Andrew Bishop's blog

Making the Most of Your Summer Internship

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Andrew Bishop is pursuing a Master of Public Policy at the University of Virginia. You can follow him on Twitter @xiongandi.

For many grad students, summer is a chance to leave the classroom and have a new experience outside of the university environment. Some programs (like mine) require students to participate in a summer internship within their respective disciplines so that they can practice newly acquired skills, explore potential career paths, and build their resume. Internships can provide you with a new lens through which you can contextualize your work and see where you fit in the broader field.

The problem with internships is that they can often be hit-or-miss. While some organizations have a robust program that allows interns to dive into engaging projects and receive mentorship, others are ill-equipped and barely have enough work to fill one’s time. As an undergraduate, I had internships across this spectrum. I remember the excitement of digging into research on education policy that came with one internship, but also the boredom that came with another.

Internships require a significant investment of time that can take away from personal research projects as well as much-needed downtime over the summer. They are also often unpaid. Although some programs offer financial assistance, internships can come at a great expense if they do not provide an in depth and relevant experience.

Other Gradhackers have written about how important it is to learn how to navigate your grad internship. This is especially true if your previous internships were meant for undergraduates. As I moved into my internship experience this summer, I took a number of steps to ensure that I would make the most of the experience. From day one, I was able to jump right in with a plan of action that has guided me in the right direction so far. I’ve listed those steps below in hopes that others will be able to find success at their summer internships, no matter where on the spectrum your internship falls.

1. Set goals for what you want to accomplish over the course of the experience.
One of my biggest areas for growth when I was an undergraduate intern was not knowing what I wanted to get out of the experience. I went in with the mindset of simply wanting to sample what working at a specific organization would be like. While I gained some valuable experience, I also missed opportunities to push myself outside of my comfort zone and grow through that process.

This summer, I set specific goals around improving both hard and soft skills that I know I will need in my career moving forward. Since coming to grad school, I’ve taken several quantitative classes, and I’ve made sure to incorporate what I’ve learned into my internship each day. For example, while email is the preferred method of communication for most of us in grad school, it is often slower than making a phone call. I’ve set a goal to make sure I always make the call if it will improve my productivity. Setting these goals has not only made me more efficient, but has also deepened my understanding of my graduate coursework thus far.

2. Be proactive in learning from those working around you.
Part of what makes a successful internship is learning from others working in the organization. Yet not all environments make this process easy. I distinctly remember one internship experience where I rarely felt a part of the team. The office had very little social interaction, preferring to communicate almost entirely via email even though we all sat right next to each other. I had trouble understanding the roles that people held, and as a result never felt entirely comfortable reaching out and seeing if there was more I could learn. After completing that internship, I knew I never wanted a working experience like that again.

It is important to recognize that many of those who you will be working with are incredibly busy and may not have a lot of time to chat during the workday. However, a little bit of online research can help you better understand the roles that they play as well as how you might be able to contribute during your time there. Most organizations have an org chart available online that can help you figure out who you may want to speak with during your internship or what office might have projects in which you might be interested. It also never hurts to ask if someone is available to speak with you over lunch or to formally schedule a meeting with someone.

3. Have a plan for downtime.
Whether you are collecting data, waiting for an email response, or your boss is out for a day, it is inevitable that there will be a degree of downtime during your internship experience. Rather than spending that time aimlessly perusing the web, have a plan that you can implement to use that time for your own professional development.

I decided early on that I would spend any downtime catching up on relevant journal articles in my internship’s field. Not only would this allow me to work towards my goal of improving my quantitative literacy, but it would also give me the chance to gain a more nuanced understanding of some of the areas I am working on at my internship.

How do you plan to make the most of your summer internship? Please feel free to share in the comments below.  

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Catching Up with the World Through Reading

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Andrew Bishop is pursuing a Master of Public Policy at the University of Virginia. You can follow him on Twitter @xiongandi.

One of the first things I do at the beginning of each year is set a Goodreads reading goal. With this goal, I commit to reading a certain number of books by the end of the year. I enjoy reading for pleasure and find that tracking the books I’ve read adds an additional layer of fun to the experience. It also allows me to see if I am keeping pace with my intended goal for the year.

