoft Office, Adobe Reader, Windows Media Player, etc. Check the syllabus to see if the course requires anything out of the ordinary.

Now let’s talk about the typical computer skills needed…

  • Course content navigation. Be sure you know how the course content is organized – is it chronological (this is best practice, but not always the case) or is it set up so that like items are in folders together? Most on-line instructors will have either a course orientation video or at least a welcome message that explains how to get around the course.
  • File transfer. If you’ve never electronically submitted an assignment to an instructor, you should familiarize yourself with attaching files to an e-mail message (and how to open an attachment) and/or how to upload a file to a dropbox. For large files, you may also need to know how to compress (zip) them.
  • Discussion board posts. Most on-line classes have some kind of discussion board on which you need to post and reply to posts. Be sure you understand the different ways the posts can be displayed or organized and how to tell the difference between a post you’ve read and a new post (and perhaps how to mark as unread if you’ve read it, but want to be reminded to respond).
  • Manage notifications. As soon as I submit grades to the on-line grade book, my students know it because they receive a notification. Your on-line learning management system should have settings where you can choose to receive notifications when your instructor submits a new grade, a new news item/ announcement, or a new discussion board topic. Some learning management systems have a corresponding app for mobile devices so that notifications appear as a banner on your phone or other device. This is extremely convenient and can help you keep track of course activity without having to log on constantly.

All of the tips I’ve mentioned in past posts about making a schedule, putting due dates in your planner/calendar, and staying organized will become crucial for success in an on-line class. You won’t be in the class to receive reminders about what’s going on or when assignments or exams are going to be. You’ll need to become an independent learner.

The most important aspect of on-line teaching and learning is communication. Pay close attention to what the syllabus says about the best way to contact the instructor and what method will be used to send information and instructions to the class. Be sure to check your school e-mail address and log into the course on at least a daily basis. All communication with your instructor and your classmates should be carried out in complete sentences using proper grammar.

It’s spring break week here, so I get a chance to get caught up on my class and am hoping to post everything my students will need for the rest of the semester before the weather gets nice.

Good luck and hope you have a great week!

Aunt Sarah

Being Pulled in Different Directions

Dear Ally,

I have sporadically kept a journal throughout my life. I wish it had been more regular, but sometimes I’m too busy living my life to record it. Anyway, I found my journal from my sophomore year of college, a time when I did write regularly, and was reading entries from January and February 1997 for inspiration. There was some high drama back then!

At that time I had been dating a man who was older than I was. He was already out of college and working as a minister. The “stage of life difference,” along with the fact that he lived over 2 hours away, made things difficult. Even so, we’d been together for almost a year.

I had just been told about a wonderful opportunity for which I could apply that involved doing chemistry research at your former school. The program was 10 weeks long, paid a significant stipend, and provided housing. When I excitedly told my boyfriend about the program, he became upset and proclaimed, “You’re telling me that we have four months together out of the year and you want to take away two of them.” That was not what I was expecting at all. In my mind, if we got married, we’d have our entire lives to spend together, so what was 10 weeks now? This was a highly competitive program that could give me invaluable experience that could lead to acceptance into a good graduate  program or an excellent chemist position. He had envisioned us spending the entire summer together and said, “Do what you have to do.” (In my journal, I wrote, “You bet I will. I may not get another opportunity like this.)

We had another conversation the next day where I was asked what my priorities were and I honestly said that, for now, school and my future career had to come before him.  In my journal, I described this period and these conversations as a tug-of-war for control of my own life.

About a week later, he told me he’d been offered a job out of state. He said that he will go if God leads him, but he doesn’t feel lead yet. The next line in my journal says, “Everything seems to be working out great.” We broke up a month later. There were more issues than what I’m telling you, including a friend of mine that I was in denial about being attracted to, but the part about it being OK for him to take a permanent job out of state, if that was where God wanted him to go, really bugged me. Why was it possible for God to send him out of state and not me? Does God only lead ministers or does God’s direction for my career not matter because I am in a secular field or because I’m a woman? Did he think I didn’t pray for guidance? I felt accused of being so driven for monetary reasons alone, as if my career path was not a calling or life purpose.

