After the eve of departure

Leading up to the Global Perspectives Program 2018 trip was filled with millions of rows of data, thousands of words on a page, and hundreds of rows of code. The worst part about it is that it’s not over yet. I don’t think I’ll have much more data or code, but I’m still thousands of words away. As I plow through the final phase of my PhD, I’m mostly tired.

Planning for this trip was relatively nonexistent and I’ve already realized that in my rush to pack at the last minute, I forgot pajamas. GPP was the light halfway through the tunnel for me and my reward for sticking with it as hard as I could for as long as I could. That mentality wore me out though. I found myself suddenly having to switch from work mode into travel mode, and it was a switch that was surprisingly difficult to make.

There’s a bigger world out there, though, and the first view that can’t be found in Blacksburg reminded me why it’s worth it to step back and look around. I probably won’t get many words written in Switzerland, but maybe I won’t be so tired when I get back.

Déjà vu

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how much I appreciate things that are familiar. It’s the feeling that you get when you go home after being away for a long time, or seeing an old friend. While I love traveling, it can be stressful or overwhelming, and finding the space and making the time to relax is difficult. This morning, I went for a run (or maybe a walk? Which is it when you evenly split between the two?) to see a little more of the city with less baggage and while not incredibly tired.

It was so peaceful, with just the right pace of life to feel alive, but not rushed. I heard from some of the other Global Perspectives Program (GPP) participants about a wall that overlooks the city and when I saw it on my run, I decided to check out the view. It was gorgeous!

You walked up a slight incline into a spacious but shaded park, and if you walk to the end, you’re overlooking the city. I should have taken a picture of the park too, but I was suddenly struck with that familiar feeling. I could have sworn I had been there before.

I have been to Switzerland before. In 2006, one very brave teacher at my high school, the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science (MSMS), named Mr. Wester fearlessly led a group of 16-18 year old students on a trip here. I can honestly say that I think he was crazy for doing it, but I also appreciate that he was willing to do it. It was my first trip outside of the US, and it sparked a love for travel that will probably be with me for the rest of my life. I have no idea what the itinerary was on that trip or how many days we spent in any one location, but we did go to Zürich so it is possible that this park was somewhere I had been. We saw so many things in that trip that it all starts to run together and maybe Zürich has many parks with a similar feel.

However, there was something special about the park that I remembered. We sat with a group of old men who were playing chess on a massive outdoor chess board. I loved watching them, and there was something so peaceful about their casual manner as they took their time for each turn.

Me watching chess in March of 2006

Today’s park had no old men playing chess. It was also about 6:20 in the morning, so maybe they’re not early risers. I looked around I couldn’t see the chess pieces either, or the chess boards. I was a little sad that my memory failed me, until I saw a circle of chairs off in the distance…

Sure enough, there was my chess board! But what about the prices?

They were in the storage bins, of course, neatly packed away!

With that happy discovery, I finished out my run and headed back to the hotel for breakfast.

Maintaining mentoring

I wanted to get a conversation started about mentoring. We haven’t talked much about it in class, and I’m finding the more read about academic mentoring and talk about it in the Provost’s Office, the more I find that the general approach to formal mentoring is fundamentally flawed. I’ll use two examples of mentoring that I’ve experienced here at Virginia Tech that I feel were just not very effective. The first is the mentoring program within my Department. The program works as follows: at the beginning of the year, the upperclassmen graduate students (in good standing) are paired, or pair themselves, with the incoming first years, loosely based on criteria such as research interest and preferences (but often times the upperclassmen just pick who they want to mentor.  No formal formal “matching” process, and even though the program is intended to aid the first years, it’s the upperclassmen who select their mentees (should it not be the other way around?).  The dyad meets at the beginning of the semester, and then the remaining meetings are up to the mentee to facilitate. Well what if the mentee feels awkward or uncomfortable doing so. After all, he/she has only met privately with his/her mentor only once.  As a result, these relationships sort of fizz out and nothing else really happens (unless we’re lucky to have one mentor-mentee group event per semester).

The second mentoring program I’ve participated in was the GUMP (grad-undergrad mentoring program). The process was similar: I was assigned two mentees based on my academic expertise (though one of my mentees had very little in common with me). I reached out to meet at the beginning of the semester, but then after that it was up to the mentee to connect. I made a few prompts and was able to meet with both of mine at least 2 times throughout the semester (plus a couple exchanges via email), but I don’t feel as if I was much help to them and that we could really connect.

Finally, in the Provost’s Office, there’s a lot of talk about the women’s leadership and mentoring program, out of the Women’s Center at Virginia Tech.  Again, mentors are paired with mentees and “ta-da” a mentoring relationship forms. This program is a more structured in that it is merged with a women’ leadership development program. So here there is a cohort of women who all participate and have the choice to be paired with a mentor to discuss issues for a total of 5 hours throughout the academic year.

My main issue with all of these programs (and most others I’ve heard of with junior faculty) is this exclusivity of one mentor. Personally, I don’t think that’s how the real world works: it is impossible for one person to effectively provide solutions to all your issues, questions or concerns. It just can’t happen, especially when mentors have multiple mentees; that’s a huge time commitment.  The leadership and mentoring research reveals that a NETWORK of mentors is much more effective than a single formal mentor. Think about it: with a network of mentors, one builds more social capital, has a more diverse pool of people who could answer a wider variety of questions, and is not limited to a single dyadic relationship in which there may be no connection or chemistry.