When I was working, I was able to reach my annual goal fairly regularly. My shelves also had a nice balance of fiction and non-fiction. In addition to reading some of the latest best-sellers, I was also able to delve into some of the classics. Reading widely allowed me to step out of my day-to-day work life and reflect on the broader world around me. I could contextualize my own lived experience by reading through different lenses that authors use. This process helped me gain greater compassion, empathy, and understanding while also giving me an opportunity to relax.

Since coming to grad school, I’ve found that completing my annual reading goal has become much more difficult. Time is, unfortunately, at a premium. While I am constantly reading articles and other assigned readings for class, the purpose of this reading is different from that which I pursue during my own leisure time. My personal reading time is an opportunity to catch up with the world around me and something that I miss doing when the semester becomes busy.

However, summer is upon us. Summer is an opportunity to make room for many of the hobbies that fall by the wayside during the school year. It also comes at a good point during the calendar year to take stock of the things that you still wish to read and accomplish. As we approach summer, I wanted to provide you with a reading list that will allow you to catch up on some of the things you may have missed.

In order to come up with this list, I asked a number of my grad school colleagues to share books that they have read this year that other grad students may find interesting and insightful. Some are old and some are new, yet they all carry importance to those who recommend them.

Catching Up with What’s Happening Around Us
If you look at my Goodreads shelf, you’ll see that I lean heavily toward reading non-fiction books. I really enjoy memoirs and reading up on topics of interest. The list below provides a nice mix of books for those looking to gain a little insight into what’s happening outside of your academic field.

Reading with Patrick by Michelle Kuo
Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
Translating Happiness: A Cross-Cultural Lexicon of Well-Being by Tim Lomas
Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? by Michael Sandel
The Color of the Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming edited by Paul Hawken

Catching Up with Fiction and Fantasy
You can never go wrong with a good novel. I personally am a huge fan of Star Wars novels (yes, even the new canon) and enjoy taking the time to enter a galaxy far, far away. The list below will transport you to worlds both near and far and provide you with a nice summer escape.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Loose Woman by Sandra Cisneros
Normal People by Sally Rooney
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Catching Up with Family
When I was an English language arts teacher, I spent a lot of time reading literature designed for kids and young adults. Although these titles may be a little easier to digest than your average academic article, there are many lessons you can learn through exploring in the genre. Books on this list would also serve as great conversation starters that you can share with your own kids.

- The Track Series by Jason Reynolds
The Hate U Give and On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

In addition to this list, a number of other GradHackers have created reading lists that you might want to check out.

What will you be reading this summer to catch up with the world? Please feel free to share in the comments below.  

[Image taken and submitted by the author.]

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Getting Your Master’s? Go to a Conference.

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Andrew Bishop is pursuing a Master of Public Policy at the University of Virginia. You can follow him on Twitter @xiongandi.

I recently attended my first conference, and going into the experience I had no idea what to expect. I spent some time gleaning wisdom from the posts of GradHackers from years past. I learned best practices in how to prepare for my experience, navigate the social dynamics, and make the most of my time once I was there. There’s a lot of time, money, and effort that goes into a conference experience, and as a master’s student I wasn’t quite sure if it would be worth the investment. Yet once I was on the ground, I quickly realized that I had made the right choice.  

Even if you are not presenting, a conference is still an excellent opportunity to contextualize your graduate experience within the broader field. Through the conference experience, you will be able to:

1. Gain profound insight into what’s happening at the cutting edge of your field
There is a lot of great work happening in each of our fields. Researchers throughout the country and around the world are often tackling many of the issues for which we have a passion. Yet with assignments and deadlines piling up, it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on elsewhere. A conference is the perfect opportunity to get caught up in a fairly short period of time.

The most rewarding session of the conference I attended came in the form of a panel on rural education. I learned about the research that each of the panelists is working on, and was able to ask questions that helped me see where my own personal work ties into the conversation. By attending this session, I was able to better understand the current gaps in the literature, and see where I might be able to play a role in closing them.