Anyway, I’m happy to say that I did get into that research program (of course, you know this because I told you about my summer there). I don’t regret being honest about my priorities. If I had not applied and we stayed together, I may grown to resent him for holding me back. Back then I wasn’t even thinking seriously about grad school. That would have surely put an end to things, considering 10 weeks apart was a travesty and grad school took me over 6 years.

You are probably going to have to make some tough choices in your life at some point, probably sooner rather than later. Do not make your choice solely based on what someone else tells you do to or to avoid disappointing someone else. Do what is best for you and your life goals – with prayerful consideration of course.

Have a great week and happy belated Valentine’s day! 🙂

Aunt Sarah

 

Why We Still Need Women’s Studies

Dear Ally,

We currently have a President that has been quoted as saying, “A woman who is very flat-chested is very hard to be a 10.” The first time I saw this quote, it was written across a woman’s bare chest as part of 18-year old Aria Watson’s #SignedByTrump photography class final project.  I’m not going to lie I looked at all those pictures and I got pissed. I think that’s the point and proves the power of art.

It’s not one of the first words I’d think of these days to describe myself, flat-chested, but I when I was younger, I was definitely more conscious of the ways I was different from the way the world defined beauty. My college friend, Mark (yes, the one from the calculator and snowball posts) once asked me if it bothered me that I had small breasts. You might think this was a completely inappropriate question, but we had the kind of relationship where we’d had other personal conversations and I knew he was being genuine. At the time, I responded in the way I usually did when something was kind of awkward, I made a joke. I said, “No, it doesn’t bother me…because I can do this and this…” and I proceeded to easily reach first one arm and then the other across my body without turning. It is true, in my very active lifestyle where I enjoy running, horseback riding, and backpacking, that having large breasts would be annoying.

It’s all fine until the only women you see portrayed as beautiful are busting out of their tops. It’s OK until another college guy friend tells you that you have the body of a 12-year old boy. Couple incidents like this with the fact that I was taught in church that not being content with the body that God gave you is a sin. At a time when I was discovering my identity and questioning everything, including my faith, these kinds of experiences could have been devastating – at best you feel conflicted and confused and at worst, worthless and guilty at the same time.

This same friend, Mark, gave me the book “The Search for Significance (Seeing Your True Worth Through God’s Eyes)” by Robert S. McGee. Maybe Mark knew what was really going on in my head then. He is a very astute person. I can’t say that that book alone completely changed my life, but it was helpful, along with discovering my own purpose in life and receiving other messages that counter those that say a woman’s only value is as an object of beauty or vessel of procreation.

Maybe that’s why I enjoy working at a women’s college so much now. I don’t teach women’s studies or discuss anything really controversial in my chemistry courses, but I’m proud to work with people who do. I get to support awesome women and men that teach about the inequality and injustice all types of people experience. And I get to  foster young women’s growing confidence by helping them shape their values and discover God’s purpose for their lives and by contradicting negative stereotypes that are so often internalized.

Twenty years ago I would have scoffed at the idea of learning more about my own gender, so I didn’t. I liked men and didn’t want to be part of what I perceived would be some kind of weekly man-bashing event. All I remember about women’s studies in college is that my boyfriend wore a pink shirt to the final exam – probably to mock the course. It’s funny how life can turn out. Anyway, I don’t want you to miss out, so if you get the chance to take any kind of course where diversity is celebrated, take it.

Have a good week!

Aunt Sarah

The time I almost burned our dorm down…

Dear Ally,

Just a short story about sophomore shenanigans for some stress relief for today’s post.

My sophomore and junior years I lived in the exact same dorm room with the roommate that I would live with my entire last three years of college. We lived in the same all-girls dorm building all three of those years. Our sophomore year was the year before every dorm room on campus got micro-fridges. No, they weren’t tiny fridges, they were dorm-sized refrigerators with a microwave attached to the top. Before that we had this small appliance in our room called a “hot shot” that boiled water for oatmeal or ramen and a microwave down the hall.

