After the first week and some good advice

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

On Thursday, I finished the first week of teaching for my grants and proposals class. Overall, it went pretty well and I think I have a good group of students this semester and I’m definitely excited to be back in the classroom. One thing that I noticed that is different about my class in comparison to the other upper division writing classes I have taught is that I spent most of this first week basically talking students away from the ledge.

To give some perspective, grant writing and research has a bit of a reputation of being “hard.” I put hard in quotation marks because I see it more as challenging and not hard. Yes, grant writing and research is challenging. Yes, it takes a lot of writing and revision. Yes, it takes a lot of communication with others. But I always try to tell students that even though this class is a lot of work, it is going to pay off in the end because no where else will you have the ability to practice grant writing skills, get feedback, and have constant encouragement the whole time. Plus, taking this class is actually saving you money considering how much it costs to learn these skills from other organizations that charge buckets of money for the same information.

Telling students that usually puts it in perspective, and my 5pm section got this right away when one student said, “wow. we are getting a good deal here.” Indeed, you are getting a good deal. I could also remind them about how at our university, they are receiving a fantastic education and won’t be straddled with as much debt as someone who attended an ivy league or top tier school, but I didn’t go into that. I figure that they probably know this anyway since they all are juniors or seniors, or at least they better know this.

So while I was talking students away from the ledge this week, I kept thinking back to some advice I was told as a new graduate student as I entered my MA program back in 2006. The advice is this, and it is deceptive in its simplicity: get the work done, treat yourself well, and stay away from the jerks. When I was told this the first time, I thought oh, for easy. I can do that. In reality, this is advice that is much harder than you immediately think.

Getting the work done, at least for me, is usually the easy part. I love work. I love what I do. I work probably too much. I can definitely get the work done. Not a problem. Treating yourself well is the next bit of advice, and sometimes I maybe need to follow this better than I do. While I do make sure to get in my required hours of Netflix viewing and reading for pleasure, I could probably stand to take a whole day off or two here and there, especially since I kind of have four day weekends (which, by the way, is already wigging me out a bit in the sense that i have to remind myself if it is Saturday or Sunday or what day it is). But at the same time, I kind of don’t have four day weekends since I also have to read for my comprehensive exams coming up this fall. (Meeting is next Monday, ya’ll!) So that is something I know I need to pay more attention to. Finally, staying away from the jerks sounds easy enough, but sometimes you are surprised by who turns out to be a jerk and who doesn’t. Admittedly, while I think I am ok at reading people, I sometimes don’t understand their intentions the best. Thus, I make mistakes in judgement. I’m trying to get better at that. And it is awkward to try to explain to someone the reason you have not hung out lately is because that person is kind of a jerk. So it goes.

But the point is while I was talking these students down and away from that ledge, and I could understand their feelings since I have also taken this class as a student, I thought back to that advice and honed in on it. I told them a lot of this work is collaborative, so while it looks like a large amount of work, it isn’t as bad as it seems outwardly. The collaboration will help create a good final product. But at the same time, it is also important to have fun with this and be creative. So yes, while they have a lot of work to get done this semester, just like how I do, they also need to give themselves downtime when appropriate and make sure they build good relationships with their team members. If they can do that, they will probably create some great projects and I am looking forward to seeing them.

Get the work done. Treat yourself well. Stay away from the jerks. I’ll just keep repeating that.

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