2. Apply what you are learning
When you are going through the day-by-day process of attending class and completing your coursework, it is difficult to see the progress you are making and how it all comes together. Stepping out of your university and into a conference environment allows you to apply your knowledge when listening to presenters and panelists share their research. It also allows you to reflect on how much you have grown.

I’ve taken a number of quantitative classes over the last few months building skills in research methods and economics. These classes have been challenging, and I’ve clocked many hours completing problem sets and preparing for exams. At first, I was worried that I would not be able to understand the quantitative methods discussed at the conference. However, I quickly realized that even if I wasn’t familiar with some of the more complicated methods, I was able to understand the gist of each presentation.

Throughout the conference, presenters referenced papers that I had read for class. When they used regression tables, I was able to interpret them and understand their statistical significance. I could recognize the elements of a strong presentation, as well as the elements of those that needed improvement. I saw my coursework come together, and it reaffirmed my decision to come back to grad school.

3. Look at potential career options
I’ve considered applying to a Ph.D. program and have been weighing the pros and cons. This conference was the perfect opportunity to gain a glimpse into what the research life is like and if this is something I want to pursue. I was able to survey what faculty and grad students from other schools are currently researching. I also had the chance to meet and hear from folks who work outside of academia but are still working in the field. The jury is still out on what I will be doing at the end of next year, but this conference allowed me to continue charting my course.

4. Meet others with similar interests
A conference is a gathering of many of the best minds in your field and is a great opportunity to network. Beyond that though is the chance to just hear from others who are going through the same experience as you are. I traveled to my conference with a number of students who are in a Ph.D. program at my university, many of whom I had not previously met. I was able to learn about their research, career goals, and experiences in the program in a way that I might not have otherwise without the conference structure.

If you are getting your master’s, I highly recommend that you attend a conference. The investment is worth it, and you will see the fruits of your labor.

Are you pursuing a master’s degree and considering going to your first conference? If not, do you have any advice for those who are? Feel free to share in the comments below.

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Breaking the Tech Addiction

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Andrew Bishop is pursuing a Master of Public Policy at the University of Virginia. You can (rarely) find him on Twitter @xiongandi.



I spend far too much time on my phone, and I believe that many of us in the grad school community face this problem, too. We lose hours of time and countless moments of interpersonal interaction to our screens, even when it is against our best interests. If you want to find evidence of this, take a moment next time you are in class and observe how many of your peers are glancing down at their phones rather than listening to what is happening at the front of the room. Look around when you are out to eat and count how many people are on their phones as opposed to talking to the person in front of them. Consider the time you have spent on the device on which you are reading this post.

It’s important to recognize that this technology is not all bad. Smartphones, tablets, and laptops have revolutionized the way we communicate and receive information. This revolution has had dramatic implications across many different fields, including the field of education. As a teacher, I learned how to integrate technology daily in order to create an engaging learning environment that would prepare my students to work with and around these devices. A number of colleagues at GradHacker have written about innovative ways that grad students can incorporate technology in their teaching and work. Yet it is key to remain mindful that the more time we spend with technology, the harder it is for us to break away from it.

In his new book Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport argues that this does not have to be the case. Rather, we should consider spending more time away from our devices in an attempt to live happier and healthier lives. One of the first steps that he recommends as a part of this journey is a “digital declutter.” In order to engage in this process, Newport suggests that you should identify all optional technologies and take a thirty-day break from them. Once this is complete, you can gradually “reset your digital life” through the reintroduction of technology. The idea is that quitting the apps and websites on which you spend the most amount of time will allow you to see how unnecessary they actually are.

Upon first reading this book, I must admit that I was a bit skeptical that this process would work. I was also concerned about how much I would miss out on since I would no longer be on social networks I previously used multiple times daily. However, I’ve been a fan of Cal Newport for many years and have found his book Deep Work and many of his blog posts incredibly insightful. I also assessed how much time I spent on my iPhone using the Screen Time monitoring system and was shocked to see just how much time I wasted. As a result, I decided to give it a shot and jump into the digital declutter process.  

My primary focus was to eliminate unnecessary social media usage. I immediately deleted the Twitter and Facebook apps from my phone. I also decided to try to limit my phone screen time to less than one hour a day. Although Newport would likely disagree with me, I decided that time on my computer would not count due to needing it for my coursework.