Microwave popcorn was a favorite snack of mine and I even had a traditional dance that went with the shaking of the bag to mix the butter all around in the bag. The rule was that you could not leave the microwave running unattended, you had to stand there and watch your food warm up or, in my case, I had to wait around doing nothing for the eternity that it took to pop a bag of popcorn.  The microwave was way down the hall – too far to check on something multiple times, but not so far that it wasn’t worth going back to your room to wait.

So one night my roommate and I were studying in our room and I wanted to make some popcorn, so I popped it into the microwave and went back to my room thinking I was an experienced microwave popcorn maker and what’s the worst that could happen. Our room was a corner room with a short hallway to it and the room across the hall that connected to the main long hallway. After a few minutes, I started down the hall to retrieve my treat, but as I rounded the corner, I stopped short. The hallway was filled with smoke and a girl, looking completely pissed off, was holding a smoking, flaming bag of popcorn and carrying it down the hallway, probably to take it outside. The smell was awful. Oh crap! I probably only stood there for a few seconds, but to this day I can picture that scene vividly.

I immediately bolted back into our room and told my roommate that if anyone asks, I am not there. Then I proceeded to hide in our closet, our enormous closet that went way back into the wall, that had housed many a random friend or friends wanting to pop out and scare whoever happened to be in our room.

I was just in time too, because it wasn’t long before the popcorn police, who’d been going door to door investigating and interviewing witnesses, knocked on ours. I felt kind of bad asking my roommate to lie, but I don’t think they actually asked where I was, just if the popcorn was hers and whether she’d seen anyone recently using the microwave. She could technically honestly answer no to both questions. She covered for me brilliantly and I stayed in the closet a little while longer in case they came back.  I guess there had been no witnesses to my crime because no one ever knew it was me. At least not until now.

Before I came out, my roommate took the picture below to commemorate the hilarious occasion.

imhiding

Well, I hope this got some much needed laughs! It still cracks me up.

Have a great week!

Aunt Sarah

Get an answer…to the email you sent to your professor

Dear Ally,

In grad school there were a few of us who played practical jokes on each other. This one undergrad in our research group had it in for your uncle and one day he had an e-mail to his chemistry professor open on the shared computer, so Adam wrote at the end of it “P.S. I love you.” The undergrad caught him in the act and a scuffle ensued, during which the e-mail disappeared from the screen. At this point I was hysterically laughing and shouting, “It sent! It sent!” The guy flew out of there to run down three flights of stairs to explain what had happened before the professor got the wrong idea. We never did find out what happened to that e-mail.

At times you might feel like the e-mails you’re sending to your professors are disappearing. It can be frustrating not to get a response when you expect it or not at all, so here are some tips to make sure you get a response in a timely manner.

Introduce yourself via e-mail. Some professors’ first assignment is to e-mail them. Even if you’re not asked to, it might be a good idea to send your professors or teaching assistants (whoever you’d be contacting if you have a problem or question) a brief e-mail at the beginning of the semester. Ask them to reply “Hi” or request a read receipt so you know your e-mail was received. If your e-mail system allows you to upload a profile picture, be sure to do this and pick an appropriate picture where your face is recognizable and takes up most of the space.

test-email-good

Be polite and professional. Always begin an e-mail with a formal salutation and address your professors using their formal title (Dr., Professor, etc). Say please and thank them for their time. You want to be understood, so use proper grammar and don’t use textese or emoticons.

dear-miss

Avoid technical issues. Sometimes we really didn’t get your e-mail. Be sure to always use your official school e-mail so that: 1) your e-mail gets past the spam filter and 2) your professor knows it’s legit and doesn’t delete it without reading it. You should obviously double-check your professor’s e-mail address or, better yet, reply to an e-mail he or she sent you (but change the subject line unless it’s related). You can also use delivery receipts and/or read receipts (although some people hate these).

spam-filter

Don’t let your email get buried. Professors receive a ton of e-mail and not everyone checks their e-mail in chronological order. If you know your professor won’t see your e-mail over the weekend or until morning, then don’t e-mail them on Sunday or in the middle of the night and especially do not e-mail them while they are sending automatic out of office replies. Wait and send your e-mail at a time when they are likely to be looking at e-mail or write your e-mail, but then use the delay delivery option to send the e-mail at an opportune time (it’s under options in Outlook).