The University of Tennessee Knoxville has an entire office devoted to learning and mentoring for Ph.D. students, and one of programs is the PEER mentoring program. I think they’ve really mastered the network approach to mentoring. See the infographic below. Basically, it’s a two year program in which all Ph.D. students participate upon arrival in their first year. They have several different avenues for mentorship:

  1. Peer 2 Peer: first years are matched with a second year in their discipline
  2. Peer Mentors: this is a group (i.e. network) of 8 faculty members across a wide variety of disciplines and expertise who can provide mentoring to grad students
  3. Faculty Research Advising: This is essentially the Ph.D. student’s advisor
  4. PEER coaches and staff: these are coaches hired specifically to help train and develop Ph.D. students on skills or abilities they may want or need for professional growth

To have one centralized location or website where students and faculty and (women faculty) can access their network of potential mentors is one way to move away from the strictly formalized mentor dyad to a more inclusive and opportunistic one.

I’m curious to see what mentoring programs other Departments have and how they function. Are they more of a one-on-one approach or a group mentoring approach? Perhaps the effectiveness is discipline, or even person-specific, but I know the network approach would  work better for me.

Non-Traditional Student Update?

A US News article by Kelsey Sheehy (2013) tells us that “Nontraditional students aren’t so nontraditional anymore. Roughly 71 percent of all U.S. undergraduates defy the college-student stereotype, according to the National Center for Education Statistics” (para. 1). On one hand, that is a shocker for me, but on the other, well, I have known that this population is a growing one. However, I don’t think that many traditional residential universities are interested in acknowledging this change. I have seen some movement at Virginia Tech where I attend, but I also believe there is much to do on campus to change the cultural negative attitude toward older learners.

I encourage all to read articles about this growing population on college campuses, especially if one is interested in becoming a full-time professor. Here are a couple of links to consider:


So Much Yet To Do In International Education

Jill Welch (2015) writes a blog on the NAFSA: International Educator’s website. It is up-to-date and insightful. In a time when people have minute by minute knowledge about worldwide problems with terrorist attacks, education is needed to work beyond fear and isolationism. Welch clearly states that, “There’s still more to do to create a more welcoming and globally engaged United States” (para. 10). International Education Week was established 15 years ago and yet we have so much work left to do. International students on American campuses often lack the services to help them adjust and American university students often have limited interest for the world outside of America.

Borderless Silos

The successful future of universities will flourish out of their ability to remove barriers around the academic and departmental silos that exist in so much of higher education. No doubt, the departments that administer degrees and house tenured faculty need to be able the autonomy to complete their work, but the financial and reward structures of many universities do NOT promote collaborations between offices and disciplines. The silos that exist perpetually create the “mine & yours” scenario which limits relationships of any kind. We need to find a way to allow individual units to exist at the same time that the boundaries around them become penetrable from those within and without.  If the silos must exist, we at least need multiple bridges between them and transparent walls.

RIO Boot Camp

The Office of Research Integrity offers a “boot camp” for those responsible for administering policies and procedures at their institutions about misconduct in research. Having a job doing this must be difficult and I think the foresight of this office to understand the need for training was very important. Since misconduct in research affects everyone, the information about how to address such violations in research needs to be a collaborative effort!

Global Efforts for Academic Integrity

There is an organization named: The Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI). This is news to me, but they must be making some impact because the buzz conversation in higher education is about the need to address problems within academic research. In fact, the mission statement for this organization reads, “The International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI) was founded to combat cheating, plagiarism, and academic dishonesty in higher education” (para. 1). ICAI provides a definition of integrity, statistics, events, useful inks, and an assessment guide. I encourage individuals especially interested in working in higher education and scholarly research to be part of the membership of this group.

Scholarly Integrity

To follow up our conversation from last class on scholarly integrity and academic misconduct, I would like to blog about a recent case I found on the ORI website. It is one to which I can relate well because it is about a graduate student psychologist. The case involves a graduate student at the University of Oregon , David Anderson, who was found to have engaged in academic misconduct because he “knowingly falsified data by removing outlier values or replacing outliers with mean values to produce results that conform to predictions” in 4 published papers. His penalty was that for three years his research must be supervised; his manuscripts must be certified as valid by the ORI; he must exclude himself from any PHS committees; and he must retract his previously published papers.

I think this case really highlights the fine line between what some might consider data cleaning and academic misconduct. We are taught to remove true outliers from data and to document it correctly, but if we fail to do so we can easily run the risk of committing an act of academic misconduct.

I’m curious if anyone thinks these sanctions are a little harsh for a graduate student? Should there be a separate set of guidelines for graduate students, undergraduate students, faculty members, etc.?

Different Cultures Across The Pond

USA Today published an article about the differences between college life in the U.S. and Europe. I feel that it is very accurate. I encourage you to read it. The differences often surprise students who participate in exchanges between the two systems.

Office hours and time with faculty for undergraduate students came up in some recent conversations between myself and some faculty members at an institution across the pond. They concurred that faculty members do not make themselves as available for “office hours” and it could be for a variety of reasons. From listening to their viewpoint, I feel that undergraduates at universities across the pond are typically treated the way our graduate students in the states are treated- as adults who can figure things out on their own.  I do sometimes feel that we spoon-feed students at American universities. However, the cost of university in the U.S. causes many students take on tremendous debt for their undergraduate degrees and that is plenty for young adults to contemplate for the long term impact to their lives.