In reading Newport’s book and going through this process, I can identify a number of key lessons that I learned about my technology consumption habits that I believe other grad students may find useful in reducing their own consumption of technology.

1. Spending less time on social media really does free up space in your schedule. I know this may seem obvious, but I found that I was able to replace much of my screen time with more productive pursuits. As the weather warmed, I started running again and ran three 5ks during a busy school week. Using the time I normally would have spent scrolling in the evenings before bed, I finished two books. I also reallocated time to hang out more with friends in person rather than simply texting them. It’s highly likely that without having this time away from social media, I would not have “had the time” to do any of these things.

2. It can feel good to break free from social media. In stepping away, I quickly realized that I did not need to spend my time mindlessly scrolling through a feed filled with nonsense. This was a freeing feeling, and one that I believe motivates me to continue following through with this process.

3. You will begin to see just how ingrained your desire to visit certain websites has become. I remember on my second day of the declutter that I was sitting at school talking to a colleague. My computer was open in front of me, and as we were in the middle of talking I almost subconsciously turned to my computer and began typing in a social media website. Without taking part in the declutter process, I believe that I would have diverted my attention from the conversation in front of me and spent time on the website instead. These almost unnoticeable desires popped up quite frequently and highlight how dangerous this type of tech addiction can become.

I finished my 30 days of declutter earlier this week. I would argue that my declutter had mixed results. It was easy to keep myself away from the websites I banned. However, fully keeping my time below one hour proved challenging. Spring break definitely did not help, as I had much more free time than I normally would. I also noticed that some apps I previously rarely used began taking up much more of my screen time. However, it is important for me to recognize that this stems not from a failure in Newport’s process, but in my own inability to fully eliminate all digital distractions.

Overall, I am glad that I engaged with this process. My consumption of Twitter and Facebook is minimal and related only to work, while the apps remain off of my phone. I also feel much more in control of my tech habits and am aware of when I start to slip into overuse. I really appreciate Cal Newport, and recommend you take some time to learn more about him and the work he is doing.

Have you had the chance to read Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism? Do you plan on starting your own digital declutter? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Developing Your Language Skills in Grad School

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Andrew Bishop is pursuing a Master of Public Policy at the University of Virginia. You can follow him on Twitter @xiongandi.

At the start of my undergraduate career, I decided to embark on what has become a near decade-long journey of studying Chinese. Looking back, it was not an easy process. I remember many late nights memorizing passages and writing characters over and over again. My professor held incredibly high standards that inspired me to dedicate countless hours to my practice. After my freshman year, she took a group of us to China. I’ll never forget the fear I felt when she gave us our first assignment: go out into the streets of Beijing and purchase dinner for yourself.

It wasn’t until the end of a semester abroad that I had a breakthrough moment: I was actually speaking to a friend in Chinese. I wasn’t just speaking character by character, but actually constructing whole sentences. I experienced a feeling of accomplishment, yet also recognized that I still had a long way to go. Over the next two years, I continued to study and built up the courage to move to China for two years. It was during my time with Teach For China that I truly saw the value in the time I invested. I lived and worked full-time as the only native English speaker at my school.

If you have spent time studying a language before, I’m sure aspects of my story resonated with you. Language study changes the way you see the world. It serves as a lens through which you can more clearly see others and the cultures from which they come. You also are better able to internalize the importance of the words you choose, not just in a foreign language, but also in your native tongue.

After moving back to the United States, I quickly realized that keeping up with my language ability would pose a major challenge. I was no longer living in a 24/7 immersion environment, and my skills were not needed on a daily basis. I experienced long periods of time where I didn’t have the opportunity to speak Chinese with anyone, and could feel myself forgetting critical vocabulary terms that I used to know without a second thought.

Upon returning to grad school, one of my primary goals was to rebuild my language skills. I wanted to work towards taking a formal assessment that could quantify my current language level. I figured that being back in a university environment would be perfect for this type of professional development. However, classes, meetings, deadlines, and a generally busy schedule always seemed to stand in the way. I recognized that without proper prioritization, there was no way that I would be able to succeed.