Email Sunday.jpg

Be succinct and specific. The shorter the e-mail the better. If it requires scrolling, maybe it’s better to call or go to office hours. Don’t send a whole list of questions or requests, you’re more likely to get a response to everything if you keep it to one topic per e-mail. Better than a short e-mail is the e-mail not sent at all, so check the syllabus and other sources of information first to see if you can answer your own question.

ignore-emails

Make it as easy as possible and don’t be annoying. Do your professors a huge favor and sign your full name and include the course and section number somewhere, preferably in the subject line along with a summary of your question/request. Nothing is worse than having to look through several class lists to figure out which section a student is enrolled in so you can finally answer the question. Don’t overuse the important button or it will lose its effect. Give them a chance to reply, at least a day, especially if it’s complicated or requires some investigating, before you resend.

did-you-get-email

 

Hopefully these tips decrease the response time to your e-mails and you can get your answer and go back to studying. If you’re still having trouble getting a response, perhaps it’s time to switch to a different mode of communication, some of us are better with voicemails or prefer texting even.

Let me know if you use any of these tips!

Aunt Sarah

 

 

 

 

 

Be Productive Between Classes

Dear Ally,

You’re a commuter student now. Life is going to be different and your schedule kinda sucks. In the future hopefully you’ll be able to block your schedule and maybe even have at least one day where you don’t have to drive to campus. For now, though, it is what it is and I have some advice to help you make the best of it.

Making the most of a break depends on how long it is and what you can accomplish in that amount of time.

What to do if you have 10-15 minutes: Maybe you arrived to class early or have a break in the middle of a long class. If you can make the most of these short breaks and do something besides look at Facebook, it can really add up, but taking an actual break and relaxing can also be good and increase your productivity later in the day.

  • Check your school e-mail
  • Reply to text messages (since you shouldn’t be doing that in class)
  • Go to the bathroom
  • Eat a healthy snack like nuts or a piece of fruit
  • Do a stress-relieving meditation
  • Talk with a classmate
  • Print stuff out
  • Watch a squirrel (live or video, either one reduces stress)
  • Read for pleasure

What to do if you have 30-45 minutes: This is probably where there is the most time-wasting potential, but it’s not long enough to do a task requiring real thought and focus.

  • Review for an upcoming class
  • Eat a meal
  • Read a textbook section or two
  • Proofread and/or edit a paper
  • Watch a video for class
  • Retry example problems from a previous class
  • Make a study guide
  • Organize your course materials
  • Write a to-do list, plan for tomorrow or next week
  • Work out (you won’t get too sweaty walking or doing yoga or get a short run and a shower in)
  • Research future internships, jobs, grad schools
  • Go to office hours
  • Go to a previously made advising appointment
  • Take care of business (pay that tuition bill, make that dentist appointment)

What to do if you have several hours: This is your Thursday. That break between 10am and 5pm could be brutal, but there’s no way you can justify leaving campus, unless you have a dentist appointment. Don’t do what your uncle did in college and play cards all day in the cafeteria.

  • Work on a paper in the library
  • Meet with a study group
  • Run errands
  • Do homework
  • Go on a walk
  • Enjoy a meal or coffee with friends
  • Go to a club meeting
  • Watch Netflix (just not all day!)
  • Work on a group project

 

Good luck this semester!!

Aunt Sarah

Empathy Now…Serenity Later

Dear Ally,

Finals week is getting closer and stress levels are ramping up. So, what can you do to ease your anxiety? I could tell you all the common advice like take care of yourself, exercise, get plenty of sleep, listen to music, mediate, read a book, watch a movie, etc. All of this is great advice and many of these techniques have helped me. But what I’m going to suggest is somewhat unconventional and even seems counter-intuitive:  listen to others.

This advice comes from a webinar I recently attended with colleagues about fostering resilience in students, but I’ve also known it to work for me. Notice that I didn’t say “talk with others.” This is because the important part is the listening. When you talk, especially about what is stressing you out, the focus is on you and your to-do-list. Focus on the other person’s feelings and experience. At the very least, you’ll receive a mini mental vacation, but you could also walk away with a new perspective on your problems. Listening also generates connection, builds trust, and will leave you with a better sense of belonging.