In order to combat this problem, I have spent time becoming more intentional about when and how I practice my language.

1. Work with native speakers at your university
One of the best things about grad school is that you’re often surrounded by folks from all over the world who bring a variety of experiences with them. Many universities offer formal language partner programs where you can work on your language of interest while also practicing English with your partner. If no formal structure exists, you can also simply reach out to others in your program and see if they are interested in this type of exchange. While speaking can be nerve-wracking at first, this type of practice will lead to the greatest improvement in your speaking and listening ability.

2. Utilize online resources
When I first started studying Chinese in 2010, the first-generation iPad had just launched, and there were only a few language programs available online. They were often prohibitively expensive. I would have loved having access to the many language apps, podcasts, and websites that now exist. I highly recommend exploring what options there are for your language of interest. For example, Skritter is an amazing tool for practicing reading and writing in Chinese and Japanese as it allows you to write characters out in proper stroke order.

3. Enroll in a formal language course
If you are looking to brush up or even considering picking up a new language, I would highly recommend enrolling in a language course at your school. The formal structure and schedule will help routinize your practice. Courses also offer access to a qualified instructor and peers with whom you can practice. At the upper-levels, courses are often broken down by skills which allow you to focus on specific aspects of the language. While I am confident in my speaking and listening abilities, I’m likely to enroll in an upper-level Chinese reading course next semester specifically to practice my reading and writing skills. Although each graduate program varies, many offer the opportunity to enroll in classes outside of your individual department. It is worth the effort to look into whether or not this is a viable option for you to pursue.

Have you found ways to build your language skills while in grad school? If you haven’t yet, would you like to try? Share your story in the comments below!

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Identity Work in Grad School

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Andrew Bishop is pursuing a Master of Public Policy at the University of Virginia. You can follow him on Twitter @xiongandi.

I made a lot of mistakes in my first year of teaching sixth grade language arts. I struggled with classroom management, neglected chances to let my students work together, and designed teacher-centered lessons that were far from engaging. I used texts that were part of the standard curriculum and rarely deviated, stymying creativity in the classroom. Yet the biggest challenge I faced as a white teacher in a classroom filled with students of color was failing to recognize that my own identity was blinding me to opportunities that would allow my students’ identities to take center stage.

Fortunately, I worked within an organization that acknowledged my blind spots and guided me through the process of starting to recognize this issue. During my time with Teach For America, I began engaging in identity work. Delving into your identity and the way it impacts others is not an easy process. It forces you to sit with uncomfortable ideas and deeply reflect on the privileges you enjoy and biases you hold. It’s also not something that will happen overnight. There is no “end” point, and this type of work takes a lifelong commitment. I see it as less of a quest which has a specific goal to achieve and more of a journey that will take you as far as you are willing to go.

Through this process, I was able to design stronger lessons and incorporate texts that were more culturally relevant and allowed my students’ identities to shine. Without engaging in this work, I would not have found success in the classroom. Even though I was surrounded by endlessly patient and supportive colleagues at my school and taught a group of brilliant students, there were things that I needed to address about myself first in order to make improvements. For many of us, identity work is not something that is a core component of our programs or even incorporated into our coursework at all. Yet without doing this type of reflection, we may be missing opportunities to engage more deeply with our work as well as those around us.

In the book The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation, Elena Aguilar uses the concept of an “optical refractor” to describe how coaches should look at issues through a variety of lenses. These lenses allow you to see situations in different ways, each with its own focus. I’ve found that this framework is applicable not just in coaching, but also in the work we do in grad school. When we look at our respective academic fields, it is critical that we think about issues beyond what our own personal “blinders” may allow us to see. Mindfully using different lenses can help us overcome our biases because they force us to consider information we might otherwise have avoided.

I’m currently in a public policy program and I’ve found that this framework is invaluable in pushing me to think beyond my own blinders at who policies may affect. Last semester, I challenged myself to look at issues through a lens of “equity.” As I worked through papers and projects, I tried to focus on how policies would impact different groups of people rather than simply looking at overall effects. Without a foundation in identity work, it is unlikely that I would have done this.

For those of you who are interested in beginning this journey or need some direction, I wanted to include a few resources that I have found incredibly helpful along the way:

1. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race by Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum: Dr. Tatum’s work defines racism, introduces identity, and explains how identity develops across different racial groups.

2. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo: This book provides an excellent primer on how to discuss race with others. It is critical to share and discuss what you are learning in order to help you process your own lived experience and speak up more on these issues.

3. For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education by Dr. Christopher Emdin: Dr. Emdin includes a healthy dose of relatable anecdotes with best practices that shaped the way I teach. These lessons are applicable at all levels.

4. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson: If you want to understand the existence of institutional racism and systemic oppression in the United States, this book is where you need to start. Simply put, this will change you and the way you see the country.

Please note that this list is simply a starting point and focuses primarily on developing racial identity awareness; there are countless resources out there that focus on other key identity markers and the importance of intersectionality.

I still have a long way to go on my personal identity journey, and writing this article is a step that I am taking to becoming more vocal on issues that are important to me. I hope that you have found it helpful with respect to wherever you are on your own journey.

What resources have you found helpful in doing your own identity work? Feel free to share with us in the comments below.

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Expectations vs. Reality

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Andrew Bishop is pursuing a Master of Public Policy at the University of Virginia. You can follow him on Twitter @xiongandi.

On the first day of my final year teaching, I had my students work on a couple of "back to school” activities that helped set the stage for what they wanted to get out of my language arts class. They worked in groups to determine what they needed from me, what they needed from each other, and what our classroom should look like to help them find success. Each student also set academic and behavioral goals that we locked away in a “time capsule” until the end of our first semester. When we opened the time capsule, students reflected on whether or not they met their goals, and what they needed to do moving forward to reach them. These activities helped my students to set expectations and guided me as their teacher in ensuring that these expectations met reality.

As I’m writing this post, I’m snowed in from the first major snowstorm of the year. Classes ended last Thursday, and I have only one final project and an exam to close out my first semester of grad school. In the midst of the chaos that comes at the end of a school term, I’m happy to have a moment of solitude to reflect on what my own expectations were for this semester and take stock of how things turned out for me. Overall, I’m pleased with how the semester went. However, I know there are still a number of areas that I want to improve moving forward into the next semester.

Expectations met reality when:

1. I held true to my goal of keeping a workday scheduleIf there is one habit that I would recommend all grad students adapt, it would be holding a “workday” schedule throughout the week. I found that coming in early to school gave me enough time to complete most, if not all, of my work at school before returning home in the early evening. This allowed me to maintain a fairly healthy work-life balance and reduced the amount of stress I faced. It also ran contrary to my undergraduate experience where my sleep schedule was inconsistent and I made less-than-healthy decisions with my time.

2. I pushed myself outside of my academic comfort zone. Part of the reason why I came back to school was to continue building my skills by going outside of what I know how to do. This semester provided me with countless opportunities to do that. I opted in to a number of projects that I never previously had the chance to try. I used video to convey a messages in new ways, designed and ran experiments to test hypotheses, and learned how to analyze and interpret statistical data. Not only have these experiences made me more comfortable with stepping outside of my comfort zone, but they are also skills that I can bring and discuss with future employers.

Expectations fell short of reality when:

1. I didn’t “have time” to pursue my own personal research questions of interest. With class readings to finish, problem sets to complete, and exams to prepare for, I didn’t “have time” to spend delving into the literature around topics that personally interest me. I put “have time” in quotation marks because the reality is that I simply did not prioritize doing this. In grad school, it’s important to find the balance between what your program’s curriculum sets out and what drives your own personal interests in the material. While I found a great deal of value in my coursework, I have to acknowledge that I still need to find my own personal balance.

2. I didn’t write as much as I had anticipated. I enjoy writing and came into grad school with the expectation that I would write for a set amount of time each day. The purpose behind this was to make writing a part of my daily routine. I would have the chance to write more, and with this additional practice, ultimately improve my writing ability. While I wrote on occasion for class, I did not maintain a daily writing schedule. As a result, I did not write nearly as much as I had initially wanted.