Tonight I volunteered to make phone calls for our annual phonathon where we ask alumni to donate money to our college. I’ve been stressing about an exam I have to finish writing as well as a grant proposal. I certainly could think of better things to do with my evening. But after listening to my former students tell me about their accomplishments and joys, I left school smiling and with a much lighter heart. Most of these conversations were only 5-10 minutes long, but that was long enough to gather exciting news and share my own news.

It takes practice to do what is deemed “active listening” or “empathic listening,” which is the goal. The active listener is present in the moment and fully engaged in the conversation. This is hard to do when there are distractions such as text messages or TV. In order to put yourself in the other person’s place, you’ll want to go to a quiet place that is free of interruptions. Active listening cannot be accomplished via text message or other electronic means – eye contact, facial expressions, and body language are very important. If you can at least listen to someone on the phone, you’ll at least hear the expression of their voice and they yours.

You might be sarcastically thinking, “Yes, that’s exactly what I need is for someone to dump their problems on me.” That’s just what I used to think. In the past when I was stressed, I’d pull away from people and concentrate on what I needed to get done, desiring to keep my life simple and uncomplicated. But it is amazing what interesting things you can find out about other people and you might find someone who can relate to something you’re going through. Listening can also help you get along better with those that are close to you because you’ll gain a better understanding of where they are coming from. This might be especially important during roommate disputes.

I hope you decide to give it a try and that you have a wonderful week! And if you ever need someone to listen to you, I’m just a phone call away.

Love,

Aunt Sarah

romans-12_15

 

Identify potential letter of recommendation writers now

Dear Ally,

Actually needing letters of recommendation or professional references might seem like a long ways off right now, but you might need them for an internship, leadership position, or honor society. Even if you won’t need letters soon, it’s a good idea to start thinking about who you would chose and what they might say about you. You might end up asking someone you know now to write you a letter two years from now.

Who should you choose?

Choose people who know you well. I’ve had students ask me for letters just because I’m the dean when I’ve only met them once or twice. I can look up their transcripts and get information from their instructors, but these letters are never as good as the ones I’ve written for students that I know very well. Think about professors who have observed you in at least two different situations: your academic advisor who also had you in class, a professor who is also the advisor for a student organization to which you belong, or a professor with whom you’ve also done research. The letter of recommendation my undergraduate research advisor wrote for me was very detailed and memorable. (Yes, he gave me a copy.) He described me as shy and included the story of the time I asked him to help me with the demonstration for my speech class where I made liquid nitrogen ice cream.

If no one comes to mind, this is the time to get to know your professors and get involved so they will remember you. Go to their office hours, participate in service learning or other projects, definitely join the professional organization related to your field of study, or invite your professors to your athletic event, play, or recital (maybe that would be weird at a large university, but at my college, it’s an honor to be invited to these activities).

What should you do if your professors don’t know you well? At a large university, there might be hundreds of students in your class and your advisor might have a sea of advisees. If this is the case, and especially if it’s been a while since you’ve had contact with this person, when you ask them to write the letter, give them as much information about yourself as possible, including which classes you’ve taken from them and when, a copy of your resume, your application information and essay (where applicable), and a list of your interests and co-curricular activities.  If possible, ask for the letter in person so your face might jog his or her memory. You might even have copies of graded papers or projects from class that you can send to them (keep this stuff!).

Choose people who you have impressed. I generally don’t write letters for students who have earned lower than a B in my course(s). You want to choose the professors who taught the classes where you did your very best work in a course that was challenging. I’ll also take this opportunity to remind you to always be professional – in class and when communicating with your professors. My students sometimes think it’s cool to begin e-mails to me with “Hey” or that it’s OK to drop the F-bomb in class. These occasions come to mind when I have to fill out the “conducts himself/herself in a professional manner” portion of a recommendation.

Choose people who represent multiple perspectives. When I applied to chemistry graduate school, I asked three of my chemistry professors to write letters of recommendation. Looking back, I don’t know if this was wise. I probably should have had a least one person who was not a chemist. Choose professors from different disciplines so they can speak to your skills in a variety of areas. If possible, you should ask at least one woman to write a letter for you. Women are more likely to be aware of the unconscious gender bias that can occur in letters of recommendation and will work to minimize this.

Choose at least one person who is trained in the field you wish to enter. Obviously you should include a professor who taught course(s) in your major, but you could additionally choose a mentor or internship supervisor outside of your school that can also speak to your potential to enter their field. This is one of the reasons that networking with people in your field and joining professional organizations now is so important. Speaking of networking, utilize networking sites like LinkedIn to keep in contact with potential letter writers. You never know if they will move to a different institution, retire, or if you might transfer. You might even choose to go back to school years after you graduate. I recently had one of the first students I had in class contact me for a letter of recommendation – 10 years later!

Good luck identifying the best people to speak to your skills and abilities!

Can you believe that Thanksgiving is next week! Hope to have some time to visit with you.

Best,

Aunt Sarah

Grad School: Choosing Where to Apply

Dear Ally,

You’re only a sophomore, so grad school seems far away. I didn’t really decide to actually apply or go until late in my junior year. I hadn’t really thought about it and, at the time, was thinking, “Oh, I’ll at least go for a Master’s.” I did the Master’s, but had decided well before that was finished that I’d stick around for the terminal degree.

So where do you want to go? There are several answers to this question including:

  • Where the program and degree you want is offered. If you have a specific career in mind, make sure you find a school that offers the exact curriculum and degree level you need to meet your goals. Also, make sure the program is accredited by the professional organization of your chosen field. In fact, professional organizations might be the first place to look for a list of schools from which to choose.
  • Where you’ve been accepted. Grad school is not as competitive as med school, but certain schools and programs can be very selective. I was told to apply to at least 6 different places: one “dream school” that’s a top 10 school for your program (For me, this was Standford), a few in the middle, and at least one “fall-back” school into which you know you’ll be accepted. With common on-line applications, it’s easier than it used to be to apply to multiple programs. Find the grad school rankings here.
  • In a geographic location where you’d like to live. Grad school is a long time, so some people (like me) choose to stay near friends and family, but it’s also a finite amount of time, so if there’s somewhere you’ve always wanted to live, this might be the perfect way to do a trial run of an area. Some things to consider are weather/climate, traffic, safety, cost of living, and availability of housing. If you choose an on-line program, you can live anywhere you want.
  • To a school where you’ll have support. Support can mean a variety of things, but you should definitely consider the financial piece. Are there grad assistant positions, scholarships, or fellowships for which you are eligible? Is grad student housing an option? What about lab and library facilities? Are there grad student groups – what about for women, international students, or professional groups for students in your particular program? Women who already have children or intend to start a family in grad school (yes, some people do this on purpose, especially if the health care is good) should ask about daycare options for children of grad students.

Choosing a grad school should not be based solely on:

  • Where your mentor thinks you should go. Your advisor and current professors, especially those with the degree you are seeking, can be excellent sources for recommendations, but don’t feel pressured.
  • Where your significant other will or will not live. So, I actually got accepted to Standford and my boyfriend at the time responded, “If you move to California, we are over.” It was not a threat, just a fact. He couldn’t afford to move and live there and 4-6 years is too long for a long distance relationship. As you know, I didn’t go to Standford for a variety of reasons nor did I marry that boyfriend. I met your uncle in grad school and have the job of my dreams, so I have no regrets.
  • Where the recruiter had the best sales pitch. Sometimes choosing a school can be like buying a car. Beware of the “hard sell” and random incentives like, “Every new grad student gets a free laptop.”

I found this helpful resource as you begin your search: http://www.gradschools.com/  where you can filter by degree, category, subject, and state or country.

Good luck getting started on your search. This is the most fun part! Once you choose a few schools, plan how you might be able to visit them during breaks (road trip!). You should also start thinking about whether you could spend a summer doing undergraduate research. The National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergrads (NSF-REU) Program is how I was able to spend summers at two different schools , one of these is where I ultimately chose to attend. Applications are due in February or March.

Best,

Aunt Sarah