I can already see my list of goals for next semester developing from where my expectations did not meet reality. With only three semesters left in my program, I want to make the most of my remaining time in school. To sum it up, I plan on moving into next semester by writing more and asking more questions. This will bring my expectations ever closer to the reality that I want for myself in making my graduate experience worthwhile.

Take some time to reflect on your own semester. Where did your expectations meet reality? Where did they fall short? Feel free to share your reflections in the comments below.  

[Image taken by Kevin Breiner and used with permission.]

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The Importance of Teamwork

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Andrew Bishop is pursuing a Master of Public Policy at the University of Virginia. You can follow him on Twitter @xiongandi.

Some of my proudest moments as a 6th-grade language arts teacher came from seeing my students work in centers. If you walked into my classroom during a centers lesson, you would see my students working collaboratively in small groups on timed activities such as guided reading and writing. They would push each other to provide evidence from the text to support their answers, make suggestions on how to improve their writing and share strategies on how to design better presentations on their iPads. My students’ brilliance took center stage, and the class basically ran itself.

While I’m proud of the role that teamwork ultimately played in my classroom, it’s important for me to acknowledge that this wasn’t always the case. One of my biggest regrets from my first year teaching language arts is that I didn’t give my students enough opportunities to work together. For almost an entire semester, I was afraid to hand over the reins and let my students lead. This not only led to major classroom management problems for me but also denied my students opportunities to learn from one of their best resources: each other.  

Part of my hesitation came from inexperience as a teacher. However, I also believe that my own experiences with teamwork as a student played a role. I have vivid memories of projects in middle school, high school, and even as an undergraduate where I felt I had to pick up the slack of others. Hearing a teacher say anything with the word “group” in it would automatically sound a mental alarm. This was especially true if the teacher followed up by saying that we would not be allowed to choose our own groups.

I realize now though that much of this concern stemmed from a fear of ceding control. I didn’t feel comfortable putting my own academic fate in the hands of others. In doing this, I failed to consider the important role that working with others could have in improving not only the quality of my work, but also reducing the overall workload that I faced. I wasn’t aware of the need to learn this lesson prior to entering the working world, where prioritizing and delegating tasks is of the utmost importance.

Grad school can be a vulnerable time for many of us. It’s difficult to relinquish control of projects and assignments, especially when you’ve already invested hours of time and effort into them. At the same time, working independently can only get you so far when much of the material is new and challenging. We are also limited by the amount of time we have to meet all deadlines.

I’m fortunate to be in a program that doesn’t provide much choice when it comes to teamwork. It’s designed in a way that not only promotes collaboration, but ensures that it is an integral part of the experience. We complete many of our projects, problem sets, and classes in groups. Even though I knew the benefits of having this much teamwork, I must admit that I was nervous about the prospect when I first started. However, I’ve come to appreciate this structure, and believe that it’s helping me find success.

Whether you are teaching, writing, or just generally making your way through your grad program, you should consider incorporating teamwork into your classes and weekly routine for the following reasons:

1. Share the Burden
Over the last few months, I’ve learned that the to-do list in grad school is endless. Even if you just completed a project or made your way through another round of exams, there are always more readings to finish and tasks to complete. One potential option is to team up with others to divide and conquer many of these tasks. Throughout this semester, I’ve had the chance to split up readings and note-taking responsibilities, create group study guides, write practice problems for each other, and jointly complete projects when allowed to save time. When I was teaching, I used a similar system to pool lesson plans, activities, and resources with other teachers. It’s amazing how helpful working together on these tasks can be in checking them off the list.

2. Exchange Ideas
It’s easy to get stuck on a project or problem and not know where to go. Oftentimes, we have trouble seeing beyond our first impressions or initial ideas. Rather than keeping this struggle private, you should talk with others in your program who will likely provide you with valuable insights on how to move forward.

Working in writing groups is one option that I (and many others) highly recommend, especially if you are working with colleagues who are open and honest when providing feedback. I can guarantee that I’ve had a number of different people read this post prior to publishing it, and the final draft is stronger as a result. I’ve also found that reading and giving feedback on what others have written helps me see areas that I can improve in my own writing.

3. Expand Your Skill Set
While each of us has strengths that we bring to the table, we also have areas for growth. I enjoy writing and am able to get through writing tasks quickly. However, I find that tasks on the quantitative side are more challenging and take me a little bit longer. In order to improve in this area, I’ve partnered with others who have strong quantitative skills to learn from them. Watching how my teammates work through economics and research methods problem sets has helped me develop my own intuition and laid a stronger mental foundation on which I can continue to build.

What suggestions do you have for supporting your peers and teaming up with fellow graduate students? Share in the comments below!

[Image taken and submitted by the author.]

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Returning to the Classroom as a Student

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Andrew Bishop is pursuing a Master of Public Policy at the University of Virginia. You can follow him on Twitter @xiongandi.

During my senior year of college, I spent a lot of time debating whether or not I should head off to grad school. It was tempting to know that I had the opportunity to knock out all of my education at once and then never have to return to the classroom as a student again. The problem was that I had no idea what type of program I wanted pursue, or what exactly I was going to do with that degree. I had many interests, but I lacked direction.

When I talked with my professors about it, I consistently received what I consider is one of my life’s most pivotal pieces of advice: don’t go to grad school until you have a reason to do it. With this advice in mind, I decided to head out into the work world, follow my interests, and wait until the time was right to come back to school.

Although I did leave the classroom as a student, I immediately returned to it as a teacher. I spent the next four years teaching at the upper elementary and middle school levels. These experiences completely changed my career path. I discovered that I have a passion for working toward equity in education, particularly in rural communities. By the end of my fourth year in the classroom, I knew that the time was right for me to head off to grad school, because I finally found the “reason” to do so.

Now that I’m here, I realize how glad I am that I waited to come back to school. I’ve also spent some time reflecting on the transition back, and have a few thoughts for anyone going through this process:  

1. Acknowledge the Challenge
It’s important to acknowledge that coming back to school is hard. For many of us, the experience is quite different from the work environments where we’ve spent the last few years. A university is its own microcosm. Courses are challenging, as is learning a ton of new material, concepts, and programs. Assignments and deadlines pile up quickly, and even those with excellent time management struggle to keep up.

I took an exam for the first time in four years a few weeks ago and quickly realized how out of practice I was. But that’s okay. It takes time to get back into the groove of being a student. Have patience with yourself as you make that transition.

2. Recognize Your Own Strengths
If you’ve been out in the work world for the last few years, I can guarantee that you’ve picked up a few tips and tricks that will help you easily transition into grad school. As a teacher, I gained many skills that were directly transferable to the grad school experience. I’m much more organized and prone to plan than I was as an undergrad. From the experience of working normal school hours, I tend to complete work during the day and hold a healthy sleep schedule. I also procrastinate less (though there’s always room for improvement).

Your strengths will be different from others in your program and may even be quite unique. Take a moment and reflect on what your strengths are, and figure out how to best use them towards your success.

3. Connect What You’re Learning to What You Care About
All courses have something to offer you with respect to making connections to your work experience. If you figure out those connections early, you will find that you are much more motivated to engage with the material. You will often be able to reflect on your experiences through a new lens, and figure out ways of building upon them throughout your program.

A big part of the reason I came back to school was to build capacity in a number of “hard” skills. I’m taking a course on Stata, and learning the program is a challenge, to say the least. At first, I thought that writing lines of code was tedious. However, my work experience has helped drive my interest because of Stata’s importance in research. Now that I know how to code, I can utilize Stata in doing education research.

4. Put Passion into Action
Passion around a certain issue can serve as a major driving force in your work. Grad school is the time to not only develop that passion but also utilize it. It’s important to seek out opportunities to pursue your passion outside of the classroom and apply what you are learning in the process.

I care a lot about students who live in rural communities and want to solve some of the challenges they face. One of the things that I was most excited about in coming back to grad school was the opportunity to engage in research around education policy. This was not something I previously had the chance to do and knew that I wanted it to be a core component of my experience. I sought out opportunities to do so, and am now working with a research center on a project in rural education.

[Image taken and submitted by the author.